In This Issue
- Findings & Footnotes: March 2005
- Crowd management needed at India’s pilgrimage places
- Saudi Arabia: On the way to post-Wahhabism?
- Jews in Europe gravitating to the right
- Orthodox women deacons having impact outside of Greece?
- Film reveals new culture wars in Spain
- Ukraine’s evangelicals change with democratic surge
- Current Research: March 2005
- Evangelism dividing Jewish believers in Jesus
- Southern Catholics influencing church and nation?
- Revisions in psychology make room for religion
01: Muslim Networks: From Hajj to Hip Hop (University of North Carolina Press, $21.50) edited by Miriam Cooke and Bruce B. Lawrence, examines how Islam is flourishing under the process of globalization.
The book’s editors argue that Muslims have both historically and in contemporary times formed networks with each other on a transnational basis, often conflicting with the nation state. Thus the “postmodern” stress on networks and multiple identities, especially with the advent of the Internet, is seen as essential in understanding the decentralized nature of Islam today.
Noteworthy developments discussed by contributors include: how the Islamic women’s magazine, Azizah, is forming a global, multiethnic network of feminist and professional Muslims; the mystical Sufi Muslims’ expansion on the Internet, even as they are conflicted about displaying their esoteric teachings in public; how Salafi Muslims of both extremist and reformist camps are often embedded in common networks, though employing different tactics; the various ways Muslims have confronted each other and presented themselves to the public on the Internet after 9/11; and the new connections being formed between the second generation of immigrant Muslims and African-American Muslims through Hip Hop culture .
After 300 people died in a stampede at a temple in Maharashtra on January 25, concerns regarding security were voiced at a number of pilgrimage spots around India.
A number of simple preventive measures, such as limiting the inflow of pilgrims allowed at the same time into the central compound and the availability of a public address system in order to restore calm, might have significantly reduced the fatalities, suggests the Indian newsmagazine Frontline (Feb. 25). But authorities and police add that their task is not easy; if police “insist on limiting the numbers who enter a small area, then people complain that we are interfering with their worship,” a local official says.
However, some pilgrimage places are reported to have implemented efficient measures in order to manage crowds reaching millions of pilgrims. Such is Allahabad, which is the place for a kumbh mela, a major gathering at periodic intervals. The crowds are monitored and redirected when pressure is observed on a particular route. Incoming and outgoing routes are far away from each other, in order to minimize the consequences of a stampede. A public address system will be used to provide instructions instantly.
The huge numbers of pilgrims reaching the most varied places also raise other concerns, such as environmental issues in remote and forested areas.
— By Jean-François Mayer
While the general perception is that “fundamentalist” Wahhabi Islam continues to dominate Saudi Arabia, a closer look at contemporary Saudi society shows that there are forces at work in the Kingdom, which attempt to marginalize Wahhabism, writes French scholar Stéphane Lacroix in an article published in the Spring issue of ISIM Review.
Lacroix refers especially to the growing influence of the so-called “Islamo-liberals,” a heterogeneous coalition of former Islamists and liberals, Shiites and Sunnites. They all share views critical of Wahhabism and are generally inclined to political reformism.
Their open criticism of Wahhabism marks a significant new step in the Saudi environment: critical voices had already emerged, but have sharpened after 9/11. Some develop an Islamic critique of the linkage between Wahhabism and jihadi violence (which has also affected the country), while other ones develop a Salafi (the root tradition from which Wahhabi Islam emerged) critique of Wahhabism, claiming it has become doctrinally rigid. Even more important, there are indications that people inside the Saudi goverment partly support those critical voices, while also advocating some level of political and social reform.
Some of the recommendations expressed by a first national dialogue conference in June 2003 have actually questioned Wahhabi claims to exclusivity as well as some practical implementations of Wahhabi thinking. The fact that no leading Wahhabi scholar was invited to that conference is seen by Lacroix as a sign that the government might now want to marginalize them. Rather than a renunciation of Wahhabism, what may be envisioned is a revision. But the road is thorny, concludes Lacroix, since it would also mean “a radical reformulation of old political alliances both at home and abroad”.
(ISIM Review, Institue for the Study of Islam in the Modern World, PO Box 11089, 2301 EB Leiden, Netherlands; http://www.isim.nl)
— By Jean-Francois Mayer
Jews in Europe are gradually dropping their attachment to the political left and moving to more conservative parties, reports the New York Times (Feb. 20).
