In This Issue
- On/File: October 2005
- Findings & Footnotes: October 2005
- New church state battles over abortion in Latin America
- Current Research: October 2005
- ‘New monasticism’ draws dissenting evangelicals
- Emerging hispanic evangelical leaders impacting mainstream
- Evolution controversy drawing in Orthodox Jews
On/File: October 2005
01: The Cause is the name given to a small but influential movement of conservative Christian protestors who rely on personal revelation as much as political strategy to advance the pro-life cause.
Mainly consisting of young charismatic Christians, these protestors have received publicity for their unique style of protest, such as holding vigils where each participants has a piece of tape covering their mouths reading “LIFE.“ The group was particularly active and visible during the Terry Schiavo protests as well as regularly praying publicly on Capitol Hill. Founded and led by Lou Engle, a California minister, a unique feature of the group is its reliance on dreams in relaying divine messages that translate into strategy.
(Source: Mother Jones, September/October)
02: A new secular religion called Universism is attempting to gain a national profile for its “big tent” approach to secularism that blends free-thought and deism.
In recent years freethinkers and non-theist groups have attempted to repackage their approach to appeal to “secular seekers,” those who desire a sense of community without holding to supernatural beliefs or doctrine. Universism, the brainchild of Ford Vox, an Alabama medical student who is said to have recruited 8,000 atheists, agnostics, deists and freethinkers who rally around the notion that there are no universal religious truths and that the meaning of existence must be determined by each individual.
Vox, who calls the movement “neo-deist,“ recently handed over the reins of leadership to Todd Stickler, who will base the grop in Chicago.
(Source: The Birmingham News, September 9)
Findings & Footnotes: October 2005
01: EUREL is a website newly accessible in English which aims to provide updated information on the social and legal status of religion in European countries.
Founded in collaboration between French universities and research centers, the site features articles provided by a network of correspondents who are specialists in law and the social sciences. The website allows readers to click on the various European countries to read surveys on religious attitudes as well as historical summaries and links to other sources. For some countries, particularly those in Scandinavia, the information is somewhat limited and the surveys are not very recent. While most of the articles are in French, an increasing number are being translated into English.
The website’s address is: http://eurel.u-strasbg.fr
02: Robert Wuthnow’s new book, America and the Challenges of Religious Diversity (Princeton University Press, 29.95) argues that even if their numbers are not great, non-Christian religions, just by their presence in American media and society, are seen as a formidable challenge and even threat by many Christians.
Wuthnow, who bases his research on a large scale survey as well as open-ended interviews with both Christians and those of other religions, argues that acceptance of religious newcomers is far from an untroubled process in American life; views on the nature of religious truth often shape how Americans respond to the new diversity.
Wuthnow charts three basic postures relating to religious truth: Christian inclusivism, stressing tolerance and downplaying particularistic doctrinal claims, Christian exclusivism, which maintains strong boundaries between Christian and non-Christian, and “spiritual shopping,” which is open and adaptive to other traditions, often borrowing teachings and practices from them. These positions often shape the views of respondents: inclusivists and spiritual shoppers are far less opposed to interfaith marriage than exclusivists. On other issues, there may be something else at work: Wuthnow finds that nearly four in 10 Americans would favor making it harder for Muslims to settle in the U.S, with almost a quarter agreeing that it should be illegal for Muslims to meet (one-fifth agreeing to the same measures for Hindus and Buddhists).
Interestingly inclusivists were just as likely to hold this position as exclusivists. At the same time, most Americans feel they should learn more about other faiths, though they (and their congregations) have largely failed to take up such opportunities. Another chapter on intermarriage finds that these widespread unions may encourage greater societal tolerance of religious differences but they may come at the price of more individualistic and privatized forms of faith. Wuthnow concludes with the observation that informal and local projects focused on concrete humanitarian tasks may lead to greater interfaith understanding than high-level efforts seeking to harmonize conflicting religious teachings.
