In This Issue
- On/File: April 2003
- Findings & Footnotes: April 2003
- Anti-conversion laws in India spreading?
- Papal diplomacy’s bright future
- Current Research: April 2003
- Cut faces schisms, defections
- Young Muslims take lead in anti-war activism
- Demand high, supply low for military chaplains
- Iraq war revives prophetic fervor
- Religious leaders weigh consequences of Iraq war
01: Chrysalis is a unique faith-based social service program that provides recipients with alternatives to the majority of programs with a Christian orientation.
A key issue surrounding faith-based social services is providing recipients with enough choices to ensure that their religious freedom is not jeopardized. Chrysalis , devised by Rev. Laurie Etter, chaplain of York Correctional Institution in Connecticut, brings 32 women inmates together from five different faith groups — Protestant, Catholic, Native American, Wicca, and Muslim. The participants in the trial program, which lasts for six months, attend group discussions and individually meet with community volunteers who serve as mentors.
Because Etter’s program is multi-faith and open to all prisoners, it would not be subject to legal scrutiny and possible litigation in state prisons as might be the case with Christian-only programs, according to one prison official.
(Source: Stamford Advocate, March 10)
01: The conservative evangelical newsweekly World devotes its March 8 cover story to press coverage of the world’s religions.
Editor Marvin Olasky examined “several thousand” newspaper articles from January, 2000 to January, 2003 covering the world’s religions and finds two tendencies — “superficiality and syncretism.” In coverage of Islam, the press tends to portray Muslim and Christian beliefs as converging, claiming that both revere Jesus and that both religions pray to the same God. Olasky writes that his informal study shows that the newspaper coverage suggests extremism represents a small minority of Islam rather than a “sizable chunk.”
He finds that reporting on Hinduism and Buddhism likewise stress the peaceful nature of these religions and downplay violence and controversies in these faiths and ignoring their theological content. “Journalistic skeptics who scorn Christian revivalists have become weak in the knees when writing about visiting Buddhist biggies,” according to Okasky.
Some of the remedies that Okasky proposes for correcting these tendencies may strike some reporters as more polemical than unbiased. Olasky writes that reporters should list the “signs of impact” among participants who claim their lives have been affected by the visit of a leader such as the Dalai Lama. ” They should also interview these adherents a year later to “see if the impact was lasting.”
The issue is on World’s Website: http://www.worldmag.com/world/issue/03-09-03/cover_4.asp
02: The spring issue of the journal National Interest features a special section on the “Sociologies of Islam.”
One of the articles, by French Islamic specialist Olivier Roy, provides an interesting overview of “EuroIslam,” which he sees as fomenting a good deal of the extremism today. Roy makes it clear that it is not the Islamic diaspora communities in Europe maintaining ties to their traditions that are the seedbed of extremism; these groups range from traditionalist to moderate. The danger comes from an alienated subculture — both from their own nations of origin and their adopted societies — who revive their faith (and in the case of white Europeans, sometimes even convert) and join networks like Al Queda to create a universal Islamic “umma” (or community) shorn of national traditions.
A similar (though less extreme) rapidly growing movement based in London is Hizb ut-Tahrir, which started out Palestinian but is now transnational, even exporting itself to the Middle East and Asia.
A second article by David Martin Jones asks how a country such as Indonesia could, in the process of modernization, make such a dramatic switch to the fundamentalist Islamic track, catching most experts by surprise. Jones writes that a new sociology of Islam is needed which accounts for how these revivalist movements feed off technology and modernity and thrive among people existing outside of actual traditions, communities and family structures.
For more information on this issue, write: National Interest, 1615 L Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20036; http://www.nationalinterest.org
03: The new book Modernizing Islam (Rutgers University Press, $24) edited by John Esposito and Francois Burgat brings together 10 scholars to examine Islam’s growing influence in public life, both in the Middle East and Europe.
Unlike the above articles, the emphasis in this book is less on the threat of terrorism and more on how the traditional Muslim communities are changing in the process of modernizing and globalizing, defying clear-cut divisions between moderate and militant. Several of the chapters contend that what has been called Islamic fundamentalism (or “Islamism”) is the route by which many Muslims are modernizing, as it generates the activism and organizations that help disenfranchised groups, such as women and the poor, gain a place in society.
