In This Issue
- Findings & Footnotes: September 2006
- Alevi identity taking shape in the diaspora
- Mandaeans in Iraq under threat
- Scottish sectarian skirmishes subsiding
- Northern Ireland’s DUP show pragmatic side but is it enough?
- Gender roles change among Israel’s ultra-orthodox
- Current Research: September 2006
- Conservative party galvanizes Christian activism in Canada
- Immigrant Buddhists stress science over Christian competitors
- Calvinism’s spiritual side attracks young evangelicals
- New Jesus traditions custom made for spiritual seekers
- Mainline protestants flourish by taking up sideline status?
01: The cover story on religion in the “future of global civilization” in the September/October issue of The Futurist shows both the growing interest and the frustration over religion among futurologists.
The writers concede that religion often lies “at the heart of culture,“ but because of this close relationship, the much predicted–and hoped for–“global village” will be fragmented, or not at all. Thomas R. McFaul outlines three scenarios on the role of religion and world order by the year 2050: Exclusivism, where religions become increasingly violent and hostile to one another.
The second scenario is pluralism, where differences between religions remain but leaders and adherents try to find common ground and avoid conflict; and Inclusivism, where humanity becomes one family and the various religious ethics are melded into one new worldview. McFaul concludes that the most likely scenario will be one of exclusivism, at least until 2025, when the forces of pluralism become so strong that the norm of living with differences will become more universal. For more information on this issue, write: The Futurist, 7910 Woodmont Ave., Suite 450, Bathesda, MD 20814
02: The entire issue of the newly published issue of India Review (dated January) is devoted to “The State of India Studies in the United States.”
In a research article, Christian Lee Novetzke writes that the future of study of Indian religions within the wider field of religious studies is expected to remain stable, with a greater emphasis on Indian Islam, gender studies and contemporary religion. But scholars will increasingly come under the scrutiny of immigrant South Asian communities. Since the 1980s, there has been “a great emphasis on regionalism, regional languages, and non-elite religion.”
The study of Indian Islam is taking a much larger place, in contrast with earlier tendencies of Islamic studies to focus on Middle Eastern Islam. South Asian communities – especially Hindus and Sikhs – show an increasing desire to influence the portrayal of their religious traditions through funding programs and chairs. In some cases, such initiatives have been positive for both sides, and some leading universities are actively seeking endowments for new chairs in the fields.
In some cases, however, academic representations of Asian religions have been met with hostility by “watchdog” organizations, with aims such as “defending Hinduism”. This means that scholars – even if dealing with the past – have to be much more aware of the current political scene and debates in India.
Scholars will also be increasingly confronted with lobbying efforts, such as the ones of Hindu groups in 2005-2006 to have changes introduced in California textbooks to reflect a supposedly more “accurate” view of Hinduism. Novetzke remarks that, in such a case, South Asians were far from united, and some South Asian groups also fought against the requests for changes in the textbooks. For more information on this issue of India Review, write Taylor & Francis Group, 325 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106; http://www.indiareview.org.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer
03: The publication of On the Road to Being There (Brill, $120) attests to the current interest in religious tourism and pilgrimage and how the two phenomena are related.
While studies in religious pilgrimage have a long pedigree in anthropology and sociology, the new collection of essays, edited by William H. Swatos Jr., focuses on how the spiritual pilgrim and tourist may be one and the same person today. He argues that the line between pilgrimages and tourism is increasingly blurred by third parties promoting the cultural and entertainment values of these once solely religious pilgrimage sites. The contributions to this expensive volume cover a wide range of places and pilgrimage sites, and most find that pilgrimage and spiritual tourism are also serving as alternatives to congregation- and denomination-based religion.
A chapter on the popular Neopagan goddess pilgrimages suggests that these devotees straddle the line between pilgrims and tourists, enjoying both the comforts, culture and spirituality of ancient sites spread from Turkey to Ireland to Mexico. Other pilgrimage sites and practices are malleable enough so that their meanings vary for different pilgrims/practitioners– such “interpretive freedom” is evident in the chapters on the annual Burning Man festival in Nevada and the labyrinth walks in mainline churches. Other notable contributions include a look at Japan‘s Gion Festival, a month-long urban street celebration that retains religious components, and a study on the Vatican-run Jubilee 2000. Sociologist Roberto Cipriani finds that while many Jubilee pilgrims were drawn to Rome for orthodox Catholic reasons and appreciated the role of the pope, they also showed an individualism that questioned or were ignorant of church teachings, such as on the subject of papal indulgences.
