In This Issue
- On/File: June 2005
- Findings & Footnotes: June 2005
- Buddhist role in tsunami relief raises religion’s credibility?
- Iraq conflict shifting to sectarian grounds?
- Turkey’s moderate Islamic course derailed?
- Current Research: June 2005
- Scales measuring religious beliefs, behavior proliferate
- New conservative fusion on foreign policy, life issues?
- Church-state battles move to symbolic grounds
01: AASTHA, India’s leading religious broadcasting station, is being beamed through satellite throughout the world and has recently entered the U.S. market.
The U.S. satellite provider DirectTV is now offering the 24-hour channel, which, according to promotional literature, is said to be “America’s first Asian Indian spiritual and cultural network.“ The Mumbai,-based company began broadcasting to Indian villages and is now tuned in by 20 million households in 166 countries.
Although “Hindu” or “Hinduism” is rarely used on the network, 90 percent of its content is said to be rooted in Hindu culture, featuring discourses from swamis, classes in Vedanta, yogo and mediation, and coverage of Hindu festivals.
(Source:Hinduism Today, April/May/June)
02: Haredim L’Svivah (or “religious hareidim for the environment”) is probably the first ultra-orthodox Jewish group to focus on environmentalism.
The Haredim spend most of their time in the study of the Torah and rigorous practice of Jewish law. The founder of the group, Yehuda Ganut, cited Jewish law concerning the need for a clean and safe environment and the value of nature as an expression of God’s works. The effort has met the support of others in the community, including a haredi newspaper.
(Source: Inside Israel, May)
01: Amidst the flood of articles on Pope Benedict XVI and the future shape of his papacy, some stand out for their in-depth coverage. The New Yorker (May 16) magazine published a lengthy article by Paul Boyer going into the complex background of Vatican II and showing how Benedict’s thought has been shaped by the battle between liberals and conservatives over the meaning of the Second Vatican Council.
The struggle continues, but Boyer views Benedict, along with his predecessor John Paul II and many bishops, as securing an orthodox definition of the council, reinforcing an already-growing conservative movement in the church.
The independent Catholic magazine Commonweal devotes much of its June 3 issue to exploring the thought of Benedict XVI. Articles by Joseph Komonchak and Christopher Ruddy suggest far more complexity to Benedict than allowed by the popular liberal-conservative scenarios. Benedict’s conservatism is not so much a return to pre-Vatican II scholastic Catholicism, but rather a strongly Christocentric body of thought necessitating a highly liturgical and countercultural — and thus unified — church.
02: The Postindustrial Promise (The Alban Institute, $18), by Anthony E. Healy, is a rereading of the American religious situation along strongly structural and demographic lines.
Healy challenges “postmodern” accounts of American religion that stress individualism, consumerism, and estrangement from religious institutions, as well as widespread switching between churches. Instead, he asserts that new sociological research suggests that the driving force is post industrialism, causing massive changes in work and mobility and reshaping cities and social networks. In such an environment, religious congregations have assumed a central place in which people establish or reestablish a “cultural narrative.“
But because most congregations are now cut loose from geographic place (no longer only serving the specific communities in which they are located), social networks become the main foundations on which congregations are built, thus tending to make them more uniform in makeup. Healy argues that theological and organizational dynamics do not account for the patterns of growth and decline among churches.
Mainline decline is due more to changes in fertility and marriage among adherents than theological liberalism; evangelical growth is likewise tied to demographic changes in the opposite direction. All of this is in line with Healy’s “ecological” approach, where congregations do not compete as much as complement each other, filling particular niches and meeting certain needs in a diverse society.
03: Nancy Ammerman takes a somewhat similar position to Healy in her new book Pillars of Faith (University of California Press, $21.95), arguing that Americans are rerooting themselves in religious traditions even as congregations diversify and modify those traditions. The book, based on survey and ethnographic research among over 700 congregations from 91 traditions, follows her previous work on congregations, but this time looks beyond these structures to the broader networks and denominations that interact with local expressions of faith.
