In This Issue
- On/File: May 2007
- Findings & Footnotes: May 2007
- Swiss politicians targeting minarets — or islam?
- Turkey’s secularism takes to the streets
- Secularism finding support in law and policy in Britain
- Current Research: May 2007
- Indopagans try to bridge Hindu-Pagan divide
- Church/state issues follow faith-based groups abroad
- Creation-evolution conflict goes global
01: Although Transhumanism has been largely secular, even atheistic, the formation of the Mormon Transhumanist Association suggests a new openness to religion in the movement The society, formed in 2006, was accepted as the only religious special-interest affiliate of the World Transhumanist Association.
Transhumanism, which holds that technology will radically alter human nature, has been largely anti-religious, arguing that traditional religion and values are outmoded. But more recently the WTA has acknowledged that it would like to find better ways to communicate with and understand religious persons. Mormon transhumanists believe that their religion parallels and compliments transhumanism, especially in its belief that transformed humans can attain godhood.
More specifically, the millennial teachings or Mormonism, including the concept that the acquisition of knowledge and power are accelerating and that a fundamental change in our nature and our world is imminent, are also similar to transhumanist views. Mormon transhumanists believe that their traditional values and spirituality can help counter the tendencies of elitism (where only the wealthy can have access to life-enhancing technologies) and individualism in the wider movement. (Sunstone, March)
02: The Branch, The Lord Our Righteousness is the latest incarnation of the Branch Davidians after many of its members and leader David Koresh died in a fire after an armed standoff with the federal authorities 14 years ago. The new leader of the group, Charles J. Pace, said he planned to build a museum, a tabernacle, an amphitheater and a wellness center as part of the reorganized sect.
Pace left the Branch Davidians in the mid-1980s but returned to the site shortly after the fire to live on the property and rehabilitate the church from the influence of Koresh. About a dozen believers gather in a chapel on the grounds each week for services led by Pace. The few remaining Davidians who once lived on the compound oppose Pace’s project, saying he will misrepresent the group and Koresh.
(Source: New York Times, April 15)
03: Following years of controversies and tensions, the Canadian-basedArmy of Mary has been ruled out of communion with the Roman Catholic Church, according to a declaration by the Archbishop of Quebec. The canonical status of the group had been revoked as early as 1987, and a doctrinal note of the Canadian Bishops’ Conference in 2001 had stated that the Army’s teachings were erroneous.
However, it had long retained sympathizers (including some bishops), and efforts had continued in order to bring the movement back to the Catholic mainstream. But the unauthorized ordination of five deacons by a priest (only a bishop has the power to ordain according to Catholic teachings) has finally made the Army a schismatic group, according to the statement. The group may have had up to 25,000 followers, but the current figures seem to be lower.
The case shows once again the not infrequent tensions between the Roman Catholic hierarchy and groups organized around “private revelations,” usually with strong Marian accents. With a background of apocalyptic teachings, the Army of Mary is claimed to promote its foundress, Marie-Paule Giguère, as an incarnation of the Virgin Mary (or close to it) and to see the Virgin Mary as a fourth person of the Trinity (being “in” God, although not “of” God).
The Army’s leadership shows no intent to recant. It claims to continue to be faithful to the Church. It sees the bishop’s statement as a rejection of the “Work of God” and of the “Co-Redemptrix” given by God for our times. Giguère herself is reported to consider the condemnation as an expected “crucifixion”. According to the Army’s own magazine, The Kingdom (January-February), a new, mystical Church, the “Church of John,” is now initiated and renews the “Church of Peter.”
This goes along with the calling of new apostles – hence the power to ordain clergy, leading to what seems to be a final break with mainstream Roman Catholicism.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer
01: The January issue of the journal Contemporary Sociology features a special section on religion, though in an unusual manner. The journal asked sociologists of religion Andrew Greeley, Michelle Dillon, Helen Ebaugh and Daniel Olson, to review the same group of books dealing with changes in American religion (including Mark Chaves‘ Congregations in America, R. Stephen Warner‘s A Church of Our Own and Robert Wuthnow’s America and the Challenge of Religious Diversity) Not surprisingly, the result is somewhat repetitious, yet the different approaches of these scholars also reveal distinct trends and perspectives from such recent literature. For more information on this issue, write: Contemporary Sociology, 1307 New York Ave. NW, Suite 700, Washington, DC 20005-4701.
