In This Issue
- On/File: January 2007
- Findings & Footnotes: January 2007
- New battle joined over issue of Jewish conversions in Israel
- Aside from the pope, a dearth of global Christian voices?
- Current Research: January 2007
- Tracking secularism in a post-secular world
- As schisms loom, church property rights in flux
- A new niche for religious toys
- Christmas returns to retailing thanks to activists
- Trends in religion and business converging
- The pentecostal ethic and the spirit of holistic health?
- Religion in 2006 — Quiet yet eventful
01: Several liberal religious groups and denominations in the U.S. have begun to campaign against the use of mineral water. They are critical of water privatization and consider it wrong, or even immoral, to sell a God-given resource only to those people who can afford it, while it is sometimes a scarce resource in arid, poor countries.
The National Coalition of American Nuns, Presbyterians for Restoring Creation, the United Church of Christ and other groups concerned about eco-justice are involved in that campaign. The UCC has produced a documentary, “Troubled Water” (http://www.troubledwatersdoc.com), and has aired it in October 2006 on a number of TV stations.
(Source: Chicago Tribune, Dec. 15)
— By Jean-Francois Mayer
02: A London brokerage branch of the French bank Societe Generale has launched the first Sharia-compliant hedge funds. This initiative reflects a growing interest from the Western financial sector in the huge and growing market of Sharia-compliant investments (estimated by some to reach 500 billion dollars). More and more Arab financial institutions have rules requiring that at least part of their investments be handled according to Sharia law. Meanwhile, Malaysia seeks to become the Islamic financial hub in its region, and a third foreign Islamic bank (backed by investors from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait) will open several branches there in January. The world’s largest Islamic bank, Al Rajhi (Saudi Arabia), is planning to open 50 branches in Malaysia by 2010.
(Source: Financial Times, Dec. 22; Associated Press, Dec. 20)
— Jean-Francois Mayer
01: The anti-cult movement is paying new attention to terrorism, believing that many of its methods and concepts can apply to a wider range of religious violence. This trend is clearly seen in the current issue of theCultic Studies Journal (Vol. 5, No. 2), which is devoted to understanding terrorism through a variety of anti-cultist models.
The first article by Stephen Bruce Mutch stresses that the patterns of recruitment and radical change among members is common in both radical Islamic terrorist cells and groups generally known as cults. He also makes the provocative argument that the insights and methods of the various warring camps of anti-, counter-, and “cult apologists” may all play a role in fighting terrorism. The anti-cultists and particularly the evangelical counter-cultists have based their work on dealing with ex-members of cults, and may have more success with former members of terrorist groups than the government which tends to demonize and antagonize such informers.
Social scientists are sometimes considered defenders of cults or new religious movements because they tend to be suspicious of ex-member accounts, but for this reason they can gain access to extremist groups that also shun “apostates.”
Other articles include a comparison of the religious violence of Japan’s Aum Shinrikyo and Al Queda; and a study of the mind control methods of Heaven’s Gate, Al Queda, the Iraqi insurgents, and Sadam Hussein. The last article by Michael Langone argues that “brainwashing” may not be as important in terrorist recruitment as the fact that there is a large supply of individuals whose violent belief systems are similar to those of certain groups even before they come into contact with them. In this case, prevention is the most important role anti-cultists can play.
For more information on this issue, write: Cultic Studies Review, P.O. Box 2265, Bonita Springs, FL 34133.
02: In a recent lead article in the prestigious journal Foreign Affairs (fall), Walter Russell Mead turned evangelical heads when he pronounced the evangelical movement as the leading actor and even a new establishment in the world of American foreign policy.
The winter issue of the evangelical-based Review of Faith & International Affairs brings together several evangelical leaders and scholars to discuss Mead’s provocative article. Most applaud Mead’s distinctions between evangelicals and fundamentalists, but are less enamored with his claim that support of Israel is an earmark of the evangelical foreign policy platform. For instance, James Skillen argues that support of Israel is not central to evangelical identity but is rather the result of a political theology peripheral to the faith.
Other contributors criticize Mead for ignoring the formation of an “evangelical center” on such issues as Darfur and human rights. Mead responds with a concluding article, agreeing with some critics that evangelicals may reflect the short-term approach of American foreign policy in general, but they are nevertheless positioned to replace the mainline as the new establishment.
For more information on this issue, write: Council on Faith and International Affairs, P.O. Box 14477, Washington, DC 20044.
