In This Issue
- Findings & Footnotes: July 2006
- Reaction against Sharia, radical Islam grows in Indonesia
- Polish clergy filling Western Europe’s Catholic gaps
- The pope’s religious order of choice
- Eastern Germany’s declining secular rituals
- Current Research: July 2006
- Thwarted attack reveals extremist Muslims in Canada
- The Pensacola revival 10 years after
- Leftward tilt at summer denominational conventions?
01: The June issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion is devoted to the theme of religion and secrecy. Although several of the articles deal with (naturally) esoteric and historical topics, others touch on secrecy in contemporary religion. Michael Barkun looks at religion and secrecy after 9/11, noting that the Attorney General’s Guidelines on surveillance replaces the concept of privacy within religions with that of “transparency,“ a term once used mainly for governments.
Barkun argues that this shift may have the chilling effect of increasing conformity and risk-aversion among some religions; there are already reports of declines of attendance in mosques which have been the most heavily investigated. In another article, D. Michael Lindsay examines the use of secrecy by the evangelical leaders involved in the National Prayer Breakfast. The much publicized annual event is sponsored by a shadowy group known as the Fellowship, which runs a series of prayer groups and residences in the Washington area for elite national and international leaders. Lindsay finds that the group’s private and public (the National Prayer Breakfast) roles account for its wide influence.
For more information on this issue, write:JAAR, Oxford University Press, 2001 Evans Rd., Cary, NC 27513.
02: Since its publication over a year ago, the book Evangelical Christian Executives: A New Model for Business Corporations (Transaction Publishers, $34.95) has been underreviewed by journals and the media (including RW), but the volume sheds much needed light on the phenomenon of evangelical businesses.
Author Lewis Solomon, a business professor at George Washington University, examines six case studies of evangelicals who have founded or lead business firms. Solomon focuses on those executives who try to apply and integrate their faith into their businesses rather than those keeping their faiths largely private. He finds that there are various approaches even among those seeking to apply their faith to their companies. A fairly common “preacher model“ explicitly interweaves evangelical Christianity into the company‘s mission;
Solomon profiles the firm Covenant Transport and its CEO David Parker as an example of this approach. The “stewardship“ approach is also popular among evangelicals (with several “preacher” type executives eventually taking up this approach), as it stresses the role of the leader as “servant“ (a concept that has become widespread among many secular companies), putting the interests of the employees and customers over those of the CEO. The book finds that it is the executives that do the difficult work of translating and adapting their faith to more general spiritual or ethical “core values” that have the best chance of carrying out organizational transformation of their firms.
03: The Devil Is A Gentleman: Exploring America’s Religious Fringe(Random House, $25.95) by J.C. Hallman is another book in a new genre of “religious road books,” where skeptical authors travel the U.S. in search of exotic and intense religious experiences and groups. Hallman’s book stands out from these other works in that his accounts of such groups and practices as Druid circles, Satanic rituals, and the strategies of Scientology are interwoven with biographical reflections on William James and his century-old classic study, The Varieties of Religious Experience.
Following James’ dictum that the religious spirit is best understood through studying its more extreme forms, Hallman manages to gain access to fairly exclusive groups, giving the reader a sense that these new movements have their counterparts and roots in James’ 19th century America and earlier. Other chapters explore the Unariuns, a UFO cult, Wicca, an atheist group, and– somewhat out of place– the New Skete Monastery, founded by an Orthodox order attempting to bridge the East-West chasm, and best known for its dog training program.
04: Although religious markers of Europe’s identity “lurk below the surface” and are not always easily recognized behind secularization, they nevertheless persist. Moreover, the expansion of Europe under the European Union might force many to find new terms of coexistence between secularism and religion on the continent. Those are some of the assumptions of the essays published in Religion in an Expanding Europe(Cambridge University Press, $34.99), edited by Timothy A. Byrnes (Colgate University) and Peter J. Katzenstein (Cornell University).
