01: The social science magazine Society devotes much of its October/November issue to the topic of “the religious and the secular in medicine and health.” The articles cover a wide range of relevant subjects, including the use of spirituality in hospital treatment and bioethics. Candy Gunther Brown looks at the growth of integrative medicine, which includes a range of alternative practices such as therapeutic touch, Reiki, yoga and homeopathy into hospital care. She also finds that although they are “relabeled” as secular, they carry religious undertones that patients may unwittingly know about. “A common pattern is that patients begin by experimenting with integrative medicine for physical reasons, but over time became more open to religious rationalities. This process occurs so gradually that patients may not recognize it. In the end, they have made not just healthcare decisions, but religious choices that differ from choices they would have made with informed consent.”
Another article looks at the recent growth of spiritual assessment tools in healthcare and how they have shifted in use from the clergy to social workers to nurses and medical professionals, revealing the changing perceptions of spirituality. Also noteworthy is an examination of how bioethics is taught in culturally plural societies that often has difficulties integrating ideas drawn from religious traditions and from cultures different from the West. For more information on this issue, visit: http://link.springer.com/journal/12115
02: Sociologists George Yancey and David A. Williamson’s new book So Many Christian, So Few Lions: Is There Christianphobia in the United States? (Rowman & Littlefield, $34) is bound to raise controversy. The authors analyze the American National Election Survey (ANES) as well as an Internet survey of over 3,000 respondents from groups likely to hold anti-Christian attitudes. Yancey and Williamson find that there is considerable anti-Christian hostility, although they spend the rest of the book qualifying those findings. Most of the hostility is directed toward conservative Christians, and Christianity is a dominant majority religion unlike minority religions. But it is the high social positions of those espousing anti-Christian views that can adversely affect the lives of Christians. From the analysis of the ANES findings, the authors establish that there is more animosity felt toward conservative Christians or “fundamentalists” than any other groups beside atheists.
From their Internet survey of progressive activists, they attempt to tease out a profile of those showing particular hostility toward conservative Christians. They are a subset of “cultural progressives” and are, interestingly, less likely to be atheist or agnostic than others in the larger sample (70 percent versus 86 percent) and more likely to be educated, wealthy, women, Christian (though rating low in religiosity), and live in the South. Yancey and Williamson conclude that their findings do not suggest there is persecution of conservative Christians, yet because anti-conservative Christian sentiment holds fewer stigmas than other types of prejudice; it may be harder to root out.
03: In New Monasticism and the Transformation of American Evangelicalism (Oxford University Press, $35), sociologist Wes Markofski argues that the neo-monastic communitarian and social activist movement reveals both the diversity of evangelical identity and the ways in which change is managed in this subculture. The book charts the growth curve of the movement, tripling in size since 2010, and includes well over 200 communities in 34 states. Markofski’s work reveals the subsets within the broader neo-monastic phenomenon that includes the New Monasticism proper. For instance, a “New Friars’” network brings the neo-monastic message and lifestyle to slums in the global South as they engage in squatting campaigns, while a movement known as 24-7 Prayer emphasizes social justice and organizing prayer or “boiler rooms.”
The book is based on ethnographic research of a prominent New Monastic community, which is given the fictitious name of “Urban Monastery.” It discusses how the New Monasticism serves as the “avant-garde” of evangelicalism, along with associated movements of the emerging church and the evangelical left as well as the strategies it employs to stay within the evangelical camp. This can be seen in how New Monastic evangelicals steer a unique path that the author calls “holistic communitarianism,” which does in fact stand in “stark contrast to the theological individualism, political conservatism, and traditional religious practices of dominant expressions of American evangelicalism.” Yet New Monastics stay within the moral and theological parameters of evangelicalism on basic doctrine and such issues as abortion and gay rights, even while eschewing a “culture war” approach and broadening the agenda to include issues such as poverty and environmentalism. Markofski concludes that the tension Urban Monastics feel may not be manageable in the long run, and may prefigure a split in evangelical ranks between “politically conservative evangelicals and theologically conservative but politically progressive” Christians.
04: The new book Religious and Sexual Nationalisms in Central and Eastern Europe: Gods, Gays and Governments (Brill, $120) provides an in-depth look at the stark differences that Eastern European and Russian societies show to their Western counterparts in the areas of religion, politics and sexuality. Before the fall of communism religious leaders and institutions were excluded from the public square, made little reference to sexual minorities and homosexuality. In the post-communist era, that has changed drastically. Today, as both sexuality and religion have become increasingly public, the two spheres have shown sharp conflict. Most of the contributors discuss how homosexuality is often depicted as not just sinful but also as a threat to the nation and are thus being used to define ethnic boundaries (i.e., being a “good Serb”). The debate is also centered on the question of the survival of the family (i.e., the central unit of the nation), which needs to be protected from the vices of the LGBT community. There are also linkages made between the “deviant West” and the European Union (EU) and the emergence of gay activism in Eastern European societies.
The contributors, mainly sociologists, provide several case studies of gay pride parades and the perception that these events are being imposed or at least instigated by the West, especially in Russia, Romania, and the Balkan nations (less so in Catholic and Protestant nations that are close to or members of the EU). Other chapters look at the rise of Internet activism by religious nationalists in Russia, and the way in which the culture wars don’t only move in one direction as Eastern European nations are often treated as backward and stigmatized because of their views by secular Western European nations.
05: God in the Tumult of the Global Square (University of California Press, $19.95), edited by Mark Juergensmeyer, Dinah Greigo and John Soboslai, is the result of a series of meetings by religious practitioners, activists and religion and politics scholars in Russia, China, India, Argentina and the U.S. on the revival of religion in the public square. The slim book (154 pages) reports on the conversations that took place at these meetings on an interesting set of questions and issues: the challenges to traditional religions posed by globalization, the growing public role of religion even while many religious expressions become more private and spiritualized, and some religions’ resorting to violence. The most interesting and pressing question concerns the clash between universal human rights and particularistic religious social and moral teachings. The authors’ account of the sharp confrontations during the conference proceedings between religious leaders (specifically Russian Orthodox and Muslim) on their opposition to homosexuality and the academics’ insistence on the importance of gay rights vividly illustrates this development.