The Alevis, a Turkish-based group long considered part of Islam though with heterodox leanings, are undergoing changes in their identity due to developments in Turkey and the diaspora, reports Martin Eichhorn in the August issue of Materialdienst der EZW. Germany plays a key role in that evolution. According to 2004 statistics, there are 410,000 Alevis in Germany (while they make up 20 percent of the Muslims in Turkey). The first Alevi associations in Germany had been founded in the 1970s, but they were close to Turkish political parties, and religious activities only played a minor role; quite often, Alevis in the diaspora continued to keep their Alevi identity hidden from the Sunni majority.
But the Alevi dimension came more and more to the foreground in the 1980s, as reflected in the growing use of “Alevi” in the names of local groups. In 1991, a national organization was launched, gathering 10 regional centers. Alevis in Germany also were influential in the founding of an Alevi Union of Europe in 2002. It represents a total of 170 groups and one million faithful. Since major religious bodies may have religious teaching arranged for them in German, the issue of offering separate Alevi religious teachings has become a major issue.
Religious teaching for Alevis has already been introduced in Berlin. Four other German Laender (federal States) have agreed to introduce teaching of the Alevi religion. This means that tens of thousands of Alevi children will receive their own religious teachings in the schools. Developments in the diaspora are bound to give further impetus to affirming an Alevi identity clearly separate from that of Sunni Islam within Turkey itself. The process of rapprochement between Turkey and the European Union, with associated requirements for membership, should also help Alevi claims for a separate identity to be accepted by the Turkish government.
(Materialdienst der EZW, Auguststrasse 80, 10117 Berlin, Germany;http://www.ezw-berlin.de) — By Jean-Francois Mayer
The destruction of a Mandaean temple in the al-Ahshar district of Basra (Iraq) by Shi’ite guerillas on June 28 was the latest in a long series of attacks since the beginning of the occupation of Iraq, writes C.G. Haberl in the August issue (No.4) of the online newsletter The Arab Washingtonian. Mandaeans are the descendents of an ancient, pre-Islamic Gnostic sect, which recognizes John the Baptist as its main prophet and uses an ancient form of Aramaic. Mandaeans (also called Sabeans) are mentioned in the Quran, and thus considered by Islam as belonging to the “people of the book” alongside with Christianity and Judaism, and therefore enjoyed the same right to protection.
Mandaeans – also present in smaller number in Iran – used to live in harmony with their neighbors in Iraq. However, soon after the Americans seized control, the leader of the Shi’ite Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq issued a fatwa declaring the Mandaeans to be unclean – despite a fatwa to the contrary by Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Mandaeans have been facing persecution ever since.
Many Mandaeans are reported to have fled the country, including members of the clergy. According to a human rights organization, out of 30,000 members, only 13,000 still remain and are under constant threat. In a recent development, the Mandaean community is reported to have applied for asylum in Kurdistan. Some observers are unconvinced that this would offer them lasting security, and Mandaeans might have no other option than to flee the country. “Whether they come to Kurdistan or emigrate elsewhere, the history of the Mandaeans in southern Iraq is coming to an end,” writes Haberl.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder of Religioscope (http://www.religion.info)
Just as the conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland has grown less violent if still persisting, historic sectarian tensions in Scotland appear to be subsiding.
The Tablet of London (Aug. 4) reports that in both countries, the Protestant Orange orders’ traditional anti-Catholic edge has been dulled. In Northern Ireland, the government has proposed turning the annual Orange march into communal festivals open to everyone. In Scotland, the Orange Lodges have devised a scheme where young people from Protestant backgrounds are introduced to youth from Catholic and other backgrounds.
But crucial to Scotland’s diminishing conflict is the public acknowledgement that the problem existed. Persistent attacks on the Scottish Catholic school system were represented as liberal and anti-sectarian when they were more likely driven by anti-Catholic prejudice. Only when the prejudice was acknowledged could the full force of peer-group pressure be mobilized to stop it. The article adds that there is still a denial of sectarianism in Scottish politics, and a continuing need for open dialogue on the issue.
(The Tablet, 1 King Cloisters, Clifton Walk, London W6 0QZ UK)
The Democratic Union Party (DUP), now the largest political party in Northern Ireland, has distanced itself from much of its fundamentalist past and is accommodating a more pragmatic wing, according to Gladys Ganiel of Trinity College, Dublin.