Ammerman and her research team find that nearly every congregation they studied–even the self-consciously non-denominational, independent churches– had at least one link with an organization that helps them provide for the needs of people beyond their own memberships, and that almost every one draws on resources (such as publications) it did not produce.
Yet these ties to secular and religious parachurch agencies are not replacing traditional denominations as much as complementing them. While there is some erosion of traditional denominational allegiances, particularly in relation to centralized bureaucracies, an attachment to denominational traditions, particularly those with liturgical heritages, was marked among many of the congregations. Interestingly, it is the conservative Protestants (especially those switching from other denominations and those more highly educated) who are more likely to de-emphasize their denomination and claim a more generic evangelical identity.
Mainline Protestants, in contrast, especially among the cradle and highly educated members, retain stronger denominational ties. Another noteworthy finding concerns how the numerous activities and offerings of evangelical churches tend to make evangelicals more involved in the community. In contrast, many Catholics’ lack of involvement in their parishes, outside attending services or Masses, tends to decrease their community involvement.
04: While Healy’s and Ammerman’s books give short shrift to the view that consumerism drives much of religious change, Stephen Hunt’s book, The Alpha Enterprise (Ashgate, $29.95), examines this influential British Christian movement largely through the “marketplace” framework.
The Alpha phenomenon has swept churches in Britain and increasingly in other parts of the world for its classes that introduce the unchurched and nominal believer to Christian basics in a user-friendly and low key manner. The book, based on ethnographic research among 30 participating churches in England, views Alpha as the next phase of the charismatic movement (especially since it is linked to the now defunct Toronto Blessing phenomenon) as it shifts from “signs of wonders” to evangelism.
Moreover, Hunt sees Alpha as the primary way that charismatics and evangelicals have entered the spiritual marketplace with a prepackaged and efficient version of Christianity that tends in the direction of secularization. But he also notes that the program’s adaptive ability distinguishes it from a “McDonaldization” of the faith: it has been reworked in a wide range of contexts — among youth and in prisons, as well as in Catholic and non-charismatic mainline Protestant churches.
Hunt concludes that Alpha is far from a fad and that it has achieved a certain success, though it has resulted in more of an “internal” revival,” bringing those at the margins closer into the center of congregational life, rather than converting the secular and unchurched.
05: Even many critics of the market (or rational choice) theory found inThe Churching of America (Rutgers University Press, $21.95), by Roger Finke and Rodney Stark, acknowledged that it was an innovative and bracing account of American religious change and expansion.
The new and updated edition of the 1993 book makes the same case for the importance of pluralism and competition in driving the growth and declines in American religion during the past 200 years. But it also includes a good deal of additional and updated material on black churches, ethnic religious communities, and new statistical information in general. Finke and Stark find among newly free blacks in the 19th century the same dynamic of more congregational and competitive Baptist churches growing while the more hierarchical Methodist denominations fell behind.
A new section on new immigrant congregations, finds patterns of high-commitment congregations among such outgrowing their native born counterparts (such as Korean versus American born Presbyterians). The book also includes intriguing new research on the growth of conservative Catholic religious orders
06: That religious identity has often substituted for ethnicity in American society is vividly demonstrated in Gerardo Marti’s book A Mosaic Of Believers (Indiana University Press, $39.95). Marti, a sociologist and pastor, examines Mosaic, a Los Angeles congregation and leader in a growing network of multi-ethnic and youth-oriented congregations.
Although officially Southern Baptist, Mosaic is very much in the post-modern, “emerging” church mold, though its ethnic diversity (almost divided evenly between Asians, whites and Latinos) makes it unique in still-segregated American church life.
Marti writes that Mosaic’s significance is it’s ability to “reorient identities so that people of various ethnic heritages subdue their ethnic distinctions in favor of one common religious identity…“ But Mosaic did not intentionally seek to become multiethnic, but rather became so through its ministry as a “haven”– for the young, second- and third-generation ethnics, creative artists, and those seeking theological and organizational alternatives to traditional evangelical churches.
