In This Issue
- On/File: November 2001
- Findings & Footnotes: November 2001
- Jamaat-i-Islami — Islamism in Pakistan in a time of crisis
- Evangelicals divided in France, losing momentum in UK
- Hindu-Neopagan alliance more dream than reality
- Current Research: November 2001
- Rome warming to decentralized church?
- Religious schools — popular and pluralistic
- Sept. 11 sparks steady spiritual concern among readers
- Islamic extremism addressed by US Muslims after Sept. 11
- Are American Muslim groups aiming for an Islamic theocracy?
- Sept. 11 as a millennial event
The Museum of World Religions, which will open its doors on Nov. 9, will not only collect the sacred texts, art and other materials from faiths around the globe, but will also serve as another attempt to bring religions together in dialogue and cooperation.
The Taiwan-based museum is similar to other recent efforts, such as the United Religions Initiative and the World Congress of Religions, in seeking to foster spiritual unity between denominations, only this time there is definite Buddhist inspiration in this endeavor. The museum is the creation of Zen Buddhist monk Hsain Tao, leader of a Taiwanese Buddhist monastery. Stretching over nearly 86,000 square feet, the $66 million museum will hold exhibits for children and adults, seminars with religious leaders and dance and music performances.
Hsin Tao says “I want this museum to serve as a safe haven and platform to facilitate dialogue, not just be a static place only for exhibitions. It will be a living entity where religious and spiritual leaders from around the world can meet to discuss and try to resolve differences.”
(Source: New Age magazine, November/December)
01: The fall issue of Daedalus, the journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, is devoted to religion and ecology.
The issue looks at the whole spectrum of world religions and how they (through their teachings as well as practices) relate to environmental concerns. The opening article by Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim sees an emerging alliance developing among the world religions over creating a “sustainable future,” citing ecumenical and papal statements as well as documents coming from interfaith gatherings. The stress throughout the issue is on building a consensus among the different religions on environmental issues and there is not much discussion of the religious divisions and differences emerging from religious involvement in the movement (such as between conservatives and liberals over different concepts of God’s relation to nature).
An interesting concluding chapter discusses how Confucian thought is being reworked to include ecological concern. This new “Confucian Humanism” seeks harmony between “heaven, earth and humans” that leads to treating “all living beings with respect and consideration,” writes Tu Weiming.
This issue costs $9.95 and is available from: Daedalus, 136 Irving St., Suite 100, Cambridge, MA 02138-9655.
02: Church on Sunday, Work on Monday (Jossey-Bass, $23.95), by Laura Nash and Scotty McLennon, looks at the popular spirituality in work movement as well as the impasse between churches and business people.
The book, based on in-depth interviews of business people and clergy, holds that the new spirituality in business programs (where meditation and other spiritual practices are incorporated into generic and 12-step spiritual teachings) are popular and successful because traditional churches have failed in ministering to laypeople in the corporate world. Nash’s and McLennon’s research finds that clergy and churches tend to depict business and capitalism as a negative force to be fought or they just ignore members’ work contexts and focus on relationships.
The authors provide a valuable overview of spirituality in work teachings and authors (listing them in the back of the book), noting that these programs are largely effective in providing a spiritual element in the midst of a competitive and materialistic environment, even if they lack the depth of traditional religions.
A militant Islamic movement active in Pakistan and in other parts of the world shows the divided state of Muslims close to the scene of battle, even as they close rank during the U.S. attacks on Afghanistan.
Formerly associated with the Programme for Strategic and International Security Studies in Geneva, and currently Director of the French “Centre de Sciences Humaines” in New Delhi, Frédéric Grare’s new book Political Islam in the Indian Subcontinent looks at the role of the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI). an important Islamic political movement on the Indian subcontinent. The JI was founded in Lahore in 1941 by Abul Ala Mawdudi, a major ideologue of contemporary Islamic activism.