Rising concern over anti-Semitism and the left’s embrace of the Palestinian cause has brought increasing numbers of European Jews to parties ranging from the center to the right, and even to the far right. In the last elections in Belgium, approximately five percent of Jews voted for the far right Vlaams Belang party. The far right, with its anti-Muslim and immigrant policies, has sought out and drawn a small but surprising pool of Jewish support in Italy and Denmark, given this movement’s history of anti-Semitism.
More common is the shift from the left to active involvement in the more tolerant parties of the center-right, such as the Conservative Party in England, which draws more Jews than the traditional Labour Party. Some voices on the Jewish right, such as writer Bat Ye’or, charge that Europe has allied itself with Arabs and Islam against the Jews and the trans-Atlantic alliance.
The recent decision of the Greek Orthodox to ordain women as deacons has been largely unreported, but the move may have an impact on the role of women in the Roman Catholic Church, writes Phyllis Zagano in America magazine (Feb. 7).
Without much fanfare or press coverage, last fall, the Orthodox Church of Greece voted to restore the female diaconate after more than one thousand years [the decision does not directly affect the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in the U.S., and women deacons would have more limited roles than men]. While women deacons had virtually disappeared by the ninth century, “the facts of their existence were well known and discussion of the restoration of the female diaconate in Orthodoxy began in the latter half of the 20th century,” according to Zagano.
The revival of the order of deaconess in the Church of Greece was expected to begin in the winter of 2004-2005. The Armenian Apostolic Church has retained a female diaconate into modern times. Since the Catholic Church accepts the validity of the sacraments and orders of both churches, Zagano writes that women deacons may turn out to “be the most progressive idea the Orthodox Church can bring to the world.”
While recent documents from Rome attempt to rule out female deacons, they have not sought to pronounce authoritatively on the issue (as in the case of women priests). “It is becoming increasingly clear that despite the Catholic Church’s unwillingness to say yes to the restoration of the female diaconate as an ordained ministry of the Catholic Church, it cannot say no,“ Zagano concludes.
(America, 106 W. 56th St., New York, NY 10019-3803)
While anti-clericalism and secularist currents have a long history in Spain, recent events suggest a new stage of confrontation between the Catholic Church and other segments of Spanish society, reports The Tablet magazine (Feb. 5).
In the last year, clashes in the cultural arena between artists and Catholic officials also reveal new church-state tensions. The Madrid playwright Inigo Ramierez de Haro’s recently performed play, Me Cago en Dios, was controversial enough in its scatological references to God for the city’s Archbishop Antonio Maria Rouco Varela to seek blasphemy charges against the production. But it took the new film, The Sea Inside (Mar Adentro), to release the floodgates of church protest and indignation.
The film, nominated for an Oscar in the U.S., “makes an open plea for the legislation of euthanasia while poking fun at the church,” writes Julius Purcell. This comes at a time when Spain’s socialist government, elected after the terrorist attack last March, has infuriated the church with proposals for gay marriage and relaxation of the abortion and divorce laws.
Despite repeated denials, many Spanish Catholics fear that the government is planning to legalize euthanasia, particularly after Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero praised the Sea Inside as a “song to life.” The film is based on the real life and very public death of Ramon Sampedro, making the Sea Inside “a new symbol of Spain’s historical, social and political divide,” concludes Purcell.
The protests and demonstrations surrounding Ukraine’s election in December has activated the nation’s evangelical churches, reportsCharisma magazine (February).
When the pro-Moscow candidate Viktor Yanukovych was declared the winner, crowds took to the streets protesting that the election was rigged, resulting in a new vote bringing in pro-Western candidate Viktor Yushchenko. Christians ranging from Ukrainian Orthodox to evangelical and charismatic were firmly in Yuschchenko’s camp, leading and organizing prayer vigils for the cause, reports J. Lee Grady. The “non-political“ evangelical churches were “swept by an urge to pray for change,” and even to directly engage in politics. One charismatic woman pastor has created a Christian political party.
Behind much of the evangelical change is the 25,000-member Embassy of God Church in Kiev. The church, said to be the largest evangelical congregation in Europe, is led by Sunday Adelaja, a Nigerian. The second largest church in Kiev is led by Henry Madava, a Pentecostal from Zimbabwe. Both churches and other evangelicals had faced pressure from Yanukovych supporters and other officials who claim they exhibit cultic tendencies. Grady adds that evangelicals have grown from 250,000 to 3 million today.
