■ A combined issue of the journal Religion, State and Society (Vol. 42, Nos. 2-3) is devoted to the role of religion in the European Parliament (EP). The articles are based on a project Religion at the European Parliament (RelEP), using surveys and other methods to understand the place of religion in European politics.
Of special interest to readers is the survey of 167 members of Parliament (MEPs)—the first such study ever conducted—on their religious affiliations and attitudes toward public religion. With the exception of Poland, most of the MEPs reported growing secularization in their countries even while there are signs of backlash and a growing public role of religion. Even the Polish MEPs did not support any weakening of the separation of church and state, even if Polish Catholics increasingly see themselves as a besieged minority in a secular European Union.
This greater public role given to religion at the national level necessarily translates into the emergence of public religion as a key issue at the EP, though it can take different forms. Islam is a less contentious issue in the EP than in national politics (largely because there is a small number of Muslim MPs), and embattled atheist MEPs receive little support in the EP, even by MEPs from secular countries (though British humanists have been more successful in fighting for secular causes). For more information on this issue, visit: http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/crss20/current#.VFgpESx0y1s
■ The new book Atheist Awakening: Secular Activism and Community in America, by RW’s editor and Christopher Smith, provides an in-depth examination of atheist and secular humanist organizations and activism in the U.S. The book looks at how organized “secularism,” our term for atheism and non-theistic forms of humanism, and atheist identity has been revitalized through such developments as the new atheism (even if has not created many atheist converts) as well as through secularist activism and online networks and community-building.
The book also examines the growth of secularist rituals and commemorations, from atheist congregations to Darwin Day, and interest in “secular spirituality.” RW subscribers can receive a 30 percent discount from the regular price of $27.95 by using the coupon code AAFLYG6 when ordering the book at the Oxford University Press website: http://global.oup.com.
■ Published last month is RW’s editor’s book Mystical Science and Practical Religion: Muslim, Hindu and Sikh Discourse on Science and Technology. The book is a study of how engineers and IT professionals of these religions in the U.S., largely immigrants, relate their faith to their work and often share a discourse that their faiths are “the most scientific.” Part of the book was written in response to arguments and findings that link work in these “techno-science” fields with various “fundamentalisms,” especially in the cases of Hinduism and Islam.
Based on interviews with 45 largely immigrant Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh applied science professionals and students, Mystical Science and Practical Religion argues that professionals tend to integrate spiritual elements into science, such as the espousal of intelligent design, while also interpreting their religions in a more pragmatic direction. RW subscribers interested in the book can get a discount copy for $49 by using the code LEX30AUTH15, ordering directly through the web site of the publisher Rowman & Littlefield: https://rowman.com/ISBN/9780739182277.
■ Lydia Bean’s new book the Politics of Evangelical Identity (Princeton University Press, $35) is an interesting study of the singular political identity of American evangelicals, at least in comparison to their Canadian counterparts. Using the ethnographic method, Bean looks at several evangelical churches in Canada and the U.S. and finds that while they hold to similar theology and moral values, they differ dramatically in their degree of political partisanship. While the Canadian churches allow for considerable political diversity, the American evangelicals have moved toward far greater uniformity in their loyalty to the Republican Party.
Bean traces this politicization to congregational life but does not draw a straight line between church leadership and members falling into line regarding directives on party politics. The clergy was far less influential in shaping members’ politics than the role of lay leaders who send subtle but powerful cues to fellow members in connecting everyday life and politics and evangelical faith.
■ Just as the debate about the relationship between violence and religion has returned with a vengeance in recent months, veteran sociologist of religion David Martin takes up a question that marked his early work on pacifism in his new book Religion and Violence: No Logos without Mythos (Ashgate, $35.96).
Early on in the book, Martin targets the new atheists and their broadside that religion has been a major source of war and violence in the past as well as the present. He provocatively turns the tables on such new atheist authors such as Richard Dawkins and A.C. Grayling, as he argues that they employ a type of rhetorical aggression as they attempt to silence and ridicule their opponents. The sociologist doesn’t deny the violent histories marking most religions, but then he complicates the question by looking at the way that “religion is saddled for polemical purposes with specific characteristics and consequences which are in reality shared by all the varied discourses of power. For example, campaigns and rituals of purification are the common currency of religion, political ideology and nationalism.”
Martin sees both the religious and secularist as tending to dismiss the violent elements of their religions and ideologies—i.e., “Torquemada was not a real Christian; Stalin’s atheism was coincidental to his monstrous behavior and his persecution of Christians.” Although Martin is most adept at addressing the complicated relationship between Christianity and nationalism (the latter chapters focus particularly on Eastern Europe and Russia), he discusses how the emergence of personal choice in Islamic societies may counter nationalism.
Martin concludes that violence is built upon the innate desire for unity and “moral hyperventilation about religion is waste of breath. What really cries out for explanation is not war but the vision of non-violence in Buddhism, in Isaiah and the Sermon on the Mount…That is why we are shocked by the difference between loving your enemies and the Puritan cry in the Middle of English Revolution `Jesus and no quarter.’ We rest with unquestioning faith on the religious advances we violently disavow.”
■ Testing Fresh Expressions (Ashgate, $94.46), by John Walker, is one of the first book-length study to shine some empirical light on the attempt of the Church of England to draw Britain’s huge unchurched population to faith through experimental and unconventional congregations. Fresh Expressions is similar to the missional and emerging movements in the U.S. in that it seeks to reach people by shaping church life to widely different contexts, thus the creation of “pub churches” and generally a “mixed economy” in churches that would use both contemporary and traditional modes of worship. Walker conducts ethnographic research of these congregations, interviewing 103 participants, as well as using data from parishes.
Walker confirms earlier research that Fresh Expressions congregations do not necessarily do better than established churches in attracting the unchurched. But they are more effective in drawing and involving children in church life—what has come to be known as the “Messy Church” movement. This may be an important development since there has been a significant downturn in church-Sunday school attendance in this age group, and such involvement often predicts later church-going habits.
The growth of midweek church attendance and activities in the Church of England may be a sign of growing children involvement. Walker concludes that established churches will continue to serve a segment of the population because of the greater range of services and forms of social capital they offer members but that the practices developed from Fresh Expressions may have a beneficial influence on the wider church.