In This Issue
- On/File: December 2006
- Findings & Footnotes: December 2006
- Catholic-Orthodox dialogue entering new phase
- Mexico’s left turns up religious symbolism in protests
- Current Research: October 2010
- Seeds of Catholic growth in secular Quebec?
- Muslims adapting American dating practices
- Healing rooms next phase of charismatic revival?
- The uses and abuses of religion in the war on terrorism
01: A national campaign for repairing attacked Christian churches in the West Bank and Gaza in reaction to Pope Benedict XIV’s controversial speech on Islam was recently launched by Ahmed Bedier, director of the Central Florida chapter of Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
Bedier presented the first $5000 check to the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. The following Sunday at a Mass at St. Paul’s Catholic church, in front of people congregated from both traditions, Bedier insisted that the violence against a house of worship is un-Islamic, immoral, and unacceptable. The effort is said to have its roots in the frustration over the stereotypical images of Islam especially presented by the American Media that often focuses on the violence of a few Muslims. (Source: St. Petersburg Times, September 20) — By Ayako Sairenji, a New Jersey-based freelance writer.
01: New Roots in America’s Sacred Ground (Rutgers University Press, $23.95) by Khyati Joshi, fills a gap in examining the “lived religion” of second generation Indian Americans. Based on 41 interviews in the Boston and Atlanta areas, the book is unique in attempting to cover the Indian religious mosaic–Hindu, Sikh, Muslim and Christian. While the non-Hindu Indian religious minorities represent a small portion of Joshi’s interviews, she finds that most of them–born between the late 1960s and the early 1990s– partake of an Indian-American subculture defined by Hinduism.
Joshi claims that especially after September 11, the Indian religions of Sikhism, Hinduism and even Islam have become markers of racial difference. The interviews also reveal a lack of involvement in Hindu ritual and organizational life, although these young adults have an interest in spirituality and remain attached to their religion as a “moral compass.“ This means that their early religious upbringing serves as a guide to moral behavior and a foundation for spirituality even if they do not follow all of its teachings. The role of Hindu Sunday schools, the one place where they could explore their faith outside of their families when young, is credited with the most influence in forming this moral compass. College courses on world religions also fill an important educational role for the second generation, although they are often suspicious of “outsiders” treating their traditions critically.
02: While there are many case studies and other accounts of how the U.S. is becoming more religiously pluralistic, the new book A Nation of Religions(University of North Carolina Press, $19.95), edited by Stephen Prothero, looks at how this diversity is finding a political expression. In the introduction, Prothero nicely encapsulates the dilemmas and dynamics of the growth of world religions in the U.S. : “From the White house to public schools in Hawaii, an important contest is taking shape: the American values of the Enlightenment and the Judeo-Christian tradition are bumping up against the values of Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Sikhism. Jewish schoolteachers, Hindu camp counselors, and Muslim imams are weighing American narratives of freedom, equality, and sacrifice against the teachings of the Quaran and the Upanishads, bringing Abraham Lincoln and Malcolm X into conversation with the Buddha and Muhammad.”
Noteworthy chapters include one on the results of a survey of Muslim leaders showing both suspicion toward the political process and the realization of the need to engage in it to protect group interests. Hindus, meanwhile, are among the least politically involved of the immigrant religious groups. But gradually they are becoming more involved in fighting for their religious rights, extending their concept of sacred land to incorporate American temple sites, and engaging in social and charitable action. Two chapters on how the new pluralism may affect the legal landscape suggest that the older concepts of an impregnable wall separating church and state may give way to a stress on “equal opportunity” and even-handedness. Contributor Stephen Dawson even argues for a renewed appreciation of federalism, where different religions can have greater legal influence in their respective communities.
Positive new developments have occurred in relations between Roman Catholics and Orthodox, clearing the way for a new phase in the theological dialogue. The failure of the July 2000 meeting in Baltimore to agree on a common statement regarding uniatism (i.e. Roman Catholic efforts to incorporate groups allowed to keep the Eastern rite) had created serious difficulties, but the dialogue never did break down, writes Frans Bouwen, the editor of the Jerusalem and Beirut-based journal Proche-Orient Chétien, in its latest issue (56/1-2).
