In This Issue
- Featured Story: New church plants reproducing mainline identity?
- Presbyterian schisms—deeper roots and long time coming
- Midterm elections show stable religious vote, though some disaffection from Democrats
- New religious movements shaping American eating habits
- Current Research: December 2014
- Freedom of religion curtailed around the world
- The Orthodox Church—a junior if influential partner of Russian State
- The future of religion—the same, only more so?
- Findings & Footnotes: December 2015
Mainline denominations have recently started to emphasize church planting, usually in ways that vary considerably from evangelical church plants that are likely to perpetuate their liberal identity, according to recent research.
A major study of 260 new congregations from six old-line denominations presented at the recent meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in Indianapolis, which RW attended, finds considerable diversity among such start-ups but relatively slow rates of growth. The study, conducted by Ecumenical Partners in Outreach, examined church plants from the United Church of Christ (UCC), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed Church in America, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and the United Church of Canada.
Lead researcher Marjorie Royle classified these new ministries into three main categories: 25 percent of the sample was alternative congregations, such as seeker-sensitive or “emerging,” ethnic-immigrant was 25 percent, and 17 percent of the sample was traditional churches; the rest of the congregations were in sub-groups, such as multi-ethnic and those using blended styles of worship that may draw on the alternative model.
Growth in all three categories is slow, with many taking 8-10 years to grow to a viable size, and 30 percent did not have increased attendance in the last two years. In 2012, the average attendance for all new congregations was 55, with an average of eight guests. Royle found that new congregations tend to attract younger members, especially those in the alternative camp, having double the percentage of young adults, as do established churches.
The ways in which these congregations were started tend to differ from evangelicals (both denominational and non-denominational) who are likely to be embedded in networks of like-minded congregations that will facilitate and assist church plants. Mainline church plants, while not centrally planned and also having entrepreneurial elements, with most being started by a pastor, have stronger input from regional church jurisdictions and officials.
To get a better understanding of how these new congregations identify with their denominations, RW’s editor conducted a separate study of 85 of these start-ups (also presented at the SSSR conference). The preliminary study is based on a textual analysis of these new churches’ websites as well as ethnographic research that involved a small number of observations of church services and interviews with pastors and members.
The congregations studied were from the UCC (28), the ELCA (30), and PCUSA (27), with most being in the traditional and alternative categories (the ethnic-immigrant congregations had few websites). The congregations, especially those in the alternative group, rarely used denominational names and, in fact, had somewhat unconventional names—from “Not So Churchy” to “Yo Momma’s Church,” and “Big Gay Church.” The greatest degree of denominational identification was found in the UCC start-ups, which was somewhat unexpected since the UCC is the most congregational and least hierarchical of mainline denominations.
The UCC new congregations even showed a measure of pride about their liberal orientation, particularly in more conservative regions of the U.S., with one Alabama start-up calling itself the most liberal church in the state. The strong identification of these congregations with the UCC may be related to promotional campaigns the denomination engaged in during the last decade stressing its liberal nature. Many of the congregations, especially from the UCC and the ELCA, also took notes from the emerging movement, which stresses postmodern worship, often drawing on ancient practices, and inclusiveness.
This was seen in the two ELCA start-ups that the editor observed where a loaf of bread was passed around the circle with each participant breaking off a piece and offering it to the next person. At the same time, leaders and participants openly acknowledged that not everyone present was a Christian, much less Lutheran or baptized.
The practice of inviting the non-baptized participants to communion is becoming increasingly common in mainline denominations, and causing conflict. In many of these alternative start-ups, there is not a clear concept of membership, with few requirements for active participation or even some leadership roles. While evangelical church planters (and some of the PCUSA start-ups) have drawn deeply from the seeker-sensitive megachurch model, the emerging model adapts itself more easily to the mainline themes of diversity, liturgical worship and social engagement—something the denominations seem to be capitalizing on.
Hundreds of congregations and clergy have left mainline Protestant denominations since 2000.
