In This Issue
- Featured Story: Messianic Judaism attracting more gentile believers
- A global Catholic moment for Africa—or is it Latin America?
- Blasphemy laws common yet put to different uses
- Current Research: April 2015
- Findings & Footnotes: April 2015
- On/File: April 2015
While the Messianic movement started as organizations for Jewish converts, Messianic congregations attract today on average a majority of Christian-born seekers, reports Hillary Kaell (Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec) in the current issue of the journal Religion (January). Since the mid-1990s, not only has the interest of U.S. Pentecostal and Evangelical Christians in Messianic Judaism grown, but also an increasing number among them have affiliated with Messianic congregations. According to Kaell’s estimates, today’s gentile believers probably make at least 70 percent of Messianic congregations—something overlooked in studies with focus on a few flagship and high-count Jewish congregations.
The author describes those Messianic gentiles as “born-again seekers.” Being seekers, they have often attended various other congregations and may affiliate for short periods. Because the Messianic background is evangelical, people who were mostly already born again before joining a Messianic congregation feel comfortable in such settings. Kaell distinguishes them from New Age seekers, who are open to exploring much more diverse spiritual options; in contrast, for born-again seekers, “their purpose is to grow more deeply in the tradition they know.”
Various factors make Messianic Judaism attractive. They feel that Messianic teachings and preaching open a deeper understanding. The curiosity for the Jewish people linked to end times prophecies, especially concerning full control of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount following the 1967 war, also plays a role. In addition, they believe that participation in Messianic congregations allows them to worship “like Jesus,” to the extent of adopting certain Jewish rituals and rules. Although some (Jewish) Messianic leaders would discourage gentiles from embracing them, Kaell observes that Messianic gentiles actually welcome the challenge to acquire expertise on Hebrew language and rituals. Restructuring their lives around Saturday worship, Jewish holidays and various practices is seen as more rewarding than their previous experiences with evangelical congregations.
Not surprisingly, either the Jewish members in their congregation or Messianic gentiles themselves start wondering at some point if they might actually have Jewish blood. But few insist on being recognized as Jews, they rather hint at such origins. Kaell suggests that one should not look for uniform approaches, even within a single congregation. The key element is religious seeking as a practice, expressing itself in different ways in the evangelical milieu with Messianic Judaism being one of them. Rather than looking at Messianic Judaism as a new religious movement or a marginal branch of Judaism, she sees its growth as “a still under-theorized trend in North American evangelicalism towards religious seeking.”
(Religion, Taylor & Francis, 325 Chestnut Street, 8th Floor, Philadelphia, PA 19106 – http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rrel20
While African Catholics have been viewed as the future of the church by their sheer numbers, there are also signs that the African church is in a position to become a moral voice on its continent as well as in global Catholicism, writes John L. Allen on the Catholic website Crux (March 24). Allen notes that the African bishops announced the appointment of a liaison to the African Union to promote development on the continent.
Last month, heads of the church’s national peace and justice commissions in Africa announced the creation of a “Continental Reconciliation Committee” to address the causes of conflict and also to dispatch skilled mediators when new conflicts break out. African Catholic activists are also planning to launch an “African Church Network” to deal with climate change and rain forest despoliation. Combined, these initiatives signal that Africans “want to replicate on their continent the role the Vatican plays on the global stage as a voice of conscience,” Allen writes. Beyond Africa, throughout the rest of global Catholicism, African church leaders are seeking to extend their influence.
