In This Issue
- Findings & Footnotes: November 2006
- Oucastes find growing Hindu acceptance in India
- Religion in China — between communist reaffirmation and liberalization
- WCC facing competition, new funding patterns
- Current Research: November 2006
- Noahides — growing movement or potential jewish converts?
- African and American Christianities — how far apart?
- Researchers gauge ‘spiritual capital,’ youth religion, synagogue innovations
01: The 50th anniversary issue of Christianity Today magazine (October) features several noteworthy articles on the present and future of evangelicalism.
Historian Mark Noll provides a succinct look at how the stress among evangelicals has shifted from preserving tradition to one of connecting with the culture. Along with interviews with such evangelical leaders as Billy Graham and John Stott, 114 evangelical leaders–from the evangelical left to right–are surveyed about future directions of the disparate movement.
Their forecasts cover such issues as globalization and the rise of churches in the global South, the problems of presenting an “exclusive gospel” to a pluralistic society, a possible backlash against conservative Christians, and the growing sophistication and internationalism in addressing economics and public policy.
For information on this issue, write: Christianity Today, 465 Gundersen Dr., Carol Stream, IL 60188
A recent issue of Panchjanya, a weekly published by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), has suggested that Dalits (i.e. outcastes) and other members of the less respected classes in Indian society should be trained and appointed as head priests at major temples around the country, according to the Times of India (October 30).
Hindu tradition reserves priestly functions for Brahmins. According to the editorial, erasing the caste lines would reinforce Hinduism. Such a statement from the group which has been for decades the driving force of Hindu nationalism is not as surprising as it may seem: the RSS and associated groups have for long seen the attitude toward lower castes as an element weakening Hinduism and put emphasis upon national unity, which implies abolishing such divisions.
However, it is not always easy to put such aspirations into practice even in the private lives of members (intercaste marriages, etc.). It remains to be seen how actively the RSS will actually promote such projects.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer
There are contradictory trends in Chinese policy toward religion, according to China specialist Roman Malek: On the one hand, China would like to integrate mainline religions as contributions to the building of a harmonious society; on the other hand, there are attempts to revitalize the Communist ideology at a time of economic development, Malek notes in Glaube in der 2. Welt (October).
The Communist leadership seems to be concerned about the growth of religious activities among Party members: according to an analysis published in the Hong Kong based periodicalZhengming, out of 60 million members, up to a third are involved in some kind of religious practice. The Party leadership has reminded its members that they are not supposed to be religiously involved.
Signs of religious revival in China may reflect more complex developments than it may seem at first. An article by Graeme Lang and Lars Ragvald in the current issue of Fieldwork in Religion (Vol. 1.3, 2005) looks at the construction and reconstruction of Buddhist, Daoist and folk-religion temples since the 1980s and finds that many of them have been built to attract tourists and investors as well as to assist economic development and to assert local cultural histories.
Some have been dramatic failures, not attracting the expected crowds of pilgrims and tourists. There have been cases where temple managers have introduced new features in order to make the temples more attractive to local people. In some cases, two deities have been merged into one figure. According to Lang and Ragvald, people with an entrepreneurial rather than a religious background have been the most successful builders and managers of temples, thus apparently confirming the religious economy paradigm in contemporary Chinese settings.
Meanwhile, some groups declared illegal, such as Falun Gong, remain a target of Chinese state policies. Accordingly, a growing number of Chinese asylum seekers in the West are claiming to be persecuted Falung Gong members. This is currently the case with a third of Chinese asylum seekers in Germany, reports the newsletter Entscheidungen Asyl (9/06). This is accepted as a ground for asylum under certain conditions, but civil servants having to deal with the cases now need to familiarize themselves with Falun Gong’s teachings and practices in order to assess such applicants and their relations to Falun Gong.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer
(Glaube in der 2. Welt, Postfach 9329, 8036 Zurich, Switzerland (http://www.g2w.eu) — Fieldwork in Religion, Department of Theology and Religious Studies, The University of Chester, Parkgate Road, Chester CH1 48J, UK, published by Equinox (www.equinoxpub.com). — Entscheidungen Asyl, http://www.bamf.de)
Changes in funding, as well as a new assertiveness of Roman Catholicism and the growth of Pentecostalism ,are posing serious challenges to the international ecumenism of the World Council of Churches (WCC).
