In This Issue
- On/File: November 2003
- Findings & Footnotes: November 2003
- Liberal houses feed spiritual hunger for secular Israelis
- French religious symbol conflict takes new legal turns
- Current Research: November 2003
- Catholic publishing consolidating, feeling conservative effect
- A new alliance amidst continuing concerns for American Muslisms
- Immigrant religions conflicted over civic involvement
On/File: November 2003
01: The National Clergy Council is an increasingly influential player in the New Christian Right.
Led by anti-abortion activist Rev. Rob Schenck, the council is said to represent 5,000 conservative ministers across the U.S. and was instrumental in the protests surrounding the removal of Alabama’s Chief Justice Roy Moore’s Ten Commandments monument. The Moore protests have given new prominence to the council and to a more conservative wing of the Christian right that favors a return to biblically-based laws and symbols in government.
One sign of Schenck’s influence are the miniature plaques inscribed with the Ten Commandments that he has distributed to 400 politicians in Washington, asking them to pledge to work towards a government rooted in Mosaic moral law and “Judeo-Christian ethics.” The council is also lobbying for the legislation of the Ten Commandments Defense Act, which would permit the commandments display on state property, and a constitutional amendment banning gay marriages. (Source: Washington Monthly, October)
02: Archbishop Peter Jasper Akinola of Nigeria has become among the most important leaders in the Anglican communion.
Akinola, known as an uncompromising traditionalist, emerged on the world scene last summer when he led other conservative Third World Anglican bishops in opposing the move to ordain gays and lesbians and bless same-sex ceremonies in churches in North America and Britain [He recently cut off communion with the Canadian diocese of New Westminster for its approval of same-sex ceremonies.]
In the past Akinola had generally advised his conservative colleagues to work quietly for internal reform and not to disrupt traditionally autonomous Anglican jurisdictions (such as by overrding bishops in the U.S. to oversee American traditionalists) . . . but the accumulating gains of the gay rights movement in the West and his perception that approving such changes will weaken Christianity in its contestation with Islam in Africa may have compelled Akinola to assume this new conservative leadership position.
(Source: Atlantic Monthly, November)
03: The Hilla School of Religion in Iraq considers itself the Arab world’s only school of theology teaching Muslim, Christian and Judaic texts. The experimental school, founded six months ago by Shiite scholar Sheikh Farqad al-Quzwini and housed in the former Saddam Hussein Mosque in Hilla,, breaks from the tradition of Shiite orthodoxy in several ways.
The school has tried to reinterpret Islam by creating a curriculum that addresses the theological concerns of the three monotheistic faiths. The school’s 230 students study the texts of the world religions as well as seek insights from secular culture and science to find solutions problems in the Muslim world.
(Source: Christian Science Monitor, Oct. 7)
Findings & Footnotes: November 2003
01: Mattias Gardell’s impressive new book Gods of the Blood: The Pagan Revival and White Separatism (Duke University Press, $23.95) finds that such notorious white supremacist and anti-Semitic groups as the Ku Klux Klan and Christian Identity have been pushed aside as an “old man’s religion.”
The most cursory glimpse at white-racist publications, Web pages, and white-power lyrics reveals muscular heathens, pagan gods and goddesses, runes and symbols, magic, and esoteric themes in abundance.” Gardell, a Swedish historian of religion, writes that white supremacy has become further radicalized as it has moved away from its traditional themes of patriotism (as seen in many groups’ largely supportive stance of the Sept. 11 attacks) and Christianity. He notes that there is considerable diversity and fragmentation among these racist pagans, not to mention the many non-racial pagan groups:
For instance, Norse pagan or “Asatru” organizations can include groups stressing non-racial practices; those stressing ethnic roots and self-sustaining communities, though not necessarily white supremacist; and hard-liners admiring Hitler, national socialism and, in some cases, even endorsing Satanism and violent action.
The Norse-based Wotansvolk movement is clearly based on white power and has won a growing following in U.S. prisons. Gardell concludes that these groups are a global phenomenon (though based on an American model), and that it makes little sense anymore to speak of them as part of the “far right,” since they also include leftist elements such as ecology and anti-capitalism.