In 2009 the ELCA and in 2011 the PCUSA adopted policies allowing ordination of gay clergy. Research reported at the Religious Research Association conference in Indianapolis this past October looked at the recent exodus of conservatives from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the ELCA, and the Presbyterian Church (USA), or PCUSA. This writer, assisted by John Augustine, Brooke Hamer and Brian Hansen, reported on a study using over thirty telephone interviews with clergy who left either the ELCA or PCUSA and a mail survey of forty-nine former ELCA ministers.
A major trigger for leaving was the change in clergy sexuality policy. The deeper causes and context of leaving involved mutual accusations of heresy and cultural polarization percolating in these religious bodies. Conservatives who left cited liberal heresy, illegitimate understandings of sacred scriptures, diminished moral authority and loss of control over denominational policies.
Conservative clergy developed a subculture and networks that bridged between those who already left and conservatives still in the ELCA or PCUSA who were thinking of leaving. Social networks and a sense of crisis shared with other conservatives set the stage for this schism. Alternative denominations perceived to be a better fit were available. The attractions of leaving won out over any obstacles along the way. Focusing on the Presbyterians [see September 2013 RW for more on the ELCA schisms], one choice for those who left the PCUSA was the more orthodox Evangelical Presbyterian Church, with stronger ties to Presbyterian and Reformed heritage and creeds.
Those joining the Evangelical Convenant Order of Presbyterians found a denomination moving closer to evangelical identity in many congregations with somewhat less emphasis on creeds and faith heritage. All of them ordain women, although the Evangelical Presbyterian Church permits congregations to call only male pastors. The prohibition on female clergy was the major reason these congregations and leaders, with only a few exceptions, did not consider affiliation with some longer existing conservative denominations such as the Presbyterian Church in America.
Statistics about congregations that left the PCUSA were presented by Joelle Kopacz of the PCUSA research office representing her collaborators Jack Marcum and Ida Smith.
Since 2006 over four hundred congregations left the PCUSA. And since 2010, almost 90 percent of PCUSA congregations that left joined either the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, EPC, or Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians, ECO; 251 left for the EPC and 99 for ECO. More have joined these denominations since they left the PCUSA. Regionally, losses were greatest in the mid-South, the West and Pennsylvania.
The PCUSA experienced just over one percent loss of revenue to the denomination from congregations that left in 2012 (-1.6 percent) and 2013 (-1.2 percent). Congregations that left the PCUSA were sending less than average in contributions to the denomination so financial damage from lost revenue was relatively minor. In 2015 and beyond, eyes will be on how the presbyteries vote on redefining marriage from one man and one woman to two people without gender being specified in official PCUSA policy.
By Wayne Thompson, professor of sociology at Carthage College.
The recent midterm elections show similar patterns in religious voting to 2010, but there was a significant shift away from the Democrats among non-Christian voters and among Christians who are regular church attenders, writes Mark Silk on his blog Spiritual Politics (Nov. 5).
Silk notes that the exit polls showed that much of the “religious layout of the electorate looks almost identical to the last midterm election in 2010, and not much different from the 2012 presidential election.” For instance, in 2010, Protestants voted Republican 59 percent to 38 percent, while this election it was 60-38. The only significant difference from 2012 came from the Catholics who voted narrowly Democratic but in November it was 54-44 Republican.
While Jews stayed strongly Democratic in the midterm elections, those from “other” religions, including Muslims, Hindus and other faiths, voted two out of three for the Democrats; in 2010, it was three out of four. “And given that their proportion of the vote increased from 8 to 11 percent, that was not a trivial number of votes,” Silk writes. Although the religious proportion of the electorate did not change much, the non-affiliated vote remained at 12 percent—lower than their actual demographic strength.
Those voters who said they attended religious services once a week or more voted 58-40 Republican in 2010, 59-39 Republican in 2012, and 58-41 this year. Silk concludes that this shift may show that “charges of an Obamaite ‘war on religion’ by evangelical and Catholic leaders have gotten through.”
(Spiritual Politics, http://marksilk.religionnews.com)
Many of the innovations in food that have been introduced by new religious movements (NRMs) have become so much a part of mainstream America that they are not easily recognized, according to University of Oregon sociologist Marion Goldman.
