In This Issue
- On/File: August 2006
- Findings & Footnotes: August 2006
- Orthodoxy’s revived role in building Eastern European identities
- Benedict XVI’s ‘Dominus Iesus’ papacy?
- Current Research: August 2006
- Shift to global south brings new challenges to Jewish-Christian relations
- Blogs challenge religious institutions and media coverage
- Catholic vote reemerging for 2006 elections
- Middle East moves toward a new Sunni-Shiite balance
01: As part of its peace-building program, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) will provide assistance to create the Center for Peace-Building and Reconciliation.
CPBR will serve as a language and IT resource center to train 400 Buddhist monks in English and Tamil languages as well as in peace-building techniques. The project is meant to make better use of Buddhist ethical principles (non violence) in an attempt to find solutions to the conflict with minority Tamil groups in Sri Lanka. It will be both a place for training and a forum for discussions. Some Buddhist monks agree with the need for knowledge of computers as well as languages: the language barrier (lack of knowledge of the Tamil language by the Sinhalese) has tended to keep communities apart, they say.
On their side, US diplomats have identified monks as “natural peace brokers.” Researchers such as Iselin Frydenlund (The Sangha and Its Relation to the Peace Process in Sri Lanka, Oslo, International Peace Research Institute, 2005) had emphasized the lack of attention paid by some Western diplomats to the role of monks in recent attempts to find peaceful solutions on the island, where monks have for long been respected advisors.
(Source: Asian Tribune, July 25; Ministry of Defense, Public Security, Law and Order; http://www.defence.lk)
— By Jean-Francois Mayer
01: The combined Spring/Summer issue of the Hedgehog Review is devoted to the topic of “After Secularization.”
A few of the articles tread the well-worn paths of the secularization debate (is religion declining or increasing?), but most introduce fresh approaches and follow the advice of Jose Casanova in his opening essay: “Sociologists of religion should be less obsessed with the decline of religion and more attuned to the new forms that religion is assuming in all world religions at three different levels of analysis: the individual level, the group level, and the societal level.”
Europe has often been called the secular exception to the growth of religion worldwide, but Grace Davie’s article suggests that the continent’s future may be somewhat different. She finds the free market model prevalent in the U.S. growing (if in a different form) alongside establishment modes of faith, such as the Church of England. Religion is also gaining a new public role and visiblity due to the Muslim presence.
Meanwhile, Paul Heelas sees challenges to secular Europe in the growth of New Age spirituality, though secularization theorist Steve Bruce doubts whether such “self-spirituality” has the institutional weight to have much influence. In another article, Slavica Jakelic writes that it is not only Islam with a public dimension, but also the “collectivist Christianities,” represented by the Orthodox and Catholic churches in Eastern Europe that are bound up with national identities and need to be taken into account as the European Union takes shape. She adds that it is the tendency for Europe to currently define itself as the secular alternative to American religiosity, but this ignores the religious challenges already at work on the continent.
Daniele Hervieu- Leger theorizes that as larger religious institutions and loyalties fragment under individualization worldwide, there will be a standardization of spiritual seeking and belief. This greater homogenization of belief may lead to more movement of believers beyond their own religious traditions (creating new connections between various forms of meditation), but it can also generate a desire for new kinds of community where believers create narratives of their own spiritual experiences.
Also in this issue is an article by Olivier Roy on how Islam in the West is not so much posing new problems as much as reflecting fissures between religion and secularism already in place; a wide-ranging interview with Peter Berger on secularization and pluralism; and a bibliography on some of the issues relating to secularization.
The issue costs $16 and is available from: Hedgehog Review, Institute for Advanced Studies of Culture, P.O. Box 400816, Charlottesville, VA 22904-4816
02: The July issue of the American Behavioral Scientist is devoted to religion and immigration. The issue provides interesting accounts of how immigration activism carries a strong religious component even in secularizing societies. An example of this is the article on Catholics in Spain, showing that even as immigration politics have been secularized, the church has maintained a distinctive form of activism on immigration that highlights the deficiencies of political and administrative actors in coping with this issue.
An article comparing France and the U.S. shows how immigration issues allow the church in both countries to assert its identity as a public religion. Other articles include an analysis of the differences between Protestants and Catholic immigration activism, and a survey showing, among other findings, that immigrants less integrated into American society are more likely to attend religious services. For more information on this issue, write: Sage Publications, Inc., 2455 Teller Rd, Thousand Oaks, CA 91320; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
03: The much publicized findings of the 2001 American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) are now available in an expanded form in the recently published Religion in a Free Market (Paramount Market Publishing, $49.95).
