In This Issue
- Findings & Footnotes: August 2005
- Hindu India challenged by AIDS crisis
- Scandal reveals clergy irregularities in Romania
- Anti-semitism seeping into British mainstream?
- European Catholics ‘Taking it to the streets’ to protest secularism
- Current Research: August 2005
- New charismatic leadership looks to the margins
- Tensions growing between religion and human rights
01: The Spiritual Revolution: Why Religion Is Giving Way To Spirituality (Blackwell Publishing, $59.95) by Paul Heelas and Linda Woodhead, takes the middle ground in the debate between scholars arguing for the continuing secularization of Western society and those forecasting a revival of traditional religion.
The book is based on field work in the British city of Kendal, where the research team surveyed both traditional churches and what they call the “holistic milieu,“ consisting of New Age and alternative spiritual and healing practices and teachings. They find that the “congregational domain,” following the national trend, has declined by around a half since the 1960s. Meanhwile, the “holistic milieu” grew by about 300 percent during the 1990s.
Of course, a far smaller percentage of the city’s population were involved in holistic activities (1.6 percent) compared to the congregational domain (7.9 percent), but Heelas and Woodhead speculate that a continuous growth rate of the former and shrinking of the latter could well lead to a “spiritual revolution,” meaning a widespread turn to subjective spirituality (finding one’s self and the sacred within while rejecting external religious authority).
The authors enlarge the canvas in the second part of the book to look at the U.S., where they find the turn to subjective life and spirituality more widespread and spreading into congregational life, especially among charismatic churches. In fact, the growth of these experiential congregations may work to stem the decline of the congregational domain in general. But Heelas and Woodhead also see secularization growing alongside the expanding holistic milieu, since some groups, such as men and young people, will not be particularly drawn to the expressive and relational subjectivity found in the latter domain.
02: Most people would not spontaneously associate globalization with Eastern Orthodoxy. And most of the authors contributing to a new volume, edited by Victor Roudometof, Alexander Agadjanian and Jerry Panhurst, Eastern Orthodoxy in a Global Age: Tradition Faces the Twenty-first Century (AltaMira Press, $59) tend to believe that “global religion” cannot “be meaningfully applied to Eastern Orthodoxy” to the extent it has been to Western forms of Christianity.
But this does not mean that Eastern Orthodoxy is not affected by such trends or that it does not make any adjustment to the new global context. The volume is divided into two parts: articles in the first part deal with the Eastern European experiences and offer assessments of a more general nature regarding Russia, Serbia, Greece, Romania and Ukraine.
In the second part, besides an important and insightful essay by Vasilios N. Makrides on Orthodox Christianity, rationalization and modernization, one finds case studies dealing mostly with Orthodox Churches in the United States. Throughout the book, the significance of local identities as stronger than Orthodox universalism is clearly evident. Due to historical developments, Orthodox Churches have come to develop “a critical link with national identities,” which was actually part of a process of modernization.
While there is a strong traditionalist tendency and a resistance to changes within Orthodox Churches, they are far from being immutable or frozen in times past, and they have also had their share of reformers, Makrides observes. There is no doubt that there is a lot of suspicion across the Orthodox world toward globalization. But several authors emphasize that reactions to globalization are not unique to Eastern Orthodoxy, and that the revival of public religion is a much wider trend across the world – with the exception of Western Europe. Moreover, articles such as one on Serbian Orthodoxy make it clear that there are various practical attitudes towards this process rather than uniformity.
Several authors wonder what might come next. All acknowledge that there are challenges ahead, but few contributions go as far as describing possible scenarios. One exception is the article by George A. Kourvetaris on the crisis which led to the removal of Metropolitan Spyridon from the helm of the Greek Orthodox Church in the United States in 1996. According to the author, the crisis has left unsolved issues such as the role of the laity, self-governance and the place of the Ecumenical Patriarchate (Constantinople).
