In This Issue
- On/File: July/August 2011
- Findings & Footnotes: July/August 2011
- Religious tourism in India shows varied economic outcomes
- Japan’s ‘experimental Buddhism’ capitalizing on temple/community ties
- Russia’s new pro-life movement taking notes from U.S., but with an Orthodox accent
- Britain’s new religious movements global and Christian
- Catholic conservatives seeking to transplant American inﬂuence into Europe?
- Scientology ﬁnds success in Germany with the help of new social media
- Current Research: July/August 2011
- Atheists unwelcome in Alcoholics Anonymous?
- Megachurches invest in long-distance outreach
- Baha’i dissent intensiﬁes and diversiﬁes
- ‘Informatic futurists’ borrowing and targeting religion, and gaining new credibility
- Anti-Islamism ﬁnds new place in American conservative rhetoric and activism
- Massacre in Norway—a case of ‘Christian terrorism’?
01: The appointment of Jim Daly as president of Focus on the Family, succeeding founder James Dobson, suggests a transition in the organization from its more political stance to a more irenic posture stressing its original family concerns.
Since his appointment in 2009, Daly has eschewed the often-heated political rhetoric employed by Dobson and has more often sought to gain a high profile for the organization through work with celebrities and athletes to promote family values rather than engaging in political activism. Without the personality of Dobson and his attention to politics and culture war issues, observers have speculated that Focus on the Family could lose support and the high profile it has cultivated in recent years.
Daly has also engaged in more networking with other evangelical organizations, such as the National Association of Evangelicals, as well as retailored the ministry’s programs to appeal to younger generations.
(Source: Christianity Today, July)
02: The Obedient Wives Club preaches a mix of sexual fulfillment and strict Islam and is growing in the Muslim world.
Based on the belief that a fulfilling sex life is the cure for “Western-style” social problems such as divorce and abuse, the club has spread from Jordan, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore to Indonesia. Founded by the Malaysian firm Global Ikwahn to help the company’s female staff to become good wives and productive employees, the club is officially open to women of all faiths, although its teachings are based on an Islamic perspective of wives’ submission to husbands to meet their needs.
The divorce rate is high among Muslims in Southeast Asia and the club argues that sexually fulfilled husbands are less likely to stray. Observers say the growth of such groups as the Obedient Wives Club may signal radicalization among the generally moderate Muslims of Southeast Asia; Global Ikwahn has been associated with Islamist groups and has encouraged polygamy among its employees. Malaysian Muslims have shown more support for such measures as women wearing headscarves, although a recent poll showed that a majority of youths in Malaysia and Indonesia reject polygamy.
(Source: Reuters, June 24)
01: In Reﬂections of an Accidental Sociologist (Prometheus Books, $26), prominent sociologist of religion Peter Berger recounts his long and varied career, in the process providing readers with an interesting and often humorous look at religious developments in the last 50 years.
Writing about one’s graduate education, professorial appointments and research projects can make for dull reading, but in Berger’s hands such recollections often reveal intriguing insights about religion and society. Using humorous anecdotes about his travels around the world (what he calls “sociological tourism”), Berger traces how his thinking changed abut two key themes in his work: the secularization thesis and how he came to reject it, and the importance of “democratic capitalism” in global development.
As in one section entitled “Max Weber Is Alive and Well and Living in Guatemala,” Berger ties these two themes together, particularly in the establishment and ongoing research of his Institute on Culture, Religion and World Aﬀairs (CURA). Berger’s review of the many CURA research projects—ranging from a pioneering study of Pentecostalism in Latin America, to Russian Orthodoxy and democracy, to individualism in Japan—should be of interest to RW readers. Along the way, Berger provides colorful accounts of his exile from mainstream sociology during the late 1960s, his involvement and subsequent disenchantment with neoconservatism, and his role as a consultant to a tobacco company.
02: The new book Southern Baptists, Evangelicals, and the Future of Denominationalism (B&H Publishing Group, $24.99) seeks to grapple with the rise of non-denominational Christianity and what it will mean for the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).
The book, edited by David S. Dockery, is a mixture of sociology, theology and mission strategizing, but a key concern uniting its various chapters addresses the dilemma of how to retain the positive values of denominations while becoming more ﬂexible in structure and outreach. The watchword for the SBC has been cooperation, meaning that, more than many other evangelical denominations, Southern Baptists contribute to programs for missions and other causes and have nurtured a broad range of institutions to carry out such work.
Ed Stetzer of Lifeway Research writes that Southern Baptists are far from exempt from the post-denominational trend; where once denominational meetings were the place to connect and receive training, today non-denominational conferences sponsored by congregations receive the most attendees. But Stetzer argues that the SBC can fare better in a post-denominational age than many other denominations because it is moving away from a franchise model to allow for “methodological diversity,” or a variety of worship styles and congregational structures, while holding ﬁrm on doctrinal unity.
His surveys suggest that younger evangelicals value the roots provided by denominations even as they opt out of traditional structures. In another chapter, sociologist Michael Lindsay defends the importance of denominations and institutions, particularly the networks and “convening power” they generate to bring people together. Other chapters discuss emerging churches and the SBC, and the denomination’s relation to the rest of evangelicalism, coming to the general conclusion that the fading of “cultural Christianity,” even in the Bible belt, will likely bring about increased cooperation with fellow conservative Christians and a de-centralizing of its structure.