The book, by Barry Kosmin and Ariela Keysar, is persuasive both because of its method of surveying a large sample (50,000) of Americans who identify and describe their own affiliations and beliefs and its many comparisons with findings from a 1991 ARIS survey. The most notable findings in the recent study was the considerable increase of Americans claiming no religion–climbing from 8.2 percent to 14.1 percent since 1991).
Although this higher figure does not mean a significant growth of atheism or agnosticism (most of these “Nones” still believe in God), Kosmin and Keysar tend to see this development as tending toward European-style secularization. Related to the increase of the Nones are the significant number of Catholics who have dropped out of the church and opted for the “no religion“ category. The book also provides interesting commentary on regional religious differences, the increase of people identifying with the generic Christian label and discarding Protestant identification, and the growing generation gap over religious commitment.
04: After the four hijacked airliners crashed in 9/11 and changed dramatically the political and religious world panorama, scholars have renewed their interest in martyrdom. For obvious reasons, the Islamic tradition has occupied a prominent place in this academic inquiry. The book Witnesses to Faith? (Ashgate, $79.95), edited by Brian Wicker, is one of several efforts to clarify not only the concept of martyrdom but its parallel development within Christianity and Islam.
The book consists of a selection of articles covering a broad array of issues related to martyrdom from a theological and historical perspective. Several of the pieces, though, emphasize the fact that martyrdom is actually a Christian contribution transformed within the Islamic tradition to accommodate the jihad, or holy war, and then outline several other differences between Christian and Muslim martyrdom. Grounded in both Christian and Islamic sources, the book attempts to answer some of the questions unleashed by the September 11th attacks and the continuous use of people as weapons.
Thus, Witnesses to Faith? tackles some of the most difficult perplexities related to the topic: Is suicide a form of martyrdom? Are those who die in battle proper martyrs? Is the use of suicide bombers in fact encouraged by the Islamic tradition? The authors tend to answer no to these questions and the book stands as an effort to counteract what the editor labels as “a false ideology of martyrdom”.
Many of the articles have a hint of the well-trodden notion of popular religious beliefs versus knowledgeable theology and scholarship and tend to focus on the somewhat unintended and non-sanctioned veneration of martyrs as an erroneous and dangerous practice which goes against mainstream Christian and Islamic traditions.
— By Marisol Lopez Menendez, a doctoral student in Sociology at the New School for Social Research in New York.
Religion in Eastern Europe, especially in Orthodox nations, is likely to have a growing influence in forming new national identities, according to sociologist Irena Borowik. With the fall of communist ideologies and the impact of globalization, Eastern European countries are experiencing a rapid change in their identities.
This is the major difference with Western Europe, where identity problems are not as urgent, writes Borowik inSocial Compass (June). She notes similarities in the shape of religiosity both in Western and Eastern Europe (low level of attendance, selectivity of beliefs and practices, etc.): however, in the latter countries, even for people who are only nominally affiliated, religion has a much stronger impact in forming new, specific identities, since there are few other sources of ideological support.
Orthodox Churches face pressing problems: internal splits, disagreements over property, lack of personnel, low levels of education, and competition with other religions. Despite those difficulties, religion in Eastern Europe offers tools for reconstructing individual, national, cultural and political identities. According to Borowik, the need is especially acute where the communist myth was strongest, i.e. in the Soviet Union. In a changing world, Orthodoxy may assist Russia in reasserting its role as the “central nation” as was the case during communist times, although on different terms.
More generally, Orthodoxy helps countries where the faith used to be dominant to create distinctive political identities. In this context, different national projects do sometimes clash: such is the case in Ukraine, where Ukrainian Orthodox autonomy (or autocephaly) has been used for a long time to assert independence from Russia.
(Social Compass, Sage Publications, 1 Oliver‘s Yard, 55 City Rd., London EC1Y 1SP, UK)
— By Jean-Francois Mayer
Vatican watchers have been trying to detect clues and patterns in the previous work of Joseph Ratzinger that might reveal the nature of his papacy as Benedict XVI. But they may need to look no further than the controversial document he penned in 2000, with Pope John Paul II’s approval, called Dominus Iesus. Writing in the National Catholic Register (July 16-22), Raymond J. de Souza notes that several significant papal appointments and actions all hark back to the declaration, which largely restated Catholic teaching on Jesus’ role as the world’s only savior, and the unique status of the Catholic Church.
The document was widely criticized for its ecumenical and interfaith insensitivity. But since then, the main Vatican body which criticized the document, the Pontifical Council for Inter–Religious Dialogue has been placed under “quasi-suppression,” and its president Michael Fitzgerald sent to Egypt. Another critic, Cardinal Walter Kasper of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, has since modified if not reversed his dissent, recently warning the Anglicans of the dire ecumenical consequences of ordaining female bishops.