Meetings took place at a bilateral or local level, despite the fact that the international theological joint commission between both Churches did not meet again. And the Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue Between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church finally met again in Belgrade from Sept. 18-25. While both the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity and the Patriarchate of Constantinple took several initiatives in order to relaunch the official dialogue, Bouwen emphasizes how frequent interactions between Orthodox and Roman Catholic dioceses at a local level have become. Moreover, besides official dialogues, in recent years there have been a growing number of symposia and other meetings to better acquaint Catholics and Orthodox to each other.
There remain some challenges. According to Bouwen, it is important for Orthodox participants to show that they have not put aside the controversial issue of uniatism. At the same time, it is not possible to focus first on that problem if a dialogue is meant to be successful; participants will have to find a way to integrate the issue of uniatism within wider discussions on ecclesiology. Subsequent to the publication of the article, the Joint Commission (composed of 30 Roman Catholics and 30 Orthodox) met again in Belgrade in September, continuing the work begun in 1980 to seek the restoration of full communion.
While the official communique underlines the spirit of friendship, investigative reports mention that the papal primacy is still a stumbling block and the establishment of Catholic parishes in Orthodox areas remains a thorny issue, reports ADN Kronos International (Sept. 22). Moreover, a Russian Orthodox Church representative, Bishop Hilarion of Vienna, protested against solving theological issues through a majority vote: only consensus can be acceptable on such issues, he said. Hilarion also opposed putting the Patriarchate of Constantinople above the other Patriarchates through mentioning it alongside the See of Rome in the document, according to Interfax (Sept. 25). The rivalry between Moscow and Constantinople remains a serious area of intra-Orthodox tension.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer
Walking along Mexico City’s streets selling crafts made by his family, Jose, a fifty-something year old man with gray hair and a big smile, seems more engaged than usual with his offerings. Wooden and plastic crucifixes hang from his shoulder while he shouts “The Christ of Hope! Let’s pray to get a recount! Let’s pray to be heard by the government!”.
Jose has crafted rough-hewn rosaries and offered them among the crowds during the biggest demonstration ever held in Mexico. According to the organizers, almost two million people came from all over the country at the end of July to respond to the call of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the leftist candidate who claims to have won the highly contested presidential election of July 2nd. And Jose’s merchandise speaks volumes. Those supporting the left wing are beginning to claim the religious patrimony long considered to be the province of the right.
Official figures characterize Mexico as a predominantly Roman Catholic country (89 percent of its population), the second largest in the world. Mexican Catholicism is pervasive, but the country has been a deeply secular country for more than a century, with the intervention of religious institutions in politics successfully banned by the state since the end of the Cristero War in 1929. In 1992, the government broadened the rights of the churches, giving priests some political rights and regulating patrimonial and educational issues. Although the state kept control over the existence of churches and their activity and explicitly restricted clerical participation in political life, a new political elite closer to the Catholic hierarchy and conservative orders (such as the Legionaries of Christ) emerged during the Mexican transition to democracy.
The elections of 2006 were the most competitive in Mexico’s history. Moreover, two altogether different political platforms faced each other and, according to observers, Catholicism played an unusually important role in the way citizens defined their preferences. Some even directly accused the Catholic hierarchy of using their power and influence to prevent the victory of Lopez Obrador, a man who would guarantee the separation between church and state.
During the battle over the election, Catholics perceived the need to recover the powerful symbols of religion for their cause. After several demonstrations in the streets of Mexico City and even one at the huge Metropolitan Cathedral, an imposing 16th century building at the heart of the city, the Catholic hierarchy had to face the challenge posed by many poor Catholics whose political choices are with the left.
Many of those supporting the Coalicion por el Bien de Todos and PRD have started using religious icons to add some color to their demonstrations. Thus, Our Lady of Guadalupe has been regularly seen among them with banners reading “God is not ‘panista,’” or “God is always with the poor.” The situation became alarming enough that Archbishop Norberto Rivera asked believers to refrain from using the images in a political way.