03: Edward Cleary’s new book, The Rise of Charismatic Catholicism in Latin America (University Press of Florida, $74.95), has been long overdue, as it presents an impressive overview of the “other” charismatic revival that is transforming Latin American churches.
Cleary notes in his introduction that the numbers of charismatic Catholics are greater than those for Protestant charismatics and Pentecostals in Latin America and that there are more of such Catholics in this region than in any other part of the world. Cleary, a priest, social scientist and longtime observer of the Catholic charismatic movement, adds that while there was American charismatic Catholic inﬂuence in the spread of the movement to Latin America, both movements started roughly around 1970, ﬁrst in Bolivia, based around a mega-parish called La Mansion.
This parish introduced (and continues to introduce) innovations in lay leadership (given the shortage of priests), religious education (providing extensive training in the faith and greater literacy where there was previously very little), music and preaching (including street preaching), which spread through the rest of Latin America.In Colombia, there are Catholic charismatic small groups, often originating with the “base communities” associated with liberation theology, each with their own ethos and programs (such as radio stations), but recently mirroring the more otherworldly nature of Protestant Pentecostals.
But these small groups and covenant communities often play strong social roles, such as in providing health-care services. The Colombian movement has also pioneered national charismatic festivals that are becoming globalized, as well as the Latin American charismatic associations that lack the bureaucracy of bishops’ conferences and have utilized the practice of itinerant preachers who spread charismatic Catholicism to new areas. Cleary argues that charismatic “entrepreneurs” have been eﬀective because they tend to occupy the mid-level of the church, separate from the control of the hierarchy and the limitations of parishes and dioceses (such entrepreneurialism has not been encouraged in the structures of the declining mainline Protestant churches).
The powerhouse of Brazil’s charismatic Catholic movement illustrates Cleary’s view that the renewal is oﬀering eﬀective competition to Protestant Pentecostalism. Brazilian charismatic Catholicism has its own “superstar” priests and televangelists holding mass crusades, popular and contemporary music that spills beyond the walls of churches, and even a ﬁlm company. The author reports on how both lay leadership and religious vocations have sharply grown in those countries experiencing the strongest currents of the renewal.
Other noteworthy chapters in this book include ones on the ways Mexican and Haitian charismatics are exporting their charismatic fervor back to the U.S. (where the renewal had stalled by the 1990s), and the variations of the renewal in countries such as Argentina (known for its ecumenical initiatives), Chile and Guatemala (presenting “red-hot” competition with Protestants), although Catholics in Central American countries tend to be less active in the renewal than their neighbors to the south.
04: Secularizing Islamists (University of Chicago Press, $40) by Humeira Iqtida examines two prominent Islamist movements in Pakistan and ﬁnds that through their competition with each other and other Islamic parties they are paradoxically contributing to a secularized public sphere.
Iqtida conducts ethnographic research on Jamat’at-e-Islami (JI) and Jama’at-ud-Da’wa (JD), two movements that have stressed political contestation for Islam as a primary religious duty. JI has been particularly in-ﬂuential in South Asia and a major player in the politics of Pakistan, while JD has taken a more militant stance, being implicated in various terrorist attacks, although the organization is said to be moving toward greater political engagement. Iqtida argues that even as these Islamist organizations work to oppose secularism in Pakistan’s politics, they facilitate secularization (which, for her, is closely tied to pluralization) in that this competition creates an environment of choice, questioning and debate that bypasses the traditionalist mediators of Islam.
Iqtida makes it clear that this does not mean a loss of transcendence, but rather a critical engagement with Islamic teachings. In a concluding chapter, she suggests that the entry of women into Islamist organizations and their involvement in social service programs and activism further bring about the diversiﬁcation of Islam.
In India, 35 of the top 50 domestic tourist destinations are religious sites.
At the ISSR conference, Kiran A. Shinde (University of New England, Australia) presented a paper on economic opportunities in religious tourism showing how different types of religious devotions and different organizational structures result in various levels of impact upon local communities. According to World Tourism Organization 2010 statistics, there are 600 million national and international trips for religious purposes every year. In the case of India, estimates are 170 million annually.
But pilgrimage is no longer what it used to be: the idea of pilgrimage as detachment from the world is changing, with the practice getting classier as expatriate Indians come back to India primarily for religious reasons, yet stay at luxury camps and resorts rather than in ashrams.Pilgrimage does not only involve visiting places, Shinde observed, but also performing rituals, for which religious specialists (priests, etc.) must be hired. This has a large impact on the economy of a place, but it functions in very different ways from one place to another. Shinde made comparisons between three pilgrimage places, all located in Maharashtra, in order to illustrate the difference.
In Tuljapur, with three million annual visitors, it is necessary to rely on priests’ support for performing ceremonies, and most people are accommodated in pilgrimage hostels managed by priests; some 5,000 families are in religious occupations. Strong socio-spatial connections between devotees and religious specialists are maintained over generations (members of a family always go to priests of the same lineage).In Shegaon, with some six million yearly visitors, seeing (darshan) the local saint’s tomb is what matters to pilgrims: there are not elaborate rituals, but rather the reading and recitation of the saint’s biography.
A trust manages the place and its social institutions, with some 2,000 employees, and people do not stay for more than one night (the trust provides hundreds of rooms and dining facilities). The trust has developed a religious theme park five kilometers away from the main temple. There are 60 shops in the temple premises, all owned by the trust. There is limited engagement with town development and the local community. However, the town participates by providing services (transportation, hotels, eateries).