Ratzinger’s principal aide in drafting Dominus Iesus, Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, was appointed Vatican Secretary of State. Archbishop Ivan Dias of Bombay, one of the most articulate defenders of the document, was recently named Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, meaning he will oversee the church’s mission work. De Souza concludes that although a few more critical appointments are to be made, it can be assumed that the central premise of Dominus Iesus, “namely that the church can only engage the world and other Christians if she is first confident of her own identity, will shape both the church’s central bureaucracy and her missionary activity.”
(National Catholic Register, 432 Washington Ave., North Haven, CT 06473)
01: Although the population of U.S. Catholics rose by more than a million last year, the church showed a loss of school enrollment and sacramental observance, according to the 2006 Official Catholic Directory. The directory, which gathers statistics from diocesan reports, found that Catholic school enrollment declined by 13,000 to just under 680,000 students. The decline of sacramental practices included a drop of 11,000 marriages conducted; 15,000 fewer confirmations, 40,000 fewer first communions, and 34,000 fewer baptisms.
02: Religious beliefs and church attendance have positive effects on donating to charity but people with many religious friends tend to donate less, according to a study in the Review of Religious Research(June). Past studies have shown that religious people tend to give more to secular charities, but there has been little agreement on which dimensions of religiosity affect charitable giving. Researchers Jan Reitsma, Peers Scheepers, and Manfred Te Grotenhuis of Radboud University in the Netherlands find from a seven-nation study that both private dogmatic convictions as well as integration into a religious community affected intentional giving.
The religiosity of one’s social network, such as a spouse, also had an effect, but having friends with similar religious views actually had a negative effect on giving. The researchers speculate that having religious friends may lead to a diffusion of individual responsibility
(Review of Religious Research, 618 SW 2nd Ave., Galva, IL 61434)
03: Christians and Buddhists show the highest rates of literacy and per capita Gross National Product (GNP), according to recent statistics gathered by missions researcher Todd Johnson. Quadrant (July), the newsletter of the Christian Research Association, reports that the data shows Christians and Buddhists are about 20 times wealthier than Hindus.
The Buddhists and Christians showed a $9,000 and $8,000 (respectively) GPA, compared to Hindu GPA of $400. The Muslim per capita GPA is $1,700. The reason given for the low Hindu GPA was that most Hindus live in India, still a very poor country. Buddhists led in literacy rates (92 percent for men and 82 percent for women), followed by Christians (88 percent and 81 percent), Muslims (68 percent and 48 percent), tribal religions (75 percent and 56 percent), and Hindus (65 percent and 38 percent).
(Quadrant, Vision Bldg., 4 Footscray Rd., Eltham, London SE9 2TZ UK)
04: A recent Gallup Poll shows a growth of Christianity in Japan, long considered a nation resistant to Christian influence. Charisma magazine (August) reports that the poll showed that four percent of adults and seven percent of teens profess Christianity. Previous polls have shown far smaller Christian percentages, with some as low as 0.7 percent.
Of the 30 percent of adults who claim to have a religion, 12 percent said they were Christian, 19 percent Shinto and 75 percent Buddhist. Of the 20 percent of youth claiming a religion, 36 percent said they adhered to Christianity, 36 percent said they followed Shinto, and 60 percent called themselves Buddhist. As the figures indicate, some respondents claimed more than one religion. One analyst said that some professing Christianity may be “pre-Christians”– those exploring the faith but yet to make a commitment to the religion.
(Charisma, 600 Rhinehart Rd., Lake Mary, FL 32746)
Relations between Jews and Christians are changing due to the growing influence of Christianity in the global South, according to an article in theChicago Defender (July 14). Today it is no longer a matter of Jewish groups dialoging with American mainline Protestant groups or working with evangelicals on their mutual support of Israel.
The changing situation is not all negative. In Africa, where the Christian population grew from about 10 million to 423 million over the 20th century, many feel an affinity for Jews and Israel. African Christians place a strong emphasis on the Old Testament, seeing it as a reflection of their modern-day suffering from poverty and illness to moral corruption. Jacob Olupona of Harvard University notes that many African Christians, have Old Testament names. Visiting Israel is so important to Nigerian Christians that many put “J.P.” –meaning Jerusalem pilgrim –at the end of their names after they travel to the Jewish state, just as Muslims who make the pilgrimage to Mecca add “al Hajj” to their names.
