In This Issue
- On/File: December 2005
- Findings & Footnotes: December 2005
- Has Hindu nationalism run its course?
- The debut of culture wars Italian style
- Current Research: December 2005
- Faith-based job recruitment gains acceptance
- Preachers and evangelists turn to podcasting
- Christian-Jewish relations — warm and cold
01: Although Protestants have traditionally been opposed to the use of images in worship, that prohibition may be fading with the introduction of interactive worship aids such as iPresence.
The attempt to add a visual component to worship has become prominent among Protestants ranging from the use of powerpoint presentations in megachurches to the multimedia services of “post-modern” congregations. Ipresence, produced by Integrity Media, features a set of DVD’s which are designed to “enhance the worshiper’s experience through breathtaking visuals” that promise to “set a new standard for how people experience worship.“
Most of the visuals are of nature scenes that accompany worship and praise songs. The natural visuals are somewhat surrealistic: with images of the world enveloped in a haze of gold light and photographic nature scenes morphing into oil paintings. Researcher Deborah Lubken notes that the theme of “seeing God” is prominent in praise and worship music of many churches, leading her to wonder “how does one select images to accompany direct verbal appeals for an immediate visual experience of God when visual representations of God are prohibited?“
(Source: Paper by Deborah Lubken delivered at SSSR conference)
02: Modern forms of unbelief and secularity have not received much attention among sociologists, so the recent founding of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture could be an important milestone.
The institute, based at Trinity College of Hartford, monitors public opinion and social attitudes relating to secularism and produce and archive social statistics on secular populations in the U.S. and abroad. Along with developing curriculum on the undergraduate and graduate levels on secularism and secularization, the center will serve as an ongoing forum for scholarly exchange.
Upcoming conferences will focus on secularism among Hispanic and secularism and religion in a free market.
(Source: press release; for more info, visit:http://www.trincoll.edu/secularisminstitute)
01: A Church of Our Own: Disestablishment and Diversity in American Religion (Rutgers University Press, $24.95) collects the published writings of sociologist R. Stephen Warner into a readable primer on the sociology of American religion.
The hallmarks of Warner’s work are displayed throughout the book: the importance of the political disestablishment in the flourishing of American religious institutions, the ways in which immigrants and other minorities use religion as a way of empowerment; and the “defacto congregationalism” found among many newly transplanted faiths that had little place for congregational life in their home countries.
Other noteworthy chapters include essays on Pentecostal immigrants, the gay and lesbian-based Metropolitian Community Churches, and changes in the civic role of religion. In the concluding chapter, Warner looks at the prospects of American religion, updating his own theories; he is more skeptical about the importance of pluralism in religious expansion. He also sees greater disengagement from institutional religion but not secularization European style.
02: Another collection of talks and writings that discusses broad religious trends through a sociological perspective is David Martin’s On Secularization: Toward a Revised General Theory (Ashgate, $29.95).
The book is more a sociology of Christianity than religion in general, using both theology and sociology to update Martin’s 1978 classic, A General Theory of Secularization. As in the earlier work, the new book does not offer one monolithic theory of secularization, nor does it view secularization in the popular sense of steady progress to a non-religious future.
Instead, Martin sees secularization as a series of differentiations and “mutations” of Christianity that vary according to national and cultural contexts. Holding that “Christianity embodies a dialectic of the religious and the secular which more easily generates secular mutations of faith rather than straightforward replacements and displacements,” Martin provides interesting case studies of how trends in politics, culture, and the arts reveal various “secularization stories.”
Martin’s analysis of the architecture in such cities as Paris, London, Amsterdam, Helsinki and Boston show the complex histories and conflicting relations between church and states that may confound the EU’s attempts at European integration (for example, the national church traditions of England and Scandinavia, not to mention the former‘s religio-cultural connections to the U.S., turn them away from any easy optimism about integration).
Other chapters examine Canada’s changing religious complexion (once oriented toward the U.S. but now more like England and even Europe in religion and politics), how Latin American religion increasingly resembles the U.S. religious free market, and the ways in which Pentecostalism comprises a new transnational form of modernity that challenges secular narratives of modernity Although Martin’s style of writing does not always make for easy reading, his intricate mappings of Christian expressions, undercurrents and outgrowths go a long way toward creating a geography of religion in the West.