02: While there seems to be no end to books dealing with religion and science, particularly relating to the role of biology and neuro-science in belief, there are few works presenting much original research on these topics. David Hay’s Something There: The Biology of the Human Spirit(Templeton Foundation Press, $19.95) is an exception to this tendency. The book is also unique in affirming both Darwinian biology and the validity of spiritual experiences. Hays follows in the trail of his mentor Alister Hardy, an Oxford University zoologist who collected and studied thousands of spiritual experiences.
Along with categorizing and analyzing such accounts, Hay presents the results of more formal surveys he has conducted, particularly a study in 2000 where he found unexpected and sharp increases in the percentages of people claiming spiritual experiences from a 1987 survey, even while their religious involvement declined. Hay argues that people are not experiencing more spiritual experiences today; rather, people feel more “social permission” and less stigma in admitting to such experiences.
Hay adds that many people still use religious language to describe spiritual experiences, including secular individuals. The most common experience seems to be a presence felt during times of extreme distress and joy. Hays recounts the alternative explanations of evolutionary (as a leftover adaptation) and psychological theories (as a mistaken perception), and views them as incomplete and even biased. His concept of “primordial spirituality” holds that spiritual awareness is rooted in our physiological and evolutionary makeup. Hay concludes by advising churches to take seriously these spiritual experiences and foster contemplative prayer and meditation.
03: Religion and Social Justice for Immigrants (Rutgers University Press, $24.95) brings together-relatively short and diverse essays on religious commitment to social justice and faith-based resistance among U.S. immigrant communities. Edited by Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo, the book pays special attention to religion as an inspiration for civic action.
Contributor Stephanie Nawyn also reminds us that the “majority of organizations that resettle refugees in the United States are faith based.” Three chapters deal with challenges on the US-Mexican border, including the role of local clergy in migrant sending communities, who now sometimes incorporate migrant counseling in their pastoral services. While all religious workers working on the border want to pursue justice and create a just society, they do not all interpret the social teachings derived from their Christian faith in the same way, writes Cecilia Menjívar. Yet an interfaith “ethic of refuge,“ connecting common teachings of the major world religions, has emerged, according to Nawyn.
Some chapters focus on immigrants and their descendants. Janelle Wong describes young Asian American evangelicals as strongly involved in parachurch organizations on campuses and they, like other evangelicals, tend to be more conservative than their peers. But there are signs this might change; the Asian American evangelical community may be supportive of campaigns for immigrant rights, though not when it comes to issues such as abortion or gay and lesbian rights.
While different from other chapters in the volume, a fascinating contribution by Janet Hoskins reports how Vietnamese Caodaism (an indigenous, syncretist religion incorporating elements from non-Vietnamese religious traditions) has adapted in California. Some Caodaist refugees temporarily accepted “paper conversions” to Christianity, while young people experimented with available offers on the spiritual market. Committed Caodaists have, however, finally rebuilt a community, appropriating local religious elements (the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith being one of them) while universalizing Caodaism.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer
New tensions between Muslims and the Swiss society are evident in the wake of a recent proposal by a number of politicians to have minarets banned at Muslim places of prayer in Switzerland. Provided that 100,000 Swiss citizens declare their support by November 2008, there will be a national vote on the issue.
The politicians should easily manage to get the required number of signatures, since the proposal is supported by several MPs of Democratic Center Union, one of the four leading parties in the country, as well as by MPs of the Democratic Federal Union, a minor, but quite active evangelical political party, launched in the 1980s. If a majority of Swiss citizens would approve, the following sentence would be added to article 72 of the Swiss Federal Constitution: “The building of minarets is forbidden.”