In presenting preliminary results from her study at the recent meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in Indianapolis, Goldman said that only a few NRM have shared their beliefs and practices through food. American Sikhs in the Happy, Healthy, Holy movement spread their beliefs on tea and cereal boxes through Golden Temple Foods, as well as marketing organic granola and inventing Kettle Chips as a healthy alternative to other brands of potato chips.
In contrast, most of the mid-priced sushi consumed in the U.S. comes by means of True World Foods’ fishing fleets, operated by the Unification Church; the profits from this enterprise has helped sustain the church as membership has declined. NRMs operating restaurants have been less common, but there have been some successful attempts. Greens Restaurant founded by San Francisco’s Zen Center is said to have brought vegetarian food from health food stores to establish it as a cuisine in the U.S.
Goldman finds that most of the restaurants of NRMs have survived for less than a decade. The most important exception among contemporary NRMs is Supreme Master Ching Hai’s worldwide chain of about 200 Loving Hut Cafes, with 40 in the U.S. The cafes, which sell well-priced vegan dishes, are run by Asian immigrants and Asian-Americans who join together to practice meditation on “inner light” and sound known as the Quan Yin Method founded by the Vietnamese spiritual leader.
The menus and also the videos that constantly run in the cafes spread a “soft version” of the group’s teachings to attract a more diverse following. Each café functions as both an outreach center and source of revenue, according to Goldman. She concludes that even when the food that is invented, marketed and served by NRM devotees blends into the mainstream and loses its spiritual message, such efforts generate significant solidarity and commitment among members to their groups.
01: People tend to think differently about spirituality and God according to what time of the day it is and the activities they are engaged in, according to a study by sociologist Bradley Wright of the University of Connecticut.
Wright, who presented a paper at the recent meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, used a survey method using smart phones where respondents were asked two times a day to report the activities they were engaged in and rate the level of their awareness of God. The survey, which had 2,900 respondents (with a 70 percent response rate), found considerable variation throughout the day.
Mornings were reported to be the times when respondents reported lower rates of such awareness, with the quality of sleep reported having an effect on such feelings. Activities where respondents were more likely to report feeling an awareness of God included praying, meditating, watching TV, listening to music, preparing food, reading and housework. Those activities where an awareness of God was reported the least included working, playing video games, computer work and shopping.
02: Religious traditions have an influence on space knowledge and attitudes toward policy support, and the benefits of space exploration, with evangelicals ranking lower than the rest of the population on these measures, according to Joshua Ambrosius of the University of Dayton.
Ambrosius, who presented a paper at the meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study for Religion in Indianapolis, analyzed data from the 2010 General Social Survey and three other surveys on religious belief and attitudes toward space. Yet evangelicals also more strongly supported the idea that the U.S. should continue to lead the world in space exploration (a measure which Ambrosius classified as “space nationalism”).
Ambrosius cited the example of Ken Ham, a prominent evangelical creationist, who links opposition to evolution to resistance to the idea of space exploration. Ham has encouraged NASA to continue exploration because he views their inability to find life as proof that evolution is a false theory; he was referring to scientists using space probes to understand the big bang and the development of the solar system over billions of years.
Mainline Protestants, Jews, Eastern traditions, and those with no religion all scored significantly higher on space knowledge than evangelicals. Eastern religious traditions, such as Buddhism and Hinduism, and Jews, seem to be the core of what Ambrosius calls a “religious attentive public” for space exploration, as they rank higher than the public as a whole on their knowledge, interest, and support for space exploration.
While Catholics were not differentiated from the American public as a whole regarding space exploration (except for higher rates of support for space nationalism), their greater acceptance of the possibility of life on other planets suggests that various Catholic theologians and authors have been successful at “integrating extraterrestrials into the Catholic worldview,” according to Ambrosius. He pointed to such theologians and writers as Thomas F. O’Meara and Mary Doria Russell, as well as the Vatican astronomer Guy Consolmagno, as influencing Catholics.