In Shirdi, with ten million visitors per year, people come to see the statue of the saint in the temple and to submit fervent requests, for which no religious specialists are needed. More than 2,300 people are employed by the temple. A trust provides 22,000 beds in three locations and feeds 20,000 visitors daily. There are 1,200 shops in the temple district. The trust management is leading the market development of the site.
An “experimental Buddhism” marks a growing number of temples in Japan, as priests seek to adapt their organizations to changes in society, while often bypassing their denominations in the process, according to an article in the Journal of Global Buddhism (Vol. 12, 2011).
John Nelson writes that it is widely recognized that the traditional Buddhist temple system, where generations of “parishioners” supported temples’ upkeep, has been destabilized. Even if temples continue to conduct business-as-usual in conducting funerals, memorial services and the sale of graveyard plots, increasing individualism and globalization are likely to put into question even such nominal devotions and obligations.
To make matters worse, there is a disinclination among priests to seek new converts and members, mainly due to the religious disaffection still remaining from the Aum Shinrikyo incident in 1995 (and over fear of being labeled a “cult”).But Nelson notes that alongside such consumerism and indifference there is a pattern of innovation, where priests “sidestep the restrictions of denomination and doctrine to use religious traditions selectively and strategically.”
Examples of such innovations include the creation of outreach programs for individuals isolated from meaningful human contact and suicide prevention programs, restoring transparency to temple finances, and establishing hospices for the elderly and shelters for victims of domestic violence. In some cases, NGOs and cultural organizations will partner with temples to better serve their communities.
These innovations have reached denominational headquarters; in the case of the Jodoshu (or Pure Land Buddhist) headquarters in Kyoto, administrators have championed such programs as a way to foster a new model of temples playing a role as community centers.
(Journal of Global Buddhism, http://www.globalbuddhism.org)
A fledgling pro-life movement in Russia is borrowing strategies from its American counterpart, as well as creating strange bedfellows between Russian Orthodox and evangelical believers, reports Sophia Kishkovsky in the New York Times (June 9).
The article reports that Russian activists have adopted the English term “pro-life” as their own and American-style pickets of abortion clinics are “becoming a staple of the movement in Russia.” Kishkovsky adds that the campaign is “heavily influenced by the Russian Orthodox Church …. The church, increasingly vocal on social issues under Patriarch Kirill I, draws on widespread fears that Russians may become an ethnic minority in their own vast country.” Orthodox dioceses recently rallied together demonstrators to mark International Children’s Day by handing out anti-abortion literature.
The church involvement in the issue has been supported by wealthy and influential patrons seeking to promote patriotic and religious values, such as Russia’s first lady, Svetlana Medvedeva, and Sanctity of Motherhood, a foundation started by the wife of the head of Russia’s railroads. Activists are trying to pass an amendment that would make it more difficult to get an abortion in a country where the practice has often served as a form of birth control. The anti-abortion movement is small enough so that there has not been an outcry from the weakly organized women’s groups, writes Kishkovsky.
But the movement has created unusual coalitions, such as with the Rockford, Illinois-based World Congress of Families. Larry Jacobs, president of the congress, organized a U.S. tour for Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion, who has been in the forefront of encouraging a “strategic alliance” with evangelicals and Roman Catholics on pro-life and other moral issues. Kishkovsky adds that the “anti-abortion oratory familiar in the United States has found fertile ground in Russia. Graphic Web sites, posters and leaflets are supplemented with sweeping references to Russian history.”
In accounting for current state of new religious movements (NRMs) in Britain, George Chryssides notes that the growing globalization of these groups tends to make national developments or even leadership less important.
In a paper presented at the CESNUR conference in Taipei, Taiwan, Chryssides says that growing internationalization of NRMs in Britain could be seen in the name change of the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order to Trirantna, because it is no longer exclusively Western. He adds that the deaths of founder-leaders have made little difference to their organizations, which would contradict classical sociological theory that sees the loss of a charismatic leader as drastically challenging a new religion.
In all cases, the leaders’ advancing years have caused them to have relinquished an active role in their organizations’ running. There is also a decline in conversions to new religions, as well as “much less aggressive proselytizing.” The latter trend may be due to recruitment efforts moving online (for instance, one can now take Scientology’s free personality test online). Chryssides writes that while there are a few “new new religions” in Britain, their numbers are not large; the groups he lists that started between 1994 and 2009 are notable for their Christian orientation, which tends to make them go unnoticed by NRM scholars.
Several are independent Protestant groups, while others are schismatic groups from the Church of England (and one from the Church of Scotland) collectively known as the “continuing movement.” Among the most unusual is the Open Episcopal Church (OEC), which, unlike the continuing churches, is liberal rather than traditionalist. But because of the OEC’s radically inclusivist stance, it has attracted disaffected conservatives and liberals from the Church of England, which has caused ongoing conflict in the body. The OEC runs a unique hybrid cyber-service that allows worshippers to order consecrated hosts through the mail and then go online to select an appropriate Mass in which to partake of the sacrament.
Catholic conservatives in the U.S. are engaged in an attempt to spread their views among potentially sympathetic circles across Europe, assessing that the situation there is more critical than in America, said Blandine Chélini-Pont (University Aix-Marseille III) at the ISSR conference in Aix-en-Provence.
Chélini-Pont describes conservative Catholicism as the ideological source of today’s American conservatism. What its members oppose primarily is “statism,” to which they oppose an ideal of moral capitalism, seen as a return to authentic Catholic social doctrine. Described as “antimodern democrats,” they are opposed to public secularism, but do not support the idea of a confessional state either.According to Chélini-Pont’s observations, they are now attempting to propagate their ideas in Europe through conservative (or even sometimes Christian Democratic) circles: Europe thus becomes a missionary field.