03: There has been much written about the effectiveness of faith-based social organizations, but Paul Lichterman’s new book Elusive Togetherness (Princeton University Press, $21.95) takes a step back to explore how the members of these groups interact among themselves and with other community groups in fostering social change.
Lichterman argues that volunteerism and faith-based social service in general can’t be assumed to be effective without taking into account the large and small scale social relations surrounding such endeavors. The sociologist studied nine liberal and conservative Protestant-based volunteering and advocacy projects in an American city, paying special attention to how members of these groups interacted among each other and sought to create bridges to other organizations.
Lichterman sees “social reflexivity,” or free discussion and reflection on differences and social relations, as the key for such bridge-building. He found that some of the groups’ styles and “customs” of creating unity tended to exclude concerns about collaborating with the wider society. Too often liberal religious activists used language and interacted in ways that excluded dissenters and others who disagreed with their platforms. Meanwhile, the volunteering and networking that marks many conservative faith-based groups may not be able to fill the institutional gaps in a time of welfare cuts since they are based on loose ties and fail to build relations with diverse groups of people over time.
04: The complexity of the relations between faith-based groups and their surrounding environments is also a main focus of Sacred Circles, Public Squares: The Multicentering of American Religion (Indiana University Press, $45) by Arthur Farnsley II, N.J. Demerath III, Etan Diamond, Mary L. Mapes, and Elfriede Wedam.
The book, which is the result of the Polis Center’s Project on Religion and Urban Culture (PRUC), uses Indianapolis as a case study for understanding the ways religion interacts with and shapes particular neighborhoods and cities in general. In the case of Indianapolis, its civic faith, once shaped by a mainline Protestant elite in the city center, has given way to religious pluralism, with its civic symbols now mainly expressed in patriotic and sports monuments and buildings.
With no dominating religion and an accompanying “de-centering” of the city, each neighborhood interacts with particular congregations and religious expressions in different ways. The authors see this “multercentering“ taking place in other cities as well as on a national level where common citizenship is acknowledged along with maintaining important cultural differences. The multicentering of religion has a special resonance with the rise of faith-based social services.
The waning of national religious structures and the new prominence of local expressions has encouraged proponents of faith-based social services to stress the role of the congregation in meeting social needs and creating “social capital“ for members and area residents. But the authors find that the social capital generated in one congregation and neighborhood that may bind ethnic groups or residents together “are often the very things that separate these groups…from others. Strong social capital in one community may mean weaker social capital for the city as a whole.”
06: As documented in Mary L. Mapes’ book A Public Charity (Indiana Univ. Press, $37), another book resulting from the PRUC, Indianapolis was a forerunner of the faith-based social service programs that would later be enacted nationally.
Under the leadership of Mayor Stephen Goldsmith, the city incorporated the work of congregations in its social welfare programs, known as the Front Porch Alliance, arguing that traditional social service providers ignored the moral and spiritual roots of social pathologies. Mapes found that a large segment of Indianapolis churches (and congregations involved in faith-based efforts nationally) failed to apply for funding of their social programs for a host of practical and social reasons.
Such congregations often were unaware of local structures and problems in their own neighborhoods, and the program as a whole failed to receive wide support in the city. Mapes concludes that the short lived (three years) faith-based program in Indianapolis has foreshadowed similar problems with the national faith-based initiative under President Bush.
07: The Cambridge Companion to American Judaism (Cambridge University Press, $27.99), edited by Dana Evan Kaplan, combines history, sociology, and theology (and even economics), providing a comprehensive account of American Jewish thought and behavior today.
Editor Kaplan notes that the book emphasizes Judaism as a religion rather than an ethnicity, and the contributors tend to stress the pluralism, flexibility and practicality prevalent in American Jewish religiosity. Yet throughout the book there is a tension between growing individualist and “post-materialist” values, making greater way for spirituality in most Jewish groups, and the persistence of ethnic Judaism. The former trend is evident in the growth of Jewish Renewal and Reconstructionist movements as well as new adaptations of spirituality in the three main branches of Judaism.
