In This Issue
- Featured Story: A note from the editor…
- After 30 years—how have we done?
- Near-death experiences shared and divisive
- Online churches report growth and continuing innovation
- Current Research: December 2015
- Aggressive secularism targeted by French Catholic bishops
- Findings & Footnotes: December 2015
With this issue, Religion Watch marks its 30th year of publication. This issue also reports some important changes for the newsletter. We are now an open source publication; in other words, RW is free. Newsletters, more than any other type of publication, have moved gradually from a subscription-based model to an open-access one, mainly because an online presence and the elimination of print and paper was far easier to undertake compared to magazines and journals. We have held on to the older model longer than most newsletters (maybe because of the editor’s background in printing), but RW is now completely online. The newsletter is also moving from its base at the Center for the Study on Religion and the Professions at the University of Missouri to a new publisher in the next month or two (more on that soon). We are grateful to publisher Debra Mason and her talented staff for taking on RW in 2013 in a very challenging publishing climate, and introducing new web technology and design into RW’s format. No doubt, it is now quite a different RW than the one that came off the kitchen table of a recently graduated college student (with proofreading, collating, and stamping assistance from parents!) back in 1985. But we remain committed to bringing the reader the most wide-ranging and in-depth coverage of trends and changes in contemporary religion. We thank readers for their support and hope they will stay with us for the exciting years ahead.
For the 30th anniversary of Religion Watch, we thought it might be interesting to turn our analysis on RW itself; how well have we done in monitoring trends in religion? While we have been hesitant to make forecasts into the far future, trends, by their very nature, should have some shelf-life. As we follow them, religious trends should at least point to actual changes, even if they are far from irreversible. We have tried (not always successfully) to steer clear of marketers’ spin (what’s “trendy”) or following a single plotline, whether it be secularization, de-secularization or “post-secularism”; more often than not, these developments have moved in opposing and even contradictory directions. The trick is in telling the differences between momentary blips on the screen and more long-lasting changes and, judging from a small study we conducted, we have not done that badly.
To get an idea of our track record, the editors randomly selected 10 issues of RW between the period of 1998 and 2008, carrying a total of 71 articles (we excluded “Current Research” items). We then followed these trends up to the present to see to what extent they accurately reflect the religious landscape. Some of these changes were featured in subsequent articles and updates in the newsletter but, just as often, we looked at outside sources to confirm our accuracy in selecting and monitoring of trends. A few (3) of the articles were indeterminate in nature, taking into account conflicting reporting on whether there was an actual trend; one example of such an article was found in the December 2004 issue: “Europe and Islam—how inevitable is the conflict”. As might be expected, trends on religion and politics were the most volatile. That might be expected during an election season, but some articles just got it plain wrong. In the November, 2004 issue we reported on the enduring power of the Catholic vote, but subsequent elections have shown it to be weaker than we thought. Similarly, in the February 2006 issue, we reported on how “brick-and-mortar” Catholicism in the U.S. may be declining, but that Catholic ideas were becoming more influential in public and political life. Recent court decisions, especially the ones on gay marriage last June and the general political and policy climate, suggest that Catholic ideas and values are facing an uphill battle in a more secular culture. But the newsletter did better on religious political movements, such as the move to broader activism among evangelicals (February 2006 issue), and the rise of the Evangelical-Catholic alliance on a wide range of religious and political issues (July 2005).
Outside of the U.S., we did somewhat better in the religion and politics field. We saw new ties between religion and politics in Australia (September 2005) that continue today. Our article on Islamists moving back into government in Turkey in the September 2002 was indeed borne out. Not only did the conservative, Islamic-oriented Justice and Development Party (AKP) win a sweeping victory at the 2002 elections, but it has defied many predictions by managing to stay in power since (currently holding 317 out of 550 seats at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey). This is partly due to the lack of a credible alternative. Our track record on Islamic developments has generally held up. In the September/October 2008 issue we did report on a possible breakthrough in the Sunni-Shiite divide in Lebanon, but our headline ended with a question mark. While there are still efforts to bridge divides between Sunnis and Shiites, and Lebanon remains a place with religious figures attempting to do that, the situation in other countries of the Middle East has become much more tense in regard to Sunni-Shiite relations. We were more on target with our report on a growth of democratic sentiment among Islamists; today it is widely held that Islamist parties and leaders can use democratic elections and sentiment to their favor.