Kourvetaris comes to the conclusion that the Greek Orthodox Church in the USA won’t be able to survive the next century as it is structured now, and that with all the other Orthodox Churches it will follow a way toward autocephaly and Americanization. The Church is to become much less closely connected to ethnicity. Intermarriages and conversions will accelerate the trend toward unity between various Orthodox jurisdictions. Those are obviously hypotheses which deserve further discussion and research.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer
03: Since the highly publicized case of the controversy around author Salman Rushdie in the 1980s, with various Muslim authorities labeling him an apostate to the extent that he has had to enter into a semi-clandestine life under the protection of bodyguards, the Western public has become familiar with the serious consequences for a Muslim accused of apostasy.
However, there are not many academic books by Muslim scholars dealing with the issue. Freedom of Religion, Apostasy and Islam(Ashgate, $29.95), written by Abdullah Saeed (University of Melbourne) and Hassan Saeed (Attorney-General of the Maldives), is a welcome volume that will inform Western readers on these issues. The authors argue that the law of apostasy and its punishment by death is no longer acceptable in the modern context, but – while not making a mystery of their own views – the book offers a serious overview on the history of the concept and the various approaches existing among Muslims.
In addition, a section of the book is devoted to a case study on Malaysia, providing an informative account of developments, debates and difficulties in a country outside of the Middle East. Today, three main positions regarding apostasy seem to emerge: 1) a pre-modern position with no change; 2) a pre-modern position with restrictions; 3) total freedom to move to and from Islam. An examination of the different views shows how divided Muslims actually are (even if the pre-modern position is widespread), but also how human rights discourse has a global impact.
Pluralism and unprecedented interaction with the non-Muslim world also create pressure toward changes – although it can be conducive to restrictive attitudes, since the enforcement of the law of apostasy is sometimes seen (among other things) as a way of erecting hurdles against Christian missionary activities. It is also obvious, as the authors show, that the law of apostasy offers a dangerous potential for abuse by authoritarian and dictatorial governments.
Beside its intrinsic documentary interest, this 220 page long volume provides an insight into the way a religious faith can find in its own tradition, resources and tools for adjusting to a changed environment; there is no dearth of arguments from the Quran and from early traditions for supporting a lenient attitude toward apostasy. Apostasy is only one instance of an issue debated in the Islamic world today where leading Muslims – and not only liberal ones – are using the possibilities of creative interpretations and reinterpretations in order to pursue different perspectives. Due to considerable tensions created today around some radical views of Islam, such intra-Islamic debates are of interest not only to Muslims, but also to people not belonging to the Ummah.
— By Jean-François Mayer
Religious beliefs can help in the HIV crisis in India, but most Hindu groups and leaders have not yet taken up this work, according to a Yale University medical researcher.
In an interview with Science & Theology News (July/August), Nalini Tarakeshwar says that research of those with HIV-AIDS in India finds that most infected individuals are religious, “and their religious beliefs provide them with the motivation to persevere in the face of numerous calamities…for most individuals with HIV, the fact that they are alive is due to God‘s desire to keep them alive.” Tarakeshwar is convinced that issues of religion and culture have to be integrated within India’s patient care system.
Yet unlike churches, “Hindu temples or priests do not offer health services or discuss `personal’ problems. Most prefer to think of Hinduism as something more personal and that has nothing to do with HIV,“ Tarakeshwar says. She concludes that “Several Christian missionaries–World Vision, Catholic Relief Services–are currently active in providing care and prevention services. Hindu organizations have yet to show initiative.”
(Science & Theology News, P.O. Box 5065, Brentwood, TN 37024-5065) .
A nationwide controversy over an unauthorized exorcism in Romania has unleashed concerns about the growing competition and lack of training of clergy in this predominantly Eastern Orthodox nation. The New York Times (July 3) reports on the publicized case of an Romanian Orthodox monk with a growing following who conducted an unauthorized exorcism of a young women with a psychiatric condition, leading to her death.
