01: Public displays of religious devotion by American athletes are nothing new, but such actions can prove divisive to fans if they are too closely associated with a particular faith, according to researchers writing in the American Sociological Association’s magazine Contexts (Spring).
The two most recent examples of public piety by American athletes have been basketball player Jeremy Lin and former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, who gained notoriety for striking a prayerful pose on the field. Both players received an avalanche of media attention, although the media treatment of Tebow was more critical. Quinnipiac University researchers Grace Yukich, Kimberly Stokes and Daniella Bellows compared the New York Times’s coverage of Lin and Tebow from 2009-12 and found that Lin received more positive media treatment than Tebow.
They find that Tebow’s public religious displays carried were more “Christocentric” compared with Lin’s more generic statements on his faith (two-thirds of Lin’s statements were Christocentric compared to 85 percent of Tebow’s). Tebow’s support for Christian right causes contributed to portrayals of him and his faith as disruptive rather than uniting.
The fact that Tebow is white and Lin is Asian may also be a factor in the different media portrayals and fan responses. As with African-American athletes who regularly mention their faith, Lin’s faith could be interpreted as cultural rather than as strictly religious, conforming to Asian-American stereotypes, and “less of a challenge to the boundary separating religion and sports.”
The researchers write that Tebow’s religious displays, in contrast to Lin and other athletes, took place during the game, disrupting the flow and enthusiasm that builds unity for fans. The media coverage thus constructed a “narrative of sports fandom that while sanctioning religiosity in sports at certain moments, calls upon us to make the sporting arena a unifying space where we can momentarily cheer for a team—and build social bonds—without being distracted by our differences.”
02: A new study confirms that Americans tend to exaggerate their church attendance, especially if they participate in telephone surveys as compared to self-reporting online.
The study, by the Public Religion Research Institute, finds that in phone interviews, 36 percent said they attended services weekly and 30 percent said they seldom or never go. However, in anonymous online questionnaires, 31 percent said they attended weekly while 43 percent said they seldom or never attend. The three groups most likely to inflate their attendance rates were mainline Protestants (29 percent reporting no attendance by phone compared to 45 percent online), Catholics (15 percent by phone and 33 percent online), and the 18-29 age group (31 percent on the phone and 49 percent online).
Before this technological method of comparison was available, research in the 1990s has shown the pattern of attendance inflation by comparing survey results with actual head counts at church services.
03: A study in the journal Mobile Media & Communication (Vol. 2, No. 2) of religious applications or “apps” on mobile devices finds that they are most often used as aids to religious practices or as providing interaction with digitized versions of sacred texts.
The study, conducted by Heidi Campbell and a team of researchers from Texas A&M University, examined 451 Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, and Buddhist applications. The researchers find that developers tend to “concentrate their app design around reminding users when to practice their religion, or helping users practice their religion whenever, wherever they are,” according to Wendi Bellar, one of the researchers.
Aids to religious practices include the Lulav Wizard, which is a digital replica of a palm tree’s frond, teaching users how to swing it during the Jewish festival of Sukkot. Apps embedded with sacred texts tend to mix secular and religious uses; the Islamic Free Quiz app uses a game show format to teach users about basic Muslim teachings.
(Mobile Media and Communication, http://mmc.sagepub.com/).
04: The Pew Research Center finds further drift of Latinos from the Catholic Church going either toward Protestantism or into non-affiliation.
Nearly one-in-four Hispanic adults (24 percent) are now former Catholics, according to the survey of 5,000 Hispanics. The pattern is now one of increasing religious polarization in the Hispanic community as Catholics hold the middle ground between Protestants and the non-affiliated on measures such as church attendance, frequency of prayer and their view of the importance of religion. While the Catholic share of Hispanics has been decreasing for the past few decades, the decline has dropped 12 percent in just the last four years.
This long-time decline may reflect both Latin American trends, as new immigrants are coming from countries seeing both an upsurge of evangelical churches and non-affiliation, and the U.S. realities of religious switching and the growth of “nones.”
