01: The summer issue of the East West Church & Ministry Report is devoted to the Ukrainian crisis and its impact on the churches. Ukraine’s conflict with Russia is reshaping church relations between the two countries as well as the level of unity between and political involvement of Ukrainian Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox churches. Although evangelicals are the strongest in Ukraine, long considered the Bible belt of the former Soviet Union, they are experiencing increasing tension with their fellow believers in Russia—mirroring divisions between Eastern and Western Ukraine Protestant churches.
The support for Russia is often linked to a concern about the West’s secular influence on morality and family life, although other evangelicals fear encroaching Russian restrictions on freedom of religion. Another article reports on an Internet survey, finding renewed religious interest in Ukraine in the wake of the crisis.
Within Ukraine, several articles take note of the sense of unity growing between the various Orthodox groups as well as between Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox churches. The crisis has also intensified divisions between Ukrainian evangelicals who have become more politically involved and those maintaining their long-time apolitical stance. The October issue of the magazine First Things features two more critical articles on the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. Presbyterian theologian John Burgess focuses on the divisions between the various Christian communions, mainly Orthodox and Catholic. He argues that all the involved churches often claim to rise above the political fray while charging the others of holding political agendas, but they encourage infighting by their claims to be the one true church.
The second article by Ukrainian Orthodox theologian Cyril Hovorun argues that the Ukraine resistance to Russia signals an “awakening of civil society,” but faults his church, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (the largest Orthodox body in the country), for lagging behind in its support for Ukraine’s independence, even supporting Russian sympathizers in the east. For more information on the special issue of East West Church & Ministry Report, visit: http://www.eastwestreport.org/pdfs/ew22-3pdf. For information on this issue of First Things, write: 35 East 21st St., 6th Fl., New York, NY 10010.
02: Darren Sherkat’s new book Changing Faith (New York University Press, $24) is an interesting overview of Americans’ shifting religious identities, applying a wealth of survey data to this issue. Sherkat focuses on how changes within immigrant groups, ethnicities and generations drives many of these identity shifts, which in turn shape various segments of society, especially family life and politics.
The University of Illinois sociologist tends to eschew the “big theories” of religious change, such as secularization and the market theory. In fact, he often takes issue with supply side predictions that strict churches are overtaking more lax ones. He finds that both “sectarian” and more liberal Protestant denominations are declining and that inertia more than switching defines religious identification. Uniquely, Sherkat’s attention to ethnicity leads him to break down survey results by ethnic background: Latin American, Eastern European, Western European, African-American and Asian, and Native American, as well as such variables as mobility. Finding a decrease of religious identification across these ethnicities, including among recent immigrants, suggests that secularism may be growing even though they may convert or return to religion later in life.
Sherkat’s chapters on faith and family in the second part of the book are likely to be the most controversial. He takes issue with other sociologists and commentators who link a strong, often conservative, religious faith and family activity; divorce and premarital sex is just as high in these groups as with other religions. He characterizes conservative religious groups as advocating “unyielding obedience, aversion to free thinking, and embrace of physical violence (in the way of corporal punishment) to enforce their will.” On education, Sherkat argues that conservative religionists are low in educational attainment. In fact, he links factors in their family life such as early marriage with such a deficit.
There seems to be some negative bias in Sherkat’s writing in this part of the book. On religious schooling, he writes that the “segmented world of religious schools raises questions about the social and political values being taught to children under the guise of religious instruction.” Critics may also charge that Sherkhat pays too much attention to religious affiliation rather than to different rates of commitment among adherents, which might challenge the findings on divorce among conservative Christian groups as well as show more similarities between practicing Catholics and evangelicals on some issues.
03: Immigrant Faith (New York University Press, $22) is one of the few books on religion and immigration to draw largely on quantitative data to document trends on religion and immigration in North America and Europe.
Author Phillip Connors of the Pew Research Center uses Pew research as well as other sources to show how religion often serves as a bridge for greater integration of immigrants into the host society, especially in the U.S., even while arguing that that these newcomers are not necessarily more religious than native born citizens. The American context is important, especially for non-Christian immigrants regarding integration and adjustment to their new environment. For instance, while Muslim immigrants in Europe experience low integration involving educational and economic success, immigrants of the same religion in the U.S. show a higher rate of integration.
Connor’s examination of the immigrant effect across generations is especially interesting. He finds that the religious factor also impacts the second generation negatively in so far as economic success, but in the U.S. and Canada, the occupational mobility of children of immigrants is positively associated with active involvement in a local church. But as for transferring faith between the generations, Connor finds that religious practice and commitment of the second generation becomes closer to that of their peers rather than their parents; although, in Europe and parts of Canada, it is closer to their parents.
Connor concludes that context matters in understanding the faith of immigrants. Those who share the faith of the majority in their host society experience the greatest level of economic and educational success. He cites basketball star Jeremy Lin, a second generation Taiwanese-American evangelical, as an example of such accomplishment.
04: What has become known as the “invisible aid economy,” which encompasses the growing number of Muslim non-governmental organizations, has injected religious motivations and orientations into the world of development and humanitarian assistance.
The new book Islam and Development: Exploring the Invisible Aid Economy (Ashgate, $98.96) suggests that these faith-based organizations (FBOs) are reshaping relief and development sector, which had long sought to separate their work and religion, specifically in determining the kinds of aid interventions they make. Editors Matthew Clarke and David Tittensor note in the introduction to the book that Muslim FBOs typically target their development and assistance work toward other Muslim regions and nations. The strictly Islamic orientation of these FBOs ensure their future growth, drawn from the charitable giving of Muslims, and may influence other NGOs to take aboard religious concerns in a more public way.
The contributions look at the theological perspectives and different Muslim movements behind the NGOs as well as presenting interesting case studies of particular Islamic development and aid efforts. An interesting chapter on the changing nature of Islamic mission focuses on the Turkish Gulen movement, stressing education and applying Islam to modern life, and the more piety-based Tablighi Jama’at group and the role they play in forming humanitarian values. Other noteworthy chapters include one on Muslim microfinance and its affinity with Islamic relief and development and its affinity with Islamic practices of charity (zakat).
05: The 831-page Eastern Christianity and Politics in the Twenty-First Century (Routledge, $250) represents an ambitious attempt to chronicle how the whole range of Orthodox and Eastern-Rite Catholic churches throughout the world relate to their respective governments, as well as to such issues and trends as migration, globalization and religious pluralism. Given the close church-state ties that exist in many countries with large populations of Eastern Christians, it is difficult to untangle the discussions of church politics, such as internal scandals involving church leaders, from secular politics in this volume.
The chapters are organized according to specific churches, rather than the religious situations in these countries, and several trends stand out including: the problems and challenges most Orthodox churches from post-communist countries face with both religious pluralism and disaffection from organized religion; there is little mention made to “Orthodox revival” any longer; the close link between nationalism and Eastern Christianity, which is frayed in some places, such as Romania and even Serbia, but being revived in others, most notably Russia; the continuing conflict between “mother churches” in the old homelands and increasingly independent churches in “diaspora” (a contested term in itself) in Western societies; and the escalating oppression of Middle Eastern Christianity, resulting in an ongoing dispersal of church members and leaders from their ancient homelands.