In reporting on more institutional-based trends on religion, there were some shortcomings. We reported on an Anglo-Catholic revival in British society (September 2002) that was short-lived, and a “steady” spiritual concern among readers after 9/11 (November 2001), which is now widely believed to have been temporary. But such misreadings were in the minority. Some of the trends we spotted did seem to lay dormant for years but have now unfolded, such as the Vatican warming to greater decentralization in the church (November 2001); others seemed to us like no-starters from the beginning, such as a potential Hindu-Neopagan alliance (November 2001). A few trends we spotted very early on, such as evangelical Anglicans pressing for greater freedom to organize parishes (November 2000). The grand total on our performance? Of the 71 articles that we tracked, 52 were solidly on track in pointing to long-range religious change; just six of the trends were short-lived and pointed to no change on the religious landscape. We were unable to track 10 of the articles at the time we went to press (which does not necessarily mean that these did not reach long-term status), and three were indeterminate. As limited as our self-analysis is, it suggests that we are moving in the right direction. There is definite room for improvement, especially in the tumultuous world of religion and politics, where the best course of action may be “waiting out” a trend before joining the rest of the press in the rush to print.
It might not be too unexpected to find that the next expression of the New Age movement expanding among aging baby boomers is near-death spirituality and practice, but more surprising is that its one-time strong evangelical supporters are increasingly divided about the phenomenon, according to two studies. At the recent meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Atlanta, attended by RW, Michael Kinsella of the University of California at Santa Barbara presented a paper on “shared near-death spirituality” based on one of the first ethnographies of the phenomenon. Kinsella studied a shared near-death experience group in Santa Barbara as well as looking at its nationwide growth and found that its gaining a place in established medicine. It’s called “shared near-death experiences,” because members share their experiences and other personal revelations with each other and engage in hypnosis and regressions in workshops. Kinsella found in his research on the Santa Barbara NDE group—the “most successful one in the world” that the members’ average age is 61 and they tend to be white, female, and more upper class than most New Age practitioners, with a clear tendency to make a sharp distinction between religion and spirituality.
In many cases, the participants in the group have not had actual near-death experiences, but rather share accounts of near death from past lives and personal revelations—“there is no such thing as a coincidence” for members, Kinsella says. The shared death experience is increasing in the group, with 80 percent claiming it, compared to 70 percent a decade ago. Members tend to draw on other alternative spiritualities, including spiritualism, Buddhism, and transpersonal psychology. Through the Shared Crossings Project, members are working with hospices and the larger end-of-life movement, but tend to exert their influence “under the radar as a way of respecting people’s deaths.” They have stripped some of its “metaphysical aspects to make it more accessible, such as by stressing forgiveness” to hospice patients, Kinsella says.
Meanwhile, near-death experiences are falling out of favor among evangelicals, according to a paper by Joshua Wright of the University of Colorado. The Southern Baptist Convention recently condemned the near-death experience phenomenon and several popular books on the subject have been pulled from the shelves of Christian bookstores. The recent turn against the NDE literature is marked by an opposition to new revelations and possible occult themes. Since the 1990s, “after-life tourism,” with even accounts of people visiting hell, have flourished, especially among charismatic Christians. Thus the recent turn against NDE’s among a segment of evangelicals may be more about the growing divide between “Reformed Biblicists” and charismatics, making the phenomenon a “site of contestation about secularism and pluralism,” Wright concludes.