In last fall’s Synod of Bishops on the Family, African bishops played a starring role in debates over outreach to gays and lesbians and the controversy over admitting divorced and remarried Catholics to communion. “There’s every reason to believe that Africans intend to be at the heart of things again this fall for the second synod. While the church in Africa is not wealthy, it is rich in human resources and can supply priests around the world, with bishops controlling where each priest is sent. Allen writes that “one might actually argue that Africans today are the new Germans, in that German Catholics for many years have been able to influence which pastoral projects in the developing world flourish and which don’t through their sizeable overseas assistance funds…”
Meanwhile, an analysis in the National Catholic Reporter (March 13) argues that the pope’s home country of Argentina and much of Latin America is the “new source church for global Catholicism.” Just as France and Germany were the source for Vatican II, “Latin America is now the wellspring of a new era of church reform,” writes Austen Ivereigh. The pope’s Catholicism comes from outside of the conservative-liberal framework, espousing an approach characterized as “missionary, evangelizing, pastoral and poor.” Implementing such a program was delayed because of the “influence of the political left and then neoliberalism” on theology. Pope Francis’ church agenda is influenced by an Argentine “theology of the people” that is geared to mercy and evangelization rather than maintaining institutional structures.
(Crux, http://www.cruxnow.com; National Catholic Reporter, http://www.ncronline.org)
The shared concern about the need to limit rights to maintain public order and public morals is interpreted differently from one country to another, with resulting disagreements on what constitutes a legitimate limit on speech and religion, writes Asma Uddin, guest editor of the most recent issue of The Review of Faith and International Affairs (Spring). Fifty-seven nations are reported to have blasphemy laws. For instance, in the case of both Saudi Arabia and Finland, the attitudes of those two countries toward religious beliefs and practices widely differ, writes Neil Hicks (Human Rights First).
In several European States, blasphemy laws are rarely used and retained for protecting the feelings of members of religious communities rather than religion or its symbols. But they are inconsistent with international human rights standards when used for protecting abstract ideas or religions. “They permit governments to determine which ideas are acceptable” and can create problems for those with views different from the majority or for minority religions, especially those deemed to be heretical, such as cases affecting Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan, Indonesia and other similar countries have made clear.
Extremists for polarizing society and fomenting public disorder exploit allegations of blasphemy; they can also be used for settling private disputes. In Muslim countries, those accused of blasphemy can be at risk even after trials, as killings of people cleared of blasphemy charges have shown. Actually, the most serious instances of abuse take place in relatively few countries: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, Sudan, Afghanistan and Indonesia. In all cases, those are countries where particular political developments have led to the prevalence of blasphemy cases and human rights issues linked to them, with an interaction between authoritarian rulers and extremist religious movements.
(The Review of Faith and International Affairs, P.O. Box 12205, Arlington, VA 22219-2205, www.tandfonline.com/rfia)
01: There is a small but potentially significant increase in the strengthening of Catholic affiliation and a stabilization of the retention rate in the church, according to an analysis of the 2014 General Social Survey. In a post on the blog of Center for Research on the Apostolate (CARA), Mark Gray finds that when asked to characterize the strength of their affiliation, 34 percent of Catholics said it was “strong,” which is up from 27 percent in 2012. The seven points increase was a “significant bounce,” Gray said. The Catholic retention rate has also been on the decline since the 1970s, but the new GSS showed that the retention rate has remained steady for the first time. This stands in contrast to the continuing decline of Protestant retention rates, which dropped below 50 percent for the first time. In a Religion News Service article (March 25), David Gibson notes that the survey results could be an outlier and that it will take another survey wave or two with clear results to discern a “real course ‘correction’ in the data,” according to Gray.
02: The religiously unaffiliated are projected to decline as a share of the world’s population in the decades ahead because their net growth through religious switching will be more than offset by higher childbearing among the younger affiliated population. Those are the conclusions of an article by Conrad Hackett, Pew Research Center, and four other American and European scholars, published in Demographic Research (April). Media have widely mentioned the recent Pew Research Center report on The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050, prepared by Hackett and several other researchers. As part of Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures Project, its demographic projections foresee that the number of Muslims will nearly equal the number of Christians by 2050, that Christians in the United States will decline from three-quarters to two-thirds, and that four out of every 10 Christians will live then in sub-Saharan Africa, among other observations.