Though pan-Islamic and anti-nationalist in its aspirations, the JI had to adjust to the realities of national states and to accept “Islamic nationalism” as a first step toward the later establishment of an Islamic system. Sometimes courted as a useful partner by people in power in Pakistan, the JI proved unable to go beyond the role of an eternal opponent (as its poor electoral performances indicate, about 5 percent). “Its function of legitimizing Pakistan is getting eroded with the gradual development of a still uncertain but real Pakistani national identity,” Grare writes
The JI is not only active in Pakistan and other parts of the subcontinent (including Kashmir, where it maintains its own armed branch fighting against the Indian forces). It is also present in the Muslim diaspora, especially in South Africa, in the United States (through the Islamic Circle of North America) and in Great Britain, where it is the inspiration behind the Islamic Foundation, Leicester, one of the major intellectual centers for the spread of militant Sunni Islamic thought. In an interview with RW, Grare commented upon recent developments in the subcontinent and their impact upon Pakistani Islamism.
“There is little in common between the Taliban and the Jamaat,” explains Grare. The way in which the Taliban are ruling Afghanistan emerged from practical experiences, and not from a strong ideological background, as is the case with the JI. The JI had been deeply involved in Afghan affairs and in the support for the jihad against the Soviet Union, but then lost its influence when the Taliban took control of Afghanistan. If the Taliban would lose power in Afghanistan, Grare does not expect the JI to recover its former role: However, the Jamaat finally decided to join the Pakistani front supporting Afghanistan after the recent developments.
Grare identifies several reasons for that move. “The JI was afraid to see more radical movements taking the lead, but there is also a very real anti-Americanism among a majority of Pakistanis. It is likely too that the JI did not want to leave the monopoly of the defense of Afghanistan to its arch-rival, the Jamaat-Ulema. Finally there is a sincere sympathy for the Afghan people, seen rightly or wrongly, as the main victim of the events.” Political Islam in the area appears as highly militant, but also divided and fragmented.
— By Jean-François Mayer.
At a conference on the “European dynamics of evangelicalism”, which took place on Oct. 11-13, at the University of Lausanne (Switzerland), French scholar Sébastien Fath indicated that there is a rapid rise of Pentecostalism in France.
While there were only a few thousands Pentecostals in France 50 years ago, there are now about 200,000 of them, belonging either to the Assemblies of God or to the thriving Evangelical Gypsy Mission. There are currently about 350,000 Evangelicals in France (including Pentecostals); they make up one-third of French Protestants. The landscape of French evangelicalism remains heterogeneous. The issue of Pentecostalism continues to be divisive among French Evangelicals, according to Fath’s observations.
In addition, as in other countries around the world, many small charismatic churches have appeared since the 1970s, with microstructures going against the trend toward larger structures. Evangelicals remain a minority within the mainline French Protestant Federation (FPF). One of the major issues for the future will be the discussion on the inclusion or non-inclusion of the Assemblies of God in the FPF. If its 100,000 followers would become part of the main organization bringing together French Protestants, the balance between the various currents within the FPF would be strongly modified.
In a paper discussed at the same conference, Steve Bruce of the University of Aberdeen remarked that even historically conservative Protestant organizations have declined in recent decades, although more slowly than liberal denominations. It seems that their slower declining rate may be attributed to their superior ability to retain members rather than to draw huge numbers of new recruits. But there is growth in other sectors. If one leaves out churches recruiting among immigrants as well as groups outside the Christian mainstream (significant growth of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons), Pentecostal groups and charismatic “house churches” have experienced the most impressive increase.
But independent evangelical associations and white Pentecostal churches have recently been experiencing a decline in attendance, too. New Charismatic churches have exploded indeed, but tend to lose their distinctiveness due to the relaxation of authoritarian structures. Bruce expects them to move in the denominational direction. If one is allowed to extrapolate from previous waves of change, they will then some day also begin to experience the pattern of decline.
— By Jean-François Mayer, lecturer on Religion at the University of Fribourg and freelance writer and researcher.