02: In Main Street Mystics: The Toronto Blessing and Reviving Pentecostalism (AltaMira Press, http://www.altamirapress.com; $26.95), sociologist Margaret Poloma examines how a revival in a charismatic church in Toronto led to a new wave of revival and change in the Pentecostalism throughout the world. Paloma recounts the incidents surrounding what has been called the Toronto Blessing or laughing revival (leading worshippers to break out laughing) at Toronto Airport Vineyard Church in 1994 (eventually called the Toronto Area Christian Fellowship — TACF — after the church was ousted by the Vineyard association).
Paloma’s discussion of Pentecostal practices and teachings and how they can be interpreted sociologically in the first half of the book is interesting but doesn’t seem to apply directly to the Toronto Blessing phenomenon. The second half of the book, however, is very good in showing how these events are changing Pentecostalism, including: the emergence of “prophets” (such as Rick Joyner) and the “democratization” of prophetic utterances (which were once quite infrequent) that became institutionalized in many churches in the post-Toronto Blessing (after 1996) period. In spreading around the world, the blessing has been incorporated into a national youth ministry known as The Call, as well as instrumental in the birth of social action ministries, such as Blood N Fire, a ministry to street people.
Paloma finds that the TACF continues to be a pilgrimage site for the world’s Pentecostals and charismatics, even demonstrating an outbreak of gold flakes allegedly falling upon members. The book is unique in mixing sociological theory and observation with the argument that theological and spiritual explanations cannot be ruled out. Poloma herself is a charismatic, although she attempts to “bracket” her beliefs when examining these developments.
Liberal houses feed spiritual hunger for secular Israelis
The escalation of the Intifada and the loss of faith in Zionism in Israel have spurred a movement of secular Israelis engaged in a study of Jewish texts and a search for religious identity.
At the SSSR conference, Adina Newberg of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College presented a paper on the growth of liberal Jewish houses of study (known traditionally as Beit Midrash) in Israel. These informal groups study an accepted Jewish text, such as the Talmud or Torah and relate it to the search for personal meaning outside of conventional Judaism. There are now over 80 such liberal Beit Midrash programs–often with their own staffs– and they are gaining attention for their successful attempts to expand Jewish education and identity to a largely secular segment of Israeli society.
In interviewing participants, Newberg finds that the decreasing relevance of secular Zionist ideals for Israeli identity along with uncertainty and fear over the present Intifada, has led to the interest in tracing one’s Jewish roots, ” even while maintaining their “secular, humanistic, pluralistic thinking and lifestyle.” While many participants may start out with a curiosity about Jewish texts, they often find themselves identifying more with Judaism and developing an interest in social action — from volunteering with tutoring programs to working on issues surrounding the Intifada.
Newberg says that “The next step beyond the Jewish texts study in terms of ritual practice is also happening to a more minor degree,” with some expressing an interest in religious services, though without traditional observances. The programs mainly draw well-educated Ashkenazi Jews (descenents of Jews from Western Europe), though there is an attempt to bring them to Middle Eastern Jews and even Arabs.
French religious symbol conflict takes new legal turns
The wearing of a scarf by Muslim girls at French schools has been an ongoing topic of controversy since the 1980s. But the situation has gained new intensity in October, after two Muslim girls were barred from going back to (government) school because they refused to remove their scarves.
There have been many articles and TV shows in France related to the case. The case raises again the issue of legal regulations regarding the use of religious symbols in French public schools. Currently, the situation may be different from one school to another, since the decision is left to the local school authorities, following a legal decision in 1989.
The issue revolves around the question of whether the scarf (or any religious symbol) is “ostentatious” or is used for the purpose of “proselytizing.” There are different ways to apply those rules. A report in the daily La Voix du Nord (Oct. 23) showed that principals in the same city in Northern France accepted the scarf under certain conditions in one school and refused it as a matter of principle in another one. Support for girls who want to wear the scarf is practically non existent in the political class, since most French politicians tend to associate it with fundamentalism. Moreover, even among believers among politicians, the principle of state secularism is more or less unanimously accepted.