Atheists, agnostics and other unaffiliated people will make up a declining share of the world population despite an increase in absolute numbers, and their percentage will increase in some countries such as the United States or France. Indeed, in many countries of the West, where the unaffiliated have been growing, the growth is concentrated among young adults, while unaffiliated in China—for instance— tend to be older on average than affiliated people. “The unaffiliated are considerably older, at the global level, than the affiliated.” In contrast, in North America, “the unaffiliated are projected to increase from 59 million in 2010 to 111 million in 2050.” Still, there are questions on this matter as current patterns of religion switching are only available for less than half of the world population, and projections presume that current demographic trends and patterns of religious switching will continue. And there is one that the authors do not raise, although it is true that such changes do not take place overnight, we do not know if in two or three decades the move toward disaffiliation might not suddenly increase in some parts of the world where the level of belonging has remained high until now.
(The article is accessible online: http://www.demographic-research.org/Volumes/Vol32/27/, as well as the Global Religious Futures report: http://www.pewforum.org/2015/04/02/religious-projections-2010-2050/)
03: Those living in areas that have experienced earthquakes are more religious than those in less disaster-prone regions—and the effect is more than temporary and even extends beyond the generation that went through the quakes, according to economist Jeanet Bentzen of the University of Copenhagan. Bentzen, who presented a paper at the recent Boston meeting of the Association for the Study of Religion, Economics and Culture (ASREC), which RW attended, compared rates of religious belief from the World Value Study with data on regional disaster risks from the United Nations Environmental Program. Individuals in high earthquake risk areas were 9 percent more religious than the median rate of religiosity measured in 900 districts across the world. She finds that the rate of internal religious beliefs rather than religious participation is more likely to increase in these cases. This high rate holds for all religions and denominations, which affects both the educated and non-educated, though more so among the latter.
The economist finds that this is far from a short-term effect and can even be passed from parents to children. In looking at areas of immigration in Europe, Bentzen finds that those immigrants from areas with high earthquake risk were more religious than others, even if they had not personally experienced the disasters. Other similar disasters that occur unexpectedly, such as tsunamis and volcanoes, had similar effects, but not more expected kinds of problems, such as storms and work-related issues. She finds that this effect is not due to “social insurance” provided by religious organizations or atheists leaving areas where these disasters are prone to occur.
04: The increasing number of saints declared by the Catholic Church in recent years has been driven by competition with Protestants, with the last two papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI outpacing all the other popes in “saint-making,” according to Harvard University economists Robert J. Barro and Rachel M. McCleary. Barro delivered the paper on saint-making at the meeting of the Association for the Study of Economics, Religion and Culture in March, drawing on statistics and historical records of popes from 1590 to 2012. Barro and McCleary note that the “home bias” of the Catholic Church’s saint-making is “remarkable,” with a substantial preference toward Italy and secondly Western Europe. The effect of Protestant-Catholic competition and conflict on saint-making can be seen as early as the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, which negotiated truces between warring Protestants and Catholics; the numbers of saints canonized in the period before the truce was almost three times more than those canonized after the agreement.
But since 1922, increased Protestant-Catholic competition has been an especially “important force on choices of blessed persons [beatifications],” the economists note. They add that these results “suggest that choices of numbers and locations of blessed persons since the early 20th century reflect the Catholic Church’s desire to invigorate the Catholic faithful and avoid conversions to Protestantism.” No similar effect was found for Catholic-Eastern Orthodox competition, possibly because these churches have often agreed not to proselytize in each other’s territories. While John Paul II and Benedict XVI were similar in the high numbers of saints they canonized, far exceeding other popes, the former was the actual outlier. This is because Benedict inherited a high number of beatifications that John Paul II had made during his tenure that eventually would require canonization. In the absence of this expansion by his predecessor, the number of saints canonized by Benedict would have been more in the range of 15 rather than the observed number of 42, according to Barro and McCleary.