The dialogue and cooperation between Hindus and Neopagans that have taken place in the past few years may run into more snags than proponents of either tradition might expect.
In Hinduism Today (September/October), Koenraad Elst writes that the common concerns for polytheism and indigenous spirituality among both Western Neopagans and Hindus has been viewed by leaders of these religions as the basis for a new alliance. Yet differences between these traditions are pronounced enough to jeopardizing such cooperation, he writes. Neopagans are firmly countercultural in lifestyle, with their liberalized sexual ethics clashing sharply with Hindus, particularly those outside India, who value traditional family life and have more in common with the “prudish morality of Christian evangelicals.”
The vegetarianism of Hindus is based around the taboo of touching and eating animal tissue in a state of decomposition — different from the Neopagan health and ecological approach to vegetarianism (and many Neopagans revel in meat-eating and hunting). The absence of beliefs similar to the Hindu teaching of reincarnation and the lack of meditative spirituality in many Neopagan groups are other obstacles that may derail a Hindu-Neopagan alliance.
(Hinduism Today, 107 Kaholalele Rd., Kapaa, HI 96746-9304)
01: Far from being a substitute for institutional religion or an incubator of new religions, religious involvement on the internet is a supplement to many believers’ already-strong church involvement, according to a Ball State University study.
At the recent conference of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (SSSR), sociologists George Saunders and Joseph Tamney presented a paper showing a high correlation between active involvement in conservative Christian churches and use of the Internet for religious purposes. The survey, conducted among 621 Muncy, Indiana (known as “Middletown” for the many surveys conducted in the city to gauge American public opinion) residents, found that the greater the church attendance, the greater the use of the Internet for religious purposes.
Being a conservative Christian was a major predictor for religious Internet use–80 percent of the users fell into this category. Mainline Protestants who have a literal view of the Bible and Catholics who attend Mass frequently (a key indicator for conservatism among Catholics) also tended to use the Internet for religious purposes more than liberals and non-believers.
The findings contrast with studies by the Barna Research Group and others holding that Americans will use the computer as a substitute for institutional religious involvement. Use of the Internet for spiritual edification may be similar to those watching religious television; both users tend to use such media to supplement their faith. In fact, religious Internet users tended to be the same ones also watching religious television.
02: The Catholic practice of naming one’s children religious names, such as after saints, increases with religious participation and age.
A study by Paul Perl and Jonathon Wiggins of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University (CARA) also found that public expressions of Catholic devotion, such as wearing ashes in public and displaying images of Mary in one’s house also tended to increase the likelihood of naming one’s children after a saint or biblical figure. Perl and Wiggins, who presented their paper at the SSSR conference, noted that the survey was conducted among 1,277 Catholic parents.
03: Use of contemporary worship tends to help a church grow more, but it may also leads to conflict and eventual decline in mainline congregations, says a recent paper presented by Kirk Hadaway and Penny Long Marler at the SSSR conference.
Use of contemporary music and other features of worship designed to be relevant to the unchurched works best in churches that have strict expectations of members and in areas where this type of worship is seen as innovative (such as the Northeast). The contemporary style often clashes with mainline teachings and the attempt to impose it, especially by clergy new to the congregation, tends to result in long-term conflict and decline.
Other favorable environments for contemporary services are older downtown churches and churches that have a large ministry to families.
04: Clergy of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are more politically liberal than their counterparts in other mainline churches — except when it comes to the pulpit, according to a recent study presented at the SSSR conference.
The survey, part of a study on clergy and politics at Calvin College, found that ELCA clergy were more likely to be Democrats than clergy in any other mainline body, with two-thirds saying they were politically liberal Lutherans, traditionally considered “quietistic” or passive in social action, were also just as likely to be involved in activism as other mainline clergy.
