01: There are a growing number of Muslim chaplains in the military in Western nations and, like their counterparts in the prison chaplaincy [see March RW], they tend to operate along the lines established by Christian churches in such ministries, writes Kristina Stoeckl and Olivier Roy in the current issue of the journal Religion, State, and Society. Much of this issue (Vol. 43, No. 1) is devoted to Muslim chaplains in the Western military, with case studies of the chaplaincies of Austria, France, Belgium, the United Kingdom and Spain. An article by Ines Michalowski is particularly informative as it compares Muslim chaplains in five nations: Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria and the U.S. She finds that the market-based system of religion in the U.S. plays out favorably for the distribution of Muslim chaplains in the military. Somewhat unexpectedly given its public secularism, France has accommodated Muslim chaplains to a greater extent than in other sectors of society—such as schools, and more than in Germany where Islam is not yet recognized as an official partner for the state. For more information on this issue, visit: http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/crss20/current.
02: The current issue of the evangelical ChinaSource Quarterly (March) is devoted to the subjects of cults in China. While taking a “counter-cult” position themselves, the contributors acknowledge that evangelicals and any unregistered religious group are often viewed as just as “cultist” as more heterodox groups. An editorial suggests that Chinese evangelicals face both ways on the subject—disassociating them from the cult label while seeking to counteract groups that they themselves consider actual cults, such as Eastern Lightning, now known as Almighty God sect. To make matters more complicated, before the recent government crackdown on the Almighty God group, which was charged with a murder last year, it had been in the forefront of launching attacks against unregistered churches.
The issue includes articles on the unofficial house churches and the tendency to label them as cults, and an interesting account of the Almighty God movement. This secretive movement, which venerates a female Christ figure, started in rural areas. Then, as it expanded into urban areas in the 1990s, around the same time that Christianity was growing in cities, it adopted the strategy of trying to absorb an entire group into its organization. The movement is said to use “moles” to infiltrate churches and to recruit leaders of unofficial churches, thereby gaining control of these congregations. This issue is available at: http://www.chinasource.org/resource-library/chinasource-quarterlies/cults-in-china.
03: Following in the path of other American sociology studying urban changes in the last century, the new book Religion & Community in the New Urban America (Oxford University Press, $35), by Paul Numrich and Elfriede Wedam, draws on the case study of Chicago. Although, it makes the less common point that religion plays a significant role in shaping city environments. Numrich and Wedam conducted an in-depth ethnographic study of 15 Chicago congregations of several faiths, which shows how they are not just passive adapters to urban restructuring, but actually have a degree of agency and even a “city-building” dynamic that has often been ignored by urban planners and scholars. Numrich and Wedam categorize these congregations, consisting of Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Muslim congregations of various ethnicities, on a continuum of weak to strong neighborhood impact.
Congregations that serve metropolitan areas, such as a megachurch and the Hindu temple, were found to have less urban impact than congregations that are more rooted in their neighborhoods. Although, their strong internal ties among members may have their own social effects. The latter congregations also tend to encourage common beliefs and “uniting rituals and internal norms.” The authors also find that although advocacy on social issues tends to have an impact on urban problems, there were several exceptions. Large “territorial claims,” as expressed in imposing structures, also did not necessarily lead to impact in urban life. Rather, urban impact more likely comes from the presence of local programs that address inequality and congregational memberships that show racial and ethnic diversity.
04: Strength for the Journey: Feminist Theology and Baptist Women Pastors (Center for Baptist Heritage & Studies, $20) by Judith Anne Bledsoe Bailey, provides an interesting if limited examination of an understudied group, the movement of ordained women associated with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). For a little more than a decade, there were women pastors in the SBC, right up to the time that conservatives took control of the denomination and prohibited the practice in 1984. Even after that time, there was ordination of women among Baptists in the South. Although, they took place in state associations that had split off from the SBC, such as in Virginia or in the new “moderate” denominations or networks that had formed, namely the Alliance of Baptists and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
Bailey interviews 20 women who were ordained either when they were in SBC churches or in congregations that had later split from the convention and attempts to trace the influence of feminist theology in their ministries. Bailey, a feminist theologian, is somewhat surprised to find that although the women were influenced by feminism in their educations and ministries, they are not strongly feminist in their theology; most do not use inclusive and feminine language for God in worship. More of the younger women wholeheartedly embraced feminist theology than the older ones (somewhat in contrast to the pattern in secular feminist groups). Bailey argues that the hesitancy of a segment of the interviewees to call themselves feminists is because Baptist women in the South are “often reluctant to own the benefits of the women’s movement and feminist theology. There is a tendency (among moderate and conservative women) to depend upon feminism while disallowing the feminist.”
05: It is difficult to run a brief review of such a huge publishing feat as represented by The Changing World Religion Map (Springer, $959), edited by Stanley D. Brunn. In its almost 4,000 pages and five volumes, the anthology covers almost every corner of the world. Many of the subjects are not related to formal geography, including other humanities and the social sciences, but the frameworks of place, space, mapping and human/nature interfaces are retained. Brunn notes that religion has long been an oddity in the academic discipline of geography. But with the rise of human and environmental geography in the last decade, it has changed somewhat and is addressing topics at the interface with religion such as globalization, environmentalism, tourism and social media. RW will be surely dipping into these volumes for background material for the near future, but the more geographical chapters that are especially noteworthy include: The Protestant ethic and its connection to ecological modernization, climate change and religion, atheism and the formation of secular space on the Internet (by Christopher Smith and Richard Cimino, RW’s editor), the growth of religious pilgrimages from across the religious spectrum, the relationship between religions and regional identity including a chapter on “A Geography of California Consciousness, Muslim space in suburbia, the geography of Christian hymns, the geographical patterns of gay ordinations, the geography of Jewish intermarriage, and a virtual geography of religion.