03: A special issue of the journal Sociology of Religion (Winter) is devoted to the analysis of the National Jewish Population Survey (2000/2001).The survey–the latest and most in-depth attempt to gauge Jewish beliefs and behavior–and the resulting commentary are particularly focused on the question of Jewish identity.
The survey’s initial findings of fewer self-identified Jews proved controversial and contested among American Jews and researchers. But the debate goes to the heart of the complicated problem of Jewish identity: does one count Jewish ethnicity without Jewish religion or religion without ethnicity, and what if the Jewish ethnicity or religiosity are mixed, as in the case of children from intermarried families?
The contributors arrive at few solid answers, although interesting findings are presented and promising directions are probed. The concluding chapter argues that the experiences of children of interfaith marriages are challenging the idea that one religious affiliation precludes all others. Rather than based on switching, such a religiosity would resemble the less static and more “personalist” approach to ethnicity.
Other chapters include studies on the importance of formal and informal social networks in strengthening Jewish religious identity, and a comparison of Jewish identity in the U.S. and Israel.
For more information on this issue, write: Sociology of Religion, 618 SW 2nd Ave., Galva, IL 61434
04: The rise and dynamics of multiracial congregations are examined in Michael O. Emerson’s new book, People of the Dream (Princeton University Press, $24.95). Emerson and researchers surveyed 2,500 members of interracial congregations, which are defined as having more than 20 percent of the membership racially different than the largest racial group.
Emerson, who estimates that only seven percent of American congregations are multiracial, finds that these kinds of churches just don’t happen. Although there is some relationship between these congregations and their presence in multiracial neighborhoods, the book finds that the churches are 40 percent more diverse than their neighborhoods. The key factor in forming such congregations is an intentional approach to bring about racial diversity through leadership, music and other cultural changes in the congregation.
Those congregations that became multiracial through top-down “pre-existing organizational packages” (such as through denominational strategy) are less stable and may even return to being uniracial. Emerson notes that it is unclear whether these members are more open to other races because of their church involvement or whether they were of that mindset before they joined.
But he finds that these congregations may act as bridging organizations that “gather and facilitate cross-race social ties.” Emerson concludes that these congregations are in the vanguard of a growing trend, and the churches that follow in their trails are likely to have learned the lessons to become “more sensitive, more intelligent.”
Despite passing a law allowing conversions to other Jewish branches aside from orthodoxy by those emigrating to Israel, the issue remains contested, according to recent reports. Israel’s Chief Rabbi, Shlomo Amar, is currently leading efforts for amending the legislation on conversion in such a way that a convert would not automatically be entitled to the “right of return” (i.e. the right claiming automatic Israeli citizenship and of settling in Israel), regardless of the procedure (Orthodox, Conservative or Reform), reports the news service Ynet (http://www.ynetnews.com, Dec. 13).
Michael Freund observes in the Jerusalem Post (Dec. 28) that few issues in Israel have proved more contentious than conversion. A new committee was set up last fall by the Israeli government in order to examine the demands of the Conservative and Reform movements to recognize their conversions conducted in Israel. Several individuals who had converted in Israel under the supervision of Conservative and Reform rabbis have applied for recognition as Jews under the “Law of Return.” Reform and Conservative converts who have converted abroad are already recognized since a ruling by the Israeli Supreme Court in March 2005. This ruling has come under heavy criticism from Orthodox circles.
At the heart of the debate is the lasting question of deciding “how Jewish the Jewish state” should be, notes The Economist (December 9). The monopoly of the Orthodox chief rabbinate over matters of personal status has regularly come under attack from secular circles as well as from other Jewish denominations. The issue is made more complicated by fears that a number of (non-Jewish) foreign workers now living in Israel could become Jews through Conservative and Reform procedures, and then claim citizenship.
They still wouldn’t be recognized as Jews by the chief rabbinate – such is already the case of some 300.000 immigrants from some countries accepted under relaxed rules–and not entitled to Jewish marriage or burial in a Jewish cemetery in Israel. As The Economist remarks, if this increasingly assertive group would be supplemented by tens of thousands of non-Orthodox converts, pressure for breaking the monopoly of the rabbinate over Jewish marriages in Israel would become still stronger.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer
With the exception of the current pope, there is a dearth of Christian voices on the global stage that assume to speak for Christianity in a religiously polarized world, writes Raymond de Souza in the Catholic Eyenewsletter (Nov. 30). De Souza thinks it strange that the recent visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Turkey was widely viewed as a critical test of Christian-Muslim relations.