TheHarvard Divinity Bulletin (Autumn) reports that traditional donors to the WCC who “have been willing to do their development work through WCC are increasingly doing their own work independently. This reality is reflected in a budget that has fallen 30 percent since 1999.” But in the face of such financial problems, the council has maintained its controversial social activism, though, unlike in earlier years, the focus is less on issues of race and politics than those of globalization, economic priorities and military engagement. At the same time, there is a new emphasis on reaching youth, as shown by the recent General Assembly, which was rife with discussion, advocacy, and papers targeted to this age group.
But the main challenge is finding new ways to include the growing Pentecostal churches and to strengthen relations with the Catholics. While the Catholic Church under Pope Benedict has maintained a level of involvement with the WCC, it is also increasingly pursuing its own bi-lateral relations with the Orthodox, thus creating a conflicting ecumenical vision to that of the council.
The Orthodox, meanwhile, are deepening their work with the council, even if more traditionalist wings of these churches protest such involvement. At the same time, Petersen finds a “growing desire for rapprochement between evangelicals and the ecumenical movement, perhaps as led by Latin American and African Pentecostals.” In fact, increasing Orthodox leadership, with their more traditional approach, may encourage such new evangelical participation.
(Harvard Divinity Bulletin, 45 Francis Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138)
01: Charismatics, even more than their Pentecostal counterparts, comprise a growing percentage of the world’s Christians, according to a new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
The study is the largest of its kind, including surveys of 10 countries with sizeable Pentecostal and charismatic populations. The study distinguishes charismatics from Pentecostals in that the former, whom they call “renewalists,” either do not belong to formal Pentecostal denominations or claim the charismatic label while engaging in such practices as speaking in tongues. In every country except Nigeria and Kenya, renewalists outnumbered Pentecostals. The largest charismatic populations were in Brazil (34 percent of the population), Guatemala (40 percent) and the Philippines (40 percent).
The study found that speaking in tongues is not as common among either Pentecostals or charismatics as commonly perceived. In six of the 10 countries surveyed, at least four-in-ten Pentecostals say they never speak or pray in tongues. Pentecostals are more likely to say they have experienced or witnessed divine healing.
In nine of the countries, at least half of the Pentecostals and charismatics said Christians should be involved in politics. While in seven of the 10 countries, Pentecostals supported separation of church and state, there were significant minorities (and majorities in Nigeria) who say the government should take special steps to make their country a Christian nation. Fewer than half of charismatics in every nation expressed this view. (For a copy of the report, visit: http://pewforum.org/docs/print.php?DocID=160)
02: Faith-based social service initiatives are more likely to gain a foothold in states with a strong evangelical presence rather than states where the welfare burdens are the greatest, according to new research.
Faith-based social services initiatives began at the federal level in the late 1990s but have had an uneven reception at the state level, according to Rebecca Sager of the University of Arizona. In her unpublished research, Sager focuses on the growth of state legislation on faith-based initiatives and on state conferences and liaisons mediating between religious organizations involved in social services and state governments. Laws passed regarding faith-based social services tend to occur in states with a strong evangelical presence rather than states that “show the most need for improved social services,” she writes. The same goes for liaisons. 34 states have liaisons who either directly fund faith-based groups or focus on bringing these groups information in order to obtain funding.
Sager found that most of these liaisons tend to be evangelical Protestants, about half of whom are African-American, and they are strongly tied to like-minded church networks. Sager writes that religious groups with less liaison representation and information may be left out of the faith-based funding loop. The states also sponsor faith-based conferences that are often tailored to black religious leaders. Sager found that “religious exhortations are used by the leaders of the conference to engage the audience and inspire religious responses, and [that] religious expression in the small groups at the conferences is encouraged.” Since only a few states have allocated any substantial funding to state offices of faith-based initiatives, Sager concludes that the end result of this activity may be creating a permanent role for religion in state governments and creating new allies and actors for the movement rather than actually assisting the poor and needy.
03: The longtime gap between liberal clergy and conservative laity on politics may be widening but in the opposite direction, according to a recent study. Baptists Today magazine (October) cites a survey by Ellison Research that finds that 62 percent of all senior pastors in Protestant churches describes themselves as politically conservative, while 23 percent are moderate, and 15 percent are liberal. Among all adults who regularly attend Protestant churches, 38 percent describe themselves as politically conservative, 45 percent as moderate, and 17 percent as liberal.