Since European expansion has the potential primarily for bringing in additional numbers of Catholic, Orthodox, and Muslim faithful, the volume focuses on those three religious traditions. In an informative overview, Daniel Philpott and Timothy Shah show that postures of religions toward European integration are influenced by institutional relationship with the State and the historical experiences of Europe. While Roman Catholicism has a strong transnational tradition, Orthodox Churches have put the emphasis on autocephalous churches within the borders of a national territory: thus, the Serbian Orthodox Church has found its “ideal order” in the Serbian national state, according to Vjekoslav Perica.
There are widespread Orthodox fears that the European project might erode Orthodoxy – in a way similar to that of ecumenism, “the ecclesiastical counterpart to EU integration,” writes Sabrina Ramet. However, attitudes toward the EU are more complex than rejection: the approach of the Serbian Church is thus a mixture of cooperation and defiance. Changes may well happen, and “Europeanization” is a real possibility, although it will take time.
The issue of Islam raises questions both pertaining to immigrant communities on EU territory and Turkey’s application for EU membership Turkey indeed represents an important issue, as Jose Casanova underlines appropriately: are the boundaries of Europe defined by its Christian heritage and Western civilizations, or by modern, secular values? The volume offers two chapters with strongly contrasting views regarding Turkey. Contributor Bassam Tibi claims that all Islamists in Turkey keep the Islamic state as their ultimate goal and see European membership as only a way to achieve their aims (and consequently a project incompatible with European aspiration).
Hakan Yavuz puts the emphasis on changes and shifts, with European membership seen as an opportunity by most Turkish Islamists. At the same time, the fact that Turkey’s Islamic heritage has become such an issue of debate in the EU, or that some Poles dream of re-Christianizing Europe, offer evidence not only that religion will continue to affect “secular” Europe more than many would wish, but that the expansion process will constitute a crucial factor from this angle. — By Jean-Francois Mayer
In June, 56 Indonesian MPs – including members of Muslim political groups – called upon the President to abolish sharia-inspired decrees and ordinances adopted in recent years in various districts and towns around the country, reports the French Catholic monthly Eglises d’Asie (June 16). Following Suharto’s fall in 1998 and decentralization, 22 districts and municipalities have introduced sharia-based regulations, meeting criticism, but no legal opposition.
The MPs’ initiative represents a first attempt in what is seen as a possible new trend against tendencies to Islamicize the Indonesian legal system. At the same time, the government seems to have become more opposed to radical Muslim groups. While it had already expressed similar views in the past, the government appears to be willing to use appropriate means to counter radical trends in the name of security and public order.
(Eglises d’Asie, 128 rue du Bac, 75341 Paris Cedex 07, France –http://eglasie.mepasie.org)
— By Jean-Francois Mayer
While much of Europe is suffering from a shortage of priests, Poland’s burgeoning seminaries and rectories are playing a crucial role in supplying clerics throughout the continent, reports BBC News (June 2).
About a quarter of all young men training to become Roman Catholic priests in Europe are Polish. There are 7,131 seminarians preparing for the priesthood in Poland. In contrast, traditionally Catholic Spain–with a similar population– has fewer than 1,800 seminarians. Poland has traditionally sent missionaries to countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia, but the demand in Europe is soaring. There are already more than 100 Polish priests working in England and Wales.
The Vatican is “clearly hoping that Poles can inject a shot of Catholicism into more secular countries in Europe,” according to the article.
Although Pope Benedict follows John Paul II in his devotion to conservative Catholic renewal groups carrying out the “new evangelization,”–from Opus Dei to the Legion of Christ — it is particularly the Italian-based movement, Communion and Liberation (CL) that has inspired the current pontiff. The Tablet (June 17) reports that CL’s influence on the pope, then Joseph Ratzinger, has remained strong since the 1970s.
Like Benedict, the movement started on the theological left but after the late 1960s veered to the right, stressing a personal encounter with Christ and Catholic orthodoxy. Among the first priests to be ordained exclusively for CL was the current Patriarch of Venice, Cardinal Angelo Scola, now one of the pope’s closest advisors. Other CL connected leaders with close ties to Benedict are Cardinal Carlo Caffara, archibishop of Bologna, and cardinals Marc Ouellette of Quebec and Christoph Shonborn of Vienna. The magazine adds that the Vatican’s recent world congress on renewal or “ecclesial” movements was dominated by speakers from CL or those close to the group, and the “pope’s homily at the mega Vigil of Pentecost resonated with the writings of [Luigi] Giussani,” the founder of CL.
