01: Questions about the knowledge of religion gathered through and derived from surveys, polls and census data are examined in ten articles of a thematic issue of the journal Religion (July).
The special issue, edited by Abby Day (University of London) and Lois Lee (University of Kent), includes a good deal of statistical data. Clive D. Field’s (University of Birmingham and University of Manchester) article on the history of measuring religious affiliation in Britain to the 2011 census makes clear how varied the understandings of religious identity may be in self-identification. Religious affiliation can no longer be seen as a way of differentiating between the religious and the irreligious; multiple indicators are required for quantifying religion.
Ariela Keysar (Trinity College, Hartford, CT) documents the methodology of the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS). While most Americans, 80 percent, adhere to a religious identification, a majority are not members of a religious congregation. The methodology followed by ARIS is to ask an open-ended question, “What is your religion, if any?” and to let people define themselves, without submitting a list of potential answers. This allows researchers to capture rarely recognized groups.
The way to ask a question may have a significant impact on answers. Conrad Hackett (Pew Research Center) notes that if religion is measured with a one-step question, it results in higher percentage of religious affiliated than with a two-step question, as many surveys do in Europe (starting by asking if a person considers himself or herself to belong to a religion, and then only asking which one). Among many other issues cited in his article, Hackett finds that surveys often fail to account for religious syncretic identities. Generally speaking, it is helpful to measure separately religious identity, beliefs and practices, since they are not always coherent.
An article by Lois Lee draws attention to the lack of methodological attention to generic nonreligious categories, such as “nones,” which create a form of cultural identification lacking meaning or relevance, or even entirely absent in the lives of respondents. It fails to “capture concrete nonreligious categories such as ‘atheist’ and ‘humanist’.”
It should not be ignored also that among people describing themselves as nonreligious, there are also part of those who see themselves as “spiritual but not religious” (alternative spiritualities). This issue becomes important as increasingly large numbers of people choose the nonreligious option.
For more information on this issue write or visit: Religion, Routledge Journals, Taylor & Francis, 325 Chestnut Street, 8th Floor, Philadelphia, PA 19106 – http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rrel20.
02: Both Christians who denounce yoga as a cover for spreading Hinduism and Hindus who criticize postural yoga as a corruption of authentic, Hindu-rooted yoga, attempt to impose an essentialist definition on the practice of yoga, with protesters on both ends defining it as fundamentally Hindu, writes Andrea Jain (Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis) in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion (June).
But yoga actually functions “as a source for a wide range of meanings and functions,” with a variety of appropriations and practices across yoga studios and ashrams, “thus illustrating that the quest for the essence of yoga is an impossible task.” For decades, Christian groups in the U.S. and elsewhere have been suspicious of postural yoga, seen as incompatible with Christian teaching [see Sept., 2005 RW]. “Yogaphobia,” as Jain labels it, sees the practice of yoga as an association with false, pagan, or even demonic religion. A former American yoga practitioner turned critic has even been promoting since 2001 a “Christian alternative” to yoga, called PraiseMoves (www.http://praisemoves.com).
In 2010, the Minneapolis-based Hindu American Foundation launched a campaign “Take Back Yoga—Bringing to Light Yoga’s Hindu Roots.” Far from being “yogaphobic,” they value yoga, but see it as more than merely postural yoga and feel that the latter fails to give due credit to Hinduism. They see yoga as having become victim of “property theft” by people primarily interested in marketing it. However, they think that yoga, while Hindu, brings benefits (including health benefits) to believers of all religions who practice it. Like Christians, but for different reasons, they are critical of the New Age movement.
The problem with both positions, from the perspective of scholarly analysis, is that they construct yoga as homogeneous tradition and ignore that it has been constantly reinvented by those practicing it. The popularization of yoga becomes seen as a threat to what are perceived as “bounded traditions” (Christianity and Hinduism). But “religious phenomena arise from continuous processes of syncretism, appropriation, and hybridization. Yoga is no exception.”
