In This Issue
- On/File: January 2002
- Findings & Footnotes: January 2002
- Ethnic-national factor key in Central Asian Islam
- Sri Lankan war hosted by isolated Buddhism?
- Assyrian and Roman Catholic churches moving closer
- Current Research: January 2002
- Schism in the Russian church outside Russia
- Anglican use falls into disuse by converts
- Vineyard churches move out of the box
- 2001 religion — before and after 9/11
01: The Foundation for Interreligious Diplomacy departs from other current attempts at interfaith dialogue and peacemaking in its acceptance that religions have exclusive truth claims and then moves on from there to establish trustworthy diplomatic relations and mediate religious conflicts.
The foundation, started in 2000, seeks to create “safe places for interreligious diplomats to forthrightly contest their differences, agreeing in advance to take no offense at their mutually exclusive claims of religious superiority,” according to founder Randall Paul. The foundation finds that attempts to change the views and even convert others can, in fact, generate “an unexpected feeling of respectful trust.” In the wake of the recent terrorist attacks, the foundation has recently proposed that religious and ideological leaders sign a “Declaration of Commitment to Promote and Defend Religious Conviction By Respectful Persuasion, Not By Violence.”
(Source: Sightings, Dec. 13; Inquirers can receive a copy of the declaration by email firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (801) 763-1440)
02: Amr Khalid, has become the most prominent international televangelist in the Muslim world. Khalid, an accountant by profession, is far from the first celebrity TV preacher but his upbeat messages that avoid politics have drawn a growing viewership in his native Egypt as well as the rest of the Arab world and in Europe, Australia and North America.
Khalid, who gained new renown when his Ramadan sermons were beamed over the Saudi-owned ART satellite network last month, avoids hellfire messages and talks about the need for Muslims to be polite, happy and well groomed “What I like about him is that he tells us how God loves us, instead of how God is always going to punish us,” says one Cairo University student.
He uses anecdotes and speaks the language of the Egyptian middle class while trying to convince Muslims to become more observant, such as for women to take up the veil.
(Source: New York Times, Dec. 24)
03: Ingrid Mattson is the first woman to hold a national leadership position in the American Muslim community.
She was recently elected vice-president of the Islamic Society of North America. Mattson is a Canadian-born convert to Islam from Christianity and a scholar of Islamic studies at Hartford Seminary. Her work will focus on increasing Islamic education, such as training programs for hospital chaplains, as well as grappling with the difficult human rights issue of Islamic countries that forbid conversions from Islam to other faiths.
(Source: Christian Science Monitor, Dec. 13)
01: The Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life has done the public a service in publishing its latest book, Can Charitable Choice Work, edited by Andrew Walsh.
The book provides interesting background essays relating to faith-based social services and its government initiative Charitable Choice. Especially noteworthy are the essays dealing with how congregations adapt themselves to playing a role of welfare providers (including how the regional and ethnic factors may play out in faith-based initiatives). Other essays suggest that the concerns about abuses of faith-based government initiatives, such as corruption of congregations by politics, and church-state entanglements, have also been present in other periods of recent American history.
For copies of this book contact the center at email@example.com or: Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life, Trinity College, 300 Summit Street, Hartford, CT 06106.
02: In his new book Pentecostalism: The World Their Parish (Blackwell, $24.95), sociologist David Martin expands and updates his study of Latin American Pentecostals (in “Tongues of Fire”) to include the many faces of the movement today.
Martin finds Pentecostalism expanding throughout the world (though the movement may have reached a growth ceiling in Guatemala and Korea) but provides the most in-depth material (citing a wide range of research) on his specialty of Latin America and Africa. As Martin has found in his past research, world Pentecostal and charismatic growth is driven by the dislocation and movement of people from their old communities and identities under modernity, helping them to recreate new ones, as well as in developing entrepreneurial skills.
Because such dynamics are less intense and more gradual in the West, Martin finds Pentecostalism growing slower there and appealing more to those on the margins of society, such as gypsies or those seeking a new life after communism (although he acknowledges that the growth of the Word of Life movement in Sweden is more of an anomaly).