Hindu nationalism, or “Hindutva,” has become a global force, but recent developments in India and the diaspora communities make this already- diffuse movement increasingly difficult to define.
That was one of the conclusions made at a session on “post-Hindutva” at the late November meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Philadelphia attended by RW. Hindutva has always been a fluid movement based around nationalist attempts to define India as a Hindu nation and limit minority religions, most clearly seen in such movements and parties as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). But the defeat of the BJP in the 2004 India elections has raised questions for many scholars about the future of the movement and its political influence.
In a paper on the social service groups connected with the Hindu nationalists in the slums of New Delhi, Kalyani Menon of DePaul University found little political or “chauvinistic” Hindu ideology in such work. Menon found that these groups stressed inclusivity to all Indians, though they used Hindu practices and prayers to identify with and unify the people. Another paper by Laurie Patton of Emory University noted that although the revival of Sanskrit has in recent years been closely identified by scholars with the Hindu nationalist project, that association does not always hold fast. Patton found that women in India are emerging as leading Sanskrit students and teachers who challenge stereotypes by criticizing the caste system and the educational establishment.
But the fuzzy nature of Hindutva is most evident in the diaspora communities of the U.S. Shana Sippy of Columbia University found in her fieldwork among Hindus in Northern California that Hindutva influence is present in the majority of temples, but it is being “recast.” The original political and nationalist intentions of the movement are often rejected by American Hindus who stress Hinduism as a religion. This ambivalence about politics is found in groups such as the Hindu Students Council, though nationalist influence is evident in children’s educational material presenting the history of India, according to Sippy.
Italy is experiencing its own kind of “culture war” with a new breed of Italian “neo-conservatives” battling over questions of secularism and religious pluralism. Religion in the News (Fall) reports that the new “Italian culture warriors” call themselves “religious atheists” and “secular anti-secularists,” as they press for a greater public role for religion, even if they are not particularly devout themselves
. The Italian neoconservatives tend to admire President Bush, approve of the war in Iraq, and frequently call for Europeans to rally against an Islamic invasion of the Continent. Their heroes are Italian author Oiana Fallaci, who calls herself a `Christian atheist’ and opponent of Islam, and Pope Benedict XVI, especially for his attacks on relativism, nihilism and secularism in Europe.
One of the foremost neoconservative intellectual leaders in Italy is Marcello Pera, president of the national senate (the highest office in the Italian state) and a member of Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia Party, who calls for a “non-confessional Christian civil religion.” The neoconservatives made their first “public splash” in Italy when they joined in a battle over a national referendum on assisted fertility. They joined with the Catholic bishops–who received Vatican support– in calling for voters to boycott the referendum. The turnout of only 25.9 percent was seen as a victory for the neoconservatives and Catholic leaders, though typical voter apathy may also have played a role, writes Emilio Gentile.
But even some Catholic leaders are criticizing the neoconservatives, charging that by reducing Christianity to a civil religion that supports political cohesion, they are politicizing the church. Even so, the neoconservatives and the Vatican are planning to make religion and the issue of “Christian identity” decisive in next year’s national elections and beyond, concludes Gentile.
(Religion in the News, Trinity College, 300 Summit St., Hartford, CT 06106)
01: The main factor in the growth of megachurches over the past three decades has more to do with economics than theology or even changing demographics, according to sociologist Mark Chaves.
In a lecture at the early November meeting of the Religious Research Association in Rochester, N.Y., Chaves said that the standard accounts of megachurch growth do not explain why they started at a certain period in the early 1970s and will likely endure for the foreseeable future. The appearance of megachurches did not so much signal a religious revival (the attendance rates have not shown an increase) but rather that church attenders and members were becoming more concentrated in large congregations (even though only one percent of American congregations have over 2,000 members.)
In tracking the growth of megachurches in 13 Protestant denominations, Chaves found that it does not matter if the denomination is large or small or if it is considered conservative or liberal. Neither population growth, the move to the suburbs, nor the introduction of new innovations such as small groups, popular music and minimal Christian symbols to appeal to the unchurched (such features were present in larger churches earlier in the 20th century) explain the megachurch explosion.