In a paper presented at the meeting of the ASR, she traced how the DUP has changed from once being the right-wing political bastion of fundamentalist leader Ian Paisely to a party that has a growing secular and pragmatic wing under the leadership of Peter Robinson. The DUP has shifted away from evangelical issues and will compromise on peripheral issues, such as Sabbath observance. Today the fundamentalist or Paisleyite segment is seen more as a lobby within the DUP than its core element, functioning similar to the way the Christian Coalition works with the Republican Party in the U.S.
But Ganiel concluded that even as the DUP tries to appeal to a wider base, it still has a strong anti-Catholic element that makes it difficult to accommodate Sinn Fein and republicanism. The DUP’s intransigence on social and moral issues could be seen in its refusal to sign the Belfast peace agreement and its opposition to releasing political prisoners without their repenting of their actions.
Known for its strict segregation of the sexes, ultra-Orthodox Judaism in Israel is undergoing a notable change in gender relations, according to a researcher at Hebrew University.
A paper by Nurit Stadler presented at the meeting of the Association for the Sociology of Religion (ASR) finds that the image of Heredi, or ultra-Orthodox, Jewish men spending more time with their studies than with their families is giving way to a more egalitarian family model. In traditional Heredi writings, women tending their homes and families is seen as a way to gain awards in the world to come. In her research, Stadler found in popular books and other media a new emphasis on men to providing emotional support to their wives and children and on being aware of womens’ psychological needs and desires.
Such a process of domestication is in effect redefining fatherhood and motherhood in the Haredi community, she concluded.
01: Mormons, and evangelicals are the most likely groups to have large families, but such factors as the education of the mothers and the effect of “congregational cultures” also significantly affect the fertility rate, according to a paper presented at the meeting of the Association of the Sociology of Religion.
In his paper, Conrad Hackett of Princeton University found in his analysis of the Congregational Life Survey that high fertility is found in congregations affiliated with small denominations, whose members are not identified in standard demographic surveys. Hackett’s analysis is unique in studies of fertility since it isolates the various denominational affiliations. He found that the larger groups with the highest fertility ranged from Mormon (2.69 children born to women 20-44) and Mennonite (2.45) to Episcopal (1.84) and Unitarian (1.78).
In focusing on smaller denominations, the Church of God (Anderson, Ind.) showed a high 2.91 and the United Pentecostal Church showed a rate of 2.83. Although conservative Protestants scored among the highest, the liberal United Church of Christ scored a relatively high rate of 2.45. The level of education had some effect on fertility. In such a smaller denomination as the Church of the Nazarene, which had a fertility rate of 2.83, only 11 percent of the women had a B.A. degree. The Southern Baptists had a lower fertility rate of 1.96, but 30 percent of the women had a B.A. Hackett concluded that it was not so much the theology of the churches that had an effect on fertility as much as congregations that encouraged a “natalist culture.”
02: Those participating in the World Youth Days organized by the Vatican show higher levels of Catholic commitment than other young Catholics, according to a recent Australian study.
The millions of youth who have flocked to World Youth Days since they were inaugurated by Pope John Paul II have often been characterized as unchurched seekers drawn more to the collective spiritual enthusiasm and camaraderie of these events than to church teachings, but there has been little research on the topic. A paper presented at the recent meeting of the Association of the Sociology of Religion in Montreal by Australian sociologist Richard Rymarz, found that the Catholics participating in the event, both those under and over18 years of age, were quite different than their contemporaries in the church. In comparing a sample of 110 Australian pilgrims under 18 at the World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany in 2005 against a control group of young Catholics who didn‘t attend,
Rymarz found that 79 percent of the former went to Mass weekly, compared to 11 percent of the control group. Fifty one percent of the pilgrims were active in parish youth groups, compared to seven percent of the control group. The pilgrims over 18 were also far more involved in their parishes than the young Catholics surveyed in the recent Youth Study of Australia. Rymarz cautioned that his study represented only Australian pilgrims who tended to be younger than European pilgrims.
03: A new analysis by the Washington-based Pew Research Center suggests that French Muslims are embracing assimilation more eagerly than their counterparts in other European countries.
This finding flies in the face of the popular perception, especially after the riots in Parisian suburbs by mainly Muslim youths late last year, that Muslims show considerable disaffection toward French society. But Radio Free Europe(August 24) reports that the Pew Center’s survey data puts France’s treatment of Muslims in a more favorable light. “When we look at the riots last year in France, they appear to have been heavily economically driven rather than driven by religion — by the fact that there are very high rates of unemployment among French Muslims rather than by a zealous desire to convert or extinguish those of other faiths,” said Jodie Allen, a senior editor at Pew.