Martin challenges those who see Pentecostalism as a U.S.-inspired movement reasserting conservative politics and patriarchy; he finds new indigenous expressions constantly emerging, while the politics are fairly diverse or ambiguous, and women are often the “movers and shakers” in these groups. Martin’s thesis is that Pentecostalism is as much a youth movement as was the sixties counterculture in the West, adding, “As in the Reformation itself, wineskins break when the young are so much in the majority.”
Although Martin’s writing can be difficult and complex at times, the book demonstrates his remarkable grasp of religious dynamics around the world.
03: The new Encyclopedia of Fundamentalism (Routledge, $125) edited by Brenda Brasher, throws a wide net over the fundamentalist phenomenon, including Protestant as well as Catholic, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, Mormon, and other new religious expressions of this diffuse movement.
While some scholars may contest such a wide usage of the fundamentalist label, the 200 entries do a good job of balancing brevity with informative historical and contemporary descriptions of teachings, practices, movements, people and groups connected with conservative religion.
There is the tendency not to differentiate between evangelical and fundamentalist movements. Even if their histories are linked, a reader may question why predominantly evangelical institutions as Campus Crusade for Christ, World Vision and the phenomenon of megachurches are included while there is not much attention paid to current fundamentalist groups, such as Bob Jones University, the American Council of Churches, and the Baptist Bible Fellowship (or for that matter the widespread growth of fundamentalist colleges started by independent Baptist churches).
Particularly of interest to readers may be the in-depth entries on prophesy, creationism and the role of the Bible in fundamentalism. [RW’s editor contributed an entry on Sunday schools.]
The latest issue of the Archives de Sciences Sociales des Religions (No. 115, July-September, 2001) includes an article by French expert Olivier Roy suggesting that ethnicity and nationalism will continue to play a key role in Central Asian Islam, even in its militant strain.
Islam had not entirely disappeared from Central Asia during the Soviet period: in addition to a rural, conservative Islam which managed to survive more or less throughout those seven decades, there was an “official Islam” under state control. Toward the end of the Soviet regime, some young Muslim intellectuals also emerged.
There was a sudden increase in opportunities for contacts with foreign Muslims after the end of the Soviet period.
All Central Asian states have now become members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. But while “re-traditionalization” was to some extent encouraged by states eager to reconnect with their national heritage, there have been at the same time determined efforts to keep Islam under control — in Uzbekistan more than in any other place. Each newly independent state attempted to develop its own structure of an “official Islam”. But this has not prevented the emergence of young, educated independent preachers, including some radical groups.
Especially worth noticing is the fear provoked among some Central Asian political leaders by the development of the international Islamic party Hizb-ut-Tahrir (active since 1996 in Central Asia). Verbally aggressive and uncompromising, but rejecting armed violence and terrorism, the Hizb-ut-Tahrir is attractive for young Muslims, despite the ferocious repression against the movement (especially in Uzbeskistan). Regarding Sufism, despite its lasting importance in Central Asia, it does not play a significant political role there, according to Roy.
However, ethnic-national factors, which have been given a new impetus by the independence of the Central Asian states, should remain key factors in the near future, concludes Roy. They play an important role even among Muslim militants. Radical Islam comes to pose a serious threat to the political order of Central Asian countries only if it becomes a channel for ethnic-national claims or if it enjoys a strong financing and support from international networks.
(Archives de Sciences Sociales des Religions, 105 Boulevard Raspail, 75006 Paris, France)– By Jean-François Mayer
Sri Lanka continues to be caught in an escalating civil war between the majority Buddhist and minority Hindu factions, although there is an emergence of a religious peace movement.
The Buddhist magazine Tricycle (Winter) notes that nationalism and opportunism have as much to do with the decades-old conflict as religion. The conflict mainly centers on the Sri Lankan government and army, dominated by Buddhists, fighting Tamil rebels from breaking off large sections of the country’s north and east as a nation for Tamils, who are mainly Hindu.