“Given that the [Orthodox] patriarch lives in Turkey, it might be thought that there is no need to await the arrival of Rome for that interreligious encounter…the fact that Turkey is no longer considered a place of Christian-Muslim encounter is evidence of how far Orthodoxy has been pushed to the margins,” with the Turkish government not even recognizing the patriarch’s international status.
The Archbishop of Canterbury and world Anglicanism has likewise been sidelined, due to the fragmentation of the Anglican communion over such issues as gay rights. De Souza adds that the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, confirmed this marginal status when he was recently permitted to visit China on the condition that he only met with people approved by the government.
“That the Chinese government, still a ferocious persecutor of religion, would consider Canterbury harmless enough for a visit speaks volumes.” This situation was not anticipated 40 years ago. “While it was thought Rome would always have a certain primacy, the hope was that ecumenism would produce a stronger Christian voice, a joint voice of evangelical witness. The contrary has happened; over the course of four decades Rome has declared itself irrevocably committed to the ecumenical path, and has found itself increasingly the only voice on the global stage.”
(Catholic Eye, 215 Lexington Ave., New York, NY 10016)
01: There is a significant “charity gap” between religious believers and secular liberals and even secular conservatives, both in making donations and in donating their time, according to a new study. The study, published in the book Who Really Cares (Basic) by Arthur C. Brooks of Syracuse University, finds that the reason conservatives tend to be more charitable than liberals is largely because of the religious factor.
In an interview with World magazine (Dec. 9), Brooks reports that religious conservatives are 28 percent more likely to give than secular conservatives. Religious conservatives give four times more dollars per year and volunteer more than twice as frequently. Brooks points out that religious liberals give at “extremely high rates–very similarly to religious conservatives–while secular liberals give little.” He adds that the “big problem for liberal charity today is that the population of religious liberals is shrinking quickly” due to low fertility rates and the secularizing of the American left.
02: Turkish Muslims and Israeli Jews registered the highest rate religiosity in a survey of youth in ten countries. The survey, conducted by a team of European researchers directed by Hans-Georg Ziebertz of Wuerzburg University, polled 10,000 young people about their attitudes toward religion. Young Turkish Muslims had the strongest faith, followed by Jewish youth in Israel.
Those also showing a high rate of religious commitment included Catholics in Poland, Ireland and Croatia. The German evangelical newsletter Idea (December 19) reports that the young generation in countries with a Protestant tradition, such as Germany, Finland, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Sweden showed only a weak identification with their faiths.
Religious education in Turkey and Poland had the “highest degree of sustainability.” Eight out of ten Polish and Turkish young people said they would follow the faith of their parents. By comparison, only one in five young Germans would follow in the religious path of their parents. Eighty four percent of Turkish parents and 60 percent of Polish parents say such transmission of the faith to the younger generation is important compared to nine percent of German parents.
(Idea, P.O. Box 1820, D-35528 Wetzlar, Germany)
Secularism’s death is greatly exaggerated, but even where there is a rise of non-believers they usually don’t fall into rigid categories of “secular” and “religious.” That is one of the conclusions of a symposium on secularism in the world today in the magazine Religion in the News (Fall).
Even in countries where secularism has advanced greatly, such as Denmark, Britain and, to a lesser extent, Canada, religious belief is not necessarily in inevitable free fall. Muslim immigration is raising the public dimension of religion in Denmark, even if such an encounter with religious commitment is leading Danes to reaffirm their values of free speech, individualism and sexual liberalism.
David Voas finds that younger more secular British are replacing more religious older ones, but the country as a whole is neither seriously secular or religious in makeup. In Canada, there has been a rise of those claiming no religion (including native born Canadians and many Chinese and Japanese immigrants), but private religious practice and personal spirituality appear to be growing.
The most interesting case may be the more religious U.S. Ariela Keysar and Barry A. Kosmin argue that, regardless of whether one accepts their figure (from the American Religious Identification Survey) of 14 percent reporting no religion or the more recent Baylor Survey‘s more modest 10.8 percent, the “none” population has grown since 1990.
They agree that this does not mean such a population is hard-core secularist or atheist; it could signify that “Americans who appear secular by belief may appear religious by belonging, or vice versa. Others may appear religious by belief and belonging, but not by behavior. And so on.” Demographically, if there is a typical secularist in the U.S., he is more likely to be a “young, never-married, Asian male living in, say, Washington State.
That description brings to mind someone working for a high-tech corporation.” In another article on secularists in the Pacific Northwest, Frank Pasquale confirms that in his interviews of such individuals the “religious-secular” frame fails to capture those who may use the language of spirituality but for non-transcendental purposes: “the non-religious skeptic who may engage in `pagan-like’ celebrations of life and nature for the `color and connectivity’ they offer, or the anti-religious atheist who may participate in group Buddhist meditation for therapeutic reasons.