At this point, only two mosques have minarets in Switzerland. None are used for calls to prayers, as they are only decorative elements. Recent plans to build minarets at some other places has given rise to strong local reactions. The supporters of the move to ban minarets claim their initiative has nothing to do with an infringement on religious freedom, but should be seen as an attempt to preserve (constitutionally-guaranteed) peaceful relations among followers of different religions in the country.
They allege that minarets actually are statements of “religious-political” power. Mainstream (i.e. Roman Catholic and Reformed) churches do not support the project to ban minarets. Behind the initiative, observers discern both reactions against immigrants and latent fears about the development of Islam in the country as well as across Europe.
A country without a colonial legacy, Switzerland had a few thousands Muslim residents in the early 1960s, but through immigration the number had reached 310,000 (more than 4 percent out of a total population of 7.3 million residents) at the time of the 2000 federal census.
— By Jean-François Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder of the website Religioscope (http://www.religion.info)
While Turkey has long been a secular nation seeking to restrict religious and particularly Muslim public influence, recent events have provoked a more activist and populist expression of secularism. The New York Times(May 6) reports that the candidacy of Abdullah Gul, a Muslim, has inflamed secularist fears of Islamic political influence, leading to massive demonstrations.
The protests were also over proposed constitutional changes which would allow the people, rather than Parliament to elect the president, likely increasing the chances of Gul being elected. The military has stated it would move against the government if religion was allowed to enter too far into politics. At a recent conference at the New School for Social Research, attended by RW, Turkish sociologist Nelufah Gole said that the demonstrations show how secularism has changed.
Rather than the state being the main actor, secularism has permeated the Turkish middle classes (also seen by the fact that the large demonstrations have taken place in more pluralistic Istanbul as well as in the secularist bastion of Ankara). Gole said that such engagement in street politics by the middle classes is new for Turkey, where marginalized groups usually take to the streets.
That the demonstrators display Turkish flags and use nationalist rhetoric, and that the events are organized by women’s groups may result in an unusual “feminine coup,” Gole added. Women (among others) have reacted strongly to the fact that Gul’s wife wears a head scarf. Yet Gul’s move through the political ranks (and his moderate views) may ultimately show the upward mobility of Muslim Turks, as many have transformed themselves from “Islamists to conservative democrats,” Gole concluded.
While Britain has become increasingly secularized in recent years, it is only recently that the loss and even opposition to religiosity is finding expression in laws and public policy, writes Jonathan Luxmoore inCommonweal magazine (April 20).
Among the laws increasingly challenging religious rights and a public role for religion in Britain is a recent bill requiring that Catholic adoption agencies place children with gay and lesbian couples. An equally controversial Education Bill amendment would have required Catholic and other church-owned schools and colleges to reserve at least a quarter of their places for non-religious children. The legislation was only withdrawn after Catholic and Anglican leaders said they would create such a space voluntarily.
Meanwhile, social services in several counties are reported to have denied adoption rights to Christian couples, after claiming the children in question could be “brainwashed,” according to Luxmoore. A new Charity Law is expected to withdraw tax-exempt status from religious bodies that fail to reflect “`modern morals and existing orthodoxy,’ ” even as Christian Union societies at British universities have had to resort to legal action after being denied facilities and having their bank accounts frozen for their views on homosexuality.
Luxmoore writes that an “anti-religious elite,” led by such a figure as scientist and atheist activist Richard Dawkins are accelerating this process of secularization. Dawkins and the National Secular Society have called for removing all financial support for religious schools and even have questioned the right of parents to “indoctrinate their children.” Dawkins’ views have found support in Parliament, with a Labor Party Humanist Group recently established to “oppose faith schools.”
(Commonweal, 475 Riverside Dr., Rm. 405, New York, NY 10115)
01: The achievement gap between white and minority students, as well as between children of high- and low-socioeconomic status, is considerably narrower in religious, mostly Christian, schools than in in public schools, according to a recent analysis. In an article in theInterdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion (Vol. 3, 2007), William H. Jeynes of California State University finds that it is particularly in the case of African-American and Latino children who are religious and come from intact families when compared to white students where the achievement gap disappears.