A lone ecumenical peace effort has emerged in recent years, the Sri Lankan Sarvodaya movement, which was started by Buddhist A.T. Ariyaratne and follows Ghandian non-violence. But reporter Barabar Crossette says the success of the Sarvodaya movement has so far been small. “Iconoclastic” scholarship has attempted to explain why a non-violent religion such as Buddhism could host such a bloody war.
Crossette cites the work of University of Virginia professor H.L. Senevirratne, a Sri Lankan anthropologist, who has created recent controversy in his claim that mass Buddhism on the island has sunk to self-serving ritual and has become bound to caste, kinship and ethnicity, “forgetting the universalism” in the religion needed to override ethnic strife.
(Tricycle, 92 Vandam St., New York, NY 10013)
The warming of relations between the Assyrian Church and the Roman Catholic Church was vividly demonstrated by the Vatican’s recent “Guidelines for admission to the Eucharist between the Chaldean Church and the Assyrian Church of the East.”
The Church of the East, often described as “Assyrian” in order to emphasize its Persian heritage and to prevent confusion with other Eastern Churches, is the continuation of the ancient Christian tradition which used to be called “Nestorian” by outsiders (it never used this name itself, although it holds Nestorius in high esteem).
Its Christology was condemned by the Council of Ephesus in 431, and it has led an independent life since those times, expanding vigorously toward the East during the first centuries of its independent existence (“Nestorian” missionaries reached as far as India and China, among other places). The Chaldean Church is a Uniate Church, which was formed in the 16th century, after a group of Assyrians united with Rome.
The Assyrian Church consequently remained quite isolated, not being in communion with any other Christian Church. In addition, due to its historical location centering in the Middle East, it was strongly affected and weakened by the turbulence of history. There is today an Assyrian diaspora in a number of Western countries. The new guidelines are intended to provide admission to the Eucharist in Chaldean parishes for those Assyrians who have no access to sacramental life according to their own tradition “in their motherland and in the diaspora.” This is justified by the Roman document as a “situation of pastoral necessity.”
Reciprocally, Chaldeans who find themselves in a similar situation “are permitted to participate and to receive Holy Communion in an Assyrian celebration of the Eucharist.” While “not equal to full Eucharistic communion”, this marks another step in the increasingly warmer relation between the main branch of the Assyrian Church and the Roman Catholic Church.
A turning point had been the “Common Christological Declaration” signed in 1994 between Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Mar Dinkha IV, which was meant to allow the resolution of the separation which had taken place in 431 and to put “an end to 15 centuries of misunderstanding on the subject of our faith in Christ.” Yearly meetings of a Committee for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East have taken place since the 1994 Declaration.
— By Jean-François Mayer
01: Most American Muslims agree that undemocratic regimes in the Islamic world should receive reduced American support, according to a new survey.
The survey, conducted by Zogby International, polled 1,781 adults who identified themselves as Muslims; 10 percent of those polled were not U.S. citizens. Sixty one percent agreed on cutting aid to undemocratic Islamic countries, while 39 percent disagreed or said they were not sure. These statistics were the most surprising of the survey, according to one of the study’s researchers, reports the Jerusalem Post (Dec. 20).
Sixty-seven percent of respondents agreed with President Bush’s claim that the U.S. is fighting a war over terrorism, while 18 percent said it is engaging in a war on Islam; 16 percent were not sure. Eighty-four percent agreed that the U.S. should support a Palestinian state.
02: While the popularity of online religion sites has gradually increased over the past year, the events of Sept. 11 have seemed to intensify this interest on more than a temporary basis, according to a study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
The Christian Science Monitor (Dec. 20) reports that while the dramatic audience surge on religious web sites has subsided somewhat since the weeks after Sept. 11, some major sites “report that visits have plateaued at higher levels than before the events.” Some 28 million people — or 25 percent of Internet users — say they have used the Internet to gather religious information or connect with others on spiritual matters. More than 3 million do so every day, which is a 50 percent jump over last year, according to the survey of Internet users. The “great majority” of these users are “highly religious people” using resources to strengthen their own faith and learn about other faiths.
