01:The use of personal computers and mobile technology to read the Bible may lead to a tradeoff of positive and negative effects, including increased reading, but also a sense of loss in the Bible’s uniqueness and new problems in interpretation of the text, according to a survey of digital use of the scriptures in the journal Studies in Religion (Vol. 44, 4). The growth of digital Bibles and other scriptures has been dramatic in the past decade. But, it has led to speculations that the relationship between the “e-reader” and the sacred text is significantly changed. Tim Hutchings of Stockholm University surveyed 257 readers of digital Bibles through an Internet survey (thus the respondents were self-selected) and found a greater share of men than women who are digital scripture readers.
As to the effects of e-reading, most found that the Bible is now more convenient, easier to study and more open to online conversations. However, a “significant minority felt their Bible had lost its status as a unique and sacred object, worried that they were beginning to read isolated verses without understanding their wider context, and regretted the loss of a meaningful relationship with a physical object,” Hutchings writes. The fact that men were more likely to respond to the survey, more likely to use a digital text at work and in church, and use commentaries and reading aids could reflect the greater proportion of men still in ministry compared to women.
(Studies in Religion, http://sir.sagepub.com/)
02: While there are more participants in U.S. megachurches than ever, individual rates of attendance have gone down to once or twice a month or less, according to a 2015 report on megachurches issued by Leadership Network and the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. The research was conducted through a survey of megachurch pastors, staff, and other “key informants.” Megachurches, many launched a quarter of a century ago by baby boomers are seeing slippage in the younger generations. Participation by millennials, ages 18-34, has flattened out at about 19 percent since 2010. The baby buster, or Gen-X attendees, are showing a greater decline in participation, dropping from 28 percent in 2010 to 23 percent today.
The other major change among U.S. megachurches is the way these church structures are getting smaller. Congregations are “getting bigger by getting smaller,” through establishing multi-site churches with several campuses, according to report co-author Warren Bird. 62 percent of the megachurches now have multi-sites, whereas only five years ago it was 46 percent. The percentage claiming an evangelical identity has grown; now it’s 71 percent. At the same time, the non-denominational trend continues (at 40 percent), with most pastors saying denominational ties were unimportant or not very important to their congregations. But social service to others outside the congregation has climbed in importance, with 44 percent saying one of their specialties was community service.
03: How much a new church emphasizes its denominational affiliation does not seem to make much of a difference in increasing attendance or attracting many unchurched people; in fact, those new churches that are less likely to emphasize their denominational connections and identity drew higher proportions of young adults, according to a recent study. This study, conducted by Marjorie Royle and RW’s editor and presented at the recent meeting of the Religious Research Association, is based on an analysis of how new church starts portray their denominational connections on their web sites, interviews and observations of their services, and quantitative information on the growth rates of these congregations.
Although there was a weak relationship between emphasizing a denominational identity and growth, the study did find that new congregations were more likely to stress the church body they belong to if they were trying to attract visitors in newly developing areas where the denomination was strong. They were also more likely to emphasize their denomination if they were trying to distinguish themselves from other, more conservative churches in areas such as the South. This was especially clear in churches such as the United Church of Christ. UCC congregations were more likely to use their denomination in their names and link to the denomination (locally and nationally) on their web sites. Attenders often showed strong support and identification with the liberal church body, particularly those in the LGBT community who feel rejected by other churches.
04: The rise of the religiously unaffiliated has raised a debate about how “spiritual” this population is, with a recent analysis from the Pew Research Center suggesting that they may be becoming more secular. An analysis done on both the 2007 and the 2014 Religious Landscape Study finds that the “nones” are becoming less religious. The share of religious nones who say they believe in God, while still a majority, has fallen from 70 percent to 61 percent over the seven-year period. Only 27 percent of “nones” are absolutely certain about God’s existence, down from 36 percent in 2007. The analysis also finds that one-third of religiously unaffiliated Americans (33 percent) now say they do not believe in God, which is an increase of 11 percentage points over that time.
05: While it has been widely reported that traditional Southern Jewish communities have declined to the point of extinction, there is a broader pattern of Jewish growth in major Southern cities and even a rebound in some smaller communities, according to a study by Ira Sheskin. Reported in the Forward.com (November 10), Sheskin looked at a 60-year period (1955 to the present) and found that the percentage of the American Jewish population living in the northeast fell to 44 percent from 68 percent. During that same period, the percentage of American Jews living in the West grew from 10 percent to 24 percent. The percentage of Jews living in the South, including Florida, grew to 21 percent from eight percent.