Jeynes analyzes the National Education Longitudinal Study and finds that children in the lowest socioeconomic-status (SES) quartile who attend religious schools achieve at higher levels than do the children in the lowest SES quartile who attend public schools. In fact, children in the lowest SES quartile benefit from attending religious schools more than do students in the other SES quartiles. (http://www.religjournal.com/pdf/ijrr03003.pdf)
02: New research suggests that increasing percentages of Hispanics are dropping out of churches as they assimilate to American society. Those who identify themselves as secular are a small minority; but unlike many other secular Americans, many of the Hispanics say they were once religious, writes Laurie Goodstein in the New York Times (April 15).
Citing studies from the recent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the Pew Hispanic Center, the article notes that eight percent of Latinos report no religion, similar to 11 percent of the general public. Of the Hispanics who claimed no religion, two-thirds said they had once been religious. Hispanics from Cuba were the most secular group (14 percent), followed by Central Americans (12 percent), Puerto Ricans and Dominicans (at 9 percent), and South Americans at eight percent.
Mexicans were the least likely to say they had no religion (at 7 percent). Another study by Keo Cavalcante of James Madison University also found a trend toward secularization among Hispanics. He notes that “When people get here they realize that maintaining that pro forma display of religiosity is not essential to doing well.”
03: A recent survey of American Buddhist organizations finds they are more diverse and more conventional than might be expected. The survey, conducted by Buster Smith of Baylor University among 231 Buddhist centers, found 31 different forms of Buddhism, with the most frequently selected being Pure Land, Mahayana, Theravada, Vajrayana and Soto Zen. Eleven percent of the centers identified with two or more Buddhist schools or movements, writes Smith in the Review of Religious Research (March).
The most common countries of origin of the centers were the United States, Japan and Vietnamese, while the most common languages were English, Japanese, and Vietnamese. In other ways there was more uniformity: most of the members represented the older segment of society (48 years-old and older). Most were also married. Smith also found that, contrary to stereotypes, 37.7 percent of the centers do not offer meditation sessions, and 21.2 percent do not offer formal religious services at all. Yet the large majority (77.6 percent) of the centers actively seek new members. .
04: Ukraine has consolidated as the only European example of the denominational competitive market model developed in the U.S, according to sociologist Jose Casanova. Twenty years after his first analysis of the Ukranian religious landscape, Casanova revisited the subject in a recent talk at the Hariman Institute of Columbia University, which RW attended.
Casanova asserted that Using 2004 data to support his findings, Casanova explained that Ukraine’s religious activity has not developed in the state church model, but under a pluralist pattern in which competition and acceptance of other churches have been the norm, as the state remains secular. This scheme, which originated in the U.S., has among its features the existence of formally equal and competing “denominations” that co-exist in a relatively free and open system.
While in Europe the model has usually been either that of one national Church symbolically linked with the nation, or that of two competing churches that are territorially based (usually Catholicism and Protestantism), Ukraine stands out as the closest case to the American model. As of 2004, the country had a total of 28,626 religious communities, 27,447 of which were Christian. Of these, 8,149 were Protestant, 4,203 were Catholic and 15,005 were Orthodox of some sort.
According to Casanova, the religious arena in Ukraine is one of the few countries in which civil associationism exists, based on community self- organization and a relative openness to difference. It is not that non-religious people are converting but that there are shifts within the religious community. There are neither overarching cleavages nor territorial boundaries that determine religious affiliation to the four major churches in Ukraine (Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, Orthodox Christian, and Protestant).
Among the reasons for these similarities between Ukraine and the U.S. Casanova stressed the fact that the structural conditions at the time of their gaining independence were similar, and that there is a certain flexibility of identities in Ukraine that is unusual in Europe. Although Halychina (in Western Ukraine) seems to be the only region in which the competitive model fully works, Casanova stated that there is some competitive presence of all churches in all regions of the country.
— By Marisol Lopez Menendez, a doctoral candidate in Sociology at the New School for Social Research
While there have been efforts to encourage dialogues and cooperation between Hindu and Neopagan groups and leaders as common “indigenous” religions, the project has not had much success (with Hindu critics charging that the two religions have as many differences as similarities; see October, 2001 RW).