Buddhism in Thailand and Sri Lanka is finding new support and interest because of the relief role played by the religion during and after the tsunami, according to Harvard Divinity Bulletin (Spring).
The success of the relief effort during the tsunami was due to the consistent support provided by the Buddhist monks. Temples became makeshift hospitals and then the “backbone of the relief effort,” writes Blaine Johnson. The monks, with their belief in the transitory nature of life, were prepared for the “uninviting task of handling decomposed corpses.“ The monks have also provided counseling to victims.
The response of the Buddhist monks has “renewed many Buddhists’ faith in the importance of the sangha (monk community) as the center of the Thai community. In both Thailand and Sri Lanka, the success of Buddhist involvement in the tsunami relief effort has led to a surge of interest among Buddhists to engage their faith in relief and development work,” Johnson adds. An international conference is being held in Sri Lanka in late spring to discuss the formation of a Buddhist equivalent to the Red Cross and the Red Crescent.
(Harvard Divinity Bulletin, 45 Francis Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138)
The conflict in Iraq may be moving along more sectarian lines judging by the new wave of violence striking the country, reports the New York Times (May 27).
Recent killings of Sunni Muslim Iraqis have fed fears that the now ruling Shiite Muslims are forming death squads, ultimately leading to civil war and a sectarian society. While Iraqis have prided themselves for their unity and lack of sectarian strife, in the last two years a “strengthened sense of religious and ethnic identity began to course through Iraqi Shiite and Kurdish communities, which had endured the most repression under [Sadam] Hussein,” writes Sabrina Tavernise.
In response to many Shiites climbing to positions of power, many Sunnis have become bitter and more open to hard-liner appeals. A sampling of opinions of Sunnis and Shiites at two mosques revealed that the former showed sharp anger at the Shiites, while the latter showed little anti-Sunni sentiment. Nevertheless, there are signs that that the Shiite militia of the 1980s in Iran, known as the Badr Brigade, is being revived. Although the group has been officially disbanded, it still exists and is used to gather intelligence.
Turkey’s attempt to steer a middle ground between secular nationalism and Islamic revivalism appears to be faltering, threatening both religious freedom and its much hoped-for integration into the European Union, writes political scientist Elizabeth Prodromou in the Brandywine Review of Faith & International Affairs (Spring).
With the election of the Justice and Development Party (JDP) in 2002, Turkey adopted a “Muslimhood model” of democracy that eschewed both its secularist nationalist, or Kemalist, past (which prohibited any public religious expressions) and the establishment of an Islamist government. But this moderate Muslim model seems to be in jeopardy, at least judging by Turkey recent treatment of such minorities as its Greek Orthodox community.
At first, the Greek Orthodox community was promised a restoration of rights (involving regaining property and permitting seminary education) but the JDP has stalled or reversed itself, partly over new security and terrorist fears. The government also has been pressured by those fearing that the JDP‘s moves toward religious liberalization is a plot to Christianize Turkey.
The worsening condition of the Greek Orthodox could be seen in a recent demonstration by both Islamic and secular hardliners opposing the rights of foreigners to purchase property in Turkey. For many JDP supporters, the vote against secularism was largely limited to an expansion of public space for Islam, rather than the pluralization of public life.
The Kemalist secularists who voted for JDP were mainly voicing their dissatisfaction with the failures of the traditional center-right parties rather than rejecting secularism. This catch-all nature of the JDP poses challenges for the stability of religious pluralism in Turkey. Prodromou concludes that for Turkey to fulfill its Muslimhood model, both EU and Washington will have to press the country toward compliance with its own treaty obligations on religious freedom.
(Brandywine Review of Faith & International Affairs, P.O. Box 14477, Washington, DC 20044)
01: There are more megachurches than originally thought, according to a new survey. Megachurches–those congregations exceeding 2,000 in attendance–were thought by researchers to number only about 850.