05: Religiously diverse societies also tend to have more restrictions against proselytism, according to political scientist Ani Sarkissian of Michigan State University. Sarkissian, who was speaking at a special session on religious liberty at the meeting of the Association for the Study of Religion, Economics and Culture, said that the finding was a surprise because other researchers have found that societies with state religions tend to regulate other religious organizations and activities. She based her analysis on the 2012 Pew Survey of religious restrictions, with special focus on activities considered proselytizing, such as religious broadcasting, public preaching and literature distribution. Although she found a negative relationship between democracy and religious restrictions, 23 percent of democracies do limit some forms of proselytism, while other autocratic non-democracies may allow this activity. Sarkissian concludes that the presence of religious laws in a society was not a predictor of restrictions against proselytism.
06: Believers from nations with a strong secular rule of law tend to be more politically tolerant of atheists than those from countries with weaker forms of authority, according to a study in the journal Religion, Brain & Behavior (February). Psychologists Ara Norenzayan and Will M. Gervais note that distrust of atheists has been prevalent among more religious nations, such as the U.S. Through cognitive psychological experiments, the authors hypothesize that exposure to strong forms of rule of law—for example, the presence of police, judges and courts increases religious believers tolerance of atheists, because such authority would ensure that such nonbelievers are more likely to be trustworthy. Narenzayan and Gervais then analyzed World Values Survey findings that related belief in God to distrust of atheists worldwide. Comparing these rates to societies ranked according to the degree by which secular authorities create and enforce laws, the researchers found that countries with a strong rule of law tended to show less distrust of atheists among its share of religious believers. They add that this effect was attributable to different levels of human development, higher individualism, or reduced religious belief in various nations. Norensayan and Gervais argue that believers view atheists as untrustworthy because they do not believe God is watching their actions, so the presence of a strong rule of law might substitute for this “surveillance,” creating more trust for non-believers.
(Religion, Brain & Behavior, 530 Walnut St., Ste. 850, Philadelphia, PA 19106)
07: A study of Islamic jihadists finds that U.S. strikes against these leaders tends to increase the popularity of their writings among followers over the long term, according to MIT political science professor Richard Nielson. In a presentation at the March meeting of the Association for the Study of Religion, Economics and Culture, Nielson looked at 34 jihadist leaders who were targeted by the U.S. and the page views of their writings on their websites, and found a marked increase of views that persisted long after the attacks. In the case of Osama Bin Laden, who was killed in 2011, Nielson finds that the popularity of his writings have persistently increased by 20 percent even up until 2014. Similar rates of long-term popularity are true for other leading targeted jihadists, such as Libyan Abu Yahya al-Libi, killed in 2012, and American-born Anwar al- Awlaki, killed in 2011.
A related paper presented by sociologist Sean Everton of the Naval Postgraduate School finds that networks of jihadists associated with the Islamic State (IS or ISIS) took to Twitter last summer, revealing a change of focus from engaging enemies at home in the Islamic orbit to targeting “far enemies” in the West. Everton and colleagues analyzed close to one million tweets coming from dense networks of activists and ISIS supporters. The researchers looked at the top 50 themes of these ISIS tweets and found that they changed from Islamic issues of their “near enemy” to other concerns of their far enemy, often relating to President Obama and other Western leaders. Everton said that since this change was registered from early to late August last summer they could be related to the air strikes made against ISIS during that period.
That ISIS is adept on Twitter is shown by the fact that the social media company has recently moved more aggressively to suspend accounts linked to ISIS, shutting down 2,000 ISIS accounts in a single week, according to the New York Times (March 5). A related study by the Brookings Institution and Google Ideas finds that a minimum of 46,000 Twitter accounts operate on behalf of the Islamic State. While these accounts have on average about 1,000 followers each, higher than among ordinary Twitter users, many followers are also account holders, creating an echo chamber in the messaging.
08: The percentage of baptized Catholics in the French population will continue to decline—less than half of the French will have received Catholic baptism by 2045, according to a recent research conducted by Paradox Opinion and published by the French Catholic magazine La Vie (April 1). France is a country both with strong secularism and with a long Catholic legacy: both sides of the coin are illustrated by the results, showing that between 67.6 percent (42.8 million) and 71.7 percent (45.4 million) of the French have been baptized in the Catholic Church. A clear decline has started since the 1970s, evidenced by the increasing share of older people among baptized Catholics in France: in 1990 the median age of baptized Catholics was 38; currently, it is around 45; by 2045, it is expected to be 54. In 2045, nearly 40 percent of French baptized Catholics will be 65 and above. Currently, French population counts 64.2 million inhabitants; in 2045, it should reach 70.7 million. This means that the population growth will be around 7 million, but during the same 20-year period the Catholic Church will lose between 8-10 million members. The research considers several scenarios with the midpoint being around 35 million baptized by 2045.