Some politicians believe a law might be needed in order to ban “ostentatious religious signs” in schools, reports Le Figaro (October. 28). Others fear a law might make Muslims feel targeted, leading them to open separate schools. Justice Minister Dominique Perben suggested that the fact that the two girls were expelled from the school clearly showed that it was possible to act without a law. In addition, according to monitoring by French intelligence agencies, the number of Muslim girls who want to wear the scarf at schools is said to have decreased over the past ten years and to be down to a few hundred cases every year.
In no other Western European country has the scarf issue at school created such controversy. It is related both to mixed reactions in France toward a large and growing Muslim presence, and to the complex legacy of sometimes heated church-state issues since the French Revolution. The Muslim factor has become one element in a debate on the future place and role of religion in French secular society.
— By Jean-François Mayer
Current Research: November 2003
01: More Americans than might be expected are impacted by the growing religious diversity in the U.S., although interfaith acceptance is not necessarily a byproduct of this reality, according to a recent survey.
At the conference of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, Princeton University sociologist Robert Wuthnow presented findings from his new Diversity Survey, noting that even a relatively small proportion of non-Christian religious adherents may exert a large presence in society. The survey, conducted among 2,910 people, found that 48 percent of the public claimed to have had at least some personal contact with Muslims; 35 percent, with Hindus; and 34 percent with Buddhists. Eight percent of the public claims to have attended a Muslim mosque, ten percent at Buddhist center or temple, and six percent at a Hindu temple.
Wuthnow notes that these figures are considerably larger than the percentages of Americans in the 1970s who experimented with Eastern new religions. “In short, there is a kind of cultural awareness, undoubtedly forged as much by television and motion pictures and by international travel and cultural mixing as by recent trends in immigration, which far exceeds and transcends the actual numbers of Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist adherents,” Wuthnow says.
The impact of such diversity may be evident in the finding that 54 percent of the American public thinks all religions are equally true, though in the same survey, 58 percent also agreed that “Christianity is the best way to understand God.” More problematic was the view of 47 percent of respondents who said that the word “fanatical” applied to the religion of Islam and 40 percent said the word “violent” did. Nearly one quarter (23 percent) said they favored making it illegal for Muslim groups to meet in the U.S. for worship. While perceptions of Hindus and Buddhists were more favorable (only about one-quarter of respondents regarded these two faiths as fanatical), one person in five still favored making it illegal for these groups to meet.
02: Religion served as an important resource for Americans, particularly in volunteering, directly after September 11, according to a new study presented at the conference of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.
The survey, conducted by Kraig Beyerlein of the University of North Carolina and Dan Myers of the University of Notre Dame, found that 27 percent used their congregation as a special gathering place during the tragedy. Those attending a religious prayer service were one and a half times more likely to donate to some cause surrounding Sept. 11.
Church attendance was found to be a significant predictor for volunteer work. Such high attending groups as white evangelicals were 3.5 times more likely to be involved in volunteer work and blacks were six times more likely to be involved.
03: Hispanic Catholics are less likely to leave the church than white Catholics, according to a recent study. In a survey of 982 Catholic adults, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University found that 81 percent of Hispanics remained Catholic in contrast to 72 percent of whites.
But cradle Catholic Hispanics who do leave the church are more likely to convert to another faith while white dropouts tend to remain unattached to any faith.
04: Demographic trends will deeply transform the geopolitical landscape over the next 50 years, a trend having consequences in the religious field, predicts French demographers Jean-Claude Chasteland and Jean-Claude Chesnais in the October issue ofFuturibles, a French journal of future studies.
World population is unlikely to pass the threshold of 10 billion, in contrast to prospects of 12 to 15 billion often mentioned in the 1970s. Aging will become increasingly significant not only for Western countries, but in many other parts of the world as well: there will be on the planet three times more people over 60 by 2050. Asia will continue to be the most densely populated continent, but China will no longer have the largest population in the world: around 2035-2040, India is expected to take first place and might have more than 1.5 billion inhabitants in 2050.
The U.S.should remain number three in terms of population, and this will contribute to an increase in their supremacy compared to aging Europe, Russia and Japan.
