In This Issue
- Current Research: November 2007
- On/File: November 2007
- Findings & Footnotes: November 2007
- Gay rights and Africa’s own culture wars
- Central Asia’s search for alternative forms of Islam
- Armenia — A powerful church and low religious practice
- Traditional mass to grow at uneven pace across dioceses
- Low income churches borrow from Scientology
Current Research: November 2007
01: The rise of “political anti-fundamentalism” is largely a reaction to messages about conservative Christians from the media, according to a recent study by political scientists Louis Bolce and Gerald De Maio.
In a paper presented at the Association for the Study of Religion, Economics and Culture (ASREC) in Tampa, Florida in early November, Bolce and De Maio analyzed data from the 1988-2004 American National Election Studies and found those most tolerant of others holding moral values different than themselves were also most likely to feel antagonistic toward fundamentalists. That the liberal “sophisticated classes” are opposed to “fundamentalists” or conservative Christians during a time when they became more politically active might be considered natural But Bolce and De Maio found that it was those most attentive to political media during these years who were the most likely to conflate conservative Christians with the New Christian Right and to view them as extremists having “too much influence” in society.
The researchers added that the animus toward conservative Christians or fundamentalists as a group are classic signs of political prejudice that was once (but no longer) reserved for Catholics and Jews. Bolce and De Maio also found that respondents living in counties with the lowest concentrations of evangelicals displayed higher levels of prejudice, suggesting that negative impressions were influenced from information picked up from external sources.
02: An update of a major study of American congregations finds an aging pastorate, a sharp growth of the use of computer technology, an increase in minority clergy, and more congregations using contemporary styles of worship. The “second wave” of the National Congregations Study, first carried out in 1998, found the average age of clergy increasing from 49 to 53, with the graying taking place most among mainline Protestants.
The study, which was presented at the recent meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in Tampa, Fla., found that the use of computer technology, such as e-mail and websites, by congregations has increased by 20 to 40 percent. But some things haven’t changed at all. The average size of congregations is exactly what it was in 1998. The same goes for the percent of female head clergy, which may mean a leveling off or even decline of “feminization” of the ministry. The political activity of congregations is also relatively flat, although more black churches have received public funding for faith-based ministries, according to Mark Chaves, director of the study.
03: Recent research suggests that younger evangelicals are shifting away from the Republican Party and Christian right views. A study from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that support among younger evangelicals for President Bush has dropped from 87 percent in 2002 to 45 percent today.
While younger evangelicals are still more conservative than their contemporaries, Republicans now only having a 2-1 advantage over Democrats among this group compared to the 4-1 edge in 2005, according to the Christian Century (October 30).
04: Attending church may be an important factor in women having more children, according to a paper presented at the SSSR meeting attended by RW. Conrad Hackett of Princeton University presented his ongoing research on the religious factor in fertility and found that levels of orthodoxy, devotion, denomination, tradition, and prayer had little effect on fertility.
But church attendance did have a notable effect in families having three or more children. Hackett said that congregations mediate religious influence, “nudging“ people who worship regularly in a certain direction. While some congregations explicitly advocate fertility and having large families, most exert a subtle influence that congregants are not aware of. For instance, churchgoers may compare themselves to and feel influenced by fellow believers who have large families.
Thus, members in denominations with high attendance, such as the Southern Baptist Convention and the Assemblies of God, tend to have larger families. While lack of education and participation in the labor force are likely factors in the larger families in such churches, it is frequent attendance that is a decisive factor.
05: Attendance at religious services may be one reliable predictor of sympathy for terrorism among extremist Muslims and Jews, according to a new study. Ara Norenzayan of the University of British Columbia, who read a paper on the religious motivations and support of terrorism at the ASREC in Tampa, found in a 2006 survey that respondents who were regular mosque attenders were three times more likely to answer in the affirmative about sympathy for terrorism than the other respondents.
Whether or not the respondent engaged in regular prayer had no effect on such support. Other studies have reported similar findings. One study on Israeli support for Jewish terrorist Baruch Goldstein, who attacked Muslims, found that synagogue attendance increased support for his actions by 23 percent. Prayer if anything reduced the support for Goldstein as a hero. The research concludes that prayer is the strongest measure of religiosity and that “devotion” is largely unrelated to sympathy for terrorism.