03: Atheist book buyers, particularly those of the “new atheist” variety, are less likely to read much about other religions outside of this genre, according to research presented at the recent meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (SSSR), which RW attended.
The paper, presented by Nathaniel Porter of Penn State University, is based on a “big data” study of book buyers on Amazon and the “recommendations” or related book purchases (co-purchases) they made. Porter looked at purchases of 827 Kindle books from the top 100 best-seller list. Most of the books relating to religion that were purchased also included recommendations of books relating to other religions.
For instance, those buying books about Judaism also purchased books about other faiths. But the co-purchases of many atheist titles only included recommendations of other atheist titles—there was little sign of reading in other religions, creating what Porter calls an “echo chamber effect.” Those purchases that maintained tight connections mostly with other atheist books tended to be in the “scientific” or new atheist category; the other one-third of atheist purchases, which included more agnostic titles, did recommend books about religion more widely outside of their circle, according to Porter.
04: A big data study of atheists and religious believers using Twitter, finds that atheist use of this social media outpaces those who are members of the much larger religions.
Based on a study of 96 million tweets of over 250,000 Twitter users, researchers Lu Chen, Ingmar Weber, and Adam Okulicz-Kozaryn found that atheists have more friends, more followers and they tweet more. Among the other major religions, Muslims were found to be the most active on Twitter, according to the Religion News Service-based article (October 3). This study may be related to new research showing that the religiously non-affiliated (“nones”) are heavier Internet users than religious believers.
Paul McClure of Baylor University presented a paper at the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion conference showing that nones devote far more hours on the Internet (from four to10 hours a day) than active religious believers or inactive “nominals” (one to three hours). Drawing on the Baylor Religion Survey, McClure noted that nones have less social capital than believers as expressed in community involvement and are less trusting toward others.
Yet he found that nones who surfed the Internet more have higher levels of social trust than churchgoers and nominals. Their heavy Internet use may be a way of generating trust they don’t get through religious institutions.
05: While the U.S. is considered to be an exception to the secularization found in much of Europe, recent rates of religious decline and the way they are produced by generational patterns in America suggests that it may not be so exceptional after all, according to a recent paper by David Voas and Mark Chaves.
In a paper presented at the recent meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, Voas and Chaves seek to challenge the widely-held view among many social scientists that America is an outlier in the general pattern of secularization that started in Europe, mainly by comparing it to other cases of religious decline in Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. The erosion of religious affiliation in these countries was marked by “cohort replacement,” meaning that every succeeding generation is less religious than the previous one. Even with minor reversals, such as during the 1980s, cohort replacement has further declined religious affiliation throughout the past four decades.
The same goes for measures of church attendance and belief in God. On the latter item, Voas and Chaves parse the question of belief in God to those who believe in God with no doubts versus those who believe but have doubts about God’s existence. They find that where unequivocal believers in God were a majority in the country, in recent years only 43 percent of young adults ages 18-30 had no doubt about God’s existence.
The sociologists allow that interest in spirituality and belief in the afterlife has increased in recent years, but they argue that such generic beliefs have developed among the least religious groups, such as Jews, and do not constitute an upsurge or even a continuation of traditional religious belief and affiliation.
06: America’s gun culture is related to conservative religiosity, but it is strongest among those who believe in a judgmental God but are moderately religious, according to F. Carson Mencken and Paul Froeze of Baylor University.
Mencken and Froeze, who presented their research at the recent meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, analyzed data from the new wave of the Baylor Religion Survey and found that the gun culture in the U.S. has a curvilinear relationship church attendance. Those who were most likely to embrace gun culture, answering affirmatively the question of whether guns made them feel empowered, attended services two to three times a month; more regular attendance tended to drive down the level of attachment to gun culture.
Those claiming empowerment through gun ownership tended to be moderately religious in their own definition. In contrast, there was little relationship between non-white gun owner empowerment and religiosity, with those claiming to be very religious the least likely to embrace gun culture. The way in which belief in a judgmental God enhances gun empowerment was also found only among whites. The authors conclude that guns have a deeply symbolic and emotional resonance for many Americans and that stricter gun laws will do little to weaken gun culture.
