01: A new study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate confirms the dramatic decline in the number of nuns, including those orders that are traditional, over the past 30 years.
The study, drawing on data from the Official Catholic Directory, finds a 72.5 percent decline from a peak total in 1965.
While some popular new stories have suggested that conservative orders have withstood this decline, almost an equal percentage of institutes (including orders) of the more liberal Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the more conservative Conference of Major Superiors of Women Religious have no one at all in formation at the present time. The study also finds that almost equal numbers of women have been attracted to institutes in both conferences in recent years.
Only one in 10 institutes have defied the trend line into decline. There has been a slowing of decline since 2000, mainly because some of the smaller communities have been absorbed by larger ones, therefore accounting for less rapid losses in the base community.
02: Both belief in the sovereignty of God and eschatological beliefs are conducive to environmental apathy among evangelicals, report Jared L. Peifer (Baruch College, New York), Elaine Howard Ecklund and Cara Fullerton (Rice University) in the Review of Religious Research (September).
The research is based on interviews with leaders and laity from a predominantly white, middle-class Southern Baptist congregation and from a lower socio-economic status African American Baptist church, both located in a Southwestern American city. According to the authors, this is the first study focusing on the role of religion in shaping narratives about environmental concern across the social fault lines of race and socio-economic status within evangelicalism.
The concept of stewardship emerged in a number of interviews, most often referring to recycling and “not littering.” But regarding environmental care, interviewees were also keen to explain that it should not become “extreme”—i.e. the environment should not be elevated to an equal plane with God or with (or even above) humans; the love for humans should take precedence over environmental concerns.
God’s sovereignty was frequently mentioned: ultimately, God is in control. Evangelicals believe that the world will end, but they do not feel fearful about it, and only God is sovereign over the timing of the End. Moreover, due to Al Gore’s starring in the movie An Inconvenient Truth (2006), Southern Baptists, who tend to be aligned with Republican politics, perceived calls for environmental concern as coming from the liberal side. From that angle, African American Baptists take a more neutral approach.
But a lack of scientific education, more than pressing material needs, limited the ability of African American Baptists to articulate a particular kind of concern over the environment. While the research confirms environmental apathy among Evangelicals, there is a sense of responsibility at the individual level through the concept of stewardship, although this does not translate into collective environmental efforts. But the authors do not rule out a change in environmental attitudes.
(Review of Religious Research – http://link.springer.com/journal/13644)
03: A study of 35 armed conflicts from 2013 shows that religion did not play a role in 40 percent of these cases.
The study, conducted by the Institute for Economics and Peace and the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation, finds that religion did not stand out as a single cause in any conflict. However, 14 percent did have religion and the establishment of an Islamic state as driving causes. Religion was only one of three factors for 67 percent of the conflicts where religion featured as having a part in the conflict. Despite the apparent role of Sunni-Shia conflicts in the Middle East, on a global level, the presence of both of these Islamic divisions in countries does not necessarily lead to high rates of violence.
Rather, it is countries that have lower corruption and better relations with neighbors that show less conflict, regardless of the level of Sunni and Shia. Countries without a dominant religious group and with fewer regulations and social hostilities on religious practice also have an effect, if less robust than political factors, on levels of peace.
(For the full report, visit: http://www.visionofhumanity.org/#/page/news/1085)
04: African Christians are reading authors from their own continent and they are reading Christian literature but the problem is that they are not reading the works of Africans who are Christians, according to a study by Robert Priest in Christianity Today magazine (October).
Priest conducted a survey of 8,000 Christians in four languages and across three countries, finding few respondents who could identify authors who were both African and Christian. The same pattern is evident in the library holdings of five major Christian higher education institutions in Kenya, where only one African Christian, John Mbiti, ranked among the top 15 authors with the largest presence on the shelves.
Kenyan Christian bookstores had a significantly different top 15 authors, but only African author, Dag Heward-Mills, topped their lists. Commercial booksellers and street vendors did not have any African Christian authors among their top 15. African evangelicals tend to see products from the West, including books, as superior to those of Africa, yet these books do not address pressing African concerns such as polygamy, wife inheritance and honoring ancestors.