01: The Review of Religion and Chinese Society is a new journal that looks at the diversity of religions both in China and in different Chinese populations and diasporas throughout the world.
The multi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary journal defines religion in a broad way as including various spiritualities and “meaning-making systems of belief and practices.” The first issue features an interview with the late sociologist Robert Bellah on Chinese religion, an article by Richard Madsen on the paradoxical way China embraces atheism and diverse forms of religion, and a study of the diverse forms of civic involvement by Catholics in three Chinese societies. For more information, visit: http://booksandjournals.brillonline.com/content/journals/22143955
02: The journal Zygon devotes much of its June issue to the future directions of the science and religion field without making too many of its forecasts sound like science fiction.
Danish scholar Niels Henrik Gregerson notes that the science and religion field is now firmly established, with a plethora of courses, societies, specialists, conferences, and books now available, and it is unlikely to diminish in the near future. But he sees more attention being given to how the world’s religions and their related societies interact with science and how they pose different scientific questions; for instance, the Buddhist and Muslim take on evolution is different than that of Western religion. Gregerson writes that the new emphasis among scientists on biological and cultural information as fundamental to physical reality will likely bring religious questions back to the surface.
In another article, Philip Clayton writes that the battles between the extremes of the new atheists (who argue that the science and religion field is an oxymoron) and their theist antagonists have set the science and religion field back by a decade, but the serious work and bold initiatives in the near future will be done by “those who are still around when the dust settles.”
Clayton adds that younger scholars in both religion and science are basing their views more on empirical studies than on historic polemics and triumphalism, which place themselves as being on the winning side of history. Ted Peters concludes the section with a look at how religions will need to develop theological responses to the fledgling theories and findings of astrobiology, which is increasingly making the case for the reality of multiple universes. For more information on this issue, visit: http://zygonjournal.org/issues-index.html
03: In his new book Ancient Religions, Modern Politics (Princeton University Press, $39.50), historian Michael Cook seeks to answer the question of why Islam plays such a large role in contemporary politics by comparing the religion with Hinduism and Christianity.
Cook argues that the “Islamic heritage” provides a greater range of “assets and liabilities” than these other faiths, which compels Muslim on to the world political stage. In 542 pages, Cook carefully traces how today’s Islamic revival draws on a repertoire of political values and resources, such as Muslim unity and “brotherhood,” jihad and warfare, the caliphate, and “divine jealousy,” with God monopolizing the “cultic loyalties of his followers,” all of which create a strong Muslim political identity.
The author examines the historical and contemporary cases of Hinduism and Catholicism in Latin America and finds that while they may offer some of these resources, they do not present them in “package” form for its followers as does Islam. Of course, Muslims can choose the conservative version of the package of “fundamentalism” or a more liberal version of Islamism, or, as is the case with most, “muddle through” by selecting both Western values—democracy—and Islamic responses. But Cook concludes that, compared to its competitors, the “Islamic heritage engages the predicament of Third World populations on a broad front, providing resources that can be used for thinking, feeling, and talking about it.”
04: Inventing the Muslim Cool (Transcript-Verlag, $45), by Maruta Herding, examines the formation of an Islamic youth culture in Europe, which is revealed in such forms as religious rap, Islamic comedy and urban fashion and media products with pious messages or slogans.
Based on ethnographic interviews and participant observation, Herding focuses on practicing (rather than cultural) Muslim youth in England, Germany and France, and finds that their culture is distinct from that of young Muslims elsewhere. But she notes that many young European Muslims do find inspiration from the popularization of Islamic teachings coming from the Muslim world, such as the Islamic “televangelism” of Egyptian preacher Amr Khaled. The hybrid and consumerist nature of Islamic youth culture—drawing on an Americanized (including African-American) global culture as well as national youth cultures—has been seen as a sign of secularization. The author questions this view, arguing that the reverse is true, as non-religious objects and practices are infused with religious meaning.
From Herding’s case studies of European Muslim rappers and comedians, it seems clear that there is a political message to these performances, with a strong critique of the injustices youths experience, but they are first and foremost Islamic, appealing to their listeners to embrace—or return to—Islam. In fact, there are a large number of converts who are involved in Islamic rap, particularly in England where Caribbean blacks have adopted the faith.
Meanwhile, Islamic fashion and media in Europe is much more of a global Muslim trend and is tied to consumer branding of the religion. Islamic social media shows a good deal of vitality in Europe, particularly in England, where sites such as Waymo and MuslimYouthNet allow users to tailor their content and interact with other young Muslims modeled on their secular counterparts of Facebook and YouTube. Herding concludes that this Islamic youth culture represents a novel way that Islam is being transmitted to the young outside of the traditional channels of family and mosque.
The culture’s blend of having fun and experiencing pleasure with piety may serve as a counterweight to the influence of Islamic extremism among Muslim young adults in Europe.