In This Issue
- On/File: January 2005
- Findings & Footnotes: January 2005
- New class of entrepreneurial Christians in China
- Far left and Islamist alliance catching on in Europe?
- Security concerns overshadow religious freedom in Europe?
- Current Research: January 2005
- Beyond the elections – religion in 2004
On/File: January 2005
01: The Qatar-based and widely respected Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi has emerged as the leading religious authority in the Muslim Brotherhood groups, according to an analysis by Israeli analyst Reuven Paz in the Nov. 2004 occasional paper of his Project for Research of Islamist Movements (PRISM).
Paz notes the launching by Qaradawi in 2003-2004 of the International Association of Muslim Scholars (IAMS), headquartered in Dublin. The IAMS has come to the notice of observers of the Islamic scene by issuing a number of much circulated statements on a variety of issues that alerts Muslims against “perils threatening their ideological and cultural identity.”
In order to promote Islamic awareness and to confront “destructive trends,” the Association wants to unify scholars of all the different schools of thought. Similar to some other Islamic movements, it sees divisions within the Muslim world as a major weakness. In December, following bomb attacks in the Shi’a cities of Najaf and Kerbala, the IAMS issued a warning about a “dangerous conspiracy” at work in Iraq for dividing Sunni and Shi’a.. Regarding Iraqi resistance, the Association has voiced clear support for it, but condemned the killing of hostages.
According to Paz’s analysis, the launching of the IAMS is a step in a move by Qaradawi to attempt to dismantle the old international bodies of the Muslim Brotherhood and to create new ones under his direct control.
There are indications that several high-ranking Brotherhood members might consider dismantling the international council which was established in 1982. Qaradawi seems intent on meeting the expectations of younger generations within the Brotherhood which are challenged by the rise of “global Jihad groups.” The result might be a radicalization of the Brotherhood.
(Sources: Prism, http://www.e-prism.org — Islam Online:www.islamonline.net — IINA: www.islamicnews.org — Impact International, News and Media Ltd, 233 Seven Sisters Road, London N4 2DA.)
— By Jean-Francois Mayer
Findings & Footnotes: January 2005
01: Refleks is a scholarly journal seeking to build bridges between the Pentecostal-charismatic renewal movements and the outside world. The semi-annual journal is based in Norway but covers Pentecostalism and neo-Pentecostalism– including their predecessors, i.e., the Holiness Movement and similar traditions—from around the world.
The journal consists of scholarly articles, brief biographical portraits and book reviews in Scandinavian languages and/or in English. Past issues have covered deliverance ministries, the Toronto Blessing revival and the Word of Faith movement.
The target audience for both the book series and the journal are researchers, university students, journalists and the religious community.
For more information write: Refleks Publishing, Ravnkroken 60G, N-1254 Oslo, Norway or visit the website: http://www.refleks-publishing.com.
02: The new book Religion is Not About God (Rutgers University Press, $28.95) by Loyal Rue, espouses the thesis that religious belief and practice is largely about evolutionary survival and adaptation and has little to do with supernatural beliefs. Given the current interest in the “God gene” and the biological nature of religious belief and experience, the book may be among the first of many works on the subject. Rue, taking his cues from evolutionary biology and neuroscience, argues that the brain responds to the mythic and symbolic systems of religion and uses them to create wholeness and social coherence for the believer. He goes further and tries to mine the “strategies” that the various world religions use to generate such values.
For instance, in Judaism, the strategies of purity rituals, following the law, social justice, and synagogue involvement provide “prosocial self-esteem links” that contribute to the survival of the species. Although Rue is conversant in sociobiology, he rarely engages sociological or anthropological research which suggests that beliefs about God and the supernatural are an essential part of religion.
03: The Children of God ($13.95) is the most recent volume in Signature Books’ series on the Studies in Contemporary Religion. Written by J. Gordon Melton, the 100-page work provides a brief historical sketch of the group, now known as “The Family,” from its roots in the Jesus movement of the 1960s to its many legal troubles and controversies in the 1980s and 90s, usually involving its sexual practices (such as flirty fishing, which used sex as a recruitment tool, and permissive sexual relations among youth and adults).