The Christian Century (March 8) reports that the divisions between the various Orthodox churches, mostly over leadership and jurisdictional differences, were clear during the elections. During the conflict, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate was the only one firmly behind Yanukovych, with some priests campaigning from the pulpit. But even without religious unity, the pluralism in Ukraine–due to the absence of a state religion because of the schisms among the Eastern rite churches — may be a democratizing agent in itself, according to sociologist Jose Casanova of the New School for Social Research in New York.
Such pluralism is unique in much of Eastern and Western Europe and approximates the voluntary, denominational system of the U.S. In an interview with RW, Casanova added that this denominational system may also be creating a more open environment for Ukrainian evangelical growth and political involvement.
(Charisma, 600 Rhinehart Rd., Lake Mary, FL 32746; Christian Century, 407 S. Dearborn St., Chicago, IL 60605)
01: American youth tend to espouse a generic and practical faith that has little relation to particular beliefs and practices, according to a major research project.
In an interview with Books & Culture (January/February), sociologist Christian Smith discusses findings from the National Survey of Youth and Religion he conducted, one of the largest studies of its kind. Smith found little open rebellion against traditional religion among youth, as well as far less preference for the tendency to stress “spirituality” over religion” prevalent among baby boomers.
At the same time, most teens do not want to be considered overly religious nor do they spend much time speaking about religion with their parents or peers. Smith adds that what “legitimizes the religion of youth today is not that it is the life-tranformative, transcendent truth, but that it instrumentally provides mental…and social benefits that teens find useful and valuable.” The majority of American youth adhere to what he calls a “Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism,” where one doesn’t have to get too involved with God, but that He is out there to help solve problems.
Most of those surveyed believe religion is about being good, not so much about faith or justification. Although Catholics and mainline Protestants most closely adhere to this position, a significant number of Mormons and conservative Protestants do as well. Yet Smith concludes that religious teens, however vague their beliefs, tend to be better adjusted and more socially concerned than non-religious teens.
(Books & Culture, 465 Gundersen Dr., Carol Stream, IL 60188)
02: In the 2004 elections, George W. Bush “was able to reach beyond his base of frequent worshippers to pick up a majority of voters who said they attend religious services ‘a few times a month,’ according to political scientist John C. Green. Writing in the journal Religion in the News (Winter), Green notes that while the exit polls have been questioned for their accuracy, they do track results from earlier, more accurate polls and can provide a “broadly dependable portrait of the impact of religion on the election.”
The group of less than weekly attenders, which Bush lost to Al Gore in the 2000 vote, emerged as the “religion gap’s new swing vote.” Green notes that Bush also made small gains among those who said they attend services a few times a year or not at all.
(Religion in the News, Trinity College, 300 Summit St., Hartford, CT 06106)
03: A survey of religious programming finds that televangelists devote less time to fundraising than commercial television.
The survey, conducted by a researcher from Grand View College, found that on average, televangelists use 17 percent of their air time fundraising and promoting their programs, while commercial television devotes 28 percent.
The programs of Jerry Falwell, Billy Graham and Paul Crouch of Trinity Broadcasting Network were among the least focused on fundraising, devoting less than two percent of their airtime to such appeals, reports Christianity Today (March).
04: Friendship and even the sharing of meals among fellow church members are important indicators of satisfaction with congregations and spiritual commitment, according to a Gallup Poll.
The poll, conducted by Gallup for Group Publishing, found that church members who have a best friend at church are 21 percent more likely to report attending church at least once a week and are 26 percent more likely to report having a strong and active religious faith. The survey also found that 77 percent of highly satisfied members have eaten a meal with fellow members at some point over the last year; only 56 percent of the somewhat satisfied or dissatisfied members have shared a meal together. Those eating meals together reported higher rates of religious devotion than those not doing so (62 percent versus 49 percent)
05: Atheism is most common among those who lack strong social and family bonds and have low fertility rates, according to a recent study.
