01: The Journal of Religious and Political Practice is a new annual publication that examines the interplay of religion and politics in an interdisciplinary and global perspective. In the inaugural issue, the editors state that the journal will “explore ideas about religion and politics, not just as ideologies or belief systems, but as rituals, practices, embodied everyday activities, institutions and structures, movements and mobilizations.” The journal’s emphasis on how “politics and religion gets done,” is evident in several of the first issue’s offerings, including a study of mass prayer rallies in Southeast Asia and the role that emotion plays in modern Islamic identity; an examination of religion and nationalism, with a case study of how secular nationalism has framed ritual and political practice in Singapore without being able to entirely control it; and a look at the way urban life accommodates religious practices even as they conflict with formal religious rules and institutions. The next issue is devoted to “Prayer and Politics” and includes such case studies of the political relevance of prayer in Nigeria (with one article discussing how a form of “charismatic Islam” has emerged that adopts methods of propagating the faith from Pentecostalism), France, India, Russia, and the U.S. The first issue is freely accessible at: http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/rfrp20/current#.Vd7j7KSFOM8
02: Scholars have increasingly recognized the role Pentecostal churches can play in economic and social development, especially in the global South, although this idea still meets resistance in development circles. The current issue of the journal PentecoStudies (Vol. 12, No. 2) is devoted to the growing encounter between Pentecostalism and the development field, with an opening article by Matthew Clarke arguing that both have more in common than might be expected. Clarke writes that in the development world religion has often been seen more as an impediment rather than an ally in social betterment. But the growing involvement of Pentecostal churches in social work, such as health care and education in more than an ad hoc way is aligned in many ways with development organizations’ traditional goals of transformation of poor people’s lives and their participation in society. The issue offers case studies of Pentecostal development work in Zambia, Nigeria and Cameroon, concluding with a roundtable discussion between development theoreticians and practitioners on these issues. For more information on this issue visit: http://www.equinoxpub.com/journals/index.php/PENT/issue/current
03: Although Christian Reconstructionism has passed the height of its political influence, Julie J. Ingersoll’s new book Building God’s Kingdom (Oxford University Press, $29.95) argues that the movement, which presses for a society run by biblical principles, continues to extend its reach in many ways beyond electoral politics. Ingersoll traces Reconstructionism from its beginnings in the 1960s under the inspiration of philosopher R.J. Rushdoony to its fingerprints on economic and anti-statist ideas floating around Tea Party circles. Ingersoll notes several distinct traits of Reconstructionism that still echo in segments of the Christian right and in conservatism in general—the view that the Bible addresses every aspect of society, a strongly creationist perspective (she doesn’t mention intelligent design as holding much appeal), strictly defined gender roles, with women seen as only serving as mother and wife, and delegation of education away from the state and into the hands of families and private schools.
It is on the last matter that Ingersoll does a particularly good job in showing how Reconstructionists have increasingly taken the reigns of the home schooling movement, provoking criticism even from other conservative Christian homeschoolers. Ingersoll concludes that while the movement has suffered recent setbacks, in particular the disbanding of Doug Phillips’ Vision Forum over a sexual scandal, a younger generation of leaders has emerged, such as Brandon Vallorani of American Vision, which will continue to recycle its ideas within conservative Christian activism.
04: In the last few years, there has been considerable attention to cases of deconversion or “apostasy” from Islam, no doubt shaped by instances of severe punishments and even executions of those leaving the faith in various Islamic societies reported in the media. While there is not yet a full-fledged study of this phenomenon, Simon Cottee’s new book The Apostates (Hurst & Company, $35) provides an exploratory examination of why and how Muslims in the West (specifically Canada and Great Britain) are leaving Islam. Cottee acknowledges that the book does not provide the data on the prevalence of Islamic apostasy or the demographics of this population, nor does it situate ex-Muslims within the dynamics of the Islamic community. Rather, it is based on interviews with ex-Muslims who are atheists (his sample of 35 ex-Muslims came from an ex-Muslim atheist-oriented Internet forum), a subset unlikely representative of most ex-Muslims (who most likely range from Christians to the spiritual but not religious to agnostic). But Cottee is more interested in understanding the process of people leaving the faith and how such apostasy poses major challenges to their identities and well-being.
As other studies of apostasy have shown, the road to leaving Islam can be long and difficult, with several stages—doubt, fear, a sense of liberation upon leaving, and a period of legitimizing one’s decision (with the help of fellow apostates online), as well as lingering shame over departing. But the struggle is particularly intense for ex-Muslims. Cottee found that most didn’t experience threats or violence (aside from hate messages online) as might be the case in Muslim societies, but whether the interviewees remained concealed as Muslims yet disbelieving or have “come out of the closet,” their situation poses a “moral issue within Muslim families and communities” that are based on honor and shame. The stigma of apostasy and the resulting social and family alienation remains long after leaving the faith.