Melton discounts the charges of widespread sexual abuse by the Family, and argues that their sexual practices have been modified if not rescinded (they still practice open marriage and have developed a new teaching that views Christ as a sexual lover). Melton also finds that the Family’s North American and European presence has fallen drastically since it has expanded into the Third World in the late 1990s.
New class of entrepreneurial Christians in China
A new group of Christian entrepreneurs and businessmen are emerging in China and they are introducing democratic practices into the churches, according to the Review of Religious Research (December).
Chen Cunfu and Huang Tianhai, both of Zhejiang University, write that these new professionals, who are most evident in China’s developed coastal area, are the major funders and boosters of the churches and unlike either members of the underground churches or the government-approved “patriotic churches,” have little fear of openly displaying their religious affilation.
This new type of believer, called “boss Christians,” can be either Catholic or Protestant, and they have created companies with a religious ethic and activities. For instance, the Betly Arts and Crafs Co. in Longgang is owned by a group of Christians that operates through a sales network of local Christians.
Though there is also a rising cultural and intellectual elite converting to Christianity, the boss Christians are the most instrumental in running churches, often through democratic committees that allow the participation of women and youth. A similar development of local wealthy entrepreneurs running churches along with clergy in the ethnic Chinese communities of the U.S. is also evident.
(Review of Religious Research, 618 SW Second Ave., Galva, IL 61434)
Far left and Islamist alliance catching on in Europe?
There are increasing ties between the far left in Europe and Islamist groups, writes Joshua Kurlantzik in Commentary magazine (December). Last year, RW reported on how the Labor radicals and Islamic groups have forged an alliance in Britain, but Kurlantzik writes that these ties have also been growing throughout Europe in the last two years, particularly in some segments of the anti-globalization movement, often because of a common animus toward U.S. policies.
A new alliance was cemented last year between France’s Trotskyite Worker’s Struggle and Islamist groups. Throughout 2003 and 2004, some anti-globalists have joined with Muslims in resisting the war in Iraq and protesting the ban on Muslim headscarves in France, while sidestepping Islamist extreme rhetoric. At these events, more of which are planned for 2005, Islamist and anti-Semitic sentiments are commonplace, reports Kurlantzik.
He adds that last fall, an anti-globalist strategy meeting in Beirut was hosted by the Shiite terrorist group Hizballah along with other local Islamists and leftists. “In 2004 elections for local offices throughout Europe and for seats in the European Parliament, Islamic groups either worked together with leftists on joint lists or helped promote Left candidates in Belgium, Great Britain, and France, where the hard Left won five percent of the vote … The electoral advantages of this united front can only grow as immigration and high birthrates add to Europe‘s already sizable Muslim population.,“ he adds.
Disparate groups with different constituencies that in the past would have little contact, are now linking up via the Internet, Kurlantzik concludes.
Security concerns overshadow religious freedom in Europe?
Security is becoming a leading concern in European state policy, while the right of religious freedom is coming under increasing pressure, Prof. Riks Torfs (Leuven University, Belgium) writes in the recently published volume 9 of the European Journal for Church and State Research.
Controversies surrounding new religious movements in some European States, as well as the issue of religious fundamentalism in the post-9/11 environment, have led to an awareness of the “dangerous aspects of the previously inviolable right of religious freedom,” he writes. More broadly, Torfs observes a trend toward a much more active state policy in regard to religion than anybody in the West would have imagined only 20 years ago.
In itself, this development is quite remarkable. While religion is still considered a private matter, it now seems that religious choices indeed have consequences. Moreover, political leaders who had come to see religion as history suddenly realize that new chapters are being written, not necessarily in the form of “enlightened Christianity.” But the issue will be which type of active religious policy Western states are likely to develop.
In France, one can see attempts to exclude religion from the public square, which Torfs sees as dangerous from the security angle as well. If reality should be reduced to visibility, one would no longer see what is really happening once religion is compelled to become invisible. Other countries, however, will likely follow the path of a dialogue between the neutrality of the state and the identities of its citizens, including religious ones. This might be — according to Torfs — the future Belgian approach (inductive, instead of starting from abstract, ideological principles).
