01: The field of Islamic studies is among the liveliest (and most employable) in religion today and, as might be expected, also the most contentious over its purposes and methods.
The current issue of the Bulletin for the Study of Religion (November) focuses on the controversies and factions that have developed in Islamic studies, especially the charge (not so new but recently circulated on various blogs) that the field is dominated by scholars whose liberal and benign view of Islam has shaped their treatment of trends in the contemporary Muslim world.
But the articles deal with many topics: the tensions between the academy and the Muslim community, the low status of theory among younger scholars, the growth of women and other minorities in the field, the popularization of Islamic studies and education outside of academia, and the role of apologetics among some scholars. It is this last issue that has raised the most heat since 9/11: should scholars be “caretakers” or “critics” (or insiders and outsiders) of Islam. This issue will only become more sensitive as scholars proceed to dissect the “historical Muhammad” in the same way that they have sought to deconstruct the historical Jesus in Christian studies. For more information on this issue, visit: http://www.equinoxpub.com/journals/index.php/BSOR
02: The current issue of the bi-annual Review of Religion and Chinese Society (Vol. 1, No. 2) is devoted to Pentecostals and charismatics in China, a subject that has not received much attention even though these movements have shown sharp growth in the country.
It is difficult to provide exact numbers for the percentage of charismatic and Pentecostals in China, partly because many Chinese Christians show a Pentecostal style even if they don’t use the label. One article in the issue examines the Christians in the Henan province, and finds that most show some Pentecostal traits (practicing healing and speaking in tongues)—something that has marked Chinese Christians throughout much of their history. Another article argues that the long-time division between patriotic and unregistered or underground Christians is misleading, since patriotism also increasingly marks most churches.
Most unregistered churches consist of patriotic Christians who are reluctant to challenge the state and leaders who espouse patriotism as a way to improve the public image of Christianity. An article by Rachel Xiaohong Zhu find the charismatic Catholic movement is also making strong inroads into China, although, unlike expressions of the renewal in other countries, it is strongly controlled by the bishops and strengthens traditional Catholic devotions. For more information on this issue, visit: http://www.brill.com/products/journal/review-religion-and-chinese-society
03: The anthropology of Christianity has been an established subfield of anthropology for at least 15 years—an anniversary celebrated in a supplement to the December issue of the journal Current Anthropology.
In the introduction, editor Joel Robbins writes that while anthropologists studying Christianity extends well beyond the new millennium, it was during that time that anthropology was redefining what counts as legitimate study, and Christianity itself was becoming more publicly influential in developing societies. Notable articles include a study on the clash between urban and rural Christianity, as well as their respective intellectual and emotional approaches and how migrants to the city experience this tension. An article on anthropology, Christianity and politics by Ruth Marshall suggests that the growth of Pentecostalism poses a special challenge for the anthropologist.
Pentecostalism’s supernatural thrust makes its adherents suspicious of social scientific explanations of religious phenomenon. At the same time, Pentecostalism feels different yet still familiar to liberal Western anthropologists—enough to often make it difficult for them to deal with the faith’s conversionist and illiberal stances as compared with more exotic native traditions and religions. For more information on this supplement, visit: http://www.press.uchicago.edu/ucp/journals/journal/ca.html
04: Sociologist Peter Berger, one of the architects of the secularization theory, gained renewed attention when he changed his mind about the theory in the last decade. In his most recent book The Many Altars of Modernity (DeGruyter, $49.95), Berger retains his skepticism about secularization but concedes that religious pluralism may have a secularizing effect on how people believe and practice religion.
In Berger’s “new paradigm” of pluralism, he sees religious beliefs as persisting and even flourishing under modernity, while “default secularism” co-exists in most people’s minds, and allows them to switch between religious and secular ways of doing things. Berger’s analysis is followed by three responses from sociologists Nancy Ammerman, Detlef Pollack, and Fenggang Yang. Pollack, a defender of the classical secularization theory, argues that Berger’s “both-and” approach is not feasible, writing that secular discourse puts “growing plausibility pressure on the religious discourse” and that the contents of faith are becoming “increasingly diffuse…and vague…strengthening the well-known assumptions of secularization theory.”
05: Christianity in the Modern World: Changes and Controversies (Ashgate, $98.96), edited by Giselle Vincett and Elijah Obinna, with Elizabeth Olson and Afe Adogame, provides an interesting overview of Christian movements and trends in the global South and in the West.
Although several chapters link Western and non-Western themes, others focus exclusively on either region, which gives the book a somewhat scattered tone. Especially noteworthy are the chapters examining the relation of immigrant Christian groups and their host societies in Europe, such as a study showing the isolation and tensions that immigrant African churches experience in Scotland (in the form of regulations that curb unconventional worship styles that may produce too much noise, for example).
Jumping east to the Philippines, contributor Jayeel Serrano Cornelio provides an interesting case study on how Western religious themes of religious individualism and “Golden Rule” Catholicism are influencing Filipino Catholics, especially young adults. The emphasis on authenticity, religious tolerance and relationships, rather than church doctrine and politics resonates more with contemporary spirituality of the post-boomer generations than with stereotypes of the Philippines as a traditional and conservative Catholic country.