The incident, which concluded with the arrest of the monk and the nuns who conducted the exorcism and the closing of his monastery, has led to charges of a church- and monastery-building frenzy where irregularities in seminary training are often overlooked. The return to religion in Romania and other formerly Communist countries “has in many places outrun the speed at which the church can screen and train clergy,“ writes Craig S. Smith.
Romanian sociologist Alfred Bulai adds that “There have been a lot of new churches built and there is a kind of competition. There has been a loss of control.” The number of Romanian monasteries has nearly tripled to 600 since 1990, and the number of its monks has quadrupled to 2,800. Often prominent businessmen sponsor new monasteries as a mark of devotion and pride. Smith adds that these self-styled clergy and the still-strong folk traditions in poor areas of the Romanian countryside have encouraged the growth of elaborate exorcism practices in recent years.
Anti-Semitism in England is among the worst in Europe due to changing attitudes in the Muslim community and mainstream acceptance of these views, reports the Israeli journal Azure (Summer).
According to a report from the Community Security Trust, which tracks anti-Semitic incidents, 2004 was the worst year of such hate crimes since the group began keeping statistics in 1996. The group recorded 532 serious anti-Semitic incidents in Britain in 2004– more than twice the number recorded in 1996, and a rise of over 40 percent from the previous year. “Great Britain today is second only to France in serious anti-Semitic incidents reported among European countries– with Russia a distant third,” writes Robert S. Wistrich
As London has become a center of radical Islam to a greater extent than other European cities, anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist sentiment has likewise expanded. Radical Islam’s “highly inflammable cocktail embracing Palestine, jihad, the dream of a worldwide caliphate… and classical Judeophobia” has found some affinity with the far left and its anti-Israel agenda. Yet unlike many other European countries, anti-Semitic sentiment has also found its way into mainstream discourse in Great Britain.
Wistrich writes that the popular boycott-Israel movement and anti-Zionist protests have sometimes shaded over into attacks against British Jewry (i.e., comparing Israel to Nazi Germany). All of this is accompanied by a general deterioration in British attitudes toward the Jews. Whereas in the 1990s, negative attitudes were greater toward Gypsies and Pakistanis than toward Jews, that pattern is changing.
In 2005, a Jewish Chronicle poll finds that between 15 and 20 percent of Britons might be defined as anti-Semitic as defined by such typical measures as refusing to vote for a Jewish politician.
(Azure, 5505 Connecticut Ave., NW, No. 1140, Washington, DC 20015)
A strategy of resistance to secularism is unfolding in Europe among Catholics that bears some resemblance to the Christian right in the U.S., according to the National Catholic Reporter (July 1).
In June, the Catholic Church in Italy, under the leadership of Cardinal Camillo Ruini and with the support of Pope Benedict XVI, mobilized at all levels to persuade Catholics to stay away from the ballot box in order to squelch a referendum that would liberalize the country’s laws on in vitro fertilization. Only 25.9 percent of eligible voters turned up for the vote (a vote lower than 50 percent invalidates a referendum).
While there are a number of factors for the low turnout, “in the court of popular opinion, Cardinal Ruini and the Catholic Church emerged as the great victors,” writes John Allen. Church influence could be seen in the city of San Giovanni Rotondo, home of the shrine of Padre Pio. The church urged greater commitment to the “cause of life.” It seemed to work, since the city registered the lowest voter turnout (8.5 percent) in the country The outcome reverses the church’s “dismal track record” in overturning Italian referenda, such as on abortion and divorce.
Also in June, a more significant instance of conservative church activism took place in Spain. Close to 500,000 Spaniards took to the streets of Madrid to protest the socialist government’s proposed gay marriage law. “The most galvanized participants seemed to blend a robust, uncompromising defense of their country’s Catholic roots…with the grassroots political savvy of America’s religious right,” Allen writes in another article. Ignacio Arsuga, an architect of the rally who runs an organization called HazteOir.org (“listen up”), says that he and his Catholic friends dream of building something like the Christian Coalition in Spain.