03: Data on approximately 20 of the larger religious sites shows a doubling of monthly visitors from 2.4 million in October of 2000 to more than 4.8 million in October of 2001.
Religious sites with strong showings into October include ChristinaityToday.com, Beliefnet, Catholic.org, and the site of the Sojourners community (www.sojo.net), which had a sevenfold increase in visitors since Sept. 11. One difference in the post-Sept. 11 visits is that people are looking to link up with others rather than surf the web solo. This “boomlet” in religious sites arrives at a time when many religious dot.coms are folding or cutting back.
04: Most Americans believe they are forgiven by God of past misdoings, but they are less able to believe they can forgive others or themselves, according to a new survey.
The survey, conducted by the University of Michigan’s Institute of Social Research, found that almost 75 percent of the respondents said they knew God had forgiven them, but only 52 percent reported they had forgiven other people, and 57 percent they had forgiven themselves for transgressions against others.
The tendency to forgive others and themselves increased among the respondents with age, according to the study published in the Journal of Adult Development and cited in the New York Times (Dec. 11).
A schism has developed in the Russian Church Outside Russia, one of the larger exile Russian Orthodox churches, over leadership issues and the prospect of rapprochement with the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate).
Following the retirement of Metropolitan Vitaly Ustinov, who had been the Primate of the ROCOR, the Council of Bishops elected Metropolitan Laurus Skurla as its new First Hierarch in October. During the previous months, Metropolitan Vitaly — in fragile health and suffering memory losses — had signed a number of contradictory statements.
On the day after the election of Metropolitan Laurus, some visitors persuaded the retired Metropolitan to leave the Synod’s headquarters. But then in late October, Metropolitan Vitaly signed a declaration withdrawing his retirement and declaring the members of the Council to be usurpers. Metropolitan Vitaly was encouraged in this attitude by a group of clergymen and faithful who suspect ROCOR’s new leaders of — among other things — to be eager to unite with the Moscow Patriarchate.
With the assistance of controversial, French-based Bishop Varnava Prokofiev (who had already dissociated himself from the Synod), Metropolitan Vitaly ordained three bishops. The group considers itself as the legitimate continuation of ROCOR. In Europe, the pro-Vitaly branch has a strong following among ROCOR parishes in France: most of them commemorate Varnava, who has now been elevated by Vitaly to the rank of Archbishop of Western Europe.
The situation in North America and other parts of the world is not yet entirely clear: it seems that a few parishes in the USA as well as a number of parishes in Canada have decided to follow Metropolitan Vitaly, although most of ROCOR parishes around the world remain under the jurisdiction of the Synod in New York. In order to distinguish itself from ROCOR, the new group calls itself ROCOR (V) — for “Vitaly” — in order to prevent confusions with the main ROCOR. According to sources well-acquainted with the case, members of ROCOR (V) have different agendas, and it seems unlikely that they will manage to maintain unity among themselves in the long-run.
The ROCOR numbers today less than 150,000 faithful worldwide, but it has played an important role in Orthodoxy. It was formed in the 1920s by Russian Orthodox exiled bishops and faithful, who could no longer communicate with the Patriarch in Russia, and subsequently were unwilling to submit to a church administration which was under the control of the Soviet regime. The ROCOR attempted to keep the Russian Orthodox heritage alive abroad during those difficult decades. In the 1960s, it also became increasingly critical of the ecumenical movement.
Following the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union, many questions arose regarding ROCOR’s future role. Relations between ROCOR and the Moscow Patriarchate remain uneasy. That the Patriarchate has partially succeeded in taking over ROCOR properties in various places around the world has not helped the situation. The creation of parishes under ROCOR in Russia has also caused conflicts. The current Synod under Metropolitan Laurus seems however willing to take into account positive signs in the religious life of Russia and to develop a cautious dialogue with the Patriarchate.