The chapters on Islam in Europe also demonstrate how difficult it is to generalize about this trend; the various historic “church-state” stances and multicultural policies of these nations have created different forms of Islamic organizational life (nations requiring official recognition of Islamic groups, such as France and Belgium, tend to generate a good deal of unofficial hostility and activism). The book’s tone of guarded optimism about the acceptance of Islam within the European community is tempered by the events of September 11, with one chapter concluding that a new mood of suspicion and isolation will make it a long time” before Muslims can “return to the path of social integration.”
04: Ira Rifkin’s Spiritual Perspectives On Globalization (Skylight PathsPublishing, Rt. 4, P.O. Box 237, Woodstock, VT 05091, $16.95) explores the different meanings of globalization and how they relate to the world’s religions. Rifkin looks both at globalization in its political and economic sense (as personified, for instance, in the demonstrators against free trade) and as a cultural force.
He provides interesting profiles of how globalization impacts each religion–ranging from Christianity to Islam to Baha’i and “Earth-based religions. Throughout the book, Rifkin alternates between examining how religions address issues of globalization in their visions of social justice and how they themselves are affected by this process. In a chapter on Catholicism, Rifkin looks at how Catholic social teaching is critical of some of the tenets of economic globalism, while the church is facing strong competition from evangelicals due to the global reach of new communications technology.
The Islamic protest against globalization is growing, although there are movements that welcome these currents, such as the Daudi Bohra Isma’ili community in India (although Rifkin pays less attention to how Islamic militancy and extremism have also taken on global dimensions). He concludes that globalization will inevitably change religious groups, though they can also provide the meaning and restraints that may help keep this process from spinning out of control.
On March 26, Gujarat’s state assembly passed a bill banning religious conversion through use of force or bribery.
This expected move followed a similar law adopted in Tamil Nadu last October. While this will once again lead to criticism of India by advocates of religious freedom around the world and to protests from minority religions and human rights organizations in India itself, it is unlikely that the trend toward measures against conversion will decrease in the near future.
As RW’s contributing editor could observe during a recent trip to the Indian subcontinent, Hindu activists intend to increase these laws. This was recently confirmed by the general secretary of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Gujarat, who predicted similar laws would be passed across the country, according to CNS News (March 26).
The debate about conversions is not new in India, but it has become more acute in recent years. Religious minorities are afraid that, despite the fact that only forced conversions are targeted, such legal measures could be used as a dissuasive tool against any kind of conversion, especially in Gujarat, where serious communal violence took place last year.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer
In times of international crisis or debates on key issues, it has become common to hear the voice of the Pope among those of other heads of governments — a trend that is likely to grow in the future, according to the French monthly for future studies, Futuribles (March).
The Holy See is an active participant on the international scene and a number of Catholic NGOs are now engaged in this diplomatic activism as well, writes French political scientist Jérôme Montes. The current Pope has been very eager to use all the possibilities offered by modern media: there is no longer any Papal flight without the company of a few dozens journalists, photographers and cameramen.
Media coverage, beside those media based at the Vatican, is seen as essential for getting a worldwide hearing. The next Pope may even engage in more travel, predicts Montes, since Europe will become less and less the center of Catholicism and there will be a constant need to visit the local churches in other parts of the world in order to strengthen links with them. The Holy See now has diplomatic relations with more States than ever. But its activities also make use of other channels than bilateral diplomatic relations.
Various Catholic international organizations, such as Pax Christi or Sant’Egidio, bring a valuable contribution to Papal diplomatic efforts. The Vatican sees the United Nations as a key forum, and it is not impossible that it will apply in the near future for full membership, instead of keeping its current status as an observer, according to Montes.
Finally, he expects ecumenism and interreligious dialogue to remain an important component of Vatican’s diplomacy in the years to come, although there will be challenges to overcome in the Muslim world and parts of Asia.
(Futuribles, 55 rue de Varenne, 75341 Paris Cedex 07. http://www.futuribles.com)
— By Jean-Francois Mayer
01: Few Americans say their religious beliefs are shaping their views on the conflict over Iraq, and most churchgoers have not heard a clear position taken from the pulpit on the war, according to a new poll.
The survey, conducted by the Pew Research Center and Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, found that just one-in-ten Americans cite their religious beliefs as the strongest factor in their thinking about the war. Even among those regularly attending religious services, fewer than one-in-five (17 percent) say their religious beliefs are the biggest influence.
While nearly six-in-ten (57 percent) of those regularly attending services said their clergy had spoken about the prospect of war, only a fifth (21 percent) say their priest or minister had taken a position on the issue from the pulpit. Yet thirty-two percent said that religious leaders have been speaking out too little on the issue, a view which is greatest among war opponents. When churchgoers did hear a pro- or anti-war message, 14 percent of Catholics said their priest expressed opposition to the war and none said they heard pro-war messages.