But now Neopagan practitioners have taken matters into their own hands, forming their own “IndoPagan” rites and communities. An article in the Pagan journal PanGaia (Spring) reports that various Neopagans were worshipping and venerating various Hindu gods and goddesses privately for 20 years before they began to recognize and organize themselves, largely through the Internet.
In an informal survey distributed to Indo-Pagans, writer Devi Spring finds that Hindu deities have not been popular in Neopagan or New Age circles, largely because American practitioners usually venerate the European deities related to their own ethnic backgrounds. Among IndoPagans there is a wide variety of practices and views on adopting Hindu practices. Some try to separate Hindu rituals from Indian culture and practices. Others adopt such Indian Hindu practices as ritual worship known as Puja, which is conducted in Sanskrit.
The need for an authorized Hindu clergy for the performing of rituals is also a divisive issue among IndoPagans. But IndoPagans are said to be creating a viable subculture, with websites providing resources (such as at: http://indopaganproject.tripod.com) and communities such as SHARANYA, The Maa Batakali Cultural Mission in San Francisco, which holds rituals and study groups and provides clergy training.
(Pan Gaia, 207 Main St., Point Arena, CA 95468-0641)
Although faith-based organizations within the U.S. have received the most funding and controversy, government funding of these groups abroad is raising similar church-state questions. In the Review of Faith & International Affairs (Spring), Robert B. Lloyd writes that in 2002 President Bush issued executive orders that would eliminate barriers from faith-based organizations abroad getting funds from the United States Agency for International Development, the main agency for international foreign assistance.
Although most of the federal funding for faith-based organizations has been spent on the domestic level, the amounts given to foreign FBOs have increased, with the Catholic Relief Services (71 percent) and World Vision (23 percent) receiving the highest percentage of government revenue.
The sticky issue for faith-based groups are the requirements the USAID has laid down in order to receive funding, especially those restricting money to any specific religious activity and prohibiting religious discrimination in employment. Lloyd studied one foreign FBO to ascertain how such funding may change a faith-based organization. The official from this (unnamed) group claimed that such funding has brought closer scrutiny of international activities from church/state watchdog groups.
But such pressure has not affected its faith identity at “higher levels“ of the organization. Other FBOs may not preserve religious hiring rights so they can accept contracts. In contrast, an FBO may, for example, take the abstinence part of a contract for AIDS services and subcontract the part providing condoms to another organization.
(The Review of Faith & International Affairs, P.O. Box 14477, Washington, DC 20044)
The conflict between evolutionists and creationists is increasingly making itself felt in a diversity of countries around the world, reports The Economist (April 21). While creationism and the related intelligent design movement has suffered legal setbacks in the U.S., the critique of evolution is evident everywhere from the Muslim world to the Christian “Global South” and Russia.
A recently published creationist tome entitled the “Atlas of Creation” is being distributed throughout French-speaking Europe, though its author Adnan Oktar is a charismatic Muslim preacher from Turkey who has a wide following in the Islamic world. Another Turkish Muslim writer Mustafa Aykol has forged ties with intelligent design proponents in the U.S., and sponsored a recent conference in Istanbul criticizing Darwinism.
In Russia, the Orthodox Church has waded into the controversy, publicly supporting a family who (unsuccessfully) sued the education authorities for only teaching evolution. A spokesman for the Patriarchate claimed that there was little substantial evidence for the theory of evolution. In Brazil and Kenya, evangelical churches have both agitated against public teaching and expression of evolution. In Kenya, the conflict has pitted evangelicals against local Catholics, who support an exhibit of the skeleton of a prehistoric human being known as Turkana Boy.
The Catholic Church itself has sent out ambivalent and divided messages about evolution. Staunch evolutionists, such as former Vatican observatory director George Coyne, now vie with other authoritative Catholic thinkers and Vatican officials who favor a teaching called “convergence,” which is similar in some ways to intelligent design, stressing divine design far more than random selection.