However, Torfs warns, some states might be tempted to choose a third way in the future, attempting to influence religious concepts and to promote views most compatible with democratic principles and human rights. In the current security environment, it is not an unlikely policy, leading to more subtle forms of intervention, Torfs concludes.
(European Journal for Church and State Research, c/o Peeters Publishing, Bondgenotenlaan 153, 3000 Leuven, Belgium, http://www.peeters-leuven.be)
— By Jean-Francois Mayer
Current Research: January 2005
01: Political platforms in both parties are increasingly moving to the extremes on religious issues such as abortion because Americans are neither too religious nor too secular.
That is the provocative finding of Harvard economist Edward L. Glaeser. In a recent working paper (found at:http://post.economics.Harvard.edu/faculty/glaeser/papers.html), Glaeser writes that conventional wisdom might suggest that on such divisive issues as abortion, candidates would converge toward the center to capture voters to the right and left of their respective opponents (i.e., a right-wing politician would want to take a stand on a religious issue that is only just barely to the right of his opponent’s position, thus capturing the entire religious vote).
This does not happen because politicians realize they have to take extreme positions in order to motivate people to vote and to donate money to their campaigns. To get this message out to voters, politicians target groups (i.e. churches and unions) which are small enough to be homogeneous (and not include one’s opponents) but big enough to be influential.
Thus in areas (such as the state of South Carolina) where most people go to church, membership in these groups does not predict voting behavior, while more mixed areas, such as California, church attendance does predict Republican voting behavior. Glaeser concludes that on a larger scale, the “degree of polarization around religious issues is greatest in places that are in the middle” of the spectrum in religious beliefs and practices, such as the U.S.
02: Seventy Four percent of U.S. doctors believe miracles have happened in the past and 73 percent believe they can occur today.
These are the results of a study carried by HCD Research (http://www.hcdi.net) and the Louis Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York (http://www.jtsa.edu). The data suggests that “American physicians are surprisingly religious,” the press release of HCD Research reports (Dec. 20). Indeed, it appears that nearly 40 percent of the doctors surveyed believe that miracle biblical stories should be understood literally.
There are strong variations from one religious group to another: 60 percent of Protestant doctors consider the biblical miracle stories as literally true. Orthodox Jewish physicians tend to hold views closer to those of their Christian peers. According to Alan Mittleman of the Finkelstein Institute, this shows that doctors, despite their higher average educational level, are not necessarily more secular than their patients.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder of the website Religioscope (http://www.religion.info)
03: Religious diversity in the U.S. appears to be hazardous to the health of marriages, reports a recent study by sociologists at Auburn University.
The social science magazine Society (January/February) reports that the researchers compared divorce statistics from the 1990 U.S. Census Bureau against data from the Glenmary Research Center measuring the extent of religious homogeneity in 621 counties from each of the 50 states. They found that it is the religious makeup of a community, “not simply the religiosity of a couple [that] exerts a significant independent effect” on the likelihood of marital success.
Divorce was found to be lower among those living in more religiously homogenous environments. This finding remained true even after controlling for 11 other factors that other studies have correlated with divorce. Among the 12 independent variables interacting in divorce rates (the two strongest being living in an urban environment and in a country with a high rate of population change), religious concentrations ranked seventh.
The scholars conclude that “cultural homogeneity” contributes to people being more closely bound together and thus may be instrumental in reducing the divorce rate.
(Society, 390 Campus Drive Somerset, NJ 07830)
04: Although they publicly uphold traditional family values, evangelical churches are more likely to include nontraditional family ministries in their congregations than mainline and Catholic churches, according to a recent study.
The study, in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (December), finds that among all churches there are not many ministries to single and divorced people. Only five percent of Catholic, black and mainline Protestants have non-traditional family ministries in their congregations, while nine percent of conservative Protestant attendees have such ministries in their churches. Researchers W. Bradford Wilcox, Mark Chaves, and David Franz were surprised to find that despite their pro-family involvement and discourse, evangelicals are not any more likely than most churches to offer traditional family programming.