In order to do so, bridges can be found in some aspects of the thought of John Paul II, such as the ideal of a Christian Europe and the rejection of a “culture of death.” Chélini-Pont paid special attention to two cases: those she describes as “Catholics first,” and “Burkeans” (named after Edmund Burke). As a representative of the first category, she cites the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington; regarding the second, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute is the most influential actor.
The “Catholics first” networks in Europe started from Poland and spread to Slovakia; there are also members in Italy, gravitating around the Tocqueville-Acton Center. The Burkeans bring together sympathetic groups in Europe through the Center for European Renewal, with study centers under different names in several European countries.
While a number of observers claim that Scientology’s membership has stagnated in several European countries, a different view comes from the Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany.
According to the 2010 security report of the Ministry of Interior of the state, Scientology has registered a strong increase in the area, both in members and in activities, over the past few years, partly due to its use of new media. While the total estimated number of members (600 in North Rhine-Westphalia, and between 5,000 and 6,000 in Germany) is not very high, the trend itself, as well as the use of new media tools, deserves attention. For years, state security agencies in Germany have been allowed to monitor Scientology due to some aspects of its teaching considered as potentially incompatible with the country’s constitutional values.
This means that they publish results of their monitoring in their yearly reports. The 2010 report for North Rhine-Westphalia indicates that Scientology is recruiting new members, but no longer primarily through street propaganda. The Internet, and more particularly YouTube, Twitter and social networks such as Facebook, are said to have become primary tools of propagation.
One example is a Scientology-sponsored YouTube channel on human rights; young people looking for resources in order to write a paper find the video clips attractive and informative, conceived specifically for them. A link leads to a website from which additional material can be ordered. Similarly, material against drugs can be obtained from other Scientology-sponsored websites for school use. The report claims that this is ultimately a way to draw the interest of new, young people to Scientology.
Making friends on Facebook is reported to be another tactic used by movement members in order to find new prospects: Facebook alone has some 12 million members in Germany, and social networks are virtual spaces where young people spend much time—and share personal information. Besides this, the Internet is also used in more classical ways for improving Scientology’s image through PR campaigns, such as “Meet a Scientologist,” launched in 2010.
In a similar way, any online article critical of Scientology will receive many comments offering a counterview, actually written by Scientologists acting upon instructions by the church, conveying the impression that a majority in society has a positive view of the group.
(Verfassungsschutzbericht des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen über das Jahr 2010, Düsseldorf, 2011; the report (in German only) can also be downloaded from: http://www.mik.nrw.de/verfassungsschutz/publikationen/berichte.html?eID=pub&f=146&s=0bfa96)
01: While politicians and the media often refer to faith-based organizations (FBOs) as generic entities with monolithic strategies and goals, they actually hold diverse and sometimes conflicting “practical theologies” that drive their activism, according to an analysis in the Review of Religious Research (June).
Sociologists Jo Anne Schneider and Patricia Wittberg conducted a study that analyzed data from the Faith and Organizations Project and another pilot project of 92 FBOs in the Northeast, South and Midwest of the U.S. They categorize the different strategies for developing and organizing FBOs into “congregational systems,” “network systems” and “institutional systems.” Jews and Catholics tend to use the latter system, as they both have a more communal ethos and theology that “hold the entire faith community responsible for meeting needs,” and maintain centralized institutions responsible for the development and management of these organizations.
Mainline Protestants tend to use their local congregations in founding FBOs, whether individually or in coalitions with other churches/religious organizations. These mainline FBOs may have a theological rationale, but they usually do not articulate it in their daily operations. The FBOs of African-American churches are often strongly pastor-led and tied strongly to their founding congregations. Evangelical FBOs were less tied to congregations and strongly linked to networks. The mission of evangelical FBOs was outspokenly theological; those organizations that could convey the connection of faith and works drew the most support.
While this form of leadership could lead to vital ministries, the network FBOs could become “so caught up with their evangelical calling that they may fail to ask hard questions about the actual effectiveness of their stewardship,” the researchers write. Other systems have their own strengths and weaknesses. The mainline congregational model has been viewed as normative for U.S. FBOs, but it has the weaknesses of weak funding sources (such as congregations in poor neighborhoods) and allowing secular management strategies to take control out of the hands of board members. The institutional system’s centralized planning allows for effective training and stewardship, although the challenge is to clarify its relationships with the local faith community, other groups and the sponsoring tradition. (Review of Religious Research, 618 S.W. 2nd Ave., Galva, IL 61434-1912)
02: Preliminary findings from a study of U.S. Catholic parish finances suggest that the 2008–09 recession did not have as serious an impact on them as on parishioners, according to The CARA Report (Spring), the newsletter of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University.
Based on an analysis of the Cooperative Congregations Study Program, which has surveyed 14,300 congregations since 2000, CARA found that four in ten parish leaders report that their parishes’ financial health is “tight, but we managed,” with the same percentage saying that their parishes are in “good” or “excellent” condition.
One in five report that their parishes are in “some” or “serious” difficulty. In reporting on financial conditions five years ago, there were few significant changes, except for about 10 percent more currently reporting “tight” financial health. In contrast to parish conditions, 92 percent of parish leaders report unemployment among parishioners and 85 percent report requests for cash assistance.