Churches involved in online ministries, or completely online with little physical presence, are showing continued expansion and experimentation with new technology, reports the evangelical magazine Ministries Today (November/December). Although the article does not provide a count of online churches, two of the pioneers of these ministries, Bobby Gruenewald of Life.Church, and Nathan Clark of Northland, A Church Distributed, provide some idea of the changes taking place in this field. Gruenewald writes that churches today have more technology options with software built specifically for online ministry. The other big change is that various devices, such as Roku and Amazon TV, are connecting people beyond a desktop-only experience, allowing services to be streamed into televisions. But, because most online ministries base their services along the lines of worship, music, and sermon interspersed with chat and interactive prayer, streaming services can serve to override this participatory element. To increase interactivity, a recent innovation has been for these churches to create online groups apart from worship (similar to the small groups in megachurhes). An idea of the flow and types of people drawn to these services is provided by Jason Morris, “innovation and technology pastor” at Westside Family Church in Kansas. A recent week saw 8,687 unique visitors across its 162 online services, of which only 16.8 percent had visited previously.
The Internet Campus of Lake Pointe Church in Texas averages 3,500 people from 42 states and 35 countries each weekend. Each weekend, 63 percent of attendees have attended before, while 37 percent are attending for the first time. With low overhead costs, these churches are now more likely to working around the clock and maximizing the services they offer. For instance, San Antonio’s Bible Church offers 498 opportunities weekly through six live services and 492 simulated live services across three online venues. Life.Church reports a global presence, with an average of 110,000-130,000 unique visitors across their 69 services, with the top five countries being Pakistan, US, Bangladesh and Kenya. Meanwhile, Northland, which has had more than 100,000 worshippers from 120 countries in the last year, has strengthened international partnerships, even missionizingtheir online approach, creating centers in Haiti, Cuba, and South Africa, and planning more for Egypt, Sri Lanka, and Uganda.
(Ministry Today, http://ministrytodaymag.com/)
01:The use of personal computers and mobile technology to read the Bible may lead to a tradeoff of positive and negative effects, including increased reading, but also a sense of loss in the Bible’s uniqueness and new problems in interpretation of the text, according to a survey of digital use of the scriptures in the journal Studies in Religion (Vol. 44, 4). The growth of digital Bibles and other scriptures has been dramatic in the past decade. But, it has led to speculations that the relationship between the “e-reader” and the sacred text is significantly changed. Tim Hutchings of Stockholm University surveyed 257 readers of digital Bibles through an Internet survey (thus the respondents were self-selected) and found a greater share of men than women who are digital scripture readers.
As to the effects of e-reading, most found that the Bible is now more convenient, easier to study and more open to online conversations. However, a “significant minority felt their Bible had lost its status as a unique and sacred object, worried that they were beginning to read isolated verses without understanding their wider context, and regretted the loss of a meaningful relationship with a physical object,” Hutchings writes. The fact that men were more likely to respond to the survey, more likely to use a digital text at work and in church, and use commentaries and reading aids could reflect the greater proportion of men still in ministry compared to women.
(Studies in Religion, http://sir.sagepub.com/)
02: While there are more participants in U.S. megachurches than ever, individual rates of attendance have gone down to once or twice a month or less, according to a 2015 report on megachurches issued by Leadership Network and the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. The research was conducted through a survey of megachurch pastors, staff, and other “key informants.” Megachurches, many launched a quarter of a century ago by baby boomers are seeing slippage in the younger generations. Participation by millennials, ages 18-34, has flattened out at about 19 percent since 2010. The baby buster, or Gen-X attendees, are showing a greater decline in participation, dropping from 28 percent in 2010 to 23 percent today.
The other major change among U.S. megachurches is the way these church structures are getting smaller. Congregations are “getting bigger by getting smaller,” through establishing multi-site churches with several campuses, according to report co-author Warren Bird. 62 percent of the megachurches now have multi-sites, whereas only five years ago it was 46 percent. The percentage claiming an evangelical identity has grown; now it’s 71 percent. At the same time, the non-denominational trend continues (at 40 percent), with most pastors saying denominational ties were unimportant or not very important to their congregations. But social service to others outside the congregation has climbed in importance, with 44 percent saying one of their specialties was community service.