(Religion in the News, 300 Summit St., Hartford, CT 06106)
At a time when the threat of mainline Protestant congregations leaving their denomination is looming, the legal landscape is shifting to allow such dissidents greater possibility of taking their buildings and land with them.World magazine (December 23) reports that the battle over church property is raging in the Episcopal as well as the Presbyterian and United Methodist churches. In the the past the courts have routinely deferred to denominations rather than congregations in such conflicts because they have clauses declaring that property owned by congregations is held in trust with the denomination.
But because property ownership is in the realm of state corporate law, a few courts have started deciding church property disputes according to “neutral principles” while steering clear of doctrinal squabbles. Most recently, a California appeals court allowed St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Fresno to keep its property in its split from the denomination. The congregation had changed its articles of incorporation to deed all its property to itself with no mention of a trust. The ruling sent “shock waves through denominational offices across the country. So far no appeal has been made, and an informal survey by the magazine finds that only 20 percent of states are so far applying the neutral principles in these conflicts.
But the article adds that “states will amend corporate laws to more clearly define property rights, and the cutting edge will see courts giving greater attention to such issues as revocable trusts [according to] several lawyers” interviewed by the magazine. In the Episcopal Church, denominational leaders are “alarmed by the judicial trends and the fast-moving developments among conservatives,” and are gearing up for most likely a long season of court battles.
(World, P.O. Box 20002, Asheville, NC 28802)
Religious games and toys represent a growing market, reports USA Today(December. 22). These toys meet a demand for wholesome entertainment and offer educational tools, such as learning about the 99 names of Allah while players advance toward Mecca, or about the Jewish dietary laws.
There are also Catholic, Evangelical and Mormon games, with games titled “Missionary Conquest” – where martyred players get extra points — or toys such as “Biblical Action Figures.” Some are selling dolls of Jesus and the prophets.
However, the article reports that it is not easy to find a place in the stores because mass retailers prefer well-known brands. For this reason, religious games and toys often have to use alternative distribution channels.
As long as this is the case, market experts don’t expect religious games and toys to become major actors; they should rather be seen as niche products.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder of the website Religioscope (http://www.religion.info).
A “countertrend” of retailers using the word “Christmas” in their promotions was evident this season, largely in response to a campaign by Christian organizations pressing for renewed recognition of the holiday. The National Catholic Register (December 3) reports that in recent years it has become commonplace for retailers and other public institutions to avoid using the greeting “Merry Christmas,” during the holiday out of concern of giving offence in a multicultural society.
The concern about the trend became great enough that many conservative commentators took up the cause of restoring use of the term and allowing for public Christmas displays (such as fighting against the term “holiday trees”) in public places. Several Christian organizations called for a boycott of Wal-Mart, America’s largest retailer, over its “Happy Holidays” campaign that excluded mention of Christmas.
This season, Wal-Mart announced it would be using the word “Christmas” again in its marketing efforts, while Macy’s, Target, Sears, Kohls, T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, A.J. Wright, and Bob’s Stores, are all once again recognizing “Christmas” as part of their holidays. Christmas activists have more recently been targeting stores such as Best Buy, Toys R Us, and Bed, Bath, and Beyond for their refusal to use Christmas. Meanwhile, legal battles are continuing over the allowance of Christmas displays in public schools and other public and government places.
(National Catholic Register, 432 Washington Ave., North Haven, CT 06473).
The new book Next Now (Palgrave) pays a good deal of attention to religion, but its main value may be in demonstrating how marketers and advertisers are latching on to religious trends to market new lifestyles and products. Unlike many futurists, the book, by marketers Marian Salzman and Ira Matathia, clearly sees more of the same ahead rather than drastic change; the culture wars and religio-political conflict will continue in the years ahead, even if the majority of Americans in the middle are uncertain about many of the divisive issues.
Megachurches will retain their hold in American religion, not least for their entrepreneurial spirit. Others, however, may choose to live within the “geographical boundaries drawn by religion”; Salzman and Matathia view the establishment of the conservative Catholic Ave Maria community built around a new Catholic university as something of a bellwether trend.
But it is religion as “big business” which the book targets as the growth industry. The authors see “More Americans…turning toward the commercial arena as a place to express personal beliefs and attitudes, even a higher purpose,” with churches serving, according to one marketer, as built-in distribution channels…and word-of-mouth promoters.” Salzman and Matathia advise readers to “Watch as more churches and religious events secure grand-scale sponsorship deals from big business to secure their brand identities in the hearts and minds the country’s congregations.”