In early September, while the country was waiting for the Electoral Tribunal decision, Mexico City’s archbishopric–the largest in the country– had to make public its position disengaging itself from the government and PAN, the right wing party whose triumph was later acknowledged by the Tribunal. The Mexican Church is far from being a monolithic institution. While some sectors of the Franciscans, the Dominicans and the Jesuits have actively engaged in leftist social and political causes, and the not-yet-dead Basic Ecclesial Communities still attract some people in poor communities, the institutional Church remains reluctant to support those willing to reconcile their Catholicism with their political preferences for the left.
— By Marisol Lopez Menendez
01: A new major survey finds that 10.8 percent of Americans have no religious ties, challenging other studies that have placed the figure around 14 percent as a sign that secularization is growing. The researchers who conducted the new Baylor University survey argue that other studies didn’t ask the right questions Baylor asked respondents to choose their specific denomination and then, unlike in the other surveys, asked them to write in the name and address of their current place of worship. In answering the second question, 33 percent of the respondents were able to supply the name of their congregation.
Kevin Dougherty of Baylor explained that the rise of non-denominational churches, or churches that don‘t use their denomination in their names, may help explain why so many at first said they had no religion. The survey also found that while evangelical Protestants consistently supported conservative political causes, only eight percent (four percent of Americans in general) believe that God favors a political party. But the survey did find that 18.6 percent of Americans believe God favors the U.S., with 26 percent of evangelicals claiming so.
02: The disappearance of “blue laws” prohibiting shopping on Sundays may have led to a decline in churchgoing and an increase in such behavior as drug and alcohol use, according to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The study, cited by the Washington Post(September 14), found that in states before the shopping ban was lifted, about 37 percent attended religious services at least weekly.
“After the laws are repealed it falls to 32 percent,” said Daniel Hungerman, who conducted the study with Jonathan Gruber. The study also found that church donations decreased while marijuana, cocaine and alcohol usage increased among churchgoers after the repeal. Hungerman speculates that businesses open on Sunday force some religious young people to work and go shopping which increases their exposure to sinful behavior. They conclude that these results do not seem to be driven by declines in religiosity prior to the law change, “nor do we see comparable declines in membership or giving to nonreligious organizations after a state repeals its laws.”
03: The growth and presence of evangelicals tends to have a “dampening effect on the presence of psychics, astrologers” and possibly other shops associated with the New Age movement, according to a recent study.
Writing in the Journal of Media and Religion(Vol. 5, No. 2), Christopher Bader and William Lockhart found that the presence and distribution of evangelicals and astrologers and psychics have a noticeable relationship. In states where evangelical Protestantism is strong, there will be less psychic and astrology shops and a greater presence of Christian bookstores, which provide goods–lifestyle items as well as books– that help sustain the evangelical subculture. States with a weak evangelical presence–the West Coast, Northeast and Florida– tend to attract, and provide a “greater opening for New Age services,“ write Bader and Lockhart.
These distribution patterns have less to do with demographics than with the “community religious context” or “religious economy,” the authors argue. But they are uncertain whether the “dampening effect” of evangelicals on New Age groups is related to “individual preferences met by strong churches or by social pressures exerted on the community by activist churches.” (Journal of Media and Religion, Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc., 10 Industrial Ave., Mahwah, NJ 07430-2262)
04: A follow up study on the changing attitudes in the American Catholic priesthood confirms the conservative shift that has taken place among priests in the last 15 years. The study conducted by sociologist Dean Hoge of Catholic University in America replicates an earlier survey he conducted 15 years ago.
The recent study shows that today’s Catholic priest is more ethnically diverse and older than was the case 15 years ago. The new survey confirms the shift in attitudes toward the priesthood toward a “cultic model,” holding the notion that the priest is set apart in providing the sacraments and leading an exemplary life. Pope John Paul II was seen as the most influential figure by 21 percent of today’s priests; in 1990 Pope John Paul was rated so only by three percent of priests, reports the National Catholic Register (September 24).