However, a new survey by Scott Thumma of Hartford Seminary and Leadership Network, now estimates that there are at least 1,200 and perhaps as many as 1,500 to 1,600 such congregations. An article quotes Thumma as noting that critics have claimed that megachurches were a baby boomer phenomenon that would soon fizzle out. But Thumma and his colleagues say they are increasing exponentially in the last 20 years, with these congregations now found in every state, reports the Christian Century (May 31).
02: A study of literature distributed to U.S. mosques finds an overall pattern of extremist teachings and rhetoric in such material. The study, conducted by the human rights organization Freedom House, found that Saudi Arabia has supplied American mosques with texts and other literature, especially during the 1980s and 1990s.
The Atlantic Monthly (June) reports that among the themes prominent in this literature are: Muslims should not befriend Jews and Christians; Muslims should treat their time in the U.S. as they would a trip behind enemy lines; to revile Sufism, Shia and non-Wahhabi forms of Islam; to rob and inflict violence on Muslims who engage in homosexual acts; and to kill Muslims who convert to other faiths.
Anti-Semitic slurs, such as those from theProtocols of the Elders of Zion, are also present in these texts. Although the Saudi government says it is updating its books and study materials, the study adds that titles in question remain “widespread and plentiful” in Muslim education programs in the U.S.
03: Hate crimes against Muslims are reported to have increased by 50 percent, according to a study released by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). The Washington-based Islamic advocacy group reported more than 1,500 cases of harassment and anti-Muslim violence in the U.S., including 141 hate crimes last year, compared with 1,019 cases and 93 hate crimes in 2003.
04: There is “far less a connection between suicide terrorism and religious fundamentalism than most people think,” writes political scientist Robert Pape in the New York Times (May 18).
Pape compiled a data base of every suicide attack from around the world–315 in all–between 1980 and 2003 and found that actions coming from secular groups or sponsorship outnumbered those with a religious connection. The leading instigator of suicide attacks is the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, a secular Marxist group whose Hindu background plays little role in their terrorism, committing 76 incidents. That is far more than Hamas (54) or Islamic Jihad (27).
Even among Muslims, secular groups such as the Kurdistan Worker‘s Party and the Al Aksa Martyr‘s Brigade account for more than one-third of suicide attacks. Pape concludes that almost all suicide attacks have a common “secular and strategic goal: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military force from territories that terrorists consider to be their homeland. Religion is often used as a tool by terrorist organizations in recruiting and seeking aid from abroad, but is rarely the root cause.”
As more social scientists study religion, there has been a significant growth of new scales and measurements to gauge religious beliefs and practices– enough to make it difficult for scholars to communicate with each other. Science & Theology News (June) reports that it is especially in the burgeoning field exploring the connections between faith, spirituality and health where these “spiritual scales” have proliferated.
Popular measures include the R-COPE scale, which gauges how patients use religious beliefs to cope with illness and trauma, the “daily spiritual experiences scale,“ which evaluates spirituality in people’s everyday life, and the new SpReuk scale, originating in strongly secular Eastern Germany and designed to capture non-theistic and non-institutional beliefs.
These attempts to make the scales as broad as possible may not allow them to capture much of anything of value concerning how religion and spirituality impacts people’s lives, says Thomas Plante, who founded his own “Santa Clara Strength of Religious Faith Questionnaire.“ The more scales will make it harder for researchers to share data effectively, and eventually they may be consolidated into a smaller number, writes Julia Keller.
(Science & Theology News, P.O. Box 5065, Brentwood, TN 37024)
A “new fusionism” linking pro-life social conservatives and foreign policy neoconservatives is taking place based around the common concerns of traditional values and reasserting American moral purpose, writes Jody Bottum in First Things magazine (June/July).
When conservatives speak of “fusionism” they usually hearken back to the marriage between libertarians and traditional conservatives in the 1960s over their common opposition to communism and the growth of government. In contrast, a “new moralism” in relation to issues such as abortion as well as spreading democracy worldwide is driving this new conservative fusion.