On/File: November 2007
01: The Gospel Coalition is a new network of conservative evangelical leaders seeking to restore a firmer doctrinal identity to evangelicalism while engaging contemporary issues. The coalition, which is spearheaded by 40 prominent theologians and pastors, recently met to hammer out a confessional statement with a broadly Reformed or Calvinistic orientation.
At the same time, those involved tend to be centrists seeking to make Reformed teachings relevant, such as Tim Keller of the urban New York megachurch Redeemer Presbyterian, “emerging” church leader Mark Driscoll and Presbyterian pastor Phil Ryken. The coalition wants to take a both-and- stance, calling the churches to recover the Reformation teaching of justification by faith while seeking to involve Christians in the arts, urban ministry, and social justice. (Source: Christianity Today, October;http://www.thegospelcoalition.org)
02: A Common Word Between Us and You is one of several statements that have been drawn up by Muslim leaders addressing Christians. The document is unique, however, in its wide representation of 138 Muslim leaders and in its invitation to Christian leaders of the world to engage in interreligious dialogue.
Previous statements by Muslim leaders have either addressed the pope (over his controversial speech in Germany in 2006) or taken issue with extremist Muslims. The statement, which was three years in the making, outlines themes common to Muslims, Christian, and Jews, stating that each religion should be unhampered in its beliefs. Christian interfaith leaders also note the statement’s lack of polemics, citations from the Jewish and Christian scriptures, and meditative nature.
(Source: The Tablet, October 20).
Findings & Footnotes: November 2007
01: The Fall issue of the journal Nova Religio is devoted to the question ofwhether Islamic jihadism can be considered a “new religious movement” (or NRM). Increasingly, both specialists in terrorism and anti-cult and new religious movement scholars have been exchanging and borrowing ideas and concepts to deal with the terrorist threat.
The issue opens with an overview of the different kinds of jihadism and how NRM perspectives and theories can be applied to the phenomenon. Writer Mark Sedgwick tries to untangle such concepts as pacifist or non-violent jihad and defensive jihad from Islamist jihad, which is espoused by al-Queda. He argues that NRM scholarship, especially its theories of sect growth, does shed light on the internal history and mechanics of terrorist groups and why individuals join them. But NRMs have less in common with jihadist groups in the way the latter are often surrounded by “supportive milieus”–those that don’t join but broadly support terrorist actions. Other articles include one on how jihadists often divine meanings and even gain authority among other terrorists by their night dreams.
The final article on the under-studied but important movement and teachings of Said Nursi provides a clear example of the scope of the aforementioned non-violent jihad. The Turkish-based Nursi movement and its founder did not forsake the concept of an external jihad on behalf of Islam, but such a battle is to be fought through persuasion and demonstrating the truth of Islam rather than through violence and politicization.
For more information on this issue write: Nova Religio, University of California Press, Journals, 200 Center St., #303, Berkeley, CA 94704.
02: Charisma magazine devotes much of its November issue to the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Church of God in Christ. The issue provides interesting historical background information as well as current trends of the six million member denomination. An increasing number of megachurches–often in inner city locations–and community development ministries have given the COGIC a new public stature among both white and African-American Christians.
The Pentecostal body has also become more involved in international ministries, such as AIDS programs in Africa. What is also interesting is the way Charisma, largely a white charismatic magazine, has increasingly made space for coverage and advertising of black ministries, while at the same time becoming a vocal advocate for Republican politics.
For more information, write: Charisma, 600 S. Rhinehart, Lake Mary, FL 32746.
03: No longer seen as an inevitable and monolithic force (at least in the U.S), many social scientists now treat secularism as definable movements that exists alongside religiosity and emerges in specific social contexts. This is evident in the new book Secularism and Secularity, (Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture), edited by Barry A Kosmin and Ariela Keysar. The book presents studies of secularism in the U.S., Canada, England, France, Denmark, Australia, Iran, and Israel. All of these varieties are shaped by these countries’ religious cultures and dynamics.
