01: The politicization of churches in the last two decades has been viewed as weakening congregational growth and aiding subsequent secularization in American society, but a new study suggests that political involvement by churches can have the opposite effect.
Andre Audette and Christopher L. Weaver of the University of Notre Dame presented a paper at the Indianapolis meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in November and found that congregations that have engaged in more political activities were more likely to see growth in membership over time. Audette and Weaver, both doctoral students in political science, utilized data from the National Congregations Study, which measured the degree that congregations were involved in such activities as registering voters and lobbying elected officials.
Previous research on the weakening effect of political activism on churches (particularly those on the political and theological left) looks only at trends at the aggregate level. The researchers find that partisans on both ends of the political spectrum, especially Republicans, are more likely to engage in religious switching, which suggests that those shopping for new congregations may be politically motivated. Audette and Weaver conclude that political churches will continue growing faster than non-political ones. Such activity may cost religious adherents at the aggregate level, “politicization benefits individual churches by attracting members from a politically motivated niche market.”
02: Loyalty to a lifestyle consumer brand can compete with religious commitment, even leading people to disassociate from their religious faith, according to a study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology (December).
The study, conducted by business professors Keisha Cuthright, Turlin Erdem, Gavin Fitzsimons, and Ron Shachar, conducted experiments which measured the levels of commitment to religion and various lifestyle brands, such as Nike and Starbucks. Participants were asked to rate the salience of brands and then to indicate the importance of religious involvement and belief.
The researchers find that the subjects who rated brands as tools for self-expression often wavered in their commitment to religion. The authors speculate that brands allow people to express the view that they are “meaningful, worthwhile beings, and deserving of good things,” and at the same time want to be consistent and “intuit that being religious and being stylish are in conflict…When they are using Apple or Nike to express who they are, it feels more self-oriented or materialistic.”
In an article on the study in the OnFaith blog (Oct. 20), Cuthright concludes that the study suggests, “Religious identity is a little less stable than we would like for it to be.”
03: Greater religious commitment tends to intensify opposition to torture among Christians, according to a study in the journal Politics and Religion (December).
A much-publicized survey in 2009 demonstrated an apparent association among religious identification, attendance and support for the use of torture, with a substantial majority of white evangelicals saying that such measures are “often” or “sometimes” justified. Researchers H. Whit Kilburn and Brian Fogarty find that the relation between religious commitment and “belief orthodoxy” is more complex. Using data from the 2008 National Election Studies survey, they find that among the religious unaffiliated, it is the case that greater religious orthodoxy yields significantly stronger support for torture.
Yet, with the exception of black Protestants, increased religious commitment has the effect of decreasing support for torture, even among the unaffiliated. Kilburn and Fogarty write, “greater exposure to religious ethics and elite influence [found in religious institutions] decreases support for torture.” For the unaffiliated, orthodoxy was related to a “naïve” Biblical literalism unconditioned by religious association, while among Catholics, evangelicals, and mainline and black Protestants, greater orthodoxy is statistically insignificant, yet negatively associated with support for torture.
(Politics and Religion, http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayJournal?jid=RAP)
04: The practice of women taking the last names of their husbands remains common in the U.S., but it is especially strong among evangelical young women, according to a recent survey.
In the online journal Religions (issue 5), researchers Kevin Dougherty, Melanie Hulbert, and Ashley Palmer look at the marital naming intentions of 199 young women at four evangelical colleges. Although the majority of women still choose to use the name of their husbands, egalitarian marriage practices have increasingly included such alternatives as hyphenated names. The researchers found that the vast majority of young evangelical women plan to follow traditional marriage naming customs, seeing alternatives as a not as viable choice.
While family influence in marital naming is one factor in their decisions, private prayer and a belief in a literal Bible still stand out as significant predictors of marital naming plans. Dougherty, Hulbert and Palmer conclude, “Consequently, it may be hard for the minority who desire an alternative marital name to find a like-minded mate among their classmates.”
05: The view that church and state should be separate when it comes to marriage, an idea popular among evangelical and Catholic leaders, has also gained significant public support, according to surveys of clergy and laypeople.
LifeWay Research conducted a survey of 2,000 American adults and find that nearly six in 10 respondents (59 percent) say that marriage should not be “defined and regulated by the state.” About one-third (36 percent) say that clergy should “no longer be involved in the state’s licensing of marriage,” although 53 percent disagree with that statement. Catholics were more likely than Protestants (53 versus 45 percent) to support this separation between religious and secular marriages.
A parallel survey of 1,000 clergy conducted by LifeWay finds that one in four favored separating marriages from government definition and regulation. Ideas about separating religious and civil marriages started in conservative groups protesting against the state recognition of gay marriage, although many liberals and libertarians also favor such a change and it is a common policy throughout the world.
06: A longitudinal study of older adults suggests religious change and switching is not limited to younger Americans.
The study, published in the Review of Religious Research (December) by R. David Hayward and Neal Krause, looked at religious attendance and affiliation patterns covering a period of between three and 12 years from a survey of religion and health among older adults. The researchers found that more than a quarter of older adults reported that they belonged to different religious categories, such as mainline and evangelical Protestant traditions, in the two consecutive time ranges, and a “substantial additional proportion [exhibited] smaller changes among and within Protestant denominations.”
These findings go against previous theories that older adults make few religious changes and that these age groups tend to lessen their religious involvement. However, Hayward and Krause did not find a high rate of withdrawal from religious institutions. Black Protestants and Catholics were the least likely groups to report religious change. Greater frequency of worship was related to lower chance of switching group affiliations.
(Review of Religious Research, http://link.springer.com/journal/13644)