01: The April issue of the quarterly journal The Muslim World is devoted to the little known branch of Ibadi Islam, which is the majority faith in Oman but also present in Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Zanzibar and along the East Africa coast. The Ibadi developed from conflicts over successors of Mohammad and tended to stress coexistence with other Muslim groups while pursuing a form of Islam shorn of corruption. Today, the Ibadi only represent one percent of all Muslims but the contributors suggest that their stress on rationality and dialogue is being felt in both the scholarly and religious worlds. As one of the few Islamic countries that allow a diversity of religious expression—though prohibiting proselytism, even by Muslims—one article reports on how Oman has become a center of intra-Muslim and interfaith dialogue, often through the leadership of its sultanate and its Ministry of Religious Affairs. Other articles look at Ibadi identity and influence in Africa, and the differences between Ibadism and Wahhabism, a much more widespread reformist movement seeking to return to Islam purity. For more information on this issue, visit: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1111/(ISSN)1478-1913
02: Carmel Chiswick’s new book Judaism in Transition (Stanford University Press, $22.95) represents her unique approach of examining Jewish issues through an economic perspective. Chiswick, a labor economist, extends her previous work and looks at how American Jews are making shifting investments in the time and costs they invest in their religion, leading to new forms of observance. Chiswick distinguishes between the “Great Tradition” of Judaism, based on sacred scripture and major observances, that is less susceptible to change and the “small tradition,” which is undergoing more innovations, such as egalitarianism in the synagogue even as it seeks to perpetuate the Great Tradition to the next generations.
New movements in American Judaism, such as Reconstructionism, have gained traction because they provided timesaving alternatives for religious expression. The chapters cover a wide range of topics—from Jewish marriage, which has to become an increasingly intentional choice in the face of intermarriage and secularism, and occupation patterns to immigration and relations with Israel. Chiswick’s concluding section argues against pessimism. Judaism will likely have less members in the future, including in Orthodoxy, and an increasing number of practitioners will be older because they are able to devote the time and money to observance and study. But, there are also new movements and groups that can reinvigorate the religion. Chiswick views the small, start-up synagogues as one such site of innovation, as well as the larger synagogues that have moved beyond the monolithic style of the past and have embraced internal diversity, including several different types of worshipping communities under its roof.
03: The new book Buddhism, the Internet, and Digital Media (Routledge, $140), edited by Gregory Price Grieve and Daniel Veidlinger, suggests that Buddhists, especially in the West, have uniquely adapted social media and other computer technologies to their spiritual practice and beliefs. As one contributor notes, Buddhists have historically not shied away from using unorthodox means to spread its teachings and have found the online world a congenial place to continue such dissemination of the religion. In fact, as the Introduction notes, many of the architects of the Internet were influenced by Buddhist ideas and teachings. One chapter Louise Connelly attempts to map “Buddhist cyberspace,” and finds that there is a “negotiation and blurring between the offline and online space. This is clearly illustrated at the Buddha Center in Second Life, where many of the participants will meditate offline at the same time as their avatar is sitting on a virtual meditation cushion in the Buddhist temple in Second Life.” Other noteworthy chapters examine the growth of “Buddhist apps” for mobile technology in everything from online games to meditation and Buddhist text study aids; finding growing concern about commercialism and “gamification;” a survey showing the continuing divide between white and ethnic Buddhists, with the former showing greater use of the Internet to practice their religion; rapid progress and influence of online Buddhist journals; and the ways in which the Internet has created a new connectedness among the Tibetan diaspora.
04: Dynamics of Religion in Southeast Asia (Amsterdam University Press, $99), edited by Volker Gottowik, looks at the complex interplay between modernity and religion in a region where magic is often more influential than secular modes of living. The book tends to take a “multiple modernities” perspective, meaning that different societies arrive at modernization through various routes that don’t necessarily include secularization in the Western sense. But the chapters do show how such modern forces as standardization and codification affect indigenous religions of the Southeast—Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Bali—even as they find novel ways to adapt. In Indonesia, the religious policy requires that religions be monotheistic, either the others to be classified as cultural traditions and tourist attractions or compelling them to codify their beliefs in a more formal way. A contribution on the relation of magical practices and the market find that while these indigenous traditions and objects such as amulets may be commercialized, the market itself is endowed with ritualistic properties with magical forces seen as traveling along transactions. A chapter on Christian women in Sumatra suggests that Christianity is seen as modern and thus a rational alternative to local customs that support male superiority.