Among one of the most interesting chapters is on how secularism in Denmark has evolved into a “neo-tribalism” hostile to ethnic and religious minorities, especially Islam. Other noteworthy chapters include a survey of American atheists and how they are different than agnostics and the “no religion” population, and an account of how the Pacific Northwest forms the epicenter of secularism in the U.S.
The book can be downloaded free of charge at:http://www.trincoll.edu/secularisminstitute
04: God Needs No Passport (The New Press, $26.95) is the result of sociologist Peggy Levitt’s pioneering research on transnational religion among American immigrants. She bases her work on Muslim, Hindu, Catholic, and Protestant immigrants in a city in Massachusetts. The point of the book is that these religious and ethnic communities are not solely based in the U.S. Because of greater mobility and communications technology and developments in their home country it is becoming more common for immigrants to have an identity in both the “sending” and “receiving” societies.
Not all religious immigrants accept such transnational identities; Levitt categorizes immigrants either as fully assimilated “Americans,” those who maintain their ethnicity and religion while remaining in the U.S., “cosmopolitans,” who freely move between their home countries and the U.S., and “religious global citizens,” who embrace a global identity that values ties between fellow coreligionists more than those between fellow ethnics and nationals. Religious organizations and congregations are likewise reconfigured to function in some cases as franchises and “transnational supply chains” that move resources, people, and leaders between countries.
Levitt concludes by arguing that despite the fears of terrorism by immigrants with divided religious and national loyalties, transnational religious immigrants tend to value American ideals and in some cases could play an unofficial diplomatic function in U.S foreign relations.
05: Bishops, Wives and Children (Ashgate, $99.95), by Douglas Davies and Mathew Guest, takes a “dry” subject such as the families of Church of England bishops and renders it relevant in explaining how religious identity and “spiritual capital“ are transmitted across generations. Davies and Guest follow the careers of Church of England bishops and the place of their wives and children in their ministries. The transmission of faith to the bishops’ children was, as one might expect, shaped by many environmental factors, yet they were found to profess a set of values that were not radically different from their parents (support for “traditional British values”). Much also depended on the times in which the children were raised.
It seems that in homes where the bishop was influenced by the liberal currents in the church while retaining a strong liturgical orientation, the children often felt they were, on one hand, never introduced to basic Christian teachings and, on the other, that the church was distant from them with its focus on ceremony and formality. Also of interest is the chapter on the “social capital” transmitted in bishops’ homes. A majority of the children ended up working in professions stressing caring and nurture, public and business leadership, as well as creativity and the arts. Public service to the wider community was also a strong motivational force in these clerical families.
06: Ukraine has long been considered the “Bible belt” of the Soviet and post-Soviet region, but the new book Communities of the Converted (Cornell University Press, $24.95) suggests that the country is also becoming a center of global missions. Anthropologist and historian Catherine Wanner begins this important book with a recounting of how Ukrainian evangelicals—mainly Baptists and Pentecostals—resisted communist atheism and forced secularization by creating their own counterculture.
The nearly two million strong evangelical Ukrainian community (both in Ukraine and the U.S.) retains this countercultural and highly communal nature. With their modest clothing (with women covering their heads), maintaining of ethnic traditions and communal bonds (including pacifism), the Ukraine evangelicals seem more like Anabaptists than Baptists; in fact, they see the Amish as a model for their communities. Using numerous case studies, Wanner argues that although there is some assimilation among the younger generations (especially in language and ascetic practice), the Ukrainian-American evangelicals’ attachments to the former Soviet Union remain strong. She sees an “active transnational social field of believers that is connected to both a country of origin and an adopted country via religious commitments to evangelize.“
With the relatively open religious market in Ukraine (in contrast to Russia) and with strong transnational ties (accepting many foreign Christian workers), the country is serving both as a base of training and missions to the former Soviet Union and to other parts of the world. Ukrainian evangelicalism’s increasingly global nature is illustrated in Wanner’s chapter on the Embassy of God–a charismatic megachurch led by a Nigerian with satellites in the U.S and Europe. Yet the “ambassadors” increasingly see a political and economic role for charismatic Christianity in Ukraine, even as they expand globally.