Among white mainline Protestants, seven percent heard anti-war messages against one percent pro-war messages. Fifteen percent of white evangelicals heard their clergy express support for the war and only three percent heard anti-war messages. African-Americans heard more anti-war than pro-war messages, by a margin of 38 percent to five percent.
02: Although religious behavior on the whole has changed little in the U.S., there has been significant shifts among specific ethnic and age groups, such as blacks, Generation X and older Americans, according to a Barna poll.
Barna Research Online (March 18 report) features research from a recent poll showing that a look beneath the surface of American religious life shows a growing move to more traditional Christian activity among the baby bust or GenX generation.
A poll of 1,000 respondents shows that Gen Xers are shedding their image as pessimistic non-joiners; there is a four percent increase in church attendance, a six percent growth in small group participation, and a seven percent increase in those saying they are absolutely committed to the Christian faith since 1998.
Older (“Builder” generation) Americans, meanwhile, show a pattern of dropping out of religious participation, due mainly to declining health and the erosion of commitment among the “less faith-driven Builders generation,” according to Barna. Church attendance declined by six percent since 1997, although there is no sign of “core beliefs” or private devotions (such as prayer and Bible reading) falling off among this generation. American blacks shows the sharpest declines, with a 10 percent drop in Bible reading from just three years ago.
Beliefs among blacks are also changing, with a belief in God as all-powerful and all-knowing dipping by nine points since 1996. There also was a nine percent drop in the percentage of blacks who strongly disagree with the statement that Satan does not exist and is only a symbol of evil. Barna also found that the U.S. South is slipping as the bastion of evangelical belief; there is a nine point decline in the proportion of Southerners who can be classified as a born again Christian and a six percent drop in church attendance since 1997.
03: Acceptance of religious diversity while maintaining a moral common ground describes a view the future of American society held by many, according to a new University of Virginia study.
A study called Difference and Democracy polled 1,724 Americans in late 2002 and early 2003 and found two visions for the future competing among respondents: one where Americans will be more religious than secular and where there will be more unity on moral issues rather than diversity. Insight (Spring), the newsletter of the University of Virginia’s Center on Religion and Democracy, reports that the alternative vision held by over half of those surveyed (53 percent) includes greater diversity for the American family, a greater mix of religions rather than a “Christians nation” and greater freedom for people to live out their cultural heritage and religious preferences.
Neither of the standard models for explaining society — the melting pot or the multicultural “salad bowl” — do a good job of distilling this tension between the two visions. Interestingly, almost as many senior citizens as young adults held to the latter “diversity” vision. And two-thirds of Americans from the liberal Northeast share the longing for a more religious rather than a more secular nation. For many Americans the future seems to be one where “cultural groups have their own trajectories and orbits, but in which there is enough moral `gravity’ at the center to keep things orderly, both preventing Americans from flying completely off in their own direction and from bumping haphazardly into each other . . .”
(Insight, University of Virginia, P.O. Box 400816, Charlottesville, VA 22904-4816; http://www.virginia.edu/iasc)
04: A UCLA survey finds that while most Roman Catholic students, whether in Catholic colleges or nonsectarian ones, may start out holding conservative moral positions, by the time they are seniors they have moved significantly to the left.
The survey, cited in the March 6 New York Times finds that the proportion of students adopting more liberal attitudes on such issues as abortion, premarital sex, and gay rights, over the course of their college years is similar at Catholic and non-Catholic schools. As freshmen, 37.9 percent of the Catholic students at Catholic colleges and just under 49.5 percent of the Catholic students at non-sectarian schools said abortion should be legal; as seniors, 51.7 percent of those at Catholic schools and 59 percent of Catholics at non-sectarian colleges took that view.
Critics of the study say that only the more liberal, highly selective Catholic colleges were selected for the study. Most studies of change among students during their education show increasing liberalization, which may mean that cultural influences rather than the colleges themselves may be the reason for such liberalization.
05: Rather than “civilizational clashes” over support for democracy, the largest chasm between Islamic and Western countries is over gender and sexual issues, according to an analysis of recent World Values Surveys.