As La Vie’s editor Jean-Pierre Denis notes, the Roman Catholic Church in France is far from dead and is not about to disappear. One might have expected worse prospects, but there is a radical turn, that will lead Catholics to become a minority in the country. Most baptized Catholics in France are not practicing; estimates for people who practice regularly are around 4 percent, and those who practice occasionally around 13 percent. Moreover, older age groups are overrepresented among practicing Catholics. The head of Paradox Opinion, sociologist Philippe Chriqui, observes that the percentage of Muslims will grow in France, but that Islam won’t replace Catholicism, contrary to statements by anti-Muslim authors and groups; the percentage of Muslims in France by 2045 should barely be above 10 percent. Both authors plead that those trends might still be reversed if the Catholic Church would become better able to reach and motivate the still large share of baptized, but non-practicing Catholics. For the time being, the focus is too strongly on those who are practicing, Denis writes.
01: The April issue of the quarterly journal The Muslim World is devoted to the little known branch of Ibadi Islam, which is the majority faith in Oman but also present in Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Zanzibar and along the East Africa coast. The Ibadi developed from conflicts over successors of Mohammad and tended to stress coexistence with other Muslim groups while pursuing a form of Islam shorn of corruption. Today, the Ibadi only represent one percent of all Muslims but the contributors suggest that their stress on rationality and dialogue is being felt in both the scholarly and religious worlds. As one of the few Islamic countries that allow a diversity of religious expression—though prohibiting proselytism, even by Muslims—one article reports on how Oman has become a center of intra-Muslim and interfaith dialogue, often through the leadership of its sultanate and its Ministry of Religious Affairs. Other articles look at Ibadi identity and influence in Africa, and the differences between Ibadism and Wahhabism, a much more widespread reformist movement seeking to return to Islam purity. For more information on this issue, visit: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1111/(ISSN)1478-1913
02: Carmel Chiswick’s new book Judaism in Transition (Stanford University Press, $22.95) represents her unique approach of examining Jewish issues through an economic perspective. Chiswick, a labor economist, extends her previous work and looks at how American Jews are making shifting investments in the time and costs they invest in their religion, leading to new forms of observance. Chiswick distinguishes between the “Great Tradition” of Judaism, based on sacred scripture and major observances, that is less susceptible to change and the “small tradition,” which is undergoing more innovations, such as egalitarianism in the synagogue even as it seeks to perpetuate the Great Tradition to the next generations.
New movements in American Judaism, such as Reconstructionism, have gained traction because they provided timesaving alternatives for religious expression. The chapters cover a wide range of topics—from Jewish marriage, which has to become an increasingly intentional choice in the face of intermarriage and secularism, and occupation patterns to immigration and relations with Israel. Chiswick’s concluding section argues against pessimism. Judaism will likely have less members in the future, including in Orthodoxy, and an increasing number of practitioners will be older because they are able to devote the time and money to observance and study. But, there are also new movements and groups that can reinvigorate the religion. Chiswick views the small, start-up synagogues as one such site of innovation, as well as the larger synagogues that have moved beyond the monolithic style of the past and have embraced internal diversity, including several different types of worshipping communities under its roof.