Instead, Chaves traces the phenomenon to the financial inflation of the early 1970s when the usual giving patterns of congregants could no longer meet the rising costs of maintaining buildings and clergy salaries (which rose the sharpest from 1980-1990). Only the larger churches were able to maintain the customary levels of programming and quality in services. Thus there was a “push” factor of the dissatisfied leaving smaller churches that downsized their programming, and a “pull” factor of many of these people attending large churches that were better able to keep up the quality of services.
02: Most academic scientists do not see an inevitable conflict between science and religion, although “fundamentalism” is widely viewed as clashing with scientific progress, according to a recent study. The study, part of the ongoing “Religion among Academic Scientists” project, is based on a survey of 1,646 scientists at elite universities and was presented at the meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in Rochester.
The paradigm of inevitable conflict between religion and science has long held sway among scholars. Past research has posited that as scientists increase in rank they are more likely to hold to this “conflict paradigm.” But the study, conducted by Elaine Howard Ecklund and Jerry Z. Park, found that the majority of respondents (about 57 percent) stand in disagreement with the conflict paradigm.
The faculty also does not “seem to differ substantially in their views of the connection between religion and science according to rank, with the majority of faculty at all ranks believing there is no conflict between religion and science,” write Ecklund and Park. In fact, the majority of scientists in all disciplines–whether in the social sciences or physical sciences–disagreed with the conflict thesis, although biologists were the most likely to believe it (perhaps due to the current conflicts over evolution).
Ecklund and Park also found that those who were raised in a family where religion was very important were the most likely to disagree with the conflict paradigm (70.7 percent); only a minority of those raised in families where religion was “not at all important” (41.9 percent) disagreed with this statement. But even among those who did not see a conflict between religion and science tended to see “fundamentalist“ or “conservative“ religion as conflicting with science.
03: Despite their secular image, Democrats actually spent more time courting the religious vote than Republicans during the last presidential election.
That surprising conclusion was reached by Sean Everton of Stanford University after tracking the campaign visits of Republican and Democratic candidates during the 2004 elections. Everton, who presented a paper on these findings at the meeting of the Association for the Study of Religion, Economics and Culture in Rochester, found that in terms of church appearances, John Kerry and John Edwards “courted their religious base far more explicitly and far more often than did President Bush and Vice-President Cheney. Kerry and Edwards appeared and spoke at nineteen times as many churches as did Bush and Cheney, and most of those were at Black churches,” Everton said.
One could argue that Bush and Cheney did not need to speak at churches since they could rally the religious vote at other events, but Everton found that they made only 18 non-church faith-based campaign appearances while Kerry and Edwards made 25. While Everton found that compared to other events, all the candidates’ appearances at religiously based events was meager: less than two percent of the combined campaign appearances of all four candidates occurred at houses of worship and less than five percent were events that could be interpreted as faith-based in any way. But Everton argues that the evidence shows that Kerry and Edwards actively courted Black Christians– confirming previous studies showing black churches more politically engaged than other congregations, including evangelical.
04: Support among American Catholics for the bishops appears to be rebounding after the decline seen during the clergy sex abuse scandals, according to a new Zogby International poll.
Sixty-four percent of American Catholics surveyed agreed that the bishops are doing a good job. The approval rate was up to 83 percent in the fall of 2001, just before the clergy sex abuse scandal broke. By the fall of 2004, approval for bishops dropped to its lowest at 57 percent. The poll also found that 89 percent of American Catholics think their local pastor is doing a good job, and 75 percent think Pope Benedict XVI is doing a good job, reports the National Catholic Reporter (Nov. 25)
05: While the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons and Seventh Day Adventists are among the fastest growing religious movements in the world, they appeal to very different social classes and income groups, according to a recent analysis.
At the meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, Ronald Lawson of Queens College presented a paper that compared the membership growth rates of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon) and Seventh Day Adventists according to income. Jehovah‘s Witnesses’ growth patterns were the most evenly spread among low, middle and high income groups, though with more growth in the latter two categories.