These tendencies, which downplay the institutional dimension of Judaism, may work against the sustained growth of such groups. After all, Orthodox Judaism–especially its right-wing–remains the fastest growing Jewish branch (though one contribution suggests a limit to the growth of Orthodoxy). Charles Liebman suggests in his study of synagogue rituals, that even in Reform Jewish attempts to include Gentile converts, there is a hesitancy to discard ethnic identity completely. Other chapters include Jews and American democracy; the Jewish urban experience, and changing gender roles in Jewish families and denominations.
08: The appearance of the recent book Asian American Religions (New York University Press, $22), edited by Tony Carnes and Fenggang Yang, suggests that the study of these immigrant and ethnic religious expressions has become increasingly sophisticated.
The book covers wide territory, including a study of Hindu taxi drivers in New York, evangelical campus ministry among Asian-American evangelicals, intermarriage among American Buddhists, and the political and social involvement of Asian-Americans. The book particularly focuses on how Asian-American religions are changing the boundaries and religious landscapes of the metropolitan areas of Los Angeles, New York, Houston and the Silicon Valley/Bay area.
National (and in some cases transnational) trends, such as second generation adaptation to American mores of individualism and informality, conservative beliefs, and practice and deepening political participation, are active in most Asian-American religious groups. On the latter issue, the contributors suggest that politics divides Asian-Americans, with Hindus being the biggest supporters of political liberalism (61 percent), closely followed by Muslims, while Protestants and Catholics more likely lean conservative (though the second generation also challenges generalizations).
An important chapter by Carnes and Pei-te Lien suggests that because of sharp ethnic differences there is no one religious demography for this group, but, again, there are common demographic trends: signs of religious disaffection in the second generation of most religious groups (especially true among Buddhist groups), but also a pattern of switching religious identities; arrival in the U.S. increases religiosity in most groups, but also encourages the irreligious (often Chinese immigrants) to be more open about their disaffection; a “new urbanism” among Asian-American Protestants and Catholics as they build a significant presence in U.S. cities; a growth in Pan-Asian identity, particularly where religious traditions tied to single Asian ethnicities are in decline.
New church state battles over abortion in Latin America
Throughout Latin America, new church-state battles are heating up as pro-choice groups seek to implement more liberal abortion laws, reports Conscience (Fall), a liberal Catholic quarterly.
Legalized abortion is almost non-existent in Latin America (with the exception of Cuba) and most of the pro-choice activists speak of “decriminalizing” rather than legalizing the practice, though there is little difference between the two terms. Most of the proposed changes are for exceptions to abortion laws in case of rape, incest and genetic malformation (most provisions allow for abortions if the mothers’ life is in danger).
The most heated battles are between leftist governments and the Catholic Church. Brazil, under President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, and Venezuela, under President Hugo Chavez, are proposing decriminalization measures and are facing stiff opposition from Catholic leaders [little is mentioned of the burgeoning evangelical groups in Latin America and their involvement in the prolife movement]. Most polls show that Latin Americans want abortion allowed in exceptional cases.
As in the U.S., Catholic bishops in countries from Colombia to Argentina and Nicaragua have threatened pro-choice judges and legislators with church discipline, writes Joanne Mariner. In Argentina when lawmakers were debating a law on abortion in the province of Santa Fe, all the representatives received a letter from the archbishop threatening them with excommunication. The Catholic hierarchy and affiliated groups have also targeted emergency contraception known as the “morning after pill,“ as health departments in Peru and Mexico began making the pill available to the wider public. In Central America and the Caribbean, the decriminalization movement has had little success, with El Salvador making its anti-abortion laws more restrictive in recent years.