As might be expected, the new gap between conservative clergy and liberal laity is most clearly seen in evangelical denominations, such as the Southern Baptist Convention and various Pentecostal groups. In the SBC, 47 percent of the laity are conservative, 39 percent moderate and 14 percent liberal. Meanwhile, 86 percent of Southern Baptist pastors are conservative. In Pentecostal churches, 49 percent of the laity is conservative compared to 73 percent of the clergy.
The old divide between liberal clergy and conservative laity still holds in the Lutheran and Methodist churches. Twenty nine percent of all Lutheran clergy are liberal compared to 14 percent of the laity. Just 12 percent of the Methodist laity are liberal while 35 percent of the clergy are liberal. Presbyterians are the only major denomination where the clergy and laity are equally divided between liberals and conservatives. However, a majority of all clergy believe their views are about the same as the views of their congregations.
04: The rate of decline in churchgoing in Britain is slowing as immigrants are helping to replace some of the dropouts, reports The Tablet (September 23).
The English Church Census conducted by Christian Research found that the steep declines of the 1990s have leveled off. The Church of England registered an 11 percent decline between 1998 and 2005, a smaller loss than earlier in the decade, while black Pentecostal churches grew by 34 percent. But the United Reformed Church showed a sharp drop of 43 percent (from 121,000 to 69,900 between 1998 and 2005) and the Catholics suffered a loss of 28 percent in Mass attendance. Most churches showed a growth in immigrants and non-white church-goers.
05: The decline in church attendance in Britain is matched by a significant drop in Christian organizations, according to Quadrant(November), the newsletter of the Christian Research Association.
From a peak of 5,500 Christian agencies or organizations in 1995, the number has slowly dropped to 5,000, a decline of 10 percent over 10 years. The newsletter adds that the “actual movement, however, is greater than these numbers suggest, since over the last two years 524 agencies have closed while 474 new ones have opened.” The agencies, 57 percent of which are registered charities, tend to close when they are in the process of finding a successor to their founders. While there are fewer agencies, more staff is employed by them. (Quadrant, Vision Bldg., 4 Footscray Rd., Eltham, London SE9 2TZ UK)
06: Eighty percent of Russians describe themselves as Christians, but only 14 percent adhere to the doctrine of the Trinity, according to a recent survey conducted by the Sociology Department of the State University of Moscow.
Novosti news service (October 31) reports that only 23 percent of the sample (of more than 6,000 people) consider rituals as important and 69 percent do not see attending church as important. Family, health and friends are the three most important values. The number of Russians who say they are religious has grown significantly since the 1980s, but few of them seem to be practicing: Orthodox Christians who regularly go to confession and communion remain around two percent, writes Novostipolitical commentator Vladimir Simonov (October 8).
— By Jean-Francois Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder of Religioscope (http://www.religion.info)
A movement of gentiles observing some aspects of Jewish law and teachings is becoming more organized, thanks to the growing support of some Jewish groups. Moment magazine (October) reports that the Noahide movement is made up largely of ex-Christians (and usually ex-evangelicals and ex-fundamentalists) who adopt the Jewish concept that before the Ten Commandments, God ordained “seven laws of Noah,” involving general laws of morality and monotheism, to be observed by non-Jews.
Michael Kress writes that there have been “Righteous Gentiles” who have centered their belief around Judaism throughout history, but today these individuals are beginning to “organize as a worldwide movement.” There are “hundreds, maybe even thousands of Noahides,” and a growing number of websites, study centers and associations devoted to the cause, such as Root & Branch and Noahide Nations.
In order to bring the fragmented movement together, a High Council of B‘nai Noah was founded, with the support of some Orthodox Jewish leaders. The Orthodox Jews, particularly the Lubavich Hasidim and its outreach arm Chabad, have been in the forefront of promoting the Noahides. Believing that Righteous Gentiles are required to help usher in the coming of the messiah, Chabad rabbis have worked to bring a structure and unity to the movement. They have created a Noahide prayerbook and liturgy of lifecycle rituals, such as funerals and naming ceremonies.