Supported by influential Spanish bishops, the protest may mark an important turning point in the Catholic Church’s capacity to use “the street,” or large-scale demonstrations, to get its message across. But critics fear that the activism will divide the church and politicize its message to Spanish society. The Vatican has keen interest in Spain due to its high status among Latin American Catholics, hoping it will be in the vanguard of working to desecularize Europe.
(National Catholic Reporter, 419281, Kansas City, MO 64141)
01: Although many pundits and analysts have questioned the view that the “moral values” vote gave George W. Bush the 2004 election, there may be some truth to this position, particularly when regional and religious differences are taken into account,, according to a new analysis.
In Religion in the News (Spring), John C. Green and Mark Silk write that “moral values” (the term used in exit polls) mattered most among voters in the four U.S. regions that went for Bush: the Southern Crossroads, Mountain West, South and, to a lesser extent, the Midwest. The regions carried by Kerry gave far less importance to “moral values.”
The reason for the regional variation was the religion factor; evangelicals were the “backbone of the Bush moral values vote in all regions, with the Latter Day Saints [Mormons]…making a significant contribution in the Mountain West and Pacific, and the Catholics doing the same in the Middle Atlantic and New England.
The “moral values” terminology particularly rang a bell among evangelicals due to historical reasons, whereas other religious voters did not respond to such language in the exit poll questions. Green and Silk conclude that “Geography matters in American politics today above all because the religious configuration of the country varies considerably from one region to another.”
(Religion In The News, Trinity College, 300 Summit St., Hartford, CT 06106)
02: It has been widely assumed that evangelicals and other religious conservatives are strong supporters of the “Bush doctrine” in foreign policy, but now there is research backing up such an assumption.
Books & Culture (July/August), features a study measuring religious support for such positions in President Bush’s foreign policy as pre-emptive war, a stress on military strength, and a favorable assessment of the Iraq war. Latter Day Saints were the most supportive of these positions (82 percent in the favorable range), with evangelicals (70 percent), and Hispanic Protestants (59 percent), the next most favorably inclined.
The Catholics and mainline Protestants were more divided on such foreign policy issues while the Jews, black Protestants and secularist/atheists were the most opposed. Those who were most theologically conservative within each tradition were also the most supportive of the Bush doctrine. Those evangelicals and Catholics who voted and were conservative activists registered the highest support for the Bush doctrine.
(Books & Culture, 365 Gundersen Dr., Carol Stream, IL 60188)
03: Although there have been forecasts of amazing growth prospects for the LDS Church, provided it would continue to gain members at the same rate, a new study finds that even keeping members is a challenge for the church.
An article by Peggy Fletcher Stack in the Salt Lake Tribune (July 26) reports that groups such as the Seventh-Day Adventists or the Assemblies of God have been growing faster that Mormons. Moreover, attendance at weekly meetings is not as high as one would have expected; it is estimated that about 35 percent attend weekly, which would mean 4 million active members from a total membership of more than 12 million.
While there may be a number of other factors contributing to the slowdown, the discrepancy between LDS official statistics and available census results provides an additional indication that the reality behind mere numbers deserves closer analysis. According to LDS researcher David G. Stewart, who has conducted research on LDS missionary work in several countries, the retention rate for the LDS Church in places where it has been growing the most rapidly (e.g. Latin America and the Philippines) is significantly lower than for other denominations such as the Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
However, Stewart hastens to add that predicting the future is a difficult business: if countries such as China would open, this could boost a new growth.
— By Jean-François Mayer
04: The conservative turnaround in the Southern Baptist Convention did not result in a more evangelistic denomination, according to a recent study.