(Conscience, 1436 U St. NW, Suite 301, Washington, DC 20009-3997)
Current Research: October 2005
01: Religion is aiding second generation immigrants in assimilating to American society, though sometimes in ways that lead them away from upward mobility, said Alejandro Portes, a prominent Princeton University scholar of immigration.
Portes presented findings from a study of second generation Americans in the cities of Miami and San Diego at the August meeting of the Association of the Sociology of Religion. Both religious affiliation and attendance of the second generation tended to lower the rate of what is called “downward assimilation,” meaning involvement in unproductive or risky behaviors such as unemployment and crime.
Those who attended congregations just on a monthly basis showed a lower incidence of of downward assimilation than non-attenders. This effect was most closely seen in the major religions of Catholicism and Protestantism rather than in alternative religions, according to Portes. Ironically, religion could also be “reactive” and assist downward assimilation. Those converting to a religious group and attending several times a week showed the highest rate of downward assimilation. This may be because such a disruptive break upsets family and neighborhood ties necessary for upward assimilation.
02: Anti-Catholicism remains a persistent prejudice among Americans, according to sociologist Andrew Greeley.
In analyzing the 2004 General Social Survey data that included new questions that sought to measure anti-Catholic attitudes, Greeley found the view that “Catholics can’t think for themselves” as particularly persisting among many Americans of different religions and educational levels. Only 37 percent disagreed with the statement that Catholics can’t think for themselves and only one-third dismissed the charge that Catholic rosaries and holy medals are superstitious.
Southerners and conservative Christians were the least likely to reject the statement about the rosary being superstitious. Greeley found that one-third of conservative Protestants reject the assertion that Catholics cannot think for themselves, as do two-fifths of mainline Protestants, according to an article in Commonweal (Sept. 9). A similar pattern was found on the rosary statement. Pentecostals were the most inclined to accept anti-Catholic stereotypes, according to Greeley.
But even among those with graduate degrees, only 40 percent dismissed the statement that Catholics can’t think for themselves or that rosaries are superstitious. Greeley speculated that there may be a correlation between anti-Catholic views and prejudice against other races and homosexuals.
(Commonweal, 475 Riverside Dr., Rm. 405, New York, NY 10115)
03: A new survey of secularism and religiosity on American college campuses finds that small private schools are usually the most secular while some state universities even outpace formally church-affiliated schools in religious activity.
The Princeton Review survey of college students on their own schools found that Reed College in Oregon was viewed as the most secular college in the country while Brigham Young University was rated the most religious. Along with BYU, Wheaton and Grove City colleges and Notre Dame and Samford universities were the top five religious schools.
Following Reed in secularity was Bard College, the New School’s Eugene Lang College, Hampshire College, and Lewis & Clark College. Touchstone magazine (October) notes that all of the schools on the least religious list were colleges, with almost all of them private, while several public universities made the most religious list. The magazine concludes that the survey has its limits; evangelical Calvin College was rated less religious than Texas A&M University.
(Touchstone, P.O. Box 410788, Chicago, IL 60641)
04: The spread of HIV-AIDS may be following a similar pattern in Muslim-majority countries as it has in Sub-Saharan Africa, according to a recent study.
The study, conducted by the National Bureau of Asian Research, found that, aside from Bangladesh and Iran, few Muslim nations have mounted a significant public health campaign to combat AIDS, “in part because authorities assume that few Muslims engage in behaviors such as premarital sex, homosexuality, prostitution and drug use.”
Even in Iran, like other Islamic societies, there are few records kept as to the numbers of commercial sex workers from whom the disease is largely spread. In some nations, Muslim leaders have boycotted or condemned Western programs on AIDS prevention, believing that their advocacy of condoms would only spread promiscuity. Authors Nicholas Eberstadt and Laura Kelley find that similar opposition to AIDS prevention programs by Muslim leaders in Muslim sub-Saharan Africa occurred during the start of the disease’s epidemic in that region in the 1990s.