03: How much a new church emphasizes its denominational affiliation does not seem to make much of a difference in increasing attendance or attracting many unchurched people; in fact, those new churches that are less likely to emphasize their denominational connections and identity drew higher proportions of young adults, according to a recent study. This study, conducted by Marjorie Royle and RW’s editor and presented at the recent meeting of the Religious Research Association, is based on an analysis of how new church starts portray their denominational connections on their web sites, interviews and observations of their services, and quantitative information on the growth rates of these congregations.
Although there was a weak relationship between emphasizing a denominational identity and growth, the study did find that new congregations were more likely to stress the church body they belong to if they were trying to attract visitors in newly developing areas where the denomination was strong. They were also more likely to emphasize their denomination if they were trying to distinguish themselves from other, more conservative churches in areas such as the South. This was especially clear in churches such as the United Church of Christ. UCC congregations were more likely to use their denomination in their names and link to the denomination (locally and nationally) on their web sites. Attenders often showed strong support and identification with the liberal church body, particularly those in the LGBT community who feel rejected by other churches.
04: The rise of the religiously unaffiliated has raised a debate about how “spiritual” this population is, with a recent analysis from the Pew Research Center suggesting that they may be becoming more secular. An analysis done on both the 2007 and the 2014 Religious Landscape Study finds that the “nones” are becoming less religious. The share of religious nones who say they believe in God, while still a majority, has fallen from 70 percent to 61 percent over the seven-year period. Only 27 percent of “nones” are absolutely certain about God’s existence, down from 36 percent in 2007. The analysis also finds that one-third of religiously unaffiliated Americans (33 percent) now say they do not believe in God, which is an increase of 11 percentage points over that time.
05: While it has been widely reported that traditional Southern Jewish communities have declined to the point of extinction, there is a broader pattern of Jewish growth in major Southern cities and even a rebound in some smaller communities, according to a study by Ira Sheskin. Reported in the Forward.com (November 10), Sheskin looked at a 60-year period (1955 to the present) and found that the percentage of the American Jewish population living in the northeast fell to 44 percent from 68 percent. During that same period, the percentage of American Jews living in the West grew from 10 percent to 24 percent. The percentage of Jews living in the South, including Florida, grew to 21 percent from eight percent.
But, it is not only a case of the Jewish populations rising in such areas as Florida, Maryland and the District of Columbia. Excluding those areas, the number of Southern Jews has more than doubled to 508,000 people from 216,000 people. Atlanta accounts for a large part of this growth, but also the Jewish communities of Houston, Dallas, Charlotte, NC, and Richmond, Virginia have shown considerable growth. Even the idea that small Jewish communities are dying out is challenged by Sheskin’s study; small communities with between 100 and 500 Jews have bounced back to levels not seen since the 1960s. In many “college towns”, among other cities, Jewish professionals are being lured to jobs in academia, medicine and business.
06: A survey of Pagan leaders in the U.S. shows them to be older, overwhelmingly white, more educated, having higher incomes than lay Pagans, with one-third receiving some income for their services. An analysis of a 2012 survey by Gwendolyn Reece of American University of 989 leaders (taken from a sample of 3,318 responses from Pagans) was presented at the late November meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Atlanta. Although it was not a probability sample, Reece said the results broadly reflect the American Pagan community. While more educated than the larger Pagan community, the leaders have also followed a “Pagan-educated trajectory” whether in the form of distance learning, Pagan leadership workshops or seminary, according to Reece. The leadership ranks were overwhelmingly female, though males were overrepresented for their small numbers; they also tended to more “polyamorous” than the rest of the Pagans. As with Pagans in general, the leaders all tended to choose several different schools (such as Wiccan, Druid), with 68.3 of the leaders saying they were initiated into Paganism (compared to 25.2 percent of non-leaders). The fairly high proportion of those leaders getting paid as professional Pagans was mostly in the way of part-time, supplemental pay. Approximately 17 percent were paid full-time.