Dan Hofrenning of St. Olaf College, who led the study, found that ELCA clergy differed from the liberal political attitudes and activism of other mainline clergy only in that they tended to keep their political views out of the pulpit, reserving their preaching for more spiritual and scriptural themes. Another study presented on the conservative Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod found the traditional quietistic position among its clergy more evident. There was little connection between doctrinal orthodoxy and support and involvement in Christian right activism — a correlation strongly evident among such evangelicals as Southern Baptists.
05: In the ongoing attempt to determine how many Muslims live in the U.S., a new study claims that the figures have been inflated, finding only between 1.9 million and 2.8 million.
The study, commissioned by the American Jewish Committe and conducted by the National Opinion Research Center, compares its findings to the estimates of six to seven million Muslims used by Islamic groups, the media, and many U.S. officials, reports the Jerusalem Post (Oct. 24).
06: Canada is undergoing a religious revitalization that is not only impacting the evangelical churches showing the most growth, but is gradually buoying up mainline and Catholic bodies, says sociologist Reginald Bibby.
At the SSSR conference, Bibby presented findings showing clear signs of continued evangelical growth– due mainly to these churches’ ability to keep their children and hold on to members. More noteworthy is that there are stirrings of growth in the once-declining sectors of mainline and Catholic churches. Among the mainline churches, the steep decline in the proportion of mainliners attending services weekly stopped, remaining steady at about 15 percent.
For the first time in three decades, the proportion of mainliners who are active in their churches remained fairly constant between 1990 and 2000. The fact that 15 percent of the people identifying with mainline churches continue to be actively involved “means that younger adults have been taking the place of older in sufficient numbers to at least sustain their collective 15 percent level,” writes Bibby.
The percent of young adult mainliners attending weekly grew from four percent in 1990 to nine percent in 2000. Among Catholics outside of Quebec, the number of active participants has remained “remarkably stable,” despite a large drop in weekly attenders. Quebec continues to show serious secularization, though there is no sign of large-scale switching to other bodies, and there is an upswing among those demanding rites of passage, such as religious funerals and weddings.
Decentralization of church leadership appeared to be a dead issue under the conservative papacy of John Paul II, but there are signs that high church officials, including the pope, are open to more local control in the church.
The New York Times (Oct. 21) reports that a number of bishops, particularly those from the West and Australia and New Zealand, brought up the subject of local control at a Vatican conference last month and are receiving encouraging signals from the curia. When asked if the pope was open to decentralizing the institutional church, a high ranking Vatican official close to the pontiff, answered, “In many ways, yes.” He said that the pope was particularly prepared to consider such changes as giving the local church more say in the way that bishops were chosen (though changes affecting doctrine and morals were ruled out)
Most bishops from Latin America at the conference regularly wanted discuss more traditional matters, such as the bishop’s role as model and teacher. But reporter Melinda Henneberger concludes that “the fact that so many of the nearly 200 bishops [at the conference], most of them promoted under this pope, are advocating structural changes and receiving encouraging signals in return represents a potentially significant shift for the church.”
Meanwhile, a debate on these very issues has broken out inside the Vatican between two of the pope’s right hand men, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, watchdog on doctrine, and Walter Cardinal Kasper, newly appointed head of ecumenism. Kasper maintains that Ratzinger has misinterpreted Vatican II teachings to stress centralization over collegiality and consultation between and among bishops and the pope.
Christian and even Jewish and Islamic schools are seeing a growing number of students from other faiths enrolling, reports the Wall Street Journal (Oct. 12).
“As parents worry more about moral guidance for their children, Catholic, Jewish and other faith-based schools are seeing a wave of interest from students of other religions. At Episcopal academies, enrollment by non-Christians is up almost 40 percent since 1995. Despite flat overall enrollment at Catholic schools, the number of non-Catholics has doubled in some places,” writes Nancy Ann Jeffrey. The new openness stems both from financial need as well as an interest in increasing diversity at these schools. Some Christian schools have hired diversity consultants to make sure their programs are friendly to Jews, Muslims and Hindus.