In analyzing the University of Michigan-based surveys conducted in 1995-96 and 2000-2002, researchers Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris find widespread support for democracy in Islamic, Western and other societies. For instance, in Albania, Egypt, Bangladesh, Azerbaijan, Indonesia, Morocco, and Turkey, 92 to 99 percent of the public endorsed democratic institutions (such as free elections, free press, and a disavowal of authoritarian rule) — a higher proportion than in the U.S. (89 percent). They write in Foreign Policy magazine (March/April) that even though citizens in some Muslim countries agreed that their leaders should be religious, this sentiment was also found in Latin America and even the U.S.
The real clash was found in how tolerant respondents were over issues of women’s equality and sexual liberalization. The researchers find that none of the societies in which less than 30 percent of the public rejected the statement that “men make better political leaders than women” are true democracies. It was also found that among authoritarian and quasi-democratic states, the rejection of homosexuality was deeply entrenched. Muslim societies were not uniquely low on the scale of tolerance and gender equality (many former Soviet states, such as Georgia and Armenia, were just as low).
But the Muslim-Western gap is getting wider–as younger Westerners become more egalitarian than their elders, the youth in Islamic societies have “remained almost as traditional as their parents and grandparents.”
(Foreign Policy, 1779 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20036.)
The Church Universal and Triumphant (CUT), a syncretistic occult group, has experienced widespread defections and schisms since the withdrawal of its leader Elizabeth Clair Prophet, according to an article in the current issue of the Cultic Studies Review (Volume 2, Number 1).
CUT was a controversial yet growing movement in the 1980s and early 1990s, known for blending teachings from New Thought and Theosophy with other occult elements, with a communal lifestyle that had apocalyptic undertones. Prophet and earlier leaders of the groups were considered messengers who channeled the teachings of “ascended masters” to followers.
Joseph Szimhart writes that by the mid-1990s, there was increasing conflict over CUT’s structure, with attempts to democratize the leadership, and to rethink the role and the validity of the messengers in the group, particularly after Prophet suffered from dementia in the late 1990s. “Since the demise of the messenger [Prophet], the CUT community has not only experienced a free fall of defections, but several factions have emerged.” Some have gone independent, such as the Tuscon, Ariz.-based Temple of the Presence, which has established its own messenger.
Szimhart concludes that while CUT still actively promotes its teachings through retreats, books and videotapes, the group will “likely settle in the American religious landscape among other “New Age sects” with a relatively small number of 1,000 to 3,000 members.
(Cultic Studies Review, http://www.culticstudiesreview.org)
Muslim students have emerged as key leaders and participants in the anti-war movement, reports the Washington Times (March 5).
Muslims have become particularly prominent in student anti-war protests since September 11, where they were active in protesting the war in Afghanistan. The Muslim Student Association (MSA) — active on 150 U.S. campuses — of the U.S. and Canada is the only religious group in the 15-member National Youth and Student Peace Coalition. The MSA has formed its own political action committees, such as at the University of Pennsylvania, as well as joining secular coalitions.
Julia Duin reports that some MSA members have been criticized for injecting anti-Israel protests in their anti-war activism. But on other campuses, Jewish and Muslim students have worked together on anti-war causes.
As war in Iraq was approaching, military chaplains noticed an increase in religious concerns among soldiers.
For instance, between the time the 82nd Airborne arrived in Kuwait in mid-February and mid-March, 104 paratroopers were baptized — into the water of the Persian Gulf — reported military chaplains. Similarly, attendance at Catholic Mass has been “up 150 percent to 200 percent” from what it was at home base, according to an article by Aamer Madhani in the Chicago Tribune (March 21).
“Like many of the Iraqi people, the soldiers are turning to prayer to deal with the fear of death and of the unknown”, writes Ann Scott Tyson in the Christian Science Monitor (March 20). But there is a shortage of chaplains, partly due to high requirements: a master of divinity degree, ordination by a Church, physical fitness — and a 20-year commitment.
Chaplain shortage is reported to be especially critical for Roman Catholics. “About 25 percent of the Army is composed of Roman Catholics, with only about 107 priests on active duty”, reports Rudolph Bush in the Chicago Tribune (March 26). There should be 300 to 350 Roman Catholic chaplains in order to reflect the religious affiliations of the soldiers. A consequence of the current situation is that there are Roman Catholic soldiers who don’t have opportunity for confession or communion.