07: Islamic schooling in the West tends to facilitate student and family participation in mainstream society, though much depends on the degree of concentration of Muslims in a given area, according to a study in the journal Social Compass (December). The growth of Muslim schools, like their Christian and Jewish counterparts, has been viewed as either promoting social integration or limiting on the autonomy and individuality of students. The growth of Islamic extremism has led some critics, such as the prominent atheist Richard Dawkins, to see Muslim schools, especially if they promote Islamic law or sharia, as creating group isolation and a divided society. This study based on focus groups, participant-observation, and in-depth interviews with students, teachers, parents, administrators, and Muslim university students of three Muslim schools in the U.S. and Britain was conducted by Serena Hussain (Coventry University) and Jen’nan Ghazal Read (Duke University).
Hussain and Read note that attending these schools paradoxically did not necessarily result in greater religious commitment. But, in both countries, Muslim schooling increased intergroup contact with school administrators and teachers, “exhibiting a clear dedication to achieving the best academic standards possible in order to place students in reputable universities and ultimately successful careers.” The study also found challenges to the integration of Muslim families. This was found to be particularly true in the UK where Islamic schools are less ethnically diverse than in the U.S. “If attending a Muslim school is married with other contextualizing factors such as residential segregation, the ability of Muslim children to engage with those outside their immediate community will be difficult,” the researchers conclude.
(Social Compass, http://scp.sagepub.com/)
08: Looking at cross-national data, researchers find that countries that have many different religions rather than one dominant one had higher suicide rates, according to an article in Social Compass (Vol. 62, No. 4). The relationship between religion and suicide has been a classic question for sociologists of religion going back to Emile Durkheim. Sociologist Matthew Moore of Grand View University writes that while past research has shown that religious belief does reduce suicide rates, the effect of religious diversity has been less studied. Moore collected suicide rates for 2000, 2005, and 2008 from the World Health Organization and used an average suicide rate to control for wide variation from year to year, as well as control for those countries that did not report suicide rates for all three years (the sample size was 41, though this size is relatively common for suicide studies). Creating a religious diversity index, Moore finds that those countries with low “religious fractionalization,” and one dominant religion, such as Greece and Ecuador, had lower suicide rates than those, such as Canada, that had more religious diversity.
09: Religious populations outpacing religiously unaffiliated ones between 2010 and 2050 may result in altered distribution of wealth, according to a new study by the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation. The Weekly Number blog (October 21) reports that the study links demographic and economic data, though it does not claim to find a direct causal link between religious behavior and economic practices. The report finds that the rising economic fortunes of Hindus and the rising numbers of Muslims in particular will “produce a more economically and religiously diverse planet, while the relative position of Christian populations will be weakened overall.” Economic growth among the global Jewish population is expected to increase, but significantly less than the overall economic growth in the world, since Jewish growth is slowing more quickly than the world as a whole. Buddhist population growth will stagnate, though China’s economic rise will keep Buddhist wealth on par with global economic growth. While the growth of the global unaffiliated population is slowing, its economic growth is expected to track global trends in the years ahead.
(The Weekly Number, http://theweeklynumber.com/weekly-number-blog.html)
There is a trend in France pushing for a shift from the secular state toward the secularization of French society stated Archbishop Georges Pontier (Marseille), current president of the French Catholic Bishops’ Conference, in La Croix (Dec. 4). French historian Philippe Portier concurs in an article in the same newspaper (Nov. 25) and fears that secularism is turning intolerant, ultimately with a desire to control religions. It has now been 110 years since the law of separation between Church and State was voted by French Parliament, in a context of strong tension between the French State and the Catholic Church. While secular forces in France have remained suspicious about religious influence on French society and eager to denounce any possible infringement upon strict secularism, a balance was found over the years. The 1905 law has been often become interpreted as a way to guarantee freedom for all—religious as well as non-religious—and to manage in a neutral way religious and social diversity. The secular approach by the State was invoked more recently for dealing with the growth of Islam, for instance, when banning Islamic scarves as well as other religious symbols at French schools.