(The Tablet, 1 King Cloisters, Clifton Walk, London W6 0QZ UK)
Among post-communist countries, Eastern Germany has the lowest level of church affiliation and an unexpected persistence of rituals devised during the communist period as a substitute for Christian ones.
However, this may be changing: in various parts of the former communist region of Germany as the Jugendweihe, or “youth consecration,” has experienced a decline of 50 percent or more in the year 2005. The Jugendweihe was supposed to replace traditional Christian confirmation for teenagers. Many people had expected it to disappear along with the communist regime, but it has proved surprisingly resilient: over a few decades, the practice had taken root and probably reveals a need for rituals at various points of one’s life also among secular-minded people.
The Jugendweihe is sponsored today by several secular organizations. But in 2005, the demand for the ritual declined by 50 percent in Berlin and even by 60 percent in Thuringia, reports the German Protestant monthly Materialdienst der EZW (June). It is true that there has also been a decline in the demand for Christian rituals, but not in the same proportions. While the downward trend is probably connected in part to a lower birthrate, this does not explain the sharp decline.
One should be cautious before offering hasty interpretations, writes Andreas Fincke in Materialdienst. There are indications of a religious renaissance to some extent, and more families may begin to turn to Christian rituals. Maybe the decline of secular rituals just means that they had not become strongly rooted after all. Fincke suggests that Christian churches should carefully monitor such developments, but at the same time be aware that the decline of secular rituals will not necessarily benefit Christian ones.
(Materialdienst der Evangelischen Zentralstelle für Weltanschaaungsfragen, Auguststrasse 80, 10117 Berlin, Germany; http://www.ezw-berlin.de)
— By Jean Francois Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder of the website Religioscope (http://www.religion.info)
01: Fifty percent of Americans report that they have had religious experience, according to the first nationally representative study of spiritual transformations.
The study was conducted by Tom Smith of the General Social Survey at the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, who added a special National Spiritual Transformation Study module to the GSS. The study found that of those reporting a spiritual or religious experience, about 65 percent reported a “born-again” Christian experience. In the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (June), Smith writes that, contrary to expectations, there was a lack of association of such experiences with either socioeconomic status or age (61 percent had such experiences by age 29).
There was a higher level of spiritual experiences in the South and among blacks than in other regions and among other races. Most “changers” reported enduring effects from such experiences , most often involving religious beliefs and practices, but also touching on improvement in general behavior and character.
(Journal of the Scientific Study of Religion, Blackwell Publishers, 350 Main St., Malden, MA 02148)
02: Although the majority of American congregations find that their financial condition is good or excellent, that figure has dropped noticeably since 2000. Hartford Seminary’s Faith Communities Today study of 884 randomly sampled congregations of all faith traditions in the United States found that 57 percent of congregations report good or excellent financial situations; in 2000, 66 percent of congregations said their situation was good or excellent.
The financial health of congregations varies considerably by faith community, the new survey found. Less than half (48%) of mainline Protestant congregations reported that their financial situation was good or excellent, compared to 62 percent of other Protestant congregations and Catholic and Orthodox parishes.
03: Interfaith activity among congregations has more than tripled since 2000, according to the Faith Communities Today 2005 survey. The survey of 884 randomly selected congregations found that slightly more than 2 in 10 (22.3 percent) reported participating in an interfaith worship service in the past year.
Nearly 4 in 10 (37.5 percent) congregations reported joining in interfaith community service activities. In an earlier 2000 survey of 14,301 randomly sampled congregations. only seven percent of congregations reported participating in interfaith worship in the previous 12 months, while only 8 percent reported joining in interfaith community service activities.