Sociologist William Sims Bainbridge writes in the charter issue of theInterdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion (Vol. 1, No. 1) that the lack or weakness of social obligations reduces the need for many of the “compensators” (or rewards) that come with religious belief, such as the sense of community and other forms of social support. In an analysis of a web-based survey conducted by National Geographic and the General Social Survey, Bainbridge finds that males without children are 3.2 times more likely than women with children to be athiests (6.8 percent versus 2.1 percent).
On the statement that children should not be brought into the world due to its condition, about 25 percent of atheists agreed or strongly agreed, compared with 5.9 percent who disagreed. When asked if they would like to go to a family reunion, 15.9 percent of atheists disagreed and only 3.4 agreed. In comparing regions, 6.2 percent of the respondents from the Pacific coast are atheist compared to 3.9 percent of respondents from other regions. The National Geographic survey was not a random sample but provided a large enough pool of atheists to make comparisons within this group.
(Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion,http://www.bepress.com/ijrr)
06: The belief that a soul lives on after the body dies and watches the living may be a factor in the tendency to speak well of the dead, according to a study by University of Arkansas psychologist Jesse Bering.
In an experiment showing photographs of strangers to subjects, Bering found that they tended to modify their views of these people in a more positive direction after they learned that they had recently died. Another experiment found that a group of subjects were less likely to cheat on an exam than other groups when they learned that the (fictional) creator of the test had died and that his ghost had been sighted in the room.
Bering speculates that on a subconscious level, even those professing no belief in ghosts may have a visceral and emotional belief in this phenomenon. Both experiments suggest that “If I perceive that someone is evaluating me, whether it be my dead grandmother or God, I’m less likely to commit a transgression, possibly because I’m afraid of the consequences,” Bering says in Science & Theology News (February).
(Science & Theology News, P.O. Box 5065, Brentwood, TN 37024-5065)
07: Religion is alive and well among Indian youth, who generally seems to hold rather conservative values on family and motherland, and show pride of being Indian, according to a recent survey.
The Indian newsmagazine India Today devoted its entire Jan. 31 issue to what young, middle-class people in Indian cities “think, do and want to be.” It also paid some attention to religious beliefs and values. More than 2,00 respondents aged 18 to 35 were interviewed in 10 major cities across India.
Over 70 percent of Indian youth in those cities claim to visit a place of worship at least once a week (only 3 percent answer “never”). Even if the figure may be inflated, it still indicates a strong level of religious involvement. Interestingly, the figure is still higher in Bangalore, the high-tech capital of India: obviously, being modern and being religious is not seen as contradictory.
Another indicator which confirms the attachment of young Indians to religion is the fact that 66 percent of them report fasting for religious reasons. This does not necessarily translate into a support for politics based on religion: secular values are obviously widespread even among religious people, and most of them want a separation between religion and state. 81 percent of them want a uniform civil code for all religions in the country — an issue much debated regarding Islam in India.
— By Jean-François Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder of the website Religioscope (http://www.religion.info)
08: A pluralistic environment where Muslims are offered a diversity of religious choices may prevent the growth of extremism in such societies, according to a recent study.
In the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion (volume 1, number 1), Massimo Introvigne applies the market theory to explain the growth and decline of Muslim extremism. The market or religious economy theory, which holds that de-regulation of the religious economy (for instance, allowing greater church-state separation) encourages greater competition and allows for a higher level of overall participation, has rarely been applied to Islamic societies.
Introvigne cites the case study of Turkey as showing how Islamic diversity defuses extremism. The nation has moved from a strongly secular stance seeking to regulate Islamic groups to allowing religious expressions ranging from strict fundamentalist to liberal and secularist. A statistical analysis shows that as the Turkish religious market has become deregulated, “ultra fundamentalism” has declined as well as extremist terrorism.
Recent terrorist incidents in the nation have been attributed more to foreign influences than home-grown groups. What is unique about the Turkish example among Islamic societies is its broad range of “conservative-moderate” groups — ranging from mystical Sufi orders to nationalist yet moderate Fethullah Gulen movement.
Introvigne writes that where these groups abound and the state limits its interference, “fundamentalism is contained and ultra fundamentalism is marginalized…The situations in Indonesia and Malaysia, large non-Arab Islamic countries where the religious economy appears to be in the process of being similarly deregulated, would tend to confirm these conclusions.”
Tensions and divisions are growing among Jewish believers over the importance of Jewish rituals and evangelism to fellow Jews, reportsChristianity Today (February).