Rabbis are also working on a text on which Jewish laws do and do not pertain to Noahides (they usually are almost as observant as Orthodox Jews). But some observers doubt whether the Noahides can flourish as a movement apart from mainstream Judaism. University of Toronto theologian David Novak predicts that Noahides will either eventually return to their original faiths or convert to Judaism: “If you want rabbis to tell you what to do, why not convert to Judaism? It’s an untenable situation.”
(Moment, 4115 Wisconsin Ave., N.W., Washington, DC 20016)
Recent denominational divisions and talk of the rise of the “global South” in Christianity suggest that the two continents are virtually worlds apart when it comes to Christian belief and practice. Philip Jenkins, whose books have popularized this scenario, is of the view that Africa in particular will eclipse Western Christian influence. In a recent lecture sponsored by the Institute on Religion and Public Life in New York attended by RW, Jenkins stressed that on beliefs, sources of authority, and a whole range of other issues, the African approach to Christianity is alien to that of the Western Christian.
He singled out Africans’ approach to the Bible (the topic of his new book, The New Faces of Christianity), arguing that their tribal and pre-modern backgrounds gives them special access to the Old and New Testaments. The biblical themes of blood sacrifice, atonement, poverty, and supernatural occurrences and forces strike a special chord among Africans. Even among African feminist and activist Christians the call for liberation is often inseparable from a belief in deliverance from evil spirits. Jenkins concluded that all of this adds up to inevitable rifts between African and American churches, the most serious being an “unavoidable” split between the Episcopal Church and African Anglican churches.
A somewhat different assessment on the relationship between African Christianity and U.S. churches is offered in the new book, Freedom’s Distant Shores (Baylor University Press, $29.95), edited by R. Drew Smith. The collection of essays tends to support the view that, in Smith’s words, the “American Protestant mission involvement in Africa is hardly at an end.” Smith takes a strongly “post-colonialist” approach, arguing that American churches and foreign missions and parachurch organizations, particularly Pentecostals and charismatics, continue to exert a mainly negative cultural and political influence in Africa. He documents the support of televangelists, such as Pat Robertson, and other American conservative (and in some cases African-American) Christians for Christian African political leaders, such as Frederick Chiluba of Zambia. Smith sees a connection between such church support and the U.S. government’s relations with regimes that “could serve as counterweights to Islamic militancy.”
Church historian Matthews Ojo provides a more qualified account of American influence in the massive expansion of Pentecostalism in Nigeria. Ojo writes that U.S. Pentecostals did have a major role in the Pentecostal revival in Nigeria in the 1970s, but then indigenous and regional factors rapidly took over. By the mid-1990s, Nigerian Pentecostalism had created larger networks “reliant upon Nigeria rather than the United States.” He concludes that “Overall, the interconnections with American Pentecostalism have enabled the Nigerian Pentecostal organizations to develop sophisticated entrepreneurial strategies, to venture into the world of modern media technologies, to develop elaborate networking within and outside Africa, and to appropriate American faith [or prosperity] theologies in support of a broader attitude of religious triumphalism.”
Nico Koopman writes in another chapter that the issue of race that held together mainline and liberationist-minded American churches and theologians and South African Christians has faded with the dismantling of apartheid. What appears to be creating new ties and interests for South Africans is the American attention to “public theology”–how theology relates to the institutions and values of civil society.
Religion scholars gave their brethren an early look at several new studies of the American spiritual landscape at the annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, which convened October 19-21 in Portland, Oregon.
Presenting the latest figures was David Campbell, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame and the research partner of Robert Putnam, the Harvard University professor and author of the much-discussed book Bowling Alone. Putnam and Campbell head up the Spiritual Capital Research Program, a Templeton-funded study that includes a just-completed telephone survey of 3,000 Americans, followed by core studies of religious congregations across the nation.
Campbell said his team has found that what American do before they eat is a “robust predictor” of all kinds of other attitudes and actions. About half of those surveyed said they say grace daily before meals, while the other half of the sample said they never or almost never say a prayer before dinner. Putnam and Campbell, who have devised a new system to measure “religiosity,” have found that conservative evangelicals are not the most religious members of the American citizenry. Mormons and black Protestants captured the gold and silver medals in that competition.