However, French bishops are concerned that French laïcité (i.e. the French brand of secular State system) is being turned into a way to force religious beliefs into the purely private sphere. A document released in November by the national association of French mayors has been seen as the latest manifestation of the trend giving rise to the Bishops’ concern. While the document claims that the ground principle of French laïcité means “non-discrimination” and “equality” for all, this is not the way all readers have understood it. What creates concerns is especially the trend it expresses toward a refusal of practical accommodations found at various places in respect to local traditions as well as toward the refusal of any presence of religious signs in public space. In some places, for instance in French Britanny, local events such as traditional processions that are part of cultural patrimony represent touristic events and are also enjoyed by non-believers receive subsidies from towns: such are seen as incompatible with a secular approach. The traditional presence of Nativity scenes at some town halls is also seen as infringing upon laïcité, and the mayors’ association demands for a law to be voted in order to ban such scenes. Meanwhile, those mayors supportive of them claim that this is “negative laïcité,” denying centuries of French history.
Archbishop André Vingt-Trois (Paris) thinks that there is a lack of religious culture among French political leaders, and that their fears about current developments related to Islam is turning them toward hardline secularism, impacting all religions (L’Opinion, Nov. 27). Secularist politicians feel that current problems are linked to “too much religion” and are identifying religion only as a source of conflict and violence, something that the Archbishop sees as an inaccurate assessment; according to him, religions as factors of social peace are completely ignored by such an approach.
(The 35 page long document issued in November by the national association of French mayors can be download in French at the following URL: http://www.amf.asso.fr/upload/fichiers/documents/AMF_14082_VADE_MECUM.pdf)
01: There has been a steady stream of recent books on atheism and secularism in less than a year. They range from studies of the broader phenomenon of secularism to more specific examinations of atheist groups, movements and practices (including RW’s editor and co-author Christopher Smith’s Atheist Awakening). American Secularism (NYU Press, $27), by Joseph O. Baker and Buster G. Smith, is especially good at teasing apart the various meanings and identities of “secular” people; secularity has fuzzy edges with the inclusion of hard-core atheists, as well as people who hold to a religion nominally, apostates, and agnostics who may open to spiritual experiences. Furthermore, many people cycle through periods of secularity throughout the course of their lives. Using various surveys, the authors estimate that one-quarter of the U.S. population can be categorized as “secular.” The authors see secularism as growing through the high rates of retention it has developed (those brought up in secular homes tend to remain secular), but losing out through seculars’ low rate of fertility. They also note that disorganized secularism may have a brighter future than organized expressions, as they often lack the unity and personal investment in their communities compared to their religious counterparts.
Stephen LeDrew’s The Evolution of Atheism (Oxford University Press, $27.95) is more of an examination of the new atheism and the recent growth of the organized atheist and secular humanist movements. LaDrew sharply critiques the new atheism as quite different “humanistic atheism” (as found in Karl Marx, for instance) in that it functions as a form of fundamentalism, promoting a scientific worldview that is intensified with an emphasis on evolutionary biology and psychology. It seeks to eliminate religion and other anti-Enlightenment schools of thought. The book then examines how the new atheism has served to revive the once moribund organized secular movement, even though the rank-and-file take a more pragmatic approach that uses identity politics such as “coming out” as an atheist. Also noteworthy is LeDrew’s chapter on the “atheist right,” arguing that the new atheism has had strong influence in turning organized secularism in a pro-market and “neoconservative” direction and away from its older humanist, liberal-socialist background.