Although mainline Protestant discourse (taking more liberal positions on gay rights and divorce, for instance) suggests they are more likely to offer non-traditional ministries, they were less likely to offer such programming. Black Protestants were far less likely to offer traditional family programming, and Catholic churches are less likely to offer non-traditional family programming than conservative Protestant churches.
(Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 350 Main St., Malden, MA 02148)
05: Close to half of all Americans believe Muslims pose a national threat and support restricting Muslims civil rights and monitoring their places of worship, according to a new survey.
The survey, conducted by Cornell University professor James Shanahan, confirmed past studies showing growing rates of suspicion about Islam among Americans, although the 44 percent reported favoring civil rights restrictions for Muslims is unusually high. The poll of 715 people also revealed that 27 percent wanted Muslim citizens to register their location with the government and 26 percent believe mosques should be “closely monitored” by federal law enforcement agencies.
Republicans and those describing themselves as highly religious were strongly in favor of curtailing Muslims’ civil liberties compared to Democrats or people who were less religious. The highly religious were also more likely to view Islam as encouraging violence (65 percent) and describe Islamic countries as fanatical (61 percent), reports the website Islam Online.
06: Confirming anecdotal evidence that American converts to Eastern Orthodoxy are more conservative than cradle members of the faith is a new survey of Orthodox seminarians.
The survey of seminarians at three Eastern Orthodox seminaries (one Greek Orthodox seminary and two schools of the non-ethnic Orthodox Church in America) found that converts took more conservative positions on such issues as the authority of bishops, opposition to ecumenical worship and religiously mixed marriage.
Sociologist Alexey D. Krindatch, who conducted the survey, also found that converts generally come from more wealthy families and are more likely to have higher levels of education than seminarians born into the faith, according to the Christian Century (December 28). Cradle Orthodox seminarians were also more pessimistic than converts that the Orthodox churches will remain “strangers” to American society.
(Christian Century, 407 S. Dearborn St., Chicago, IL 60605)
07: The Salvation Army has returned to its long-time first ranking among the nation’s 400 most successful fund-raising organizations, according to an annual listing by the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
The Salvation Army had dropped to second place last year. Contributions to the nation’s top fundraising groups increased by 2.3 percent in 2003. This increase was viewed as a sign of recovery from 2002, when organizations on the chronicle’s list saw a drop in contributions of 1.2 percent. Of the 17 organizations selected as “religious groups,” 10 of them were in the top 200, including Campus Crusade for Christ (23), Lutheran Social Services (5), and the Christian Broadcasting Network (98).
08: In England and Wales, 151,000 people belonged to religious groups which do not fall into any of the main religions. The largest of these are Spiritualists (32,000) and Pagans (31,000), followed by Jain (15,000), Wicca (7,000), Rastafarian (5,000), Bahà’ì (5,000) and Zoroastrian (4,000).
Those are some of the results of the 2001 census, which continue to be published with increasing details by the National Statistics (http://www.statistics.gov.uk). A look at results per area pointed to the South-East “as the capital of fringe faiths and sects, with London and the South-West not far behind”, writes religion correspondent Jonathan Petre in The Telegraph (December 14). Among Spiritualists and Wiccans, two-thirds are women.
The statistics also show that people from Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and Sikh backgrounds are concentrated in London and other large urban areas, while Christians and people with no religion are more evenly dispersed. Only 58 percent of the population of London describe themselves as Christian, while the total percentage of self-described Christians for Great Britain is 71.8 percent (people with no religion 15.1 percent, religion not stated 7.8 percent).
Younger people increasingly describe themselves as having no religion: 23 percent of those between the ages of 16 to 34 claim to have no religion, compared with only 5 percent of people aged 65 and over.
Demographics also play a role in an emerging new balance between religious traditions. The Muslim population is the youngest: 34 percent of Muslims in Great Britain are under 16 years of age. They are followed by Sikhs (25 percent) and Hindus (21 percent). On the other hand, unemployment rates are higher among Muslims than those for people of any other religion.