One Jewish school drawing African-Americans, put a black Baptist minister on staff to minister to students. A Catholic school in Indianapolis now celebrates Jewish holidays as a gesture to the six percent of students who are Jews. The combination of a spiritual atmosphere with diversity is seen as a marketing tool to draw those parents disenchanted with secular education and for others considering private schools.
But the new diversity is being criticized as weakening religious schools’ identities, making parents and students who picked their schools for its religious beliefs feel like outsiders, reports Jeffrey.
“While some general-interest publishers are trying to promote attack-related titles carefully to avoid appearing to be baldly mercenary or opportunistic, religion publishers, while also concerned with taste and sensitivity, are less shy,” reports Publisher Weekly’s Religion Bookline (Oct. 9), a newsletter on religion and publishing.
Since concern with spiritual and emotional needs is at the center of their work and religion is at the center of the Sept. 11 tragedy, religious publishers are “not ashamed of their efforts to get books that can help into the hands of those who need them.” Sales of Bibles and Korans spiked sharply in the weeks following the attack, with one of the largest Bible publishers (Zondervan) doubling its normal shipping volume Every store in the Family Christian Stores, the largest Christian book chain, sold out its books on Islam, and on Sept. 17 alone, sales of prophecy titles increased 80 percent in a category that had been down 28 percent
Chicago-based Kazi Publications, an Islamic publisher and distributor, usually sells about 5,000 copies annually of Suzanne Haneef’s “What Everyone Should Know About Islam and Muslims”; it received that many orders in the two-week period after Sept. 11. Its sales of the Koran also strongly increased. Islamic bookseller and wholesaler Halalco reported a “marked increase” in its sales of the Koran and general books on Islam.
The newsletter adds that it “remains to be seen how long-lasting the effects of September 11 will be on consumer tastes But some investors are placing their bets that consumer interest in religion books will continue to be even stronger than it has been in recent years (a period that saw religion become one of publishing’s healthiest categories):” Thomas Nelson Publishers has seen its stock price gain 17.4 percent in the past few weeks, in the midst of a composite decline of 5.3 percent for the 20 companies listed on the Publishers Weekly Stock Index.
Mike Hyatt of Thomas Nelson, told the newsletter that “Historically, religion publishers have done well in troubled times. People are looking for comfort, consolation and answers.”
The topic of Muslim extremism, once downplayed by American Muslims for fear of encouraging prejudice against Islam, is receiving new attention in the U.S. Islamic community in the wake of Sept. 11, reports the San Jose Mercury News (Oct. 23).
“Slowly, and for the first time,” American Muslims are “talking publicly about issues previously confined to the mosque or other private settings: the difficulty of criticizing or breaking ranks with other Muslims, and the threat of Islamic extremism.” Hamid Mavani, an Oakland cleric, says Muslims need to root out intolerant preaching at local mosques. “We’ve underestimated the rhetoric. I think we need to give these people an ultimatum.”
After Sept. 11, major Muslim groups, such as the American Muslim Council, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, issued statements condemning the attacks and protesting against a backlash against Arabs and Muslims. Critics such as Stephen Cohen of the Brookings Institution say there has not been “much talk about community responsibility for this.
A lot of the perpetrators lived in Muslim communities in the U.S.” Some Islamic leaders add that legitimate grievances over such foreign policy issues as the U.S. stance on Israel, has entered everyday discourse, inculturating many into an anger against America. Other leaders say that there is no need for U.S. Muslims to comment on bin Laden and other militants’ statements, since the majority reject such extremism in the first place.
Shaykh Hisham Kabbani of Islamic Supreme Council, who has been in the forefront of seeking to expose the condoning and tolerance of extremism among American Muslim groups [see last month’s cover story] says the fiery rhetoric at mosques is partly cultural. He says of his home country Lebanon, “People there, they fight, they shout, and then they have a good laugh.”