French Muslims, like Muslims in the rest of Europe, are concerned about unemployment. More than half of French Muslims are concerned about joblessness, according to survey data collected by Pew in April 2006. But unlike their coreligionists elsewhere, a substantial majority embraces the customs of their countrymen. “Nearly eight in 10 French Muslims generally say they want to adopt French customs,” Allen said. This high preference for assimilation contrasts with Muslims in Spain (who also tend to come from North Africa), where only 53 percent of Muslims say they want to adopt Spanish customs. Only 41 percent in Britain say the same about British customs. And nearly 30 percent in Germany also say that.
As with the Paris riots last fall, the arrests of British-born Muslims in London in connection with an alleged plot to blow up airliners have prompted speculation that ethnic discrimination and joblessness have made Islamic extremism attractive to British Muslims. But French Muslims also face such conditions; 37 percent of French Muslims reported negative experiences due to their race, ethnicity, or religion, compared to 28 percent among British Muslims.
Yet few French Muslims view a conflict between being a devout Muslim and living in French society. Some 72 percent of those surveyed see no conflict, compared with only 49 percent in Great Britain. Some of the difference between British and French Muslims may be due to ethnicity. French Muslims are predominantly from Morocco and Algeria, where they were already exposed to French culture.
Historically, French colonial policy emphasized the “civilizing effects” of the French language and culture, while the British Empire allowed its subjects more room to maintain their own cultures, discouraging integration. In 2004, the French government began expelling foreign clerics that it deemed to be preaching intolerance toward other religions. In addition, would-be imams studying in French mosques must demonstrate their proficiency in French.
There is a growing alliance between social conservatives made up largely of evangelicals and Catholics and the new Conservative Party in power in Canada, reports Religion in the News (Summer). Although the emergence of a religious right and culture wars in the mold of the U.S. is unlikely in Canada, the election of Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper as Prime Minister has created an opening for conservative Christian voters to roll back liberal measures that have been introduced in the country, writes Dennis Hoover. The most likely rallying point is over gay marriage, which the Liberal government endorsed last year, though it was already legal in several provinces.
The gay marriage issue “provoked an unprecedented level of activism from Canada’s growing network of social conservative advocacy groups,” including the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, Equipping Christians for the Public Square, and Canada Family Action. Some of these groups “entered the fray in the recent election,” and it was found that at least eight new Conservative candidates had secured their nominations with the support of conservative religious organizations.
In fact, the Conservative’s stronger showing at the polls in 2006 was partly due to the religious vote. Two-thirds of Protestants who attend church voted for the Conservatives–jumping 25 percent from the 2004 elections, according to Andrew Grenville, a leading Canadian religion pollster. Grenville also found that for the first time ever, church-going Catholics voted more Conservative (42 percent) than Liberal (40 percent). Hoover concludes that so far Harper has not been too eager to fan the flames of the culture wars, but the renewed Christian activism gathering around him may serve to at least block further initiatives by the left, such as legalizing prostitution.
(Religion in the News, Leonard Greenberg Center, Trinity College, 300 Summit St., Hartford, CT 06106; http://www.trincoll.edu/depts/csrpl)
Buddhist immigrants are downplaying the ethnic elements of their faith and stressing its affinity to modernity and science in order to counteract the widespread conversions to Christianity in their community.
This change of emphasis and strategy is most apparent among Taiwanese Buddhists in the U.S, according to researcher Carolyn Chen of Northwestern University. Chen delivered a paper on this development at the early August meeting of the Association for the Sociology of Religion in Montreal attended byRW. Chen notes that just as the majority of Taiwanese convert to Christianity after they arrive in the U.S., most Buddhists only begin practicing the religion after they immigrate.
She adds that the “true” Buddhism these immigrants take up is shorn of its Chinese ethnic elements and what are seen as “superstitious” practices and traditions. Rather, Taiwanese immigrants emphasize the scientific and rational nature of their faith, contrasting it with what they see as the Christian emphasis on tradition.
“They say Buddhism is the most scientific and wants you to think for yourself. Other religions require faith,” Chen said. She concludes that these immigrants are not using religion as a barrier against assimilation, but rather redefine the religion in a “cultural way to make it scientific and to differentiate themselves against Christian Taiwanese.”
Calvinism continues to grow in evangelical institutions and denominations, such as the Southern Baptist Convention, especially softer strains of the faith that emphasize spirituality as much as doctrine. The gravitation of evangelicals toward the Reformed tradition, both in theology and political thinking, has been taking place [and noted in RW] for well over a decade.