In 2003-2004, 14 percent of Muslims were unemployed, but only 4 percent of Christians. Moreover, Muslims have the largest households: an average of 3.8 people. They have also the lowest qualifications among all religious groups: in 2003-2004, 31 percent of Muslims of working age had no qualifications. In summary, disaffiliation (people with no religion are the second largest group) and diversification (increasing presence of non Christian religions) seem to be the two major trends currently ongoing in religious Britain.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer
Beyond the elections – religion in 2004
As with most election years, 2004 will be remembered for the role religion played in the political arena. But last year also revealed other significant events in religion both in the U.S. and abroad. As is our custom, below are some musings and forecasts from RW’s editor and contributing editor on developments in religion that are likely to outlast most of the annual wrap-ups of the news.
01: Most analysts agree that “moral values” played a role in the reelection of George W. Bush, but there is less consensus as to what extent these sentiments coalesce with Christian right activism.
The issues of gay marriage and abortion clearly served as mobilizing agents in the large evangelical turnout to vote, as well as moving more conservative Catholics and blacks into Republican ranks. It remains to be seen if the religious right can maintain its momentum between elections and beyond galvanizing issues such as gay marriage.
The Democratic Party discovered the religious dimensions of voter interest too little and too late, but it seems that any viable Democratic campaign in the future will have to engage the sensitivities and language of religious voters.
02: Bolstered by the lack of turnout for fellow Catholic John Kerry in the elections (though the extent of the Catholic vote is still being debated by researchers), some of the bishops will continue the strategy of publicly admonishing and, in some cases, disciplining politicians who are out of line with church teachings.
Although only a minority will likely deny the sacraments to Catholic politicians who take pro-choice and other dissenting positions, the larger trend of denying these leaders podiums and places of honor at Catholic institutions will become more visible and controversial in the years ahead.
03: The theological and political controversy during 2004 over The Passion of the Christ may not be of as much long-term significance as the impact of Mel Gibson’s movie on Hollywood’s treatment of religious subjects.
The film’s box office record ( and smaller scale successes such as megachurch pastor T.D. Jakes’ film, Woman, Thou Art Loosed) convinced producers that a movie can be both religious and profitable, leading to a spate of forthcoming productions of a spiritual or religious nature.
04: The prediction of a widespread schism in Anglicanism over the consecration and installation of Episcopal gay bishop Gene Robinson has not yet become a reality, though it cannot be ruled out.
That is largely because the Windsor Report, which was issued by church leaders last fall to help avoid such a split, lacked the authority and mechanisms to keep in line member churches violating common teachings and practices of the Anglican communion.
05: The moderate victory in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod rolled back several years of conservative influence in the denomination.
This development may have little influence in the larger and more liberal Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and it is this denomination’s convention next summer that could be the most momentous for American Lutherans. The ELCA will be deliberating on accepting same-sex unions and gay clergy. Many observers expect the probable outcome to be one more sign of the leftward drift of American Lutheranism..
06: In 2004, the issue of the future place of Islam in Europe has indeed become more acute, especially with the opening of negotiations with Turkey for possible EU membership.
The issue of the headscarf in French schools is only the tip of the iceberg of concerns which are expressed across the continent about the burgeoning Muslim growth and influence.. But there are also attempts at better integrating the growing Muslim minority: several European governments consider it as the best way for avoiding radicalization of segments of the Islamic community — although improvement of integration is likely to go along with harsher measures against radicals in the current international context.
Meanwhile, the Vatican is concerned by what it perceives as increasingly secular trends in Europe, following last year’s refusal to refer to the continent’s Christian heritage in the preamble of the new European Constitution and the rejection by the European Parliament of a new commissioner known to hold conservative Catholic views.
The Vatican is lobbying international bodies in order to have “Christianophobia” recognized as a form of discrimination similar to anti-Semitism or Islamophobia. But most observers doubt that this diplomatic campaign will be successful, since international organizations are wary of introducing new concepts with unforeseeable consequences.