03: The new book Buddhism, the Internet, and Digital Media (Routledge, $140), edited by Gregory Price Grieve and Daniel Veidlinger, suggests that Buddhists, especially in the West, have uniquely adapted social media and other computer technologies to their spiritual practice and beliefs. As one contributor notes, Buddhists have historically not shied away from using unorthodox means to spread its teachings and have found the online world a congenial place to continue such dissemination of the religion. In fact, as the Introduction notes, many of the architects of the Internet were influenced by Buddhist ideas and teachings. One chapter Louise Connelly attempts to map “Buddhist cyberspace,” and finds that there is a “negotiation and blurring between the offline and online space. This is clearly illustrated at the Buddha Center in Second Life, where many of the participants will meditate offline at the same time as their avatar is sitting on a virtual meditation cushion in the Buddhist temple in Second Life.” Other noteworthy chapters examine the growth of “Buddhist apps” for mobile technology in everything from online games to meditation and Buddhist text study aids; finding growing concern about commercialism and “gamification;” a survey showing the continuing divide between white and ethnic Buddhists, with the former showing greater use of the Internet to practice their religion; rapid progress and influence of online Buddhist journals; and the ways in which the Internet has created a new connectedness among the Tibetan diaspora.
04: Dynamics of Religion in Southeast Asia (Amsterdam University Press, $99), edited by Volker Gottowik, looks at the complex interplay between modernity and religion in a region where magic is often more influential than secular modes of living. The book tends to take a “multiple modernities” perspective, meaning that different societies arrive at modernization through various routes that don’t necessarily include secularization in the Western sense. But the chapters do show how such modern forces as standardization and codification affect indigenous religions of the Southeast—Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Bali—even as they find novel ways to adapt. In Indonesia, the religious policy requires that religions be monotheistic, either the others to be classified as cultural traditions and tourist attractions or compelling them to codify their beliefs in a more formal way. A contribution on the relation of magical practices and the market find that while these indigenous traditions and objects such as amulets may be commercialized, the market itself is endowed with ritualistic properties with magical forces seen as traveling along transactions. A chapter on Christian women in Sumatra suggests that Christianity is seen as modern and thus a rational alternative to local customs that support male superiority.
01: The growth of the Coptic Mission of Santa Cruz de la Sierra in Bolivia represents an unusual case of transplanting a strongly ethnic form Orthodox Christianity in a Latin American context. The mission started almost by accident in 2000 when an Egyptian monk was sent to Bolivia to minister to Coptic Christian migrants only to find the few families had moved. The monk, Father Youssef Anba Paula, started a church anyway and began attracting native Bolivians drawn to the mysterious priest in a black robe and a three-hour liturgy with ancient chants in another tongue. It was a novel experiment in mission. Aside from past efforts in Africa, the Coptic Church has rarely sought to evangelize non-Egyptian people. Today the church in Santa Cruz, now a cathedral, has grown to over 200 parishioners with four clergy, and another mission started in Paquio, a rural community three hours to the north. The church has managed a delicate balance between enculturation and retaining Egyptian traditions; the liturgy is translated into Spanish, musical instruments are used in the church—forbidden in Egypt—and many parishioners view Coptic Orthodoxy as a stronger form of Catholicism. At the same time, the largely young adult converts value the exotic nature of the faith—many wear the tattoo of the small blue cross that is an identifier of Copts in Egypt—especially its iconography. The church, although eschewing any political involvement, has also started a community development ministry. (Source: Latin American Research Review, Volume 50, No. 1, 2015)
02: Inspire magazine, the glossy magazine published by al Queda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), has become the “Vanity Fair of jihadi publications,” playing a key role in radicalizing a segment of young people as well as creating “lone wolf jihadists,” according to terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman. The magazine, now in its sixth year of publication, was founded by Americans Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, who were both killed by drone attacks in 2011. But the Internet magazine reappeared in 2012 and is said to have inspired several terrorist attacks, most likely including the Boston Marathon bombing. The main appeal of Inspire is not its “show and tell,” since bomb-making manuals are not difficult to find online, but rather its appeal to young Muslims that they are under constant attack by American forces. Britain and Australia have waged the most intense battle against Inspire, prosecuting individuals who just download the publication, and free speech advocates are concerned that recent right turn in the U.S. Congress may encourage similar attempts in regulation in the U.S. (Source: Foreign Policy, March/April).