Meanwhile, the Mormons had the largest number of members in high and middle income groups, with only a relatively small number of low income members. In contrast, the Seventh Day Adventists had a preponderance of low and middle income members with only a small number of higher income members. One reason for the Adventist growth among lower income people may be due to the appeal of the church’s extensive parochial school system.
06: Following trends in many European countries, there is a growing percentage of people in Northern Ireland who describe themselves as “religious independents.”
The 2004 Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey finds that 11.5 percent describe themselves as religious independents, which confirms the results of the 2001 census. This secular group has become the fourth largest “religious” group (after Catholics, Presbyterians and Anglicans) and might become the second or third one by the time of the 2011 census.
Carried out annually, the survey is a joint project of the two Northern Ireland universities (University of Ulster and Queen’s University Belfast). Research Update (November) reports that the decline takes place primarily at the expense of Protestant churches. However, another element which should be considered is church attendance: two-thirds of the population attended church at least once a week in the late 1980s, down to about half in the early 2000s.
Among affiliated people, the decline has been more pronounced among Catholics, despite their traditionally diligent religious attendance. It means that secularization affects Protestants and Catholics in different ways: diluting affiliation for Protestants, and retaining affiliation, with less attendance, for Catholics. Moreover, an interesting factor – considering the peculiar context of Northern Ireland – is that disaffection from politics seems to have been a motivation to reject religion; it goes along with rejection of traditional national identity (i.e. seeing themselves as neither unionists nor nationalists).
Could this mean a decreased role for religion in politics? Analyst Ian McAllister answers in the negative. First, secularization is not yet deep enough to have such an impact. Second, if people who became disaffected from politics also leave religion, those who keep a strong religious identity are left alone, which may temporarily even increase the political role of religion (since the most religious will also be the most politically active).
(Research Update, ARK, Northern Ireland Social & Political Archive; http://www.ark.ac.uk)
— By Jean-François Mayer
07: Religious belief in Britain is declining at least as fast as church attendance and affiliation, writes demographer David Voas in Quadrant (November), the newsletter of the Christian Research Association. In a recent analysis of the Household Panel Survey (in which thousands of families are visited each year to examine how their lives have changed or stayed the same) and British Social Attitude surveys since 1983, Voas found a shrinking reservoir of faith or, as it is called, “believing without belonging.”
Voas found that belief may be higher than “active belonging” or churchgoing, but “it is not necessarily higher than passive belonging, such as identifying oneself as a Christian.” The patterns of decline in beliefs and practices were similar. Two non-religious parents tend to “successfully transmit their lack of religion” to their children.
Two religious parents have roughly a 50/50 chance of passing on the faith, while one religious parent does only half as well as both parents. Voas concludes that such results “suggest that in Britain institutional religion now has a half-life of one generation…The generation now in middle age produced children who are only half as likely to attend church, to identify themselves as belonging to a denomination, or to say that belief is important to them.”
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08: The Buddhist priesthood in Japan has become deprofessionalized, with the activities previously performed by priests now increasingly taken over by other “secular” professions, according to a recent study.
A paper delivered at the recent meeting of the Association for the Study of Religion, Economics and Culture. by Mitsutoshi Horii argued that both in law and practice, the Buddhist priesthood has “ceased to exist in the post-war Japanese socio-economic system.” Much of the change has occurred as lay teachers and workers in religious organizations have become incorporated into the same employee category as priests.
But Horii traces the devaluing of the priesthood as mainly due to the loss of religious conviction and an alienation of religious identity. The priesthood has devolved into a family obligation, where authority is passed from the father to the son. This results in many priests no longer having strong beliefs, he added. The loss of traditional sources of income for priests, such as when laypeople conduct funerals and other mortuary rites, and the decline of the Japanese birth rate are likely to “trigger the collapse of the traditional parish system.”
Horii concludes that in this case, the Buddhist temple could become a voluntary organization with lay leadership. Another possibility is that the priesthood would take on the dimensions of a doctor-patient relationship, with clients paying for services rendered by the priest.