Most American Muslims may condemn violence, but their organizations are actively supporting, or look favorably upon, creating a Muslim state in the U.S., writes Daniel Pipes in Commentary magazine (November).
Pipes, a Middle Eastern specialist, writes that an ambition to create an Islamic America has taken root among a growing number of Muslim groups and educated believers. This outlook is spelled out in a popular book (unavailable in book stores but widely available on Muslim web sites, such as: http://www.halaco.com/dawah.html) by Shamim A. Siddiqi known as “The Need to Convert Americans To Islam.”
The book, published in Brooklyn, claims that since the U.S. is the major world power, representing Christianity and liberalism, it is necessary that Islam be established there, and then “God’s Kingdom” would no longer be a “distant dream.” Because violence would be counterproductive in achieving such goals, it is eschewed by most of these activists, Pipes adds.
The book outlines steps to creating “Islamic rule,” including increasing the number of Muslims through aggressive proselytism, and, more importantly, extending Islamic influence through laws and other political and legal means. The strategy would be to increase Muslim presence in the public square (for example, broadcasting the Islamic calls-to-prayer over loudspeakers), seeking financial aid and other legal accommodations for schools and other organizations and, finally, imposing its system of law.
While Pipes calls this vision far-fetched, he writes that the majority of U.S. Muslim organizations — if not American Muslims — agree with Sidiqqi’s goal of building an Islamic state in America, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Islamic Society of North America, and the Muslim Alliance of North America.
(Commentary, 165 E. 56th St., New York, NY 10022).
The Sept. 11 tragedy has been described as nothing short of apocalyptic, but some scholars view the term less figuratively in describing the motives of Osama bin Laden and terrorists associated with him.
At the recent meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (SSSR) in Columbus, Ohio, Catherine Wessinger of Loyola University said Sept. 11 fits into the pattern of revolutionary millennialism — “the most dangerous kind of millennialism… and the most difficult to stop.” While many analysts do not view bin Laden as having a goal other than warfare against the U.S., Wessinger said that it is clear from the terrorist leader’s writings and speeches that he views his actions as bringing about a unified Islamic nation ruled by sharia, or Muslim law.
Like other revolutionary millennialists, bin Laden and other terrorists see themselves and the Islamic nation as persecuted by America, as they call for supporters to strike out against the persecutor.
The millennial and apocalyptic views of bin Laden and his associates are brought out even stronger by Richard Landes in an article on the web site of the Center for Millennial Studies (http://www.mille.org). Landes writes that bin Laden views the war with Israel and the West as “the ultimate struggle.” Bin Laden shares with other apocalyptic terrorists the view that “the current sociopolitical world [are] great tectonic plates in immense tension, and if the agent of apolcalyptic destruction can only set off an explosion at the very site where that tension is the greatest, they can free the fault line to completely realign the world.” Bin Laden’s apocalyptic reading of Islam dates back to 1979 when Khoumeini took over Iran with plans to launch a perfect theocracy.
It has since passed from Shi’ite to Sunni Muslim hands, taking on Western apocalyptic elements in the process, including biblical themes and sophisticated communication technologies. Such popular Muslim books as Saudi theologian Sifr al Halawi’s “The Day of Wrath,” (http://www.azzam.com/htm/dayofwrath.htm) demonstrate that at the approach of the year 2000, the “Christian year became increasingly significant for Muslim apocalyptic writers, who mixed conspiracy theory, UFO’s, and classic Muslim and Christian apocalyptic to target Israel, and especially their control of the Temple Mount as the center of the cosmic battle.”
Landes concludes that “A Zionist coalition of Christians and Jews, led by al Dajjal (Islam’s `Antichrist’ figure), would trample Al Haram al Sharif in Jeusalem, triggering the final battle. The `Al Aqsa’ intifada, started in the year 2000 in reaction to the desecrating visit of [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon, set in motion the attack of Muslim forces against the apocalyptic enemy of Israel.
The attack on the U.S. strikes at the other `twin tower’ of Western evil.”