For more information on this article, write: Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Oxford University Press, 825 Houston Mill Road NE, Atlanta, GA 30329-4211 – http://jaar.oxfordjournals.org.
03: While sociological and other research on Muslims in Western Europe has been proliferating in recent years, another numerically significant section of religious migration has remained surprisingly ignored by most scholars: the (Eastern) Orthodox Churches.
Co-edited by Maria Hämmerli (University of Fribourg, Switzerland) and Jean-François Mayer (RW Associate Editor), Orthodox Identities in Western Europe: Migration, Settlement and Innovation (Ashgate) represents an attempt to offer glimpses of the “socially invisible” Orthodox presence in that part of the world. Research still being scanty, it is not possible to cover all countries, and the approach has not been to provide a country-by-country coverage, but to gather various contributions that could help readers to understand the dynamics of Orthodox migration through various approaches.
While most of the contributions deal with Churches in the Byzantine tradition, plus one chapter by Mayer on attempts to establish Western Rite parishes under those jurisdictions. There are also two chapters on Syriac/Assyrian communities.
The coming of Orthodox believers in the West confronts them with new experiences. Not only can church life no longer be arranged as it is in countries with an Orthodox legacy and high density of Orthodox population, but even relations between the clergy and the faithful shift, as made clear by Berit Thorbjørnsrud (University of Oslo) in her chapter on Orthodox priests in Norway. A number of clergy need to have a secular job aside from their church duties and, while playing a central role in church life, they are also confronted with powerful parish councils.
Several Romanian priests in Italy—where the Romanian Church has become a very large religious group numbering in the hundreds of thousands—think that very well-trained priests need to be sent in order to deal with pastoral challenges quite different from those in their home countries, according to Suhna Gülfer Ihlamur-Öner (Marmara University, Istanbul).
Some of the authors use the expression “Orthodox diaspora,” but the editors themselves are critical of it. There may be ethnic diasporas among Orthodox migrants, but this does not mean that all those ethnic communities taken together form an Orthodox diaspora—they are not coalesced by the shared faith in a way that would make then into a single diaspora. It rather looks like a cohabitation of ethnic/national diaspora-minded communities with their respective churches. Moreover, there are also Western converts. While they are a tiny minority, maybe around 1 percent, their role can be important, and they are sometimes over-represented among clergy. In Ireland, remarks James A. Kapaló (University College Cork), they “have acted as significant mediators between the migrant Orthodox Churches and between Orthodoxy and Irish society.”
While the Orthodox Church is much attached to tradition, observations made in several chapters show that it does also innovate in order to adjust to a new environment, even if it will do it by invoking the spirit of tradition. Individual subscribers to RW (not libraries or institutions) who would like to order this book are entitled to a special discount, if they order directly via Ashgate’s website: http://www.ashgate.com/default.aspx?page=637&calcTitle=1&isbn=9781409467540. Please give the code 50AEX14N when ordering to receive a 50 percent discount on the website price.
04: The 2014 Yearbook of International Religious Demography (Brill, $99) has recently been published, presenting an annual overview of the state of religious statistics around the world.
The yearbook, edited by Brian Grim, Todd Johnson, Vegard Skirbekk and Gina Zurlo, documents the continued growth of religious populations, particularly since they are younger than secular populations. The book does not so much show religious variations from one year to the other as much as present new data on long range trends and projections, but it offers many interesting facts, such as: in 2013 Asia had five times as many atheists and agnostics than Europe; Muslims are expected to grow twice as fast from 2013 to 2030 in Africa as they are in Asia; and Muslim women were more likely than Protestants or Catholics to report high fertility, and non-use of any modern contraceptives.
The book also has several chapters of case studies, including how Jews became a “demographic avant-garde,” fertility trends by religion in Mongolia, and the size and demographic structure of religions in Europe.