A small but growing number of private companies are finding that religious groups can “recruit, screen and even help manage larger numbers of new employees, especially at the entry level,” reports the New York Times (Nov. 6). The new church involvement in job counseling and screening has been helped by the growth of government involvement in faith-based issues in the workplace. With these new faith-based initiatives working in cooperation with the Labor Department, a number of employers have built relationships with religious leaders. For instance, the CVS Corporation has teamed up with inner-city churches to launch a job recruitment program.
An official with the corporation said that half of the applicants hired through church efforts have stayed in their jobs for at least a year compared with fewer than a sixth of recruits in general. This may be because ministers screen prospective employees for the company, making sure they meet the desired qualifications. Entrepreneurs in the career counseling industry have also created new relationships with religious organizations. The Chicago-based Work Ministry has expanded to 132 programs in 25 states, assisting religious groups in helping their members and community members find jobs.
Always on the lookout for new ways of spreading the Gospel, Christian evangelists have discovered the iPod.
This is especially attractive since users of iPod players are primarily young people, i.e. the age group most difficult to reach. Phil Lewis writes in The Christian Post (Nov. 21) that Podcasting allows a preacher to make his sermons available to everybody and everywhere, more easily and at a much lower cost than producing tapes.
This is provided, of course, that there are people are willing to listen. Some experiences with the technology are reported to be encouraging, with the communications director of a church in Kansas counting up to 4,000 people downloading the sermon of the previous Sunday. (www.christianpost.com)
— By Jean-François Mayer
On November 3, the director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, warned about “attacks on church-state separation” by groups attempting “to implement their Christian worldview” and “to Christianize America.”
Foxman explicitly mentioned Focus on the Family, the Alliance Defense Fund, the American Family Association and the Family Research Council. Two weeks later, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, criticized people who claim “a monopoly on God.” While apparently uncoordinated, those public statements from prominent Jewish figures are interpreted by observers such as Michelle Goldberg, writing on Salon.com (Nov. 29), as signs that the honeymoon between the Jewish community and the Christian right may be over.
While the above issues had always mattered to American Jews, they had mostly kept silent about differences with the Christian right due to its support for Israel derived from Christian Zionist beliefs. At a time when support for Israel has eroded in many parts of the world, such staunch backing was appreciated. But leaders of the Christian right had also agreed to tone down their rhetoric on the “Christian nation,” which flourishes today without restraint. In addition, The Forward’s editor, J.J. Goldberg, explained to Salon.com‘s reporter that keeping silent about issues which made Jews uncomfortable was also a matter of access to the White House, but current developments make it less of a burning issue.
However, not everyone approves of Foxman’s move. Leaders of groups promoting Christian-Jewish cooperation, such as the International Fellowship of Christian and Jews (IFCJ), consider it as foolish at a time when they see Conservative Christian support as crucial. IFCJ’s Yechiel Z. Eckstein claims that Christian leaders have been offended and warn about risks of an anti-Jewish backlash among “Bible-believing Christians.”
Jewish relations with mainline Christians seem warmer, although not without complications. Whether by circumstance or design, mainline Protestant churches are sharing space and increasingly programs with Jewish congregations, reports Moment magazine (December). The phenomenon of Jewish and Christian congregations sharing space may begin as a practical necessity after a fire or some other calamity that damages a church or synagogue, such cooperation may becomes a permanent interfaith partnership. There are some Jewish and Christian congregations that have built a common structure where both permanently worship. For instance, the Cedars in Bethesda, Md., comprises Presbyterian and Reform Jewish congregations. Both Jewish and Christian symbols are downplayed, with the larger Christian worship space devoid of any symbols; the crosses are brought in by procession.
Lynne Schreiber writes that “successful sharing of space requires both partners to be on the liberal end of the religious spectrum.” This is because such arrangements tend to discourage targeting the other group for conversion. The greater use of Christian imagery in Catholic churches tends to exclude them (with some exceptions) from such arrangements.
More conservative Jewish congregations still observe the 16th century prohibition from entering Christian services, though some are seeking to reinterpret that sanction. The recent mainline Protestant trend of pushing for divestment from Israel over the Palestinian issue (which is an official position of the Presbyterian Church, USA) has also served as a point of conflict in these new interfaith arrangements, Schreiber adds.
— This article was written with Jean-François Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder of the website Religioscope, http://www.religion.info)
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