From 2012 to 2014, changes pertaining to religious freedom in the world have mostly been for the worse, according to the Catholic NGO Aid to the Church in Need in its report Religious Freedom in the World 2014, which was released in November in several languages at events in various countries in America and Europe.
The report focuses especially, but not exclusively, on issues relating to the persecution of Christians: it notes that in countries with the highest level of infringements upon religious freedom, “Muslim minority groups also face terrible and systematic persecution,” often at the hand of other Muslims (e.g. tensions between Sunni and Shia Islam). Out of 196 countries in the world, there are no concerns regarding religious freedom in 80 countries.
But in 81 countries, religious freedom is impaired at high or medium levels, or in decline, while 35 countries have some religious freedom issues of concern, but without a deterioration of their status. During the period considered, changes for the better have been observed in 6 countries, while deteriorating conditions are reported in 55 countries. Out of 20 countries with a lack of religious freedom at a high level, 14 experience religious persecution linked to extremist Islam and six linked to an authoritarian regime.
The report goes on to say, “Throughout parts of the Middle and Far East, the phenomenon of the mono-confessional state is emerging” at places where different religious groups had managed to live alongside each other until recently. Thus, the report concludes that global religious freedom has entered a period of decline, with research conducted by Aid to the Church in Need confirming the impression conveyed by global media headlines.
The report also “reinforces earlier research establishing that Christians are by far the most persecuted faith group. Christians’ susceptibility to oppression is directly related to the fact that they are historically widely dispersed, often in cultures very different from their own.”
(The full report country by country can be consulted online: http://www.aidtochurch.org/report2014/ An executive summary is also available: http://acn.convio.net/site/PageNavigator/Religious_Freedom_Report.html)
The Russian Orthodox Church aspires to be the custodian of Russian identity and soul, but the State considers it as a junior partner that should not escape its control, explained journalist Konstantin von Eggert, former chief correspondent of BBC Russian Service and currently chief editor of the private channel Kommersant FM, at the Eastern European Day 2014 of the University of Fribourg (Switzerland).
The day was devoted to Orthodoxy in Ukraine and Russia and RW attended. According to Andrei Desnitsky, Institute for Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, after the fall of communism as the official state ideology, the Church believed that time had come to take its revenge upon decades of endured submission (the Church policy decried as “Sergianism,” from the name of metropolitan and then patriarch Sergius, 1867-1944). The Church leaders thought that they could now determine the national ideology, reversing the times but still following a kind of Soviet model.
Several speakers mentioned nostalgia for the Soviet period, not so much for communism and certainly not of atheism, but for statehood and a strong nation that sees the collapse of the Soviet Union as something to be regretted. The Russian Orthodox Church appears to be in agreement with a majority of Russian people, who are supporting Putin, Eggert explained. The Kremlin welcomes the attitude of the Church and its anti-Western approach, but at the same time it does not want the Church to become too dominant. It has not given the Church the status of a State Church; there are many ways to have leverage on the Church if necessary including tax exemptions, restitution of properties confiscated during the communist period, access to media, State-compliant courts.
Many people in Russia define themselves as Orthodox: the percentage has grown from 37 percent in 1991 to 68 percent in 2013. While the percentage of regular practicing believers, defined as those taking communion at least once a month, has slowly grown from 2 percent in 1991 to 6 percent in 2013, Desnitsky stated. People identifying as Orthodox, but never receiving communion has declined from 83 percent in 1991 to 62 percent in 2013.
Still, it means that many self-described “Orthodox” in Russia apparently do not practice their religion. According to Eggert, the Church should strive to become an independent moral authority. A number of people in Russia have been disappointed by its closeness with the state: what seems profitable to the Church today and a source of strength might generate growing skepticism toward it in the future.
While the numerical progression of Islam is likely to slow down alongside the persistence of powerful movements promoting re-Islamization during the coming decades, both charismatic Christianity and revivals of Asian religions should continue to prove attractive in non-Western countries, writes Swiss theologian and scholar Georg Schmid, in the October issue of Informationsblatt (Evangelische Informationsstelle Kirchen – Sekten – Religionen).