Gay rights and Africa’s own culture wars
African Anglican and other mainline churches’ opposition to the gay rights activism of American denominations, such as the Episcopal Church, is well-known, but such attitudes are not merely a carryover from the U.S. culture wars, writes Philip Jenkins in the New Republic magazine (October 8) Jenkins writes that Africa’s highly competitive environment, where mainstream churches such as the Anglicans compete against new Pentecostal denominations and Islam, makes it crucial for the oldline bodies to avoid suggestions that they are any less rigorous on such matters. Against the background of rivalry and violence between Muslims and Christians, there is a hesitancy of the latter to concede anything to Islam in terms of “commitment to strict morality.”
The Muslim historical context also explains the anti-gay sentiments, especially in a country such as Uganda, where Arab slave raids included the practice of pederasty. The Christian refusal to submit to such demands often led to martyrdom and an enduring association of Arab and Muslim imperialism with sexual immorality, according to Jenkins. He concludes that the South African church’s relative liberalism on homosexuality, as well as the presence of Anglican gay groups in Uganda and Nigeria, suggest a growing diversity on the continent, even if such cases will remain a distinct minority for the near future.
Central Asia’s search for alternative forms of Islam
Islam in Central Asia still bears the marks of the Soviet legacy, with the destructions and shrinkage of religious knowledge as well as the exclusion of religious life from public. This, however, also meant that the region has had no experience of the trend of ideological Islam, which developed during the same period in some other parts of the Muslim world, stated Adeeb Khalid (Carleton College) at a panel on interpretations of Islam in Central Asia during the 8th Conference of the Central Eurasian Studies Society.
John Schoeberlein (Harvard University) reported that more and more people are drawn to different forms of Islam. This does not necessarily mean those alternative visions of Islam will encourage political opposition, although reactions of regimes such as the government of Uzbekistan tend to be repressive and thus increase the potential for tensions. But the search for alternatives is partly a result of the discrediting of official institutions of Islam, which are seen as bankrupt and corrupt, observed Eric McGlinchey (George Mason University) at a roundtable on new concerns in Central Asia. Some of the alleged “radicals” are actually eager to promote a “cleaner” form of Islam, which may indeed clash with local customs, but is not necessarily political.
Nevertheless, the situation on the ground is more complex that it may appear, suggested Alisher Khamidov (John Hopkins University) at another panel on religion and politics. There are hundreds of registered Islamic groups in Uzbekistan. Provided Islamic actors keep a low profile and do not engage into relations with radicals, they will often be protected by local officials. Moreover, kinship will also play a role. Uzbekistan is an extreme case: other countries, such as Kyrgizstan, are more liberal, although a number of officials with a Soviet background feel that too much freedom might encourage divisive ideas and weaken the State.
— By Jean-François Mayer
Armenia — A powerful church and low religious practice
Despite a low level of religious practice, the weak legitimacy of other institutions in Armenia has allowed the Armenian Apostolic Church to assume a significant role in the post-Soviet republic, according to one specialist. Ani Sarkissian (Michigan State University) presented her research at a panel on religion and identity in Armenia at the 8th Conference of the Central Eurasian Studies Society, which convened on Oct. 18-21 at the University of Washington in Seattle, and which RWattended.
Anti-religious policies as well as closures of churches and seminaries had left few churches operational during the Soviet period. Nevertheless, expectations toward the Armenian Church as a keeper of national identity in a relatively homogeneous society were high at the time of transition. Proselytism is viewed with suspicion (and legally banned, though not defined), but fears seem greatly exaggerated; the progress of other religions remains limited, and groups of Protestant origins make up only two percent of the population. According to a survey conducted in 2007, 68 percent of respondents answered that it was not good for a country to be divided among multiple religions.