Their research also disputes the conventional wisdom that political activity is rampant in conservative religious congregations in the United States. Far below half of respondents in all denominations and movements reported political activity in their churches. On top of that, Campbell said “liberals are more likely to get political cues in church than conservatives,” although “not too many of them can be found in church.” Campbell declined to provide detailed statistics to RW, citing the publication of an upcoming book on their new data, which was just gathered in the summer of 2006.
“Spiritual Capital” was also the focus of another ongoing study outlined at the Portland conference. It’s called “The Transmission of Religion Across Generations: Spiritual Capital in Multigenerational Families Today.” Led by two researchers at the University of Southern California, Vern Bengston and Donald E. Miller, this project analyzes 35 years of data collected from 3,000 individuals from 350 multigenerational families. Family members have been surveyed every three years about their perceptions of social values, relationships, personal goals and physical and psychological health.
USC researcher Gary Horlacher presented his findings on “Patterns of Change in Religions Identity over Time.” His analysis divided the respondents into three spiritual categories: Faithful Followers, Lost Sheep and Prodigals. Lost Sheep, “those who left the religious denomination of their upbringing,” were the largest group, representing nearly 48 percent of those surveyed. Just over 37 percent were Faithful Followers, people who maintained their religious affiliation.
Nearly 15 percent were Prodigals, those who left the fold, but later returned. Nearly 70 percent of the Lost Sheep were “one-time switchers,” meaning they changed their religious affiliation a single time. Those Lost Sheep were three times more likely to wander off in a more liberal direction, rather than join a more conservative religious congregation. In a separate analysis of the data, USC researcher Casey Copen looked at the “Transmission of Religion Across Three Generations.” She found that grandmothers have a direct effect on the religiosity of their grandchildren, especially upon their granddaughters. Copen also reported that going to college significantly decreases religiosity in grandchildren.
Those findings about the effect of college on religious belief and practice may be contradicted by another project — the National Study of Youth and Religion. At a pre-conference seminar on youth and religion, University of Notre Dame and University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) researchers involved in that Lilly Endowment-funded study noted that the conventional wisdom holds that college has a negative effect on religiosity among young adults.
Yet a preliminary analysis of surveys tracking students from high school to college and comparing them to those who forego higher education indicates that college students are not leaving the fold like they once did. Researchers warned, however, that the difference may reflect the fact that more people go to college than in earlier generations, and that the children of the baby boomers “have less religion to lose.”
Finding ways to keep young Jewish adults involved in organized religion was the focus of another session at the conference, which was convened under the auspices of the S3K Synagogue Studies Institute. Beth Cousens, a PhD candidate studying the sociology of Jewish education at Brandeis University, noted the “constant lament” that young people are not joining American synagogues. Cousens said concerned Jewish leaders should look for ideas at the Riverway Project at Temple Israel in Boston, an outreach and engagement initiative targeting young adults in their twenties and thirties. The project sponsors social justice activities, worship, informal Shabbat dinners at participants’ homes and a popular “Torah and Tonics on Tuesdays” gathering that mixes scripture study, spirituality and distilled spirits.
Steven Cohen, a professor of Jewish social policy at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York, presented the results of a survey designed to gauge the effectiveness of Synagogue 2000 (S2K), an ambitious national program that sought to re-energize synagogue life in North America. Cohen’s conclusion was not good news for those who hoped the program would improve their congregants’ impressions of the worship experience at S2K synagogues, especially for smaller congregations. Reform movement synagogues that participated in the program were compared to similar congregations that had nothing to do with S2K.
Cohen found little difference between S2K and non-S2K synagogues when members were surveyed about the quality of Jewish education, worship experience, and whether or not they were made to feel welcome. Non-S2K congregations actually scored higher on half of the questions than those that went through the three-year program. Reform movement congregations who signed up for S2K did better in the survey of member satisfaction, but not significantly better.
The best results were found among Conservative movement synagogues that participated in the program, which was designed to help congregations “realize the power of sacred community through a transforming process of prayer, study, and social justice that blends authentic Jewish values and knowledge with the best practices of modern organization development.”
— By Don Lattin, co-author (with RW’s editor) of “Shopping For Faith”, and author of “Following Our Bliss”. He can be reached through his website at: http://www.donlattin.com