Schmid reminds his readers that there are many contradictory forecasts on religion, from biopsychologist Nigel Barber’s predictions that atheism will rapidly spread (insofar the world will become more affluent) to political scientist Eric Kauffman stating that the world will turn more religious due to higher demographics of conservative societies. If we are merely to push forward currently observable trends, Islam and evangelicalism might become the two most significant religious currents by 2050. However, many forecasts depend too strongly upon the situation at the time the analysis is elaborated.
People writing three years ago on the prospects for Islamism at the outbreak of the Arab Spring or for Roman Catholicism before Pope Francis was elected would not have assessed future developments in the same way they would today. Moreover, when a trend becomes very determinant in a religious field, it usually gives rise a counter-trend.
The secularization process and decline in church membership is likely to continue to progress for some time still in Western and Central Europe. Worldwide, the numerical growth of Islam will slow down. We are currently watching contradictory trends of “re-Islamization” and “de-Islamization.” While the first trend is more obvious in the daily news, the second one is rampant, but less openly expressed due to fears about reactions of some Muslim sectors (skepticism and questions by a number of Muslims about their own religious tradition).
Buddhism and other forms of Eastern spirituality will continue to prove attractive in the West, but without turning into a significant force in organizational terms—they won’t become mass religions. The attraction of Pentecostal and Charismatic forms of Christianity will continue in non-Western countries; this kind of religiosity offers strong experiences within communities. But one should not overlook revival movements taking place within Asian religions, with financial support provided by increasingly affluent followers.
Going further, Schmid speculates that scientific progress will continue, but it will not erase religion. It will lead simultaneously generate deeper and self-critical reflections among believers in order to incorporate those developments and stimulate fundamentalist reactions. Moreover, the coexistence of various religions and interactions with international developments will prepare the ground for “fundamentalist crises” (e.g. violent Buddhist reactions against Muslims in Burma and Sri Lanka), but also for efforts to overcome such reactions and go back to the essentials of one’s religious tradition.
In secularized environments, the lack of religious framework and training will also make radical messages attractive for some people, especially youth. Social developments also encourage religious autonomy; the pressure toward a democratic organization of religion is likely to increase. The era of religious monopolies will be over, even in Muslim countries, pluralism will gain ground. Atheism is becoming a respectable option, but can become a popular movement only insofar it gets mixed with romantic or even pantheist-mystical feelings.
(Informationsblatt, Evangelische Informationsstelle, Wettsteinweg 9, 8630 Rüti, Switzerland – www.relinfo.ch)
01: Religious imagery, concepts and practices are often featured in online video gaming but only recently has this become a topic of study among religion scholars.
The current issue of the online Heidelberg Journal of Religions on the Internet (Vol 5, 2014) is devoted to religion in digital games, providing an interesting mix of case studies and more theoretical articles. In several of these games analyzed, such as World of BioWare’s Dragon Age and the Mass Effect, religion is a source of conflict and social disruption, and humanist alternatives are advanced. Others adapt traditional religious themes to digital games, including Fatima Postmortem, which has a Catholic Marian theme, and Journey, which is based on Joseph Campbell’s writings on myth.
This issue can be downloaded at: http://journals.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/index.php/religions/issue/view/1449
02: The idea of sociology competing with or substituting for religion goes back with the discipline’s founding; August Comte sought to dethrone theology as the queen of the sciences and replace it with his new “science of society.”
In his unusual and controversial new book The Sacred Project of American Sociology (Oxford, $24.95), University of Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith makes a similar argument, although more as a point of criticism and concern for the discipline’s future. His treatment of American sociology as a sacred and spiritual project is more in line with what today is called implicit religion—ideas, practices and movements that assume an overriding importance and source of meaning and values for their adherents. In the case of American sociology, it is the discipline’s amalgam of social justice concerns, push for emancipation and personal autonomy, and therapeutic mindset that comprises much of this sacred project.