David A. Roozen of Hartford Seminary said that many expected that the surge of interfaith activity after September 11 would eventually die down, but that has not happened. “The Sept 11 upturn in interfaith awareness has been accompanied by a fundamental change in the United States’ perception of the American religious mosaic.
Our public consciousness has had to acknowledge in the most powerful way in our history that the religious liberty-in-diversity that Americans cherish has moved from ecumenical Christian to interfaith, and that this American, interfaith consciousness will forevermore include Islam.” As one might expect, the minority faith traditions outside of Christianity were the most involved in interfaith activity, followed by mainline Protestant congregations (30 percent).
04: Fans of celebrities have often been compared to religious believers for their single-minded devotion to a person or cause, but the worlds of fandom and religion have little in common, according to recent research.
An article in the electronic Journal of Religion and Popular Culture (Spring) notes that some observers have claimed that fans are the secular carryover of religious believers with their need to establish contact with celebrities through collecting paraphernalia and visit sites associated with them. But a survey of 169 secular fans and religious believers (mostly belonging to the Assemblies of God) finds that religious believers were more likely to have become involved in their interest through parents or other family members, while secular respondents were drawn in through media sources.
Religious respondents were more likely to claim that religion had helped or changed them and say that other people view their interest and involvement in religion as positive. The secular group of fans thought others viewed their interest as neutral or negative. When dealing with those with whom they disagree, the religious respondents were more likely to express love or pray for them while the secular fans would ignore these people. Secular respondents were more likely to measure their devotion to their interest by the time they spend on it, while religious respondents viewed their loyalty in terms of what they would give up (including their lives) for their religion.
05: A study of membership in voluntary associations finds that Protestants are more likely than Catholics to be members of such groups. The study, conducted by Pui-Uan Lam of Eastern Washington University and published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (June), looks at participation in voluntary organizations across 29 nations.
Previous research on Protestant and Catholic attitudes toward social welfare and similar policies has found that the individualistic emphasis of Protestants makes voluntary groups more appealing for enacting social change, while Catholics’ communal emphasis tend to favor government action.
Lam finds that the Protestant-Catholic difference holds up in the cross national variation in membership in voluntary groups. While Protestants were more likely to be members of voluntary associations than Catholics, there was no significant difference between Protestants and those who belong to “other”or “no religion.” This suggests that there is a “double negative Catholic effect”– not only that individuals who live in Catholic nations are less likely to hold voluntary association membership, but also that Catholics, regardless of the religious tradition of the nation they reside in, are significantly less likely than Protestants to be members of any voluntary group.
06: The Russian Orthodox Church is gaining authority in the eyes of the young, according to a recent survey. The study, conducted by sociologists from Moscow State University and the Russian Sociological Society, asked 1,800 young people in seven federal districts about their attitude towards the Russian Orthodox Church.
Eight percent of respondents said they are Orthodox churchgoers, and another 55 percent believe in God but do not go to church. Thirty-three percent said they feel positive about the Russian Orthodox Church regardless of their own religious convictions, and only 4 percent said their feelings are negative. “Obviously, the Russian Orthodox Church has become an authoritative social institution in the eyes of young Russians. The society of militant atheists is gone,” sociologist Igor Ryazantsev said. Fifty-three percent of respondents said that the Russian president should be an Orthodox believer, and 33.5 percent said that the opinion of the – patriarch must be taken into account when making state decisions, reports the newsletter Interfax (June 5).
The attempted terrorist attacks in Canada in May revealed a small but radical segment of disaffected yet “homegrown” young Muslims in the country, reports the Christian Science Monitor (June 6). The planned massive terrorist attacks using powerful explosives were to be carried out by 17 males, including five juveniles, targeting Canadian buildings and institutions. Terrorism experts see a good deal of similarities between the perpetrators of the London bombings last year and what Canadian police have nicknamed the “jihad generation” in Canada.
Both groups of perpetrators and would-be perpetrators “became radicalized not in Al Queda training camps abroad but in suburban neighborhoods where they led relatively unremarkable lives,” writes Rebecca Cook Dube. The fair number of juveniles involved suggests to some observers that a segment of the younger generation of Muslims is adrift, unsure of either a Canadian or Muslim identity.