After the end of the Soviet period, there has been no massive opening of churches in Armenia. Rates of religious practice are low in Armenia; eight percent report attending services weekly, and 47 percent once a year or less. Nevertheless, 87 percent of Armenians claim to belong to a denomination. The Armenian Apostolic Church promotes the idea that religion and national identity are inseparable. After years of negotiation, a concordate was signed between the Armenian government and the Church. According to the agreement, the government is expected to support the renovation of church buildings and help fund church schools (although none exist as of yet).
— By Jean-François Mayer
Traditional mass to grow at uneven pace across dioceses
Most U.S. Catholic dioceses do not expect a large number of requests for celebration of the pre-Vatican II Mass in the foreseeable future.
There are however a few exceptions, according to an article by Jeff Ziegler in theCatholic World Report (October). Following the July motu proprioSummorum Pontificum, any priest who wishes to do so can celebrate private Masses (with possible attendance of the faithful) following the old rite (1962 Missal); parishes where a stable group of faithful adhere to the traditional Mass should provide celebrations in the older ritual form for them [see August RW].
There are currently 240 places of worship where the older Mass is celebrated every Sunday with the permission of the local bishop. Officials in a number of dioceses say it is too early to assess what the needs will be. Some dioceses where there are no celebrations in the older rite do not expect a change (e.g. Great Falls-Billings). Several dioceses (such as Rockford, Palm Beach, Metuchen, Cincinnati, Ogdensburg), where the 1962 Missal is used daily or weekly in a few churches or chapels, report very few new requests and do not expect an increase in traditional celebrations. Other dioceses foresee an expanded use; San Diego expects to have celebrations in five or six parishes (at this point, in one chapel).
The CWR reports a “remarkable interest” in the Diocese of Lincoln, where 40 to 50 priest have requested assistance in learning how to celebrate the older Mass. The (conservative) Diocese of Charlotte intends to make Masses according to the 1962 Missal widely available, although no precise statistical estimates can be made regarding the number of parishes where it will be used.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder and director of the newly established Religioscope Institute (http://www.religion.info)
Low income churches borrow from Scientology
Some Christian congregations, particularly in lower income, urban areas, are turning to the Church of Scientology for support and assistance, according to a CNN report (October 31). Pastors interviewed say that when it comes to religion, they still preach the basics of Christianity. But when it comes to practicing the faith, they borrow resources from Scientology. According to published reports, Scientology has been recently diversifying its outreach to include other religions. Clergy say they are not put off by programs with ties to the controversial church.
The Rev. Charles Kennedy, of the Glorious Church of God in Christ, a Pentecostal church in Tampa, Florida, and the Rev. James McLaughlin, of the Wayman Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, are among these “theological hybrids.” “I’m looking for solutions, and the people that I help, they don’t ask me who L. Ron Hubbard is,” said McLaughlin, who works with addicts. Kennedy, McLaughlin and other Christian clergy — no one can say how many — claim they are finding answers to their communities’ needs in Scientology’s social programs. For Kennedy, it began two years ago when he attended a meeting at the Church of Scientology’s spiritual headquarters in Clearwater, Florida. He was introduced to a book called “The Way to Happiness” — founder L. Ron Hubbard’s 64-page, self-described “common sense guide to better living. In the book‘s emphasis on maintaining a temperate lifestyle, Kennedy found a message he believed could help his predominantly African-American church living in an environment of poverty and crime. Kennedy now uses “The Way to Happiness” as a how-to supplement to his sermons and believes it is easier to understand and clearer to follow than the Bible.
Kennedy adds that Scientology’s values might contradict Christianity in some ways, but such criticism from other pastors has not been enough to discourage him. He insists that he has witnessed the changes at his center, which offers free tutoring based on Hubbard’s “study tech” philosophies. Kennedy’s daughter, Jimirra, is one of the instructors. She said she considers herself a “Pentecostal Scientologist“– a claim that worries anti-cultists who see it as a deliberate attempt at blurring the lines between Scientology and mainstream faiths.
Meanwhile, McLaughlin trained at Narconon, the church’s drug treatment program, and brought the techniques back to his community to launch “First Step Faith Step,” a program that combines Hubbard’s methods with the teachings of Christianity. He claims a 70- to 80-percent rehabilitation success rate. The Church of Scientology would not comment about the Hubbard-based programs.