He acknowledges but doesn’t completely answer the question that such ideologies are present in other disciplines as well. Smith examines popular textbooks, journal articles, and recent controversies, and pays special attention to the firestorm over the research of Mark Regnerus on same-sex families, that he sees as illustrating how these values are propagated, protected, and put into practice. Thus, attending sociology conferences is viewed as a “spiritual practice” that reinforces the plausibility of the spiritual project. He argues that explicit religion comes into the picture as the “true believers” in the project of American sociology often clash with traditional faiths and believers, including dissident sociologists, who stand in the way of realizing its progressive goals.
03: As its title indicates, Anthony J. Blasi’s Sociology of Religion in America (Brill, $141) looks at a particular corner of American sociology, but unlike Smith, at least historically speaking, he doesn’t see the discipline opposing or sidelining religion.
Blasi’s book is more the straight and painstaking history of the sociology of religion, focusing on the period from 1895 to the mid-1980s, but along the way the author discusses several long-range trends that still drive the specialization. Blasi finds that the rate of sociology dissertations dealing with religion did not decline. There has been a loss of confessional and denominational sponsorship of associations of sociology of religion—the prime example being the Catholic Sociological Society’s transition to the Association for the Sociology of Religion. But Blasi argues that this is not secularization; scholars are still showing a “secular fascination with religion,” as the book’s subtitle reads.
Blasi notes other interesting trends. The research institutes that were previously the hosts and planners behind many important surveys and other kinds of studies on religion have largely been defunded, although there are some exceptions among those that are connected with research universities, and these projects have been taken up by university sociology departments. The various journals carrying research on religion are actually more secure today than was the case two decades ago, largely because established publishing houses publish them.
04: Lynn Davidman’s 1991 study Tradition in a Rootless World was one of the first to examine the phenomenon of young secular Jews converting to traditional Orthodox groups, and now her new book Becoming Un-Orthodox (Oxford, $27.95) recounts ex-Hasidic Jews leaving the fold.
This reverse trend of de-conversion from Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox Judaism has been the subject of several books in recent years, but Davidman provides a unique vantage point in her study. The process that she saw secular people engaging in as they shed their independent and worldly identities to embrace Orthodoxy is now portrayed in reverse, such defectors are literally reinventing themselves as they leave the only communities they have known. Davidman interviewed 40 ex-Hasidic Jews who have left their communities for many different reasons—from family conflicts to cases of abuse and religious alienation.
Davidman pays special attention to the way these ex-Hasidic individuals had to unlearn habits and ways of dealing with issues of the body, especially in adopting a more fluid, individualized appearance in contrast to their more disciplined and tradition-based appearance that they were socialized into. Although, eating habits tended to be retained long after they had de-converted (even if breaking with the kosher diet was their “first transgression” out of Hasidism). This emphasis on the body in “shaping, maintaining, and shedding religious…identities,” is compelling, because Hasidic defection is accomplished more through ceasing to participate in ritual actions than by declarations of unbelief.
05: While the “crises” in the new book Religion in Times of Crisis (Brill, $127) tend to mean a lot of things, the collection of studies do document and analyze important trends in global religion.
The first part of the book, edited by Gladys Ganiel, Heidemarie Winkel, and Christopher Monnot, looks at the “crises” of modernity, ranging from the dislocations of globalization, immigrant alienation and economic downturns. Especially interesting is the chapter on the popular Hillsong movement and the way it brands its distinctive music for a global evangelical market, even while different churches (such as Anglicans) adapt the songs for their own purposes.
A chapter on Internet use by Catholics in Poland shows how the online medium allows for greater deliberation on church teachings and pluralism of thought while providing a sense of community and a sharing of ideas and advice that has become rare in Polish parish life. Another contribution looks at the way immigrant parishes have ministered to the many newcomers in Dublin, providing vitality to greatly diminished Catholics.
The second half of the book examines crises of the nation-state, leading with a chapter on the Zimbabwean political crisis since 2000, and how an ecumenical coalition of Pentecostal and mainline churches has been more effective in such a situation than established church structures.