Pentecostals and charismatics have not forsaken their touchstone of healing, but they are broadening the concept to include conventional and especially holistic medicine. This trend has emerged over the past several years but is especially evident in the current issue of Charisma magazine (January).
The issue is devoted to “God and your Health,” but there is hardly a word about supernatural and miraculous healing. Instead, the seven pillars of “divine health,” according to one article, includes taking nutritional supplements, eating “living food” with natural rather than artificial ingredients, “detoxification,” meaning cleaning toxins out of the body through healthy living and fasting, and stress reduction, which can be done through practicing “mindfulness“ (living in the present) and meditation on the scriptures.
This change of emphasis started in the mid 1970s when Pentecostal healer Oral Roberts started a medical center combining supernatural with conventional forms of healing. But it has only been in the last few years that Pentecostal and charismatic leaders have appeared on the scene advocating a “deliberate transformation and `Christianization’ of secular forms of healing,” according to Joseph Williams of Florida State University.
Williams, who presented a paper on this development at the November meeting of the American Academy of Religion, cites such leaders as Reginald Cherry, Don Colbert, and Jordan Rubin as having attracted a large Pentecostal and charismatic following to their teachings that blend conventional, holistic and supernatural healing.
Their views are widely disseminated in the Christian media (such as the charismatic Trinity Broadcasting Network), bolstered by the claim that their approach is in line with scripture; Cherry says he has deciphered ancient biblical dietary laws for healing. These leaders–especially Rubin–tend to critique the over-reliance on prescription medicine and invasive medical procedures and champion holistic techniques and remedies. At the same time, the trio claim their teachings are validated by scientific and medical research.
The charismatic interest in home and natural healing methods is also evident among such prominent figures as Pat Robertson (who has his own natural health milk shake) and Benny Hinn (those in the “word of faith” movement still tend to stress supernatural healing at the expense of natural and even conventional methods).
Williams adds that with its focus on alternative health, the new breed of charismatic and Pentecostal healing comes across as less “dualistic” than Oral Roberts’ call to bring supernatural healing into the doctor’s office. He concludes that “by opening themselves up to unprecedented changes in one of its core anchors of Pentecostal and charismatic identity–divine healing–adherents have discovered broad new inroads to influence the wider American culture.”
(Charisma, 600 Rinehart Rd., Lake Mary, FL 32746)
Although 2006 was a relatively calm year as far as religion goes, several events suggest–from the elections to the controversy over the pope’s remarks on Islam–long ranging religious developments at home and abroad. As with past reviews, we cite the issues of RW where these trends and topic are covered more extensively.
01: The 2006 elections dealt a blow to the Christian right, though it is far from fatal. The election losses are more damaging because Christian right activism today is more strongly based within the Republican party than in its own separate movements and organizations, such as the Christian Coalition of a decade ago. Yet the Christian right has operated most effectively in a defensive mode while their offensive gains tend to stir up public criticism and internal divisions and fears (over politicization of the faith, for instance) The Christian right will operate in this defensive posture, most likely winning smaller battles on gay marriage, at least until the 2008 elections and perhaps beyond. (December RW)
02: The emergence of an evangelical center and, to a lesser extent, an evangelical left in American politics and international affairs, was also highlighted by the elections and other events in 2006. The evangelical centrist (and Catholic vote) may be represented by the pro-life Democrats elected, although analysts note that the configurations of the 2004 elections (evangelical Republicans and more secular Democrats) largely held. But the most lasting impact of the evangelical center and left may be their new leadership (causing some conflicts with the right) on international issues–from the newly embraced global warming to AIDS and Darfur initiatives. (December)
03: The pope’s controversial address in Germany last year was said to have dealt a blow to Christian-Islamic relations. But the incident may also have fomented a more candid conversation, at least among religious leaders. This could be seen in the declaration of an “Open Letter to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI,” where 38 Muslim leaders and scholars respectfully critiqued the pope’s statements while calling for extended interreligious dialogue.
04: While divisions in the Anglican communion have been mounting for a few years, events in 2006 suggested that the talk of schism in the Episcopal Church may be based in reality. Several conservative dioceses are considering cutting ties with the denomination, while several influential and large evangelical parishes have recently left. Seven Episcopal dioceses also refuse to recognize the leadership of newly elected Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who is also the first woman elected to the top post. (August, December)