But, it is not only a case of the Jewish populations rising in such areas as Florida, Maryland and the District of Columbia. Excluding those areas, the number of Southern Jews has more than doubled to 508,000 people from 216,000 people. Atlanta accounts for a large part of this growth, but also the Jewish communities of Houston, Dallas, Charlotte, NC, and Richmond, Virginia have shown considerable growth. Even the idea that small Jewish communities are dying out is challenged by Sheskin’s study; small communities with between 100 and 500 Jews have bounced back to levels not seen since the 1960s. In many “college towns”, among other cities, Jewish professionals are being lured to jobs in academia, medicine and business.
06: A survey of Pagan leaders in the U.S. shows them to be older, overwhelmingly white, more educated, having higher incomes than lay Pagans, with one-third receiving some income for their services. An analysis of a 2012 survey by Gwendolyn Reece of American University of 989 leaders (taken from a sample of 3,318 responses from Pagans) was presented at the late November meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Atlanta. Although it was not a probability sample, Reece said the results broadly reflect the American Pagan community. While more educated than the larger Pagan community, the leaders have also followed a “Pagan-educated trajectory” whether in the form of distance learning, Pagan leadership workshops or seminary, according to Reece. The leadership ranks were overwhelmingly female, though males were overrepresented for their small numbers; they also tended to more “polyamorous” than the rest of the Pagans. As with Pagans in general, the leaders all tended to choose several different schools (such as Wiccan, Druid), with 68.3 of the leaders saying they were initiated into Paganism (compared to 25.2 percent of non-leaders). The fairly high proportion of those leaders getting paid as professional Pagans was mostly in the way of part-time, supplemental pay. Approximately 17 percent were paid full-time.
07: Islamic schooling in the West tends to facilitate student and family participation in mainstream society, though much depends on the degree of concentration of Muslims in a given area, according to a study in the journal Social Compass (December). The growth of Muslim schools, like their Christian and Jewish counterparts, has been viewed as either promoting social integration or limiting on the autonomy and individuality of students. The growth of Islamic extremism has led some critics, such as the prominent atheist Richard Dawkins, to see Muslim schools, especially if they promote Islamic law or sharia, as creating group isolation and a divided society. This study based on focus groups, participant-observation, and in-depth interviews with students, teachers, parents, administrators, and Muslim university students of three Muslim schools in the U.S. and Britain was conducted by Serena Hussain (Coventry University) and Jen’nan Ghazal Read (Duke University).
Hussain and Read note that attending these schools paradoxically did not necessarily result in greater religious commitment. But, in both countries, Muslim schooling increased intergroup contact with school administrators and teachers, “exhibiting a clear dedication to achieving the best academic standards possible in order to place students in reputable universities and ultimately successful careers.” The study also found challenges to the integration of Muslim families. This was found to be particularly true in the UK where Islamic schools are less ethnically diverse than in the U.S. “If attending a Muslim school is married with other contextualizing factors such as residential segregation, the ability of Muslim children to engage with those outside their immediate community will be difficult,” the researchers conclude.
(Social Compass, http://scp.sagepub.com/)
08: Looking at cross-national data, researchers find that countries that have many different religions rather than one dominant one had higher suicide rates, according to an article in Social Compass (Vol. 62, No. 4). The relationship between religion and suicide has been a classic question for sociologists of religion going back to Emile Durkheim. Sociologist Matthew Moore of Grand View University writes that while past research has shown that religious belief does reduce suicide rates, the effect of religious diversity has been less studied. Moore collected suicide rates for 2000, 2005, and 2008 from the World Health Organization and used an average suicide rate to control for wide variation from year to year, as well as control for those countries that did not report suicide rates for all three years (the sample size was 41, though this size is relatively common for suicide studies). Creating a religious diversity index, Moore finds that those countries with low “religious fractionalization,” and one dominant religion, such as Greece and Ecuador, had lower suicide rates than those, such as Canada, that had more religious diversity.
09: Religious populations outpacing religiously unaffiliated ones between 2010 and 2050 may result in altered distribution of wealth, according to a new study by the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation. The Weekly Number blog (October 21) reports that the study links demographic and economic data, though it does not claim to find a direct causal link between religious behavior and economic practices. The report finds that the rising economic fortunes of Hindus and the rising numbers of Muslims in particular will “produce a more economically and religiously diverse planet, while the relative position of Christian populations will be weakened overall.” Economic growth among the global Jewish population is expected to increase, but significantly less than the overall economic growth in the world, since Jewish growth is slowing more quickly than the world as a whole. Buddhist population growth will stagnate, though China’s economic rise will keep Buddhist wealth on par with global economic growth. While the growth of the global unaffiliated population is slowing, its economic growth is expected to track global trends in the years ahead.
(The Weekly Number, http://theweeklynumber.com/weekly-number-blog.html)