While Bottum acknowledges that there are social conservatives opposed to the war in Iraq as well as neoconservatives who are firmly pro-choice, both camps have become allied on a number of issues largely driven by religion. The changes have come from both sides; Neoconservatives are more pro-life than they were even 10 years ago, perhaps due to their increased contact with Catholics and their fears over biotechnology. Meanwhile, the social conservatives, consisting mainly of evangelicals and conservative Catholics, have increasingly taken on foreign policy issues, from fighting international sex trafficking to engaging in human rights and humanitarian efforts in the Third World.
Although strategic common interests (for instance, support of Israel and, of course, the reelection of George W. Bush) should not be discounted, Bottum concludes that both neoconservatives and social conservatives are convinced that the “remoralization“ of American society also requires the remoralization of American foreign policy.
(First Things, 156 Fifth Ave., Suite 400, New York, NY 10010)
The public display of religious symbols and mottos has become the most contested church-state issue of recent years, with key battles being fought out in Congress as well as the Supreme Court.
The Wall Street Journal (May 27) reports that a case involving the display of a cross in a national preserve in California is likely to be the scene of the *most significant church-state controversy since last year*s fight over the Pledge of Allegiance.” The presence of the cross, which was erected in memory of war veterans before the area was declared a national preserve, brought a suit by the American Civil Liberties Union. So far the courts have ruled in the ACLU*s favor, stating that it violates individuals civil rights.
But the litigation itself has now become the issue. A 1976 law specifies that anyone bringing an even partly successful civil rights suit may have the plaintiff pay all legal fees for both parties, although such fee reversals are not permitted to successful defendants. Critic Christopher Levenick argues that the ACLU and other wealthy and powerful organizations use the “specter of massive attorney fees to force their secularist agenda on small school districts, cash-strapped municipalities and, now, veterans’ memorials.”
Even if the defendants don’t settle out of court and prevail, the advocacy group*s bringing such cases to court lose no money. Republicans are working on an amendment to the law, under which plaintiffs could still ask the courts to prevent governmental endorsement of religion but could no longer expect the public to pay for such suits.
Another issue gaining momentum in the courts concerns the public and governmental use of religious mottos. At issue in one case is whether theIn God We Trust motto can be inscribed on the façade of the Davidson County Government Center in Lexington, North Carolina. The “motto” appears on the US currency as early as the mid 19th century, and the phrase has been a motto of the United States for almost five decades. Therefore, according to the judge, the phrase is for “patriotic use,” both historically and in the present day and thus that is not unconstitutional, according to an Associated Press report (http://ap.tbo.com/ap/breaking/mgb6ku1z08e.html).
Other noteworthy cases involving religious symbols include one concerning four Florida public high schools holding graduation ceremonies at Calvary Chapel in Melbourne Florida. Two families with graduating students filed a lawsuit to either cover the religious symbols in the church or change the ceremony to a non-religious location for the graduation. The commencement was carried out in the church sanctuary as scheduled because the suit was filed at the last moment, yet the legal fight is still continuing.
It was almost two years that a 5,280 pound monument of the Ten Commandments was removed from the Alabama Supreme Court building over great controversy.
Currently, the Supreme Court is hearing two cases over similar displays of the Ten Commandments on the state capital grounds of Texas and Kentucky after the two lower courts registered contrary decisions on the display of Ten Commandments regarding whether it is a violation of the First Amendment. In the Texas case, the court ruled against the plaintiff, Thomas Van Orden who is an ex-lawyer, Vietnam War veteran, and homeless. In the Kentucky case, on the other hand, the judge ruled for the plaintiff, the ACLU of Kentucky.
Since these cases could be historically significant on church and state issues, the American Jewish Committee together with some Christian and interfaith organizations, however, filed a brief in opposition with the Supreme Court, saying, “When government attempts to rationalize its display of sacred texts by claiming secular purposes and secular effects, the inevitable tendency is to distort and desacralize the sacred text,” according to an AJC press release (http://www.ajc.org).
The Supreme Court’s decision on this issue will be made known by the end of June.
— This report was written with Ayako Sairenji, a New Jersey-based freelance writer.