(The CARA Report, Georgetown University, 2300 Wisconsin Ave., N.W, Suite 400, Washington, DC 20007)
03: An overview of research on Canadian Jewry and Judaism finds that Jews are less fully integrated into the country, but have higher levels of Jewish identity. In the journal Contemporary Jewry (June), researchers David Koffman and Morton Weinfeld write that the Canadian Jewish experience has tended to be viewed as coterminous with American Jewry, but research shows divisions as much as similarities between these co-religionists.
Because Canadian Jews were more recent immigrants than is the case for American Jews (25 percent were foreign born at the turn of the millennium, compared to 10 percent of American Jews), ethnicity and issues of multiculturalism are more pressing than concerns with integration. Integration has followed a “nested pattern,” with immigrant Jews integrating first into their ethnic group, then only later into the larger Jewish community and Canadian society.
The article notes that religious life remains more conservative than in the U.S., with Orthodox and Conservative Judaism predominating (although the former draws upon New York institutions). While classic anti-Semitism has declined in most parts of Canada, the growing anti-Israel sentiment on some Canadian campuses is cause for concern among members of the Jewish community, who fear an anti-Jewish backlash. Yet the researchers conclude that, overall, Canadian Jews “seem to be doing well compared to other Jewish communities in the Diaspora, and to other ethnic or religious minorities in Canada . . .”
(Contemporary Jewry, http://www.springer.com)
04: While a good deal of research has been conducted on the matter of Jewish mixed marriages and conversions in the U.S., the topic largely remains a taboo in France, explained Catherine Grandsard (University of Paris 8) at the 31st Conference of the International Society for the Sociology of Religion (ISSR) in Aix-en-Provence (France), which RW attended.
For some of these people, moving to Israel (aliyah) is a way to resolve their identity dilemma. Grandsard’s research is based on interviews with French-born people born from a Jewish father (but a non-Jewish mother) who emigrated to Israel. In all cases, the non-Jewish parent was of Catholic descent, but with no religious interest. For some, migrating to Israel serves as the final step in a process of conversion or as a way to accelerate the process.
For others, living in Israel helps to address the problem through affirming their belonging to the Jewish people—but does not solve it for women with children if they do not convert.Several of them had been raised as Jews, until they realized they were not Jewish when they became teenagers; the migration to Israel repairs such a rupture in their lives. Often, they felt “aside” or alien in France; once in Israel, despite being immigrants, they are “at home.” The tension created by their mixed origins does not create a psychopathological condition, Grandsard stressed. But for those who suffer from psychological problems, specific issues related to their double legacy can be observed.
05: Businessmen holding Islamic values and belonging to Muslim businessmen’s associations in Turkey apply Islamic morals in an individualized and selective way in the daily life of their firms, observed Dilek Yankaya (Paris Institute of Political Studies) in a paper presented at the ISSR conference.
Yankaya conducted in-depth interviews with 70 members of Müsiad (the Independent Industrialists and Businessmen’s Association), a businessmen’s association founded in 1990 in Istanbul drawing together those from pious Muslim circles. More than 2,700 firm owners belong to it, producing 15 percent of the national income. According to data collected during the interviews, the business professionals consider work as valuable in itself, and not as a duty toward God.
The emphasis is put on personal responsibility toward one-self, family and fatherland. Members combine Islamic ethics (i.e. not to earn money through religiously illicit ways) with secular business ethics. The Islamic reference is not perceived as contradictory to modern capitalism, but members are supportive of trends toward a “moralization of economics.” Except for those things that Islam considers as forbidden, business decision-making is determined by economic interests. Similarly, when hiring employees, Muslim businessmen do not take ap-plicants’ personal piety primarily into consideration, but rather professional qualifications.
Choosing business partners is also not dependent on religious choices. The Islamic dimension can be observed in the practical organization of business life: prayer rooms are available and the prayer schedule is usually respected. One can also find women with headscarves among employees. The spirit of work is thus influenced both by Islamic morals and modern capitalism: it is up to each businessman to decide how much of Islamic values he wants to implement selectively into his firm.
06: Western Pentecostal missionaries in Southeast Asia have shifted their priorities to undertaking community development work since the turn of the millennium, according to a paper presented at the ISSR by Vicki Ware (Deakin University, Melbourne).
In a paper co-written with Anthony Ware, Ware linked the development to shifts in Western Pentecostalism since the 1990s, away from an emphasis on millennialism and with a reimagining of salvation not only in spiritual terms. Until the late 1990s, Western Pentecostal missionaries interviewed in Southeast Asia as a part of the research spent most of their time on strictly church activities. From about 1998 to 2000, more time was spent on issues of health, education, livelihood and even advocacy for some of them.
However, the missionaries are reluctant to call such activities “international development” and they conduct them at a smaller scale than most NGOs. There are several stated motivations for this change. They feel that they cannot separate spirituality from other areas. There has also been a re-evaluation of “What Jesus did,” leading to a shift in the theology of mission. If there is a desire for some to build credibility, this is not a motivation for all of them: entering into development work is not necesarily a part of a strategy, but is driven by needs in the field. Moreover, the missionaries must be very careful on the ground in order to keep proselytizing and humanitarian activities separate.
07: The gap between generations in religious devotion is visible in most societies, although there is a good deal of variation among countries and national religious traditions, writes researcher Philip Hughes in Pointers (June), the newsletter of the Christian Research Association of Australia.
