The following list is drawn from past issues of RW (in which case we cite the specific issue after each item) and from original sources.
- The terrorist attacks in Paris and in California confirmed two recent aspects of Islamic extremism—the reach of ISIS beyond its base in Iraq and Syria into the West and the growth of self-radicalization facilitated by participation in the social media. Both of these developments did not start in 2015. But, the spread of ISIS westward and its call for “lone wolf terrorism” came together in new ways only in the past few months. While ISIS is very critical of other currents in contemporary Islam, the impact of its actions on the image of Islam in the West is strong and continues to put Muslims in a situation of self-justification. While the long-term future of ISIS itself is uncertain, jihadism is likely to experience further mutations and present a durable challenge both for the West and for Muslims.
- The new migration from the Middle East into Europe is historic in proportions and is likely to unsettle both political and religious establishments. Most church bodies from across the left-right spectrum have welcomed the migrants both through resettlement and advocacy. However, there is some division about evangelizing these mostly Muslim newcomers, with the mainline denominations (at least in Germany) condemning proselytism. (September RW)
- The migration has also strengthened far right movements, some of which draw on a “Christian heritage” in Eastern and Western European societies that are otherwise quite secular. Recent research, such as sociologist Virag Molnar’s work in Hungary (in the journal Nations and Nationalism; 22:1), suggests that far right activism is based more on involvement in civic life than on reactionary individualism. But, the organizations that nurture far right involvement are largely secular, and in some cases Pagan, rather than explicitly Christian or church-based. This pattern confirms survey research showing that European far right sentiment is negatively associated with religious involvement and commitment.
- The emergence of Donald Trump as a leading candidate can be interpreted as an American variant of populist nationalism. Yet the large evangelical support shown for the upstart Republican suggested a more complex phenomenon taking place. Analysts speculated that such support signaled evangelical disenfranchisement and disenchantment with the Republican Party. Trump’s anti-Islamic turn later in 2015 found an affinity with a segment of evangelicals’ opposition to Islam, though by that time Ted Cruz had overtaken Trump in evangelical support. The Trump versus Cruz scenario may more accurately be seen as a demonstration of growing evangelical political diversity.
- The U.S. Supreme Court’s June ruling in favor of gay marriage will likely have religious implications in the years ahead—and not only on the exercise of religious freedom. The ruling has been interpreted as mainstreaming marriage equality; its popular support, with early engagement by mainline Protestants and liberal Quakers performing gay weddings well before secular organizations, suggested to some that the issue is in line with such changes as women’s and racial equality. However, it can be argued that the strong and uncompromising campaign for gay marriage, and its largely secular justification in the court ruling itself, has more affinity with the divisive issue of abortion and Roe. vs. Wade. In the wake of the decision, conservative Christians seem caught between two not unrelated courses of action—pursuing the “Benedict option,” where they withdraw from the culture wars and maintain a countercultural witness, and engaging in protracted battles over the imposition of gay rights on their institutions. (November RW)