05: A study of 19 Western democracies found that Protestant nations are the most likely to guarantee cultural rights to religious minorities. The study, conducted by Michael Milkenberg of the University of Europe-Viadrina in Germany, detected a trend in countries with a Catholic background to be less inclusive of non-Christian minorities and their practices than Protestant countries.
Milkenberg presented preliminary findings from his study of 19 nations and the ways in which they have accommodated non-Christian minorities at a recent lecture at the New School for Social Research in New York, which was attended by RW. In 14 out of the 19 countries Islam is the third or even the second largest religious minority.
Milkenberg found a general shift from cultural monism to cultural pluralism in the European nations studied (Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK), as well as in non European ones such as Australia. Such pluralism entails the creation of policies of cultural integration that support non-Christian religious practices—including permitting the use of head scarves by Muslim girls and women, and the policy of giving religious lessons to children in the public schools.
— By Marisol Lopez Menendez, a doctoral student in Sociology at the New School for Social Research.
Quebec may have hit bottom when it comes to measures of Catholic adherence and commitment, but the growth of new religious communities and renewal groups in the province suggests stirrings of a new generation in the church, reports the National Catholic Register (September 24). By all indicators, the Catholic Church in Quebec has taken a free fall from its position as a Catholic stronghold before the 1960s. Sparse church attendance and an acute shortage of priests, as well as the general secularization of Quebec public life, remain prominent.
Although he does not cite statistics, John Zucchi of McGill University sees young people rejecting the anti-Catholic attitudes of the previous generations who often battled the church on political grounds. “Many were born in a spiritual vacuum. With no antagonism toward their parents, they are starting to come back to church.”
More tangible signs of change are evident in the growth of Catholic renewal movements and communities. Such movements as Marie Jeunesse and Myrium Bethlehem are two of “several dozen” new communities…some that are home-grown, and some that were begun in France.” Other international orders, such as Opus Dei and the Legionaries, are also finding a following. These movement stress such traditional practices as adoration of the Eucharist and are showing some new religious vocations.
(National Catholic Register, 432 Washington Ave., North Haven, CT 06473)
An approach half way between that of arranged marriages and choosing one’s mate is taking shape among Muslims in the U.S., reports the New York Times (September 19).
In the past, dating in any form was condemned as sinful and arranged marriage was seen as the only truly Islamic alternative . But the force of assimilation has introduced some compromises. Panelists at the recent conference of the Islamic Society of North America see a hybrid form of arranged marriage emerging in the U.S., where the young do choose their mates, but the parents are “at least partly involved in the process in something like half the cases,“ writes Neil MacFarquhar.
The combination of modern and traditional courtship practices was on view at the gathering. A “matrimonial banquet” was held where single American Muslim men spent seven minutes talking to women at each table, mirroring the popular practice of “speed dating” on the American single scene. Yet the parents were often on hand to lend their approval to the deliberations. A recent informal study found that one-third of Muslim marriages in the U.S. end in divorce. This is a lower figure than found among non-Muslims, but divorce is still a growing concern in the Islamic community.
Although charismatic and Pentecostal revivals have simmered down in the last few years, the recent establishment of “healing rooms” may have more staying power in this movement, according to sociologist Margaret Poloma.
Writing in the current issue of Pneuma (Vol. 28, No. 1), a journal of Pentecostal studies, Poloma notes that the idea of “healing rooms,“ existing often separately from churches, was originally a brainchild of Pentecostal pioneer John G. Lake and later revived by those associated with the Vineyard churches in the late 1990s. Since then, hundreds of healing rooms have been established throughout North America and overseas, usually under the oversight of the International Association of Healing Rooms (IAHR).
Healing rooms are often situated in medical/professional office buildings, as well as in churches and in independent “houses“ where the sick can come for healing on a regular basis. The rooms operate under the premise that healing is part of the message of Christian salvation, resonating with the “Word of Faith” movement among some charismatics.