For the West in general, however, there might be a more important development than the growth of Hinduism in India. In around 2020, for the first time in history, there will be more Muslims than Christians; moreover, in average, Muslims will be significantly younger than Christians. In 2050, there will be more inhabitants in Iraq or Saudi Arabia than in Italy. Chasteland and Chesnais suggest that this will pose serious problems in terms of peaceful coexistence in areas such as Southern Russia, the Mediterranean and large European cities, especially since migrations can only be expected to increase toward richer areas experiencing a demographic decline.
Regarding the Jewish population, the two French demographers estimate that it will continue to grow in Israel, but continue to decline (and possibly experience an accelerated decline) in countries such as the United States and France, a development which could also have strategic consequences.
— By Jean-François Mayer (Futuribles, 55 rue de Varenne, 75007 Paris, France – Website:http://www.futuribles.com)
05: An economic study of education and fertility in five nations suggests that Indonesia and parts of India show high rates of Islamic radicalism.
At the recent SSSR meeting, economists Eli Berman of the University of California at San Diego and Ara Stephanyan of Rice University found that there is a connection between rates of fertility,education and religious radicalism in the five countries they studied: Indonesia, Bangladesh, India, Cote d’Ivoire and Pakistan.
For families sending their children to Islamic schools, the secular value of their educations is lower than other kinds of schooling while their fertility rate is higher. This pattern, as in the case of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel, may lead to government subsidies for this population, intensifying radicalism and challenging secular governments.
Using fertility and Islamic schooling rates as variables, Berman and Stephanyan estimate the prevalence of radical Islamic groups to be as low as two to three percent in Pakistan and rural Bangladesh to a fairly high 14-16 percent in Indonesia and in the India states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
Catholic publishing consolidating, feeling conservative effect
American Catholic publishing houses are in the process of consolidation to make up for declines, but it appears that conservative publishers are faring better, reports the online newsletter, Religion Bookline (Oct. 21). Consolidation in the Catholic market seems to be the order of the day, with Ave Maria acquiring the Thomas More, Christian Classics and Forest of
Peace imprints this summer and SAMP purchasing Charis in September. Liturgical Press’s Peter Dwyer predicts there will be more consolidation and noted that Catholic publishers “want the economies of scale, and we’re all sharing the same customer anyway. But it’s also about the maturing of a certain kind of publishing. Smaller, more progressive Catholic publishers run out of steam from time to time, so they get sold or consolidated.”
Dwyer notes that it is the conservative publishers who are on the rise. He adds that “The country has become more conservative generally. That may be nearing its peak, but who knows?” Meanwhile, there has also been a decline in the Catholic grad student publishing market due to the declining number of those entering the priesthood. But books on faith formation programs for laity — who are taking over many parish duties — are growing.
Another Catholic publisher finds less interest in pop spirituality; adding that “people are looking for higher level books than in the past.” He cites Paulist’s “Classics of Western Spirituality,” which is being used as a religion course text in secular universities.
A new alliance amidst continuing concerns for American Muslisms
There are new ties between the American Muslim community and the FBI even in the midst of continuing fears and tensions among Muslims after Sept. 11.
An outreach campaign launched by the FBI is intended to show the Muslim community a “less threatening visage” than investigations and `voluntary interviews’with more than 8,000 Middle Eastern men following the attacks of 9/11. The Baltimore Sun (Oct. 27) reports that some FBI agents note a sense of partnership is emerging after the trust-building efforts of the past two years. Regular meetings with Muslim groups continue to take place. Members of the Muslim community have also come to see that there are advantages in cultivating such relationships. And the FBI itself has a strong interest in recruiting new agents and translators from the Muslim community.
But there is currently a more immediate concern for Muslims, and one which is also linked to the campaign against terrorism. During the holy month of Ramadan, which began this year in late October, Muslims are obligated to give generously to charitable organizations. Because several Islamic charities were investigated following 9/11, many Muslims are afraid they might get into trouble when fulfilling their religious obligation, reports Maureen Hayden in the Evansville Courier & Press (Oct. 27).