(For further information on this study: http://www.aei.org/docLib/20050608_eberstadtNBRreport.pdf)
‘New monasticism’ draws dissenting evangelicals
New intentional communities are springing up in the U.S. among evangelicals that differ from their counterparts of a generation or two ago by their use of traditional spiritual and monastic practices in order to structure community life, reports Christianity Today (September).
A movement called the “new monasticism” is made up of young single evangelicals increasingly dissatisfied with their suburban megachuches and feeling a call to live and work with the poor and homeless. The communities they have established are similar to those created by left evangelicals of a generation ago, such as Sojourners and Reba Place Mennonite Fellowship, but include such practices as contemplation.
A 2004 conference near Duke University officially marked the beginning of the movement, where members drew up a voluntary rule for their diverse communities and met and consulted with the older communities. Among these rules or distinctives that would mark the communities were accountability to the wider church, living with the poor, hospitality, care for creation, racial reconciliation and celibacy or monogamous marriage.
There are reported to be “dozens” of these new monastic communities around the U.S., with the most prominent being the Simple Way in Kensington, Pennsylvania and Camden House in New Jersey. The Simple Way bought and rehabilitated a building that was used for selling drugs and now works with the homeless through community development and even political protest.
(Christianity Today, 465 Gundersen Dr., Carol Stream, IL 60188)
Emerging hispanic evangelical leaders impacting mainstream
An emerging group of Hispanic evangelical leaders are likely to have an unprecedented impact both in and outside of their ethnic community, reports Prism (evangelical churches because of the remaining barriers between Hispanic and non-Hispanic America. One such emerging leaders, Luis Cortes, whose organization, Esperanza USA has hosted the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast, says that Hispanic evangelicals are increasingly accepting a “parish mentality [where] we can develop local leadership for the entire local community, not just for the parishioners or church members.”
Among the other emerging leaders cited are: Lisa Cummings, who worked for the White House Office for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, has served as a “hub for Hispanics putting their faith into action across America;” Albert Ryes, whose Baptist University of the Americas has become a center for training cross-cultural leaders reaching out to second-, third-, and fourth generations; Larry Acosta, who runs the largest urban youth worker training organization in America, the Urban Youth Workers Institute; and Orlando Crespo, who founded the La Fe initiative in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, which brings together Latino students into an environment that encourages fellowship and spiritual development.
(Prism, 10 E. Lancaster Ave., Wynnewood, PA 19096)
Evolution controversy drawing in Orthodox Jews
Although not in the headlines, conflicts and controversies over evolution and creation are unfolding in Orthodox Judaism, reports Moment magazine (October).
While Judaism has generally not been divided by the evolution controversy to the same extent as Christianity, the growth of the right wing in Orthodox Judaism has changed that situation. The controversy became visible when Rabbi Nosson Slifkin, a popular writer of books on Judaism and nature, was publicly condemned by leading rabbinic scholars in the ultra-Orthodox community for his espousal of evolution. By last winter, a full-scale ban went into effect on Slifkin‘s writings, with the leading Torah scholar, Jerusalem’s rabbi Yoself Sholom Elyashiv, signing on.
Publishers and seminaries have repudiated Slifkin’s writings, although the ban is contested privately by many ultra-Orthodox (the modern Orthodox, as represented by Yeshivah University, have few problems with Slifkin’s writings and with evolution in general). Observers say the incident has split the ultra-Orthodox community, with many defenders of the ban pressing for stronger authority and greater insularity from secular society.
But even supporters of Slifkin will not say so publicly for fear of further dividing the ultra-Orthodox community. Jewish creationism is similar to its Christian counterpart, although the former relies on the Talmud and rabbinic tradition in making the argument that the earth is no more than 6,000 years old. Other Orthodox Jews cite the teachings of the 12th century scholar Maimonides, who allowed for less literal readings of Genesis.
(Moment, 4115 Wisconsin Ave., N.W., Washington, DC 20016)