But both the London investigation and the Canadian case reveals that the perpetrators and suspects were “virtually indistinguishable from other youth,” as they are described by friends and neighbors as normal young adults– some with well-to-do parents, promising careers, and young families. In the Canadian case, there was a radical older charismatic leader, Qayyum Abdul Jamal, whose extreme interpretations of Islam alarmed some Muslim leaders, as well as the influence of the Internet, which served as a propaganda and training tool for extremists.
The Pensacola revival lives on only in memory as the church and leaders that hosted the phenomenon have moved on or burned out, reportsCharisma magazine (July).
The Pensacola revival, starting in 1995 and based at the Brownsville Assembly of God in that city, drew hundreds of thousands of people to its ecstatic services. The revival, which spun off of the “Toronto blessing,” is history now, with the Brownsville church shrinking to a few hundred members and millions of dollars in debt for a building that can’t be filled. J. Lee Grady writes that a large number of members now attend the local Southern Baptist church “while many others don’t go anywhere.”
The former pastor says that “People have been leaving for three or four years. Some are not in church at all, including some who were on staff. I don’t know anyone who has not been hurt.” The Brownsville Revival School of Ministry in its heyday had 1,200 students and now has 120. In May the school announced that it will relocate to Louisiana under the direction of another evangelist.
(Charisma, 600 Rhinehart Rd., Lake Mary, FL 32746)
The denominational conventions held so far this summer have not yielded dramatic results. But elections in the Episcopal and Southern Baptist bodies and rulings passed in the Presbyterian Church (USA) do signal shifts and impasses that will likely become more visible in the months ahead.
The choice of Katherine Jefferts Schori as Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church during the denomination’s June convention may worsen –and could even splinter –the already difficult relations between the American denomination and fellow Anglicans abroad. Episcopalians have been in conflict with many in the other 37 Anglican provinces since electing a gay bishop two years ago. A female leader adds a new layer of complexity to the already troubled relationship, especially since not many women have been elected bishops (including in the Church of England).
Schori has been a strong supporter of Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop. During the convention, the denominational delegates rejected a moratorium on making further controversial appointments; already, Newark has a gay candidate for bishop, reports the New York Times (July 2). The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has attempted to limit the autonomy of national Anglican churches and proposed creating various levels of fellowship to keep the Anglican communion together. But that may be too late for conservative churches; six traditionalist dioceses and several parishes are planning to split from the church.
Controversy over homosexuality also continues to roil the Presbyterian Church (U.SA.), but the national assembly voted to create some leeway for gay clergy and lay officers to serve local congregations, despite a denominational ban on partnered gay ministers. The Philadelphia Inquirer(June 6) reports that a measure approved 298-221 by the national assembly keeps in place a church law that says clergy and lay elders and deacons must limit sexual relations to man-woman marriage. But the new legislation allows local congregations and regional presbyteries to exercise some flexibility when choosing clergy and lay officers of local congregations if sexual orientation or other issues arise.
The decision concluded a long battle between liberals and conservatives in the 2.3-million-member denomination. Conservatives lost two last-ditch efforts to kill or delay the measure. The Presbyterian establishment, including all seminary presidents and many officials, promoted the flexibility plan, which was devised by a special task force. The idea is to grant modest change to liberals but mollify conservatives by keeping the sexual law on the books. Thirteen evangelical caucuses issued a joint statement that the assembly’s actions “throw our denomination into crisis.”
Controversial issues did not play much of a role at the Southern Baptist meeting in mid-June, but the election of a new president may set a different tone for the 16 million member church body, according to reports. The new president, Frank S. Page, is the pastor of a megachurch in Taylors, S.C. He told delegates that the SBC needs to engage more of its members and show the country more about what the Southern Baptists are for rather than what they are against. Page did not disavow the conservative social positions the convention has championed, but it will be interesting to see if the more positive, culturally relevant leadership style of this mega church pastor will serve, in the words of the New York Times(June 14), as a “turning point” for the denomination.