Baptists Today newspaper (July) cites a recent study suggesting that the SBC is less evangelistic than it was before the conservative reformation of the denomination 25 years ago, at least judging by the number of baptisms conducted in churches. The study, first published in the Journal of Theology of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and conducted by Thom Rainer, found that in 1950 Southern Baptists on average recorded one baptism for every 19 members.
By 2003, the ratio had more than doubled to 43-to-1. The SBC has also recorded declines in baptisms for four straight years. Moreover, a relatively small number of SBC churches account for most of the baptisms; the majority of churches baptize less than 12 people a year. However, Rainer maintains that the conservative shift did not hurt the denomination. In surveying a group of churches aligned with the more liberal “breakaway” Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Rainer found their baptism ratio was 92-to-1.
(Baptists Today, P.O. Box 6318, Macon, GA 31208-63108)
Technology, ethnic diversity and outreach to the disenfranchised are key concerns of a new generation of leaders in the charismatic movement, according to the 30th anniversary issue of Charisma magazine (August), the leading publication of the American charismatic and Pentecostal movements.
In profiling 30 up-and-coming charismatic leaders, the magazine finds that they tend to be “burned out on denominationalism, they avoid labels and aren’t comfortable with old church models.” Not hesitant to use technology as an outreach tool, they (often because many themselves have experienced broken and dysfunctional homes) minister to those outside the mainstream of church life–singles, the poor and those with various addictions.
An example of this is Matthew Barnett, who started Los Angeles’ Dream Center, which offers practical and spiritual assistance to addicts and the poor and has now been duplicated in 130 cities worldwide. About one-third of those profiled are racial minorities and most of 30 leaders stress racial and cultural diversity, such as Ron and Hope Carpenter, who started the interracial 7,300-member Redemption World Outreach Center in Greenville, SC.
Another article in this issue looks at broader trends unfolding in the charismatic movement. As with the younger generation, charismatics in general are moving away from “main event megachurches,” where stress is placed on impersonal, concert-like performances. Instead, the emphasis will be on “smaller venues that are more interactive, intense and tailored,” writes M. Rex Miller. He also sees a shift away from “fast church growth” toward more sustainable levels and an emerging focus on community development, as congregations seek to connect with their neighborhoods.
(Charisma, 600 Rhinehart Rd., Lake Mary, FL 32746)
“Is there a schism between the human rights movement and religious communities?” That is the question posed by Jean-Paul Marthoz and Joseph Saunders, two staff members of Human Rights Watch (http://www.hrw.org), in a recently released report entitled, Religion and the Human Rights Movement. They list many contentious issues, including reproductive rights, gay marriage, and blasphemy laws.
In discussions on issues such as the Muslim headscarf debate, some human rights activists have not always been willing to support “certain public expressions of religious conscience.” The two authors consider the issue of engaging with religious communities as one of the most urgent ones for the human rights movement.
They suggest that a balance has to be found between a more active involvement in protecting the rights of believers and an opposition to religious groups when they attempt to erode those rights seen as incompatible with their beliefs. The philosophy of human rights is seen by some as a product of the Enlightenment in the West, but the authors remark that religion has also played a key role in the development of human rights in several cases.
The 1970s and 1980s were mostly a time of convergence between religious and human rights activists (with exceptions here and there), but resurgent religion and its challenge to secularism has changed the situation. Moreover, different states have attempted to use religion in order to reinforce their power, while religious authorities have come out against free speech. It is true that secular human rights groups and religious communities continue to work side by side on a number of issues, but “on other issues at the crossroads of religious dogma and human rights ideology […] the points of divergence are growing.”
The report concludes that the human rights movement should not sacrifice its principles, but that there are many issues on which alliances can be made. Moreover, commitment to human rights also involves defending the rights of “fundamentalists,” as long as they do not physically attack non-believers or commit similar actions.
(The report (22 pages) can be downloaded as a PDF file from the website of Human Rights Watch: http://www.hrw.org/wr2k5/religion/religion.pdf)
— By Jean-François Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and Founder of Religioscope website (http://www.religioscope.com)