Actually, direct donations to Muslim charities are said to have declined by 20 percent in 2002. At a recent meeting with Justice Department officials, representatives of Muslim communities say they suggested to develop more practical guidelines than the ones currently offered, which have had negative effects on donations for helping Muslim countries. It has also been suggested to unfreeze $8 million in assets of the three suspected charities in order to give these funds to US-approved Muslim charities.
— By Jean-François Mayer, RW contributing editor and founder of the website Religioscope (http://www.religioscope.com)
Immigrant religions conflicted over civic involvement
The growth of immigrant religions in the U.S. has often been associated with increasing civic involvement as congregations create “social capital” (skills and resources) for their members to participate in their wider communities.
But recent studies suggest that other dynamics and demands made upon congregations may not always generate expected civic commitments. At the late October conference of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (SSSR) RW attended in Norfolk, Va., three presentations highlighted some of the ways that immigrant congregations and religions may resist or struggle with civic involvement.
In an analysis of the Putnam Social Capital Benchmark Survey of nearly 29,000 Americans, Elaine Howard Ecklund of Cornell University and Jerry Z. Park of Notre Dame University found the data on Asian-Americans showing a mixed picture when it comes to civic involvement. Asian-American Christians were more likely to volunteer in non-religious activities than other Asian-Americans. Participation in church activities, including attendance, appears to lead to greater involvement with their community (outside of the congregation).
With some surprise, Ecklund and Park found that those involved in Eastern religious traditions are no more likely to participate in their communities than are the unaffilated. The researchers speculate that it may be that Christian congregations are more established and accepted in American society and provide an easier way to volunteer with others than more ethnic Eastern religious groups.
While Eastern Orthodoxy has been present in the U.S. for well over two centuries, new waves of immigration in the 1990s may be reviving the strong ethnic and cultural dimensions of these churches. One consequence of this process is the decreasing civic involvement of Orthodox churches in wider American society. That was one of the conclusions of a presentation by Russian sociologist Alexey D. Krindatch at the SSSR. In presenting results from a study on Eastern Christianity in North America completed in 2000-2002 (more information is available at:http://hirr.hartsem.edu/research/research_orthodoxindex.html), Krindatch finds that about 40 percent of the membership of the Eastern Orthodox churches studied (Ukrainian, Albanian, Romanian, Syrian and Russian jurisdictions) are first-generation immigrants, thereby increasing the role that ethnicity plays in parish life.
This is also leading to new conflicts between older Americanized members and new immigrant members [see last month’s cover article on converts and ethnic parishes] and to more opposition among clergy to inter-Christian marriages (between Orthodox and Christian) and ecumenical activities.
Most of the churches surveyed showed a low level of interest in active social participation in wider American society, and in many cases social services (such as soup kitchens) that are provided by the parishes are frequently offered exclusively to the members of the parish and not to all members of the surrounding community. Krindatch expected that the greater the duration of a U.S.-born group or parish in the U.S., the more involvement they would have in society.
But the influence of a parish’s particular ethnic heritage and “mother church” [most U.S. Orthodox churches are still tied to the national churches of their origin] have more influence than the duration of their presence in the U.S. Krindatch found that even American born priests reflect these traditional views because clergy “are more likely to be found among those persons for whom the keeping of traditional ethnic culture and identity is of essential significance.”
Although not focusing on Islam and civic life, Ihsan Bagby’s presentation of a survey of Muslims also suggest a pattern of resistance to integration into mainstream American society and political life. In a survey of six mosques with 600 respondents, the University of Kentucky’s Bagby found that 28 percent of leaders and 26 percent of laity strongly agree that America is immoral.
Two-thirds of all respondents agree that America is corrupt. Those taking the Koran most literally and Sunni Muslim groups were the most likely to agree that the U.S. is immoral, while African-American Muslims showed the lowest rate of agreement. Bagby did find that those agreeing with the statement that the U.S. is immoral tended to show lower political activiity. But this greater reluctance to be politically involved did not translate into rejection of all community involvement.
Bagby’s conclusion may apply to other immigrants showing resistance to integration into American civil life: “They’re negotiating their position in the dominant culture….It’s not so much isolation as insulation. They go into society but want to be insulated from the negative effects of U.S. society, just as Catholics and Mormons did before them.”