Among African and Asian Catholics, however, there is the sense that the issues regarding Jews are really European issues, says Philip Cunningham, executive director of the Center for Christian-Jewish Learning at Boston College. Popular among these Catholics is a stream of Christian thought which focuses on the biblical message of freeing the oppressed. Its adherents across denominations worldwide tend to identify closely with Palestinians and have a negative view of Jews, Cunningham said. The post-Vatican II church’s rejection of anti-Semitism has also had less impact on Latin American Catholic leaders.
While this problem is not new, it has gained urgency because Hispanics are bringing their views with them as they move to the United States in growing numbers. Since the generation of Christian leaders who lived through the Holocaust and the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 is dying out (Pope Benedict XVI, a 79-year-old German, could be the last pontiff to directly experience the war.), Jewish leaders are worried that the next wave of Christian leaders will have different concerns, and may not view relations with Jews as important. The American Jewish Committee created a Latin America institute a year ago, has sent travel teams to China and has just started an Africa outreach effort. Jewish groups have also been inviting Catholic cardinals from the developing world to visit U.S. Jewish seminaries and travel to Israel.
Internet blogs are having an impact both on institutional religion and the ways in which it is being covered by the media, reports an article in RNA-Extra, (July/August), the newsletter of the Religion Newswriters Association. Religion reporter Yonat Shimron writes that bloggers are becoming important new sources for the media. For instance, Rocco Palmo, a 23-year-old University of Pennsylvania graduate runs a blog, that has “been beating the Roman Catholic Church’s communications apparatus at its own game.“
In June, the Southern Baptist Convention “made headlines after a group of bloggers challenged the denomination’s endorsed candidate and succeeded in getting someone else elected,“ Shimron writes. “Bloggers have the ability to wreak havoc on religious institutions used to top-down structures and orchestrated spin control.” Blogging is also changing the nature of the religion beat, as some reporters start their own blogs. Reporters also have to develop contacts with bloggers, who are often specialists in their fields. At the same time, bloggers often want to work with the larger media since it enables them to amplify their message.
Catholics are increasingly being viewed as an influential swing vote that could help determine the next election, according to Religion Link (July 17), a news service for religion reporters. In the 2004 elections, Catholics surprised analysts by backing a Republican evangelical Protestant over John Kerry, the first Catholic candidate since John F. Kennedy Jr. But a Gallup Poll in June showing Catholics backing Democrats by an 11-point margin suggests that the Catholic vote is anything but settled. With the November 2006 elections in sight, observers view the Catholic vote as being influential in determining whether Democrats can gain a majority in Congress.
Political analysts see two issues that may determine the Catholic vote: abortion and immigration. The Latino Catholic support for immigration policy liberalization is a “minefield” for Republicans. With Latinos making up a large and growing segment of the Catholic community and church activists and leaders on the frontlines of this cause (several bishops have vowed civil disobedience if some of the stricter Republican proposals become law), immigration is likely to be a centerpiece of the Catholic vote. The abortion issue is more complex, but the last election’s conflict between dissenting Catholic politicians and church leaders threatening to withhold communion to those taking up pro-choice positions is likely to remain a factor in the Catholic vote.
Along with developments in Iraq, the recent events in Lebanon may reinforce the Sunni-Shiite rift in Islam. According to Stratfor (July 19), a publication of Strategic Forecasting, condemnations of Hezbollah for threatening everyone’s future are as strong as condemnations of Israel in countries such as Saudi Arabia. Stratfor emphasizes that the issue is not only theological, but geopolitical, with Iran becoming a major force and regional power in the Muslim world. Many experts are warning about the risks involved in a growing Shiite-Sunni divide.
At a recent conference at London Chatham House, Swiss Muslim academic Tariq Ramadan said that the schism needs to be addressed on both a theological and political level, reports UPI‘s Hannah K. Strange (July 7). Most analysts say that Iran is far from completely controlling Shiite movements in Iraq or Lebanon. These nations have their own agendas, but circumstances may lead them to reinforce their ties with Iran (e.g. fear of a Sunni restoration in Iraq). And Iranian support to Hezbollah has played a significant role in building such ties. Hezbollah is now attempting to raise its standing by being seen as a stronger supporter of Palestinians and the anti-Israel struggle than Sunni countries, observes PINR‘s Dario Cristiani (July 20).
However, Hezbollah is still far from being able to play the role it would like: its ability to help Palestinians effectively is “nonexistent”, writes Juan Cole on Salon.com (July 19). He adds that Israel may aspire to drive the Shiite population away from Southern Lebanon for security reasons. But this would only further radicalize the Shiites, who would then get not only Iranian but Iraqi Shiite support. Once again, when looking at prospects for the Middle East, one is reminded that religious and geopolitical issues cannot be separated.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder of the website Religioscope (http://www.religion.info)