Hughes analyzes the International Social Survey Program (1SSP) results from its 2008 and 2009 surveys on religion, comparing the percentage of young people (under 60) to the percentage of older people (over 60) who see themselves as religious. In all countries except one (Israel, which attracts young migrants who are highly religious) in which the ISSP was run, younger people were less likely to see themselves as religious. The one exception to the trend was Israel, which is attracting young migrants who are highly religious.
The gap was greatest in Japan, the Czech Republic and Spain, where the proportion of young people who saw themselves as religious was around 26–29 per cent less than the proportion of older people.Aside from Israel, the gap was also the narrowest in Venezuela, Croatia and Austria, where about 5 per cent fewer young people saw themselves as religious compared with older people. Most of the countries where spirituality was growing were those in which there was a major group with a Protestant background, such as Great Britain, New Zealand, the U.S., Denmark and the Netherlands, although Taiwan and Japan are also included.
Many countries in which older people were more likely than younger people to describe themselves as spiritual were predominantly Catholic, such as Portugal, Ireland, Chile, Mexico and Spain. Hughes concludes that “It may well be that in these countries ‘spirituality’ is seen as believing in the spiritual world, and is something that younger people are rejecting along with religion.”
(Pointers, P.O. Box 206, Nunawading LPO, VIC 3131 Australia)
08: The declining number of religious vocations in Europe is caused by an overall rise of income as well as changes in immigration, urbanization and fertility within Catholic countries, according to a study in the Review of Religious Research (June).
Paulo Mourao (University of Minho) writes that it is surprising that the decline of Catholic priests has been seen in both Catholic and non-Catholic countries with very different political structures. By comparing the Statistical Yearbook of the Church with data sources on demographic values, Minho found that with economic growth in both Catholic and non-Catholic countries, the ratio of Catholic priests to the Catholic population dropped.
But it was only in Catholic countries that the drop in fertility rates adversely affected the number of Catholic priests. It was also in Catholic countries that a growing urban population caused a reduction in membership of the priesthood, although a rise in the proportion of immigrants in the same societies tends to increase the ratio of priests to the Catholic population. The author concludes that his findings support the secularization thesis holding that economic growth changes individuals’ religious behavior.
09: Evangelical leaders in the Global South tend to be more optimistic about the prospects for evangelicalism in their countries than those in the North and West, according to a survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
The survey, conducted among 2,196 evangelical leaders from 166 countries, finds that seven in ten evangelical leaders who live in the Global South expect that five years from now the state of evangelicalism in their countries will have improved, while their counterparts in European and North American countries believe that the state of evangelicalism will either stay about the same (21 percent) or decline (33 percent) in the next five years. A majority of all the leaders (71 percent) view secularism as the major threat to evangelical Christianity, followed closely by consumerism (67 percent). Interreligious conflicts were not seen as a major threat by a majority of the respondents. Other findings include significant support for women pastors (75 percent) and leaders speaking out on political issues (84 percent).
(The survey is available at: http://pewforum.org)
A controversy about the place for atheists in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has been spreading throughout the recovery organization, according to The Fix (June 14), a newsletter reporting on America’s drug and rehab culture.
The controversy started when two AA meetings that cater to atheists and agnostics were expelled from Toronto’s official directory. The meetings in question had adapted their own version of the 12 Steps, leaving out the part about the higher power. The incident raised a furor in AA circles around the world, bringing up questions about how monolithic its culture should be throughout the various meetings. The two meetings were more agnostic in orientation rather than atheist, but their removal of the AA clause to seek help from “God as we understand him” led some members from several “God-focused AAs” to report the agnostic “sects” to the organization’s administration.
Although the leadership responded that a belief in God is not a requirement for membership, the effort to oust the agnostic groups gained the support of 30 groups (among 200) in Toronto. The ousting ignited protests from other AA members who had similar experiences of their “freethinker” or agnostic groups being excluded. An anonymously authored “White Paper on Non-Believers” was circulated last year among various representatives that criticized the “sobriety without God” camp in AA. But the newsletter adds that agnostic and God-based AA groups in New York, San Francisco and Chicago have long coexisted. Writer Jesse Beach speculates that the decline in membership in AA (a 5.6 percent drop from 2000 to 2008) may be leading to the need for a scapegoat.
(The Fix, http://www.thefix.com)
Megachurches are setting up multi-site campuses that are crossing state lines and, in the process, facing criticism that they are establishing churches as franchises, reports Christianity Today (July).
A recent trend among megachurches is to extend “their brand of church to new communities,” often featuring live music and sermons piped in from the main campus, while satellite campuses established by megachurches within the same area tend to operate as “high qual-ity overflow rooms,” drawing people familiar with the style and teachings of the main congregation. The long-distance campuses are more like church plants, ministering to people who may not know anything about the sponsoring megachurch.
But local church planters may feel threatened by this method. As one church planter said about the Seattle megachurch Mars Hill planting a satellite in Portland, Oregon: “… it’s a bit like reading the notice that Walmart is coming and you are the mom and pop store.” Other prominent churches starting long-distance satellite campuses include LifeChurch.tv based in Edmund, Oklahoma, which has 14 campuses in five states, and Sea-coast Church in South Carolina, which has 13 congregations in three states.
(Christianity Today, 465 Gundersen Dr., Carol Stream, IL 60188)
A dissenting movement has mushroomed in the Baha’i religion thanks to the Internet and the way it disseminates “reformist” proposals, according to Bei Dawei of Hsuan Chaung University in Taiwan.