But while the theology of the healing rooms does not disparage modern medicine (“pray-ers” are instructed not to give “pray-ees” medical advice), it does “express greater regard for divine power to heal than for the efficacy of medicine,” Poloma writes. She concludes that while charismatic and Pentecostal revivals often die down, “moving the practice of healing out of isolated churches and into the marketplace” may have given the healing rooms a structure less susceptible to the forces of routinization that have domesticated earlier healing movements.”
(Pneuma, P.O. Box 3002, Cleveland, TN 37320-3802)
Years ago, periodicals studying political violence would mostly publish articles on secular-based movements; but today more and more space is given to groups claiming some type of religious justification, especially Islamic ones.
And some terrorism experts have come to a conclusion similar to Muhammad Haniff bin Hassan’s (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore) writing in the journal Studies in Conflict and Terrorism (September): “The real target in the battle against Muslim extremist groups should not be the groups themselves, but their ideology, which should be stopped from spreading beyond their current members.”
Hassan adds that there were instances of similar ideological work in the past. During the Malayan insurgency, Muslim scholars were successfully engaged to prove that communism was against Islam. However, one should remember that Al Qaeda’s type of violence does not only justify its actions through ideology, but also claims to champion grievances of Muslims, from Kashmir to Chechnya and Iraq. The majority of Muslims, not terrorist groups, should be seen as the primary targets of the ideological response; all military efforts will be useless in the long run if groups such as Al Qaeda continue to find recruits and sympathizers willing to help it.
Hassan argues that a comprehensive understanding of the ideology is required (“know your enemy”), not only for devising appropriate response, but also for conducting “forensic theology” (i.e. ideological surveillance) for preventive purposes, such as the identification of discourses which would support terrorist activities. Those who resent the West and seem to sympathize with Bin Laden do not always actually subscribe to Al Qaeda’s ideology.
An effective counterideological work should refrain from generalizations (e.g. lumping all Salafis or madrasahs together). Sweeping statements are dangerous: they define the battle front too widely – and create additional enemies. The war on terrorism will be won through co-opting strategic partners in the Muslim community, as well as by correcting prejudices against Islam by non-Muslims which only serve to antagonize Muslims and fortify extremist views, Hassan concludes. For that reason, the role of religion scholars can also be expected to play an important role in this effort.
Already the role of religion scholars in the war on terrorism is helping to create unprecedented challenges to the American legal system. An article in the Atlantic Monthly magazine (October) looks at how the government’s strategy of “pre-emptive prosecution” of terrorists targets both religious actions and intentions. Unless religious beliefs bear directly on guilt–the use of illegal drugs such as peyote in religious rituals–they are generally barred from trials as prejudicial.
The change surrounds the government’s strategy of demonstrating danger both through acts, such as training to commit violence, and through “speech, belief, or association” documented through the defendants’ words or materials found in their possession. As a result, courts have become battlegrounds where religion scholars clash over the meaning of evidence which is largely theological in content before jurors with little knowledge of Islamic radicalism or Islam in general.
Amy Waldman writes that the expert scholars, lawyers and jurors all wrestle with the fact that religious language does not neatly translate into language of criminal intent. Invocations to God to punish one’s enemies do not necessarily mean that individuals will carry out such punishments. The problem is compounded by the fragmented nature of Islamic authority which cannot provide a common meaning for texts and other teachings.
The conundrum of where to draw the line between belief and action was on display in the recent trial of Pakistani defendant Hamid Hayat, who was convicted of intending to commit terrorist actions because he attended a jihadist training camp and was in possession of extremist literature. Yet prosecutors found no actual plans for terrorist activity. One of the most incriminating pieces of evidence was a small piece of paper that Hayat carried with the written prayer, “Oh Allah, we place you at their throats, and we seek refuge in you from evil.” The prayer was later found to be a common prayer of protection that travelers often carry with them in Pakistan. Waldman concludes that this new approach of reducing the risk of terrorism is resulting in a “de facto restriction of the fundamental liberties of a select group of Americans.”
(Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, Taylor and Francis Group, 325 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19106)
— This article was written with RW Contributing Editor Jean Francois Mayer, founder of the website Religioscope (http://www.religion.info).