01: A recent effort known as the Jewish Community Legacy Project (JCLP) helps disappearing Jewish communities plan on what assets they will leave behind. In a place such as Pocahontas, Va., both the general and Jewish population declined as coal mining diminished. After the Jewish community there disappeared, the community of nearby Bluefield took over responsibility for the Pocahontas cemetery. But now, the community in Bluefield is heading toward extinction, with only 20 families left, no full-time rabbi since five years ago and an average age of 60. For facing such cases, a former head of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta launched the JCLP after discovering in 2007 that there were some 150 communities across the US with little hope to survive as congregations. In partnership with several Jewish bodies (Union for Reform Judaism, United Synagogues of Conservative Judaism and Jewish Federations of North America), the project helps such communities to perpetuate their legacy and arrange for the disbursement of assets once they cease to exist—including the maintenance of cemeteries where there is one. Historic records of congregations also need to be preserved. The organization acts as an independent, outside consultancy free-of-charge to the communities. The process usually takes one to two years. While starting as something emotional, it proves comforting once congregations realize that they will thus be able to leave something behind. Beside the maintenance of cemeteries or various institutions, congregations that close sometimes allocate their funds to charitable work, scholarships for students or supporting small, but still viable congregations. (Source: Jerusalem Report, Nov. 2; Jewish Community Legacy Project – http://www.jclproject.org/)
02: SHARIASource is an ambitious project that seeks to document and analyze issues relating to Islamic law, or shari’a in all its complexity and volume. Based at Australia Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia and headed by sociologist Bryan Turner and legal scholar Joshua Roose, SHARIASource will focus on shari’a rulings and developments in Southeast Asia. One of the main challenges in documenting shari’a laws are not only understanding the nuances of these cases in different languages but the sheer volume of rulings; in Indonesia alone, 388 religious courts have ruled on 884,176 cases (the majority being divorce cases). To study such a vast output, the project has randomly selected cases with the intent of obtaining a sample reflective of a wide variety of sources. Eventually, the organization hopes to choose a specific period of time and provide a survey from which broader, scientifically valid conclusions can be drawn about the practice of Islamic law in specific courts.
From a pilot study of 800 shari’a cases, the project has offered some early conclusions and findings. In Australia, for instance, they find that “judges will do almost anything to avoid engaging with shari’a, and are very careful in couching their rulings in formal legal terminology.” Yet these rulings are likely to be well received by the wider Muslim community. In the case of Indonesia, the project has looked at the quality of religious court judgments and found “inconsistencies in the legal reasoning of court judges against Indionesia’s national legislation on Marriage and Islamic teachings.” (Source: SHARIASource presentation at the meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion; for more information, contact: Joshua.Roose@acu.edu.au)
03: The Laypersons Sermon, or “Preek van de Leek” in Dutch, is an experiment where secular laypeople are coached by theologians to deliver sermons in Protestant churches in the Netherlands. In its five years of operation, the project has proliferated into numerous local experiments and has been praised as a way to involve secular people, including intellectuals and opinion makers, in congregational life. These sermons are delivered on a Sunday afternoon in the heart of Amsterdam within the format of a Protestant liturgy. A theological coach, usually a minister but they also included journalists, meets with the speaker three times, presenting them with a biblical text and basic catechesis, to help them increase their religious literacy. So far, there have been 25 services and sermons. The project is strongly influenced by Dutch Reformed missional theology that stresses learning from those outside the church. A content analysis of the sermons shows hardly any reference to Christ and only vague references to God, often viewed as another name for social justice, tolerance or love. But the Laypersons’ Sermons have attracted non-believers to church and attracted the attention of the secular media. (Source: Ecclesial Practices, 2, 2015)