In a paper presented at a June conference in Taiwan organized by CESNUR, a research center on new religious movements, Dawei noted that the Baha’i crackdown on the first wave of dissent in the 1990s, taking place in an Internet forum, resulted in the resignation and shunning of several prominent members, including historian and blogger Juan Cole. Although the Baha’i are known for their teachings on world unity and interreligious tolerance, dissenters have targeted the religion’s strong leadership that tends to view those who question its decisions as “covenant breakers” who deserve to be expelled and shunned by members.
In recent years, the leadership has to a degree softened its strictures against dissent, for instance, discarding the practice of shunning and calling such expulsion of members “disenrollment.”Dissent continues over Baha’i teachings on homosexuality and the exclusion of women from the highest level of leadership, known as the Universal House of Justice. Since many dissenters are scholars, there are also clashes over revisionist views and research on Baha’i texts and history.
The continuing conflict has led to a growing number of “disenrolled” and marginal Baha’is existing on the fringes of the movement. The growth of new Internet forums and blogs and even offshoots, with one leader writing a new Baha’i sacred text, is also leading to a more pluralistic situation. A major example of this is the recent formation of a Baha’i subgroup within Unitarian-Universalism (UU), which is not to be confused with the Unitarian Baha’i Federation.
Whether mainstream Baha’is classify these groups as “covenant breakers” who must be shunned or as “dissident or apostate coalitions operating within an interfaith context (since there are Jewish, Pagan and Christian subgroups within the UU) … remains to be seen,” concludes Dawei.
A fast-growing and influential network of technological thinkers and groups borrow concepts from religion and spirituality while often seeing themselves in competition with traditional faiths, according to Abou Farman of the City University of New York.
At a Columbia University conference on spirituality in late May attended by RW, Farman presented a paper on what he called “informatic futurists,” a network of transhumanists who believe that humans can transcend their limits through technology; artificial intelligence enthusiasts; and “singularitarians” who believe that a computerized “super-intelligence” will replace the human mind. These different groups hold to the worldview that the universe is constituted by and through information and that the use of information technology can be a way of “surpassing the limitations of biology and ushering in the next stage in evolution.” These groups and movements have their background in the technology boom of the 1990s in Silicon Valley.
Although informatic futurists are usually secularists and naturalists, some proponents promote what could be called a “secular spirituality.” Teresem, a Florida-based group dedicated to achieving immortality through nanotechnology and artificial intelligence, and its founder, Martine Rothblatt, use language that is “spiritual even New Age—the reach for authenticity and origins, the revelation, the projection of unity and inclusiveness, the appeals to energy and immortality,” Farman said. Rothblatt disavows supernatural explanations, yet uses spiritual language to buttress her idea that technology has a definite direction and purpose. Some do not see an inevitable conflict between transhumanism and religion.
In 2009 the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pistoia in Italy held a week-long seminar on the subject, which drew both transhumanist support and criticism. More typically, informatic futurists seek to compete with and eventually overturn traditional religious institutions. William Sims Bainbridge, a prominent sociologist of religion and pioneer of this movement, has argued for the need for “really aggressive, attractive space religions … meeting the emotional needs of different segments of our population, driving traditional religions and retrograde cults from the field.” Such ideas have been taken up by Giulio Prisco, an Italian transhumanist activist and former physicist, who established the Order of Cosmic Engineers.
The goal of the order is to “permeate our universe with benign intelligence, building and spreading it from inner space to outer space and beyond.” Farman says that the informatic futurists are gaining influence in mainstream society. In his position at the National Science Foundation, Bainbridge has organized a government-sponsored conference on the “convergence” or unification of nanotechnology, biotechnology, informatics and cognitive science. Singularity thinkers have found a welcome at the U.S. space agency, NASA.
A recent NASA publication attempts to link socio-biological views of cultural evolution to physics and astronomy, arguing for the need for a “cosmic consciousness.” Farman cites the publication as claiming that the cosmos is “intertwined with human destiny … impinging on (and arguably essential to) questions normally reserved for religion and philosophy.” The informatic futurist challenge may change the relationship between religion and secularism: “secular humanism and religion will find each other closer than ever before as the informatic cosmologists try and move away from both gods and humans, as well as from the earth itself.”
Anti-Islamic sentiment has recently crossed the line from being confined to a largely apolitical and conservative Christian subculture to gaining a more active place in Republican politics and the conservative media, according to the libertarian magazine Reason (August/September).
The magazine reports that the recent spate of campaigns against the building of mosques and efforts to enact legislation against the establishment of Islamic Sharia law reveal a marked change in the conservative political climate. Taking a cue from President George Bush, after 9/11 anti-Islamic views were generally muted in conservative political circles, with the exception of many evangelical and charismatic Christians who focused on theological concerns. Cathy Young writes that at first, the controversy over plans to open a mosque near the World Trade Center did not ignite a strong response from conservatives; it was only after conservative blogger/activist Pamela Geller launched the “Stop the 911 Mosque” campaign last year that these views were circulated and popularized through such media as Fox News.
While opposition to building the mosque was found among a wide spectrum of New Yorkers and Americans, similar campaigns against mosques have grown throughout the U.S. In campaigns against the establishment of mosques, there is often the claim that the mosque in question is receiving foreign funds from terrorists or is different from other congregations, since “Islam is a political movement,” according to California Tea Party activist Diana Serafin. The opposition to Islam’s alleged political designs is more clearly seen in the drive to pass bills banning the use of Islamic religious laws in state courts.