Losing Our Religion (New York University Press, $27), by Christel Manning, is a very different book on secularism that looks at how unaffiliated (or “none” parents) are raising their children. Manning’s ethnographic work is based on interviews with 48 of these parents, only a quarter of whom can be defined as committed atheists while others are classified as non-churched believers, indifferent, and spiritual seekers. Manning defines nones and their parenting style as marked by choice, yet family/peer pressure that is often dictated by the regions and cities yields various outcomes and strategies. Where the public culture is shaped by evangelicals (Florida or parts of Colorado), for instance, the parents tend to either feel pressure to join churches to participate in social life or seek alternative means of support, such as a humanist group. In a high none region such as New England where such “protection” was unnecessary, parents tended not to get involved in any community. Just the questions of their children about the family religion or the parents concern about instilling moral values in their children can drive even atheists back to organized religion (even if for a short time). Manning, who is open about her emerging atheist stance, raises more questions than answers in the conclusion. However, she acknowledges that the wide-open choices none parents see themselves as giving to their children may be more limited by their own backgrounds and orientations than they realize.
02: The Handbook of Religion and the Asian City (University of California Press, $150) strongly challenges the idea that urbanization, especially in the global cities of Asia, is having a secularizing effect. In his Introduction, editor Peter van der Veer argues that, even in the West, the idea that cities “are modern and therefore secular” is a “tenacious misunderstanding” that informs the “radically secular perspective of urban theorists.” Even if European cities have followed a secular trajectory (which itself is uneven and “and not causally connected to nineteenth-century industrialization”), the opposite seems to be the case in such cities as Seoul, Mumbai, Beijing, Singapore and Bangkok, where even in their most hi-tech and consumerist aspects show a fascination with magic and spiritual and moral self-help, he adds.
The contributors flesh out these arguments in ethnographic studies that seek to show how “urban aspirations” of the masses in these global cites (or “megacities”) are colored by traditional and new religious ideas, rituals and traditions. Some of the chapters challenge the urban-rural divide, by which urban scholars posit the secular nature of cities; for instance, cities like Shanghai, Singapore and Shanghai are far from spatially contained but carry currents of religious heritage from the transnational and rural backgrounds and connections of its inhabitants. Especially interesting are the chapters on the political dimensions of the ritual processions in Mumbai; the contested urban space in Jakarta, Indonesia between a Reformed evangelical megachurch and the Buddhist charitable group Tzu Chi; and how Catholic youth in Manila in the Philippines face challenges from secular pop culture.
03: China’s Urban Christians (Pickwick Publications, $11.40), by Brent Fulton, is a brief (145 pages) but informative account of how large-scale urbanization is changing both the status of Christianity in China as well as the internal life of congregations. The change from a largely rural composition of China’s churches to its urban context today has brought new diversity and professionalization to Chinese Christianity. Fulton writes that four types of churches have emerged in such an urban center as Beijing: those affiliated with the registered church group, known as the Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), those composed of believers from the Chinese city of Wenzhou (considered the Bible-belt of China for its large number of believers and relatively lax restrictions on religion), migrant churches (from rural areas), and “urban newly formed churches.”
The latter congregations have attracted the latest wave of university-educated new Christians in their 30s and are the most professionalized, having full-time pastors. These churches also show the trend of China’s Christianity moving from family-based (and home-based), often authoritarian rule to a more visible, democratic and participatory church. But because these churches are often large and get support from outside the country, they have faced more government restrictions. In response, church leaders have become more antagonistic toward authorities, a factor that can limit their growth. The book also looks at the growing public involvement of urban Chinese Christians’ in ways that go beyond the formation of a Protestant work ethic, and the Chinese church’s new interest and involvement in world missions. Fulton provides valuable information on the internal strife of China’s urban Christians—often marked by theological pluralism and divisions over heresy. The trend is intense enough that the large unregistered non-denominational sector is actively seeking new denominational connections (often in the Reformed tradition) for oversight and stability.