In the last three decades, Jewish-Christians have formed Messianic synagogues which uphold Jewish rituals and teachings while affirming a belief in Jesus. But now some Messianic leaders and theologians are saying that traditional evangelism and missions to the Jews are obsolete — a claim that irks such traditional mission agencies as Jews for Jesus and Chosen People Ministries.
There are somewhere between 10,000 to 30,000 Messianic Jews in the U.S., most of whom are affiliated with congregations tied to the International Alliance of Messianic Congregations and Synagogues and the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations.
Messianic Jews fear that the bridge-building work they have done with the Jewish community may be jeopardized by the confrontational style of mission groups such as Jews for Jesus. Critics in the latter groups, however, believe that Messianic Jews have “dropped the ball” regarding evangelizing Jews in their quest to be considered authentically Jewish. Jim Sibley, a Southern Baptist critic of the Messianic movement, charges that some in the movement are questioning whether Jewish people need to believe in Jesus to be saved.
The fissure can also be seen in the new book “Messianic Judaism Is Not Christianity,” which accuses the movement of over-emphasizing Jewish tradition. The different trajectories of the two movements can be seen in their approach to training leaders. The Messianic Jews have established a seminary in Ann Arbor, Mich., that stresses rabbinical training while the missions movement plans to open a New York seminary that blends Jewish studies with missionary training.
(Christianity Today, 465 Gundersen Dr., Carol Stream, IL 60188)
Southern evangelical culture and a number of other demographic factors account for the fast growth and potential national influence of Catholicism in this region, reports Time magazine (Feb. 14).
While the once-Catholic strongholds of the Northeast and Midwest are showing lower Mass attendance, parochial school closings, and the aftershocks of the sexual abuse crisis, the church in such Southern cities as Atlanta, Charlotte and Houston is booming. While still making up only 12 percent of the population, Southern Catholics saw a growth of almost 30 percent in the 1990s, compared with less than 10 percent for the dominant Baptists. More importantly, Catholics in the South are poised to influence the American church with their decidedly more conservative tone.
Influenced by their conservative Protestant counterparts and by an influx of Latin Americans, Filipinos and Vietnamese, the Southern Catholic growth could “eventually reverse national polls in which a majority of Catholics say they can disagree with church teachings, even on abortion, and remain good Catholics.
Indeed, many Sunbelt Catholics say their mission is to rescue the church from what they consider to be the murky faith of liberal Catholic figures like former Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry,“ writes Tim Padgett. The conservative nature of the Southern church could be seen in the founding of the new $200 million Ave Maria University, funded by Domino’s Pizza billionaire Tom Monaghan in Florida.
The minority status of the church and the influence of surrounding conservative Protestants often influences transplanted Northerners to adopt a more conservative and outspoken Catholic identity. New converts to the faith from Protestantism as well as the preference of new priests to work in the region suggests an influential role of Southern Catholicism in the years ahead, Padgett adds.
As psychology has moved away from a strictly scientific orientation, it has gradually become more hospitable toward religious influences, writes Paul Vitz in First Things magazine (March).
The older Freudian approach of viewing psychology, particularly psychotherapy, as an objective science has waned and today prominent psychologists locate the discipline in the humanities, and thus more related to philosophy and even theology.
Vitz, an NYU psychologist, writes that the emergence of “positive psychology,” which studies human strengths and happiness rather than only pain and weakness, has likewise given new attention to traditional virtues that are seen as preventing problems. . Such “high virtues” as wisdom, courage, gratitude, justice, and transcendence, have been addressed by religious thinkers and psychologists.
Vitz cites other external factors leading to the de-secularization of psychology: As psychology (and psychological training) has become available to the broader public (rather than just the secular upper classes) it has had to deal with their religious beliefs; once-popular concepts of “self-actualization” have been replaced by postmodern doubts about the reality and secular construction of the self; the popularity of new psychotherapeutic medications and lower cost, short-term therapies has rendered psychology more humble and pragmatic.
Vitz speculates on the emergence of a “transmodern” psychology, which will make use of “premodern wisdom.“ He cites as examples the recent establishment of academic institutes on the study of forgiveness and love, and the work of psychologist Vincent Jeffries, which revives the theories of sociologist Pitirim Sorokin, incorporating ideas of transcendence in social science theory.
(First Things, 156 Fifth Ave, Suite 400, New York, NY)