Efforts to pass these bills have taken place in 20 states, including Oklahoma, Missouri, Alaska and other states with small Muslim populations. Young writes that such activism is often based on “a lot of skewed and garbled facts—and issues by no means unique to Muslims or Islam.” She adds that other religious groups have been accommodated by the government; Sharia courts are “analogous to existing Jewish religious courts or within-community conflict resolutions among Mormons or the Amish.” Anti-Islamic activ-ists respond that such accommodation is different for Muslims, since they say “radicals” want to Islamize the U.S.The Jewish online newspaper Forward.com (July 12) reports that David Yerushalmi, a Brooklyn lawyer affiliated with Lubavitch Hasidic Judaism, has been the architect behind the anti-Sharia bills.
He offers legislators a template that claims to sidestep constitutional objections to singling out Islam by avoiding explicit mention of it (although some bills have still mentioned religious terms). In Yerushalmi’s writings, he portrays Islam as an inherent threat to the West because of its goal of world rule via a caliphate that will impose Sharia law on all its subjects. Yerushalmi’s new project is a study of some 100 mosques in the U.S. that attempts to show a correlation between adherence to Sharia law and support for “violent jihad.” The study, which is published in the current issue of the Middle East Quarterly, has been strongly criticized by liberal organizations, but seized upon by conservative publications.
(An equally bitter conflict is taking shape between conservatives and liberals over the influence of these anti-Islamist activists from the U.S. in the recent Norway attacks; the accused killer had cited some of these writings in his manifesto; see the previous article.)(Reason, 3415 Sepulveda Blvd., Suite 400, Los Ang
Following the July 22 attacks in Norway and first analyses of the writings of accused killer Anders Breivik, a discussion has started regarding his religious beliefs and whether such labels as “fundamentalist” and “Christian terrorist” apply to his actions.
While the media and some scholars described him as a “Christian terrorist,” other scholars dispute suggestions that religion played a key role in his actions. Besides the issues of scholarly definitions that are at stake, the debate and public reactions in various circles also show how the attribution of epithets such as “Christian” or “Islamic” to terrorist activities gives rise to heated discussions. The very first statements by Norwegian police once the identity of the presumed terrorist was established described him as a “fundamentalist Christian,” a label that spread throughout the media; some later used the expression “radical Christian extremist.” And indeed, on his (English) Facebook profile, Breivik had listed himself as “Christian” and “Conservative.”
He was a member of the Norwegian Lutheran Church. Chip Berlet called him a “soldier in the Christian Right culture wars,” while pointing to some intellectual sources of Breivik’s critique of “cultural Marxism” (Talk to Action, July 23). He continued by stating that Breivik’s core thesis was “white Christian nationalism versus multiculturalism” (Talk to Action, July 25). A leading scholar on issues of religiously linked violence, Mark Juergensmeyer, compared the Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh, with Breivik (the Norwegian actually mentioned McVeigh in a manifesto he distributed electronically just before the attacks), adding: “both were Christian terrorists” (Religion Dispatches, July 24).
Juergensmeyer interpreted Breivik’s actions as a reflection of “a cosmic war, a battle for Christendom.” While Juergensmeyer agrees that Breivik was much more interested in politics than religious scriptures, he suggests that, in the same way that Bin Laden can be called a “Muslim terrorist,” Breivik can qualify as his Christian counterpart.After an intensive preliminary study of Breivik’s writings, European scholars Massimo Introvigne (CESNUR, Italy) and Jean-François Mayer (Religioscope, Switzerland) emphasized to European media that Breivik could not be called a “Christian fundamentalist” by all accepted definitions of the term. Besides being a Freemason, Breivik described himself as “moderately religious” and conveyed a cultural attachment to Christianity as part of the European identity and as a tool for supporting political goals (CESNUR, July 25).
He advocated a monocultural Christian Europe, but one in which the church (after the reincorporation of Protestantism within the Catholic Church) would have no political influence. He wrote that “Christian atheists” were welcome to join the battle and of the importance of science taking an “undisputed precedence over biblical teachings.” In his diary last June he reported that he had “prayed for the first time in a very long time.” Moreover, he disputed the Protestant principle of Sola Scriptura (by scripture alone), writing that it would lead to “incipient subjectivism,” Julie Ingersoll noted (Religion Dispatches, July 25).
While being a “cultural Christian,” Breivik thus cannot fit the profile of a Christian fundamentalist, and evidence shows that he was guided more by political than religious beliefs. While he claimed to be a member of a new order of Templar Knights, he used the Templar primarily as a symbol of a new crusade against Islam. Breivik had not been a member of a political party for several years, but he appeared to have drawn much of his inspiration and arguments from a transnational Euro-American network of independent bloggers and authors critical of Islam. Websites such as Gates of Vienna, Jihad Watch or Brussels Journal have taken a defensive stance since the attacks, distancing themselves from violence, while sometimes claiming that Breivik’s actions might also have been the result of Europe ignoring concerns about Muslim immigration into the continent.
A debate around the criticism of Islam is likely to unfold after the July 22 events. Meanwhile, Mayer has observed that Breivik in some ways mimetically reacted to jihadist threats, adopting a vocabulary such as “martyrdom operation” for describing his own actions and leaving behind pictures of himself not unlike those of suicide bombers . . .
(Terrorisme.net, July 25) | (Talk to Action, http://www.talk2action.org; Religion Dispatches, http://www.religiondispatches.org; CESNUR, http://www.cesnur.org; Terrorisme.net, http://www.terrorisme.net; Religioscope, www.religion.info)