— By Jean-François Mayer
A special provision allowing Episcopal parishes converting en masse to Roman Catholicism to keep their Anglican traditions and liturgy has found few churches taking Rome up on the offer, according to a report in New Oxford Review magazine (November).
The arrangement, called Anglican Use parishes, was established by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to make provision for Anglican clergy and parish members to be in communion with Rome while retaining a modified form of Anglican liturgy and other traditions, including a married clergy. The article notes that many expected there would be widespread interest in the initiative among dissenting Episcopalians who were unhappy with the liberalism in their church.
But only a handful of Anglican Use communities have formed, and some that were started have since disbanded. Even in Britain where many recent defections have taken place from the Church of England to Rome over the ordination of women, there have been few requests for the provision (partly because high church Anglicans were using Roman liturgies before the Anglican Use was introduced).
But the article notes that even if the number is small, some of the Anglican use parishes have shown growth. Our Lady of the Atonement, the first AU parish, has grown from a handful to nearly 1,000 attending Mass.
(New Oxford Review, 1069 Kains Ave., Berkeley, CA 94706)
The Vineyard churches, a network of charismatic congregations, are becoming increasingly diverse in practice and worship if not doctrine, reports Cutting Edge, (Fall) a newsletter published by the church group.
The Association of Vineyard Churches is known for its freewheeling and informal contemporary services (called the “new paradigm”) that stress charismatic “signs and wonders,” such as healings. But Vineyard congregations are diversifying in worship and outreach in “increasingly marked ways,” says Vineyard USA director Bert Waggoner. The newsletter profiles Vineyard Central in Norwood, Ohio, which meets in a Catholic church. About 20 percent of members live in community stressing common ownership.
The Benedictine tradition has taken hold at Vineyard Central, with worshippers gathering at the church every morning and evening to sit in the candle-lit nave and pray the Daily Office and the Book of Common Prayer. Some of the other churches profiled in the issue may be more traditionally charismatic but they operate outside of traditional church life.
Vineyard on the Ocean Christian Fellowship in Florida meets in a Tiki bar that serves customers while the services are going on. In the Coast Vineyard Church near Biloxi, Mississippi, services are held in a casino hotel The church hopes to serve as a bridge for people working in the casino industry to come into contact with Christianity.
(Cutting Edge, 1800 Ridge Avenue, Evanston, IL 60201; http://www.vineyardusa.org)
Religion in 2001 will be remembered through the prism of war and terrorism, national mourning, and new explorations and reevaluations of Islam prompted by the events of Sept. 11.
But there were other events that may signal new patterns and trends in religion for 2002 and beyond. We will start with these developments and then conclude with some implications for religion stemming from Sept. 11. Because of the high volume of material on topics relating to Sept. 11, we will cite other publications as well as issues of Religion Watch from 2001.
01: The decision of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to remove the ban on practicing homosexuals in the clergy last year could lead to schism in the 2.5 million member denomination.
The local presbyteries are now deciding whether to approve this decision. But last year’s emergence and growth of a conservative “confessing movement,” which sees the denomination at a crisis point may well be the precursor to an actual split.
02: The election of Gerald Kieschnick as President of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod signaled a moderate turn after more than a decade of conservative centralization in the denomination.
Yet recent conflicts in the denomination [such as holding interfaith services after Sept. 11; see below] suggest strong divisions remaining between conservatives and moderates.
03: Faith-based social services received new legitimacy and recognition with the election of U.S. President George W. Bush.
With the events of Sept. 11, as well as attempts to modify charitable choice to abide by anti-discrimination laws, it is not yet evident how these policies will play out. The next few months will be important in discerning the shape faith-based social welfare will take.
04: The events of Sept. 11 will have implications in interfaith relations and public religion.
Stephen Prothero of Boston University argues in the Wall Street Journal (Dec. 14) that “Islamic-” has now been grafted on to the “Judeo-Christian” configuration of public religion in the U.S. This new triangle coalition is born of necessity, much in the same way that Judaism was paired with Christianity in the U.S. after the Holocaust, according to Prothero. Already, there are complaints among Hindus and Buddhists that they feel shut out of the partnership.