05: Governmental regulations and social norms relating to religion are a key factor in whether personal happiness is related to religiosity, reports the science of religion blog Epiphenom (May 27).
Past studies have linked personal happiness with greater religiosity, but researchers have been puzzled that this is not always the case around the world. The blog cites the recent study by David Hayward (University of Michigan) and Marta Elliot (University of Nevada) which looks at how governmental regulation of religion affects attitudes toward it. Using data from the World Values Survey, they created a model predicting how happy people are in countries with either few or many religious people, and either little or much governmental regulation of religion. They “found there was quite a strong interaction,” blog editor Tomas Reese reports.
Thus, as religious service attendance increases so does happiness—except in countries with both high religious attendance and strong regulation of religion. In these nations, people who attend a lot of services are actually less happy. The same relationship holds true for the variable of the importance of God in peoples’ lives. Hayward and Elliot note that the strength of this association tends to increase as religion becomes more normative. Thus, “high regulation tends to intensify the contrast between the effects of fitting in with or deviating from the religious norms of the nation.”
06: Religious freedom contributes to better business and economic outcomes than do restrictions of religious practice and belief, according to a study in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion (Vol. 10, No. 4).
Researchers Brian Grim, Greg Clark, and Robert Edward Snyder looked at economic vitality as measured by the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index (which consists of “pillars” of competitiveness ranging from innovation to technology training to market size and efficiency) in comparison with levels of government restrictions on religion and social hostilities involving religion.
Grim, Clark and Snyder find that societies with higher levels of religious freedom rate higher on the competitiveness index. The researchers further tested the relationship between GDP growth and religious freedom. By controlling for other variables, they find that religious freedom is one of only three variables that remains a significant predictor of GDP growth.
(Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion, http://www.religjournal.com/)
07: While there are differences in the level of interest in various practices from one country to another, the percent of people actively involved in the holistic milieu seems to be comparable in different European countries, independent of the local strength of institutional religion, report Liselotte Frisk (Dalarna University, Sweden), Franz Höllinger (University of Graz, Austria) and Peter Åkerbäk (University of Stockholm, Sweden) in the Journal of Contemporary Religion (May).
The “holistic milieu” is used by the authors to describe what is usually associated with “New Age,” “alternative spirituality,” “modern esotericism” or “spiritual marketplace.” Replicating earlier research conducted by a team led by Paul Heelas in Kendal (England), the research done in two areas of Austria (Klagenfurt and Leoben) and one in Sweden (Dalarna) mapped local practitioners offering courses, workshops or individual therapies in the fields of holistic spirituality and complementary healing. In all, 348 practitioners were identified in the Austrian case study and 439 in the Swedish one.
While general patterns were the same in both countries, with 70 to 80 percent of the offered practices related to healing and health improvement (half of them with Indian or Far-Eastern roots), there were some differences, too. For instance, in Austria, due to the strong presence of kinesiology, complementary Western healing techniques had a larger share than in Sweden.
On the opposite, there were more providers of yoga in Sweden. A majority of practitioners are not working full-time in holistic activities: more than half (in both countries) had fewer than 10 clients per week. The comparative research confirms the prevalence of female practitioners—two-thirds in Austria, about four-fifths in Sweden. Information regarding the number of clients provides an assessment of the proportion of the population regularly engaged in holistic activities (on a weekly basis): 2.7 percent in Dalarna, 3.8 percent in Klagenfurt and 2.6 percent in Leoben.
Compared with research in other countries, it appears that the level of involvement is more or less similar in all European countries. Moreover, despite significant cross-national differences in church attendance in European societies (weekly attendance is three times higher, around 9 percent, in Austria compared with Sweden) they do not seem to lead to different levels of involvement in holistic practices.
This would seem to contradict expectations of a close relationship between the decline in Christian religiosity and the growth of the holistic milieu. “Holistic health methods and self-awareness techniques seem to be an attractive option for a certain section on the population in all highly developed, post-modern Western countries.”
(Journal of Contemporary Religion – http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/cjcr20)