Bishops, however, face a shortage of priests in parishes and are not very eager to see them going to the Army. In order to solve the problem, the Army has begun to sponsor soldiers and sailors who want to become priests and provides help if they are willing to return after ordination. The possibility to serve as a Catholic chaplain on a short-term basis (three to five years) has also been suggested.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer
As was the case with the Gulf War, the war in Iraq is reviving end-time expectations and fervor. The Washington Post (March 15) “Anxious discussions have arisen on prophecy Websites, in Bible study groups and churches, and at such gatherings as last month’s 20th International Prophesy Conference in Tampa, Fla.” Iraq’s connection to ancient Babylon and the Euphrates River and other locations cited in biblical prophesies is fueling the end-times speculations, writes Bill Broadway.
Many pretribulationists (who hold that Christians will be raptured prior to a period of tribulation that will lead to the final return of Christ) are convinced that the antichrist will rule the world from a restored Babylon, according to Mark Hitchcock, a prophecy author. South Carolina’s Greenville News (March 8) reports that the question of Iraq’s involvement in end-time scenarios will likely become even more pronounced when “Armageddon,” the 11th installment of the popular “Left Behind” series, appears in bookstores in early April.
In the book, Satan is ruling the world from a restored Babylon in Iraq, and faces his cosmic battle with Israel and her Christian allies.
Both Muslim and Christian leaders are focusing on the aftermath of the war in Iraq, warning that Chrisitan-Islamic relations may suffer. As reported by several media on March 30, Pope John Paul II has expressed fears that the war might lead to a “religious catastrophe,” possibly sparking off a wider confrontation between Christianity and Islam.
In those parts of the world where tensions already exist, they might still increase, he added. Those fears have been echoed by Anglican Bishop Riah Abu Al-Assal, a Palestinian Christian, regarding the situation in the Middle East: he has expressed fears that the war could have a devastating effect on Christian presence in the area, since the war is perceived by a significant number of people in the Middle East as a “crusade” against Islam, according to Ecumenical New International (March 21). BBC reporter Martin Asser confirms that Christians in Jordan are worried as they see their Muslim neighbors becoming suspicious toward them (March 24).
The fact that a significant number of Christian leaders around the world have spoken against the war has been reported in Muslim countries, but not everybody seems to understand the variety of views on such issues found within the Christian world.
Despite the widespread feeling that Muslims shouldn’t participate in the war against Iraq, not all Muslim clerics accept the idea of a “jihad” against America. Leading Muslim authorities in Saudi Arabia and Egypt stressed that anger about developments in Iraq could not justify any kind of terrorism, according to AFP (March 26). BBC Monitoring Service noticed that there had been calls to jihad in some places (for instance in Lahore, Pakistan) and many statements claiming that the war was fought for the sole benefit of Israel, while prayer leaders in other places took a more cautious line On March 28. The Islamic Research Institute, affiliated with prestigious Al Azhar Islamic University in Cairo, issued a fatwa stating that, “according to the Islamic Shari’a, if [any] aggression takes place against the land of Muslims, jihad becomes an individual duty on all Muslims, male and female.”
However, a press review provided by the Cornelis Hulsman’s weekly electronic Arab West Report (Cairo) shows that those statements have given rise to many critical comments in the Egyptian media, expressing concerns that they might be used as justifications by terrorist groups. Al Wafd daily newspaper comments that a call to jihad issued in such a way, without specific instructions about what it should involve at a practical level, “becomes nothing but an emotional call that simply aims at mobilizing youths”.
A number of reports suggest that militant Islamic groups are those most likely to benefit from the war in Iraq. The perceived failure of current regimes in Muslim countries to respond adequately increases the credibility of the Islamic camp. In Egypt, the war is giving “a new lease of life to the Muslim Brotherhood,” reports Carn McGrath from Cairo in the Inter Press Service (March 27). In Pakistan, the religious parties united in the Muttaheda Majlis-i-Amal (holding a third of the seats in national Parliament) are “cashing in on the widespread anti-U.S. feelings,” reports M.B. Naqvi from Karachi in Inter Press Service (March 22).
In Indonesia, moderate Muslim leaders emphasize that it is an attack on Iraq and not on Islam, but “their calls may not be effective with all Indonesians,” and there are concerns about consequences for the relations between Muslims and Christians in the country, according to Inter Press Service (March 21).
(Ecumenical News International: http://www.eni.ch; Arab West Report is distributed by e-mail to subscribers only. It offers weekly translations and summaries from the Arabic press on Arab-West relations including Islam and Muslim-Christian relations. There is no website. For details regarding subscription: firstname.lastname@example.org; Inter Press Service: http://ips.org)
— ByJean-François Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and head of Religioscope Website (http://www.religioscope.com)