Christianity Today (September) reports that the most recent wave of interest in Reformed theology is found among young evangelicals in Southern Baptist, charismatic and “seeker“-based churches who are attracted to the in-depth doctrine and a firm sense of God’s sovereignty over all of life. In fact, the leaders of the current movement are mostly outside of the traditional conservative Presbyterian orbit–Baptist preacher John Piper, Joshua Harris, pastor of the charismatic New Life Covenant Church, Gaithersburg, MD, and Albert Mohler of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. Although differing on such issues as charismatic gifts and church government, the young Calvinists seem especially captivated by the spirituality of the Puritans and the works of such Reformed forefathers as Jonathan Edwards and Charles H. Spurgeon.
(Christianity Today, 465 Gundersen Dr., Carol Stream, IL 60187)
The Da Vinci Code is only one of several “new traditions” that are currently circulating about Jesus and finding large followings among spiritual seekers. In a paper presented at the conference of the Center for the Study of New Religions (known as CESNUR) in San Diego in July, Reender Kranenborg of the Free University of Amsterdam finds several new kinds of traditions or teachings about Jesus in the spiritual marketplace, including:
01: The infancy gospels, circulating since the 2nd century, intend to fill in the “missing years” of Jesus’ childhood, and usually gather a small but devoted following around a teacher claiming to channel Jesus for such knowledge.
02: The tradition of Jesus and Mary Magdalene is among the most popular, including the Da Vinci Code as well as other works claiming the centrality of the role of Mary Magdalene and the journey of Jesus to France.
03: The esoteric tradition is based on the view that Jesus was a Gnostic master or teacher of secret wisdom, a view closely associated with Dan Brown and the Da Vinci Code, though Brown‘s linkage of Gnosticism with the principle of the “sacred feminine“ has little to do with the historic Gnostic tradition.
04: The tradition of Jesus journeying to India to give esoteric teachings has also been around for a century, but it has gained new currency with the publication of recent books on the topic.
05: The Tradition of Jesus as a Precursor to Muhammad is actually from a late-dated (17th century) Book of Barnabas, but many Muslims cite it as a true gospel to counter Christian claims. Most of the above traditions have been found to contain more historical inaccuracies than the traditional Christian gospels. But Kranenborg writes that they are popular today because they stress spiritual experience and personal enlightenment over adherence to traditional Christian dogma, and they give greater prominence to the place to the position of women in early Christianity.
A new breed of mainline Protestant congregations are growing by taking a countercultural stance in American society. That is the provocative plot-line running through the new book Christianity for the Rest of Us (Harper SanFrancisco $23.95) by Diana Butler Bass.
The book is the result of a three-year study of what Bass calls “intentional” or “practicing” churches in moderate and liberal Protestant denominations which, she asserts, are confounding forecasts of inevitable mainline decline by showing growth and vitality. Although Bass makes no attempt to show that the 50 churches studied are representative of this movement, she maintains that they are models of an important trend in the mainline.
In interviewing members of the churches she studied, Bass finds that many were not brought up in these churches; many are ex-Catholics and ex-evangelicals. The theme of finding an “authentic” faith for oneself rather than one inherited by birth is common in members’ accounts, as is the concept of being on a spiritual quest and yet finding a communal “home.” The cultivation of spiritual practices also sets these congregations apart from others. Such practices as contemplation, hospitality and worship–often of a liturgical mode–are valued for the spiritual experiences and community they generate.
Likewise, the call for social justice is often seen as a communal practice with a spiritual component. Bass writes that in the congregations she studied, there is a “nearly wholesale rejection of the definition of politics as systemic change and policy platforms” in favor of “personal politics” and volunteerism. These churches clearly portray themselves as politically and socially marginal and criticize the Christian right for becoming the new establishment in American society.
Bass agrees that mainline denominations are in decline, but argues that this is the case because bureaucratic institutions cannot embody the communal and spiritual practices that are the driving forces of intentional congregations. These congregations appear to value the broad traditions (for instance, the Reformed tradition for Presbyterians) of their denominations but not the denominations themselves (making them “post-denominational”).
Bass doesn’t explore how the younger “second generation” members of these intentional mainline churches are faring; are they keeping younger members who are raised in these churches? As with the “emerging church” movement (which shows many similarities to intentional mainline churches), it remains to be seen how well these new style mainline congregations can socialize the young and embed their innovations in new structures and networks.