05: While condemning acts of prejudice against Muslims, conservative Christian groups were more critical of the mushrooming and broadening of interfaith prayer meetings after Sept. 11.
This interfaith mingling proved divisive and controversial in such conservative groups as the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the Southern Baptist Convention. Conservative critics charged that interfaith prayers give the impression that all the participants worship the same God and that each religion is equally valid, as well as that evangelizing non-Christian groups is unnecessary. These issues will likely remain an obstacle in broadening interfaith efforts beyond liberal and moderate groups.
06: There is also greater public acceptance of and interest in Islam after Sept. 11.
A survey, by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, indicated that favorable views of Muslim-Americans rose from 45 percent in March of 2001 to 59 percent in the November after the attacks While there was widespread reports of renewed spiritual interest after September 11, such a renewal was shortlived according to most polls.
What may last longer is the interest in Islam, especially as concern and engagement with militant Islam will outlive the Taliban. This is evident in the sharp increase of sales of Islamic books, and not only in the U.S.
The French newspaper Le Monde (Dec. 1) reports that bookstores in France have sold more copies of the Koran than ever before. Two leading French publishing houses indicate that sales of the Koran in September and October have been three to four times higher when compared to the same period in the previous year.
Some reports have suggested that more seekers are interested in Islam as a religious path since the attacks, although statistics are hard to come by. For instance, the Long Island section of the New York Times (Dec. 9) reports that local imams are “busier then ever helping people interested in their religion, including those interested in converting to it.”
A Nov. 16 report from the Middle East Media Research Institute (http://www.memri.org/sd/SP30101.html), a group monitoring Islamic extremism in the press, says that since Sept. 11 “many articles and reports have appeared in the Arabic press claiming Muslim proselytizing in the U.S. has seen an upsurge in Americans’ converting.
These reports claim messages of tolerance promoted by the U.S. government and local authorities has induced many to convert to Islam.” The chairman of the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) told the Saudi paper “Ukaz” that “34,000 Americans have converted to Islam following the events of September 11, and this is the highest rate reached in the U.S. since Islam arrived there.” Boston has become a center of Islamic proselytizing aimed at Christians, according to the report.
Dr. Walid A. Fatihi, a Harvard Medical School instructor, reports to an Egyptian weekly that at various interfaith events where Muslim leaders spoke, non-Muslims were often receptive to Islamic teachings. He adds that the “11 days that have passed [since the attacks] are like 11 years in the history of proselytizing in the name of Allah. I write to you the absolute confidence that over the next few years, Islam will spread in America and in the entire world, Allah willing, much more quickly than it has spread in the past, because the entire world is asking `What is Islam!'”
07: The events surrounding Sept. 11 sparked a debate among Muslims concerning intolerance in their own fold.
The Economist (Dec. 22) reports that the position of Muslim moderates and liberals in many Islamic countries were bolstered by the fall of the Taliban. American Muslims, particularly those of the younger generations, are speaking out more, claiming that some mosques have encouraged anti-Semitic and anti-American sentiments. Groups such as Muslims Against Terrorism have been formed by young adults in the Islamic community to encourage more moderate views.
(November, December RW)
08: The terrorist attacks have also launched a new battle among academics and religious leaders on the nature of Islamic militancy and Islam itself.
Critics say that Islamic and Middle Eastern scholars and interfaith organizations have ignored or soft-peddled the growth of Islamic extremism at home and abroad. [see New York Times, Nov. 3] Academics charge that their critics are in danger of stigmatizing Muslims and replacing communism with Islam in starting a new cold war.
09: Concerns for the future of religious liberty in the context of the counter-terrorism policy worldwide will likely be a long range trend to emerge from Sept. 11.
Religious freedom advocates are concerned that new allies cultivated by the U.S. in the current conflict may receive less pressure to provide religious freedom for their minorities.
— Jean-Francois Mayer contributed to this review.