In This Issue
- Findings & Footnotes: September 2007
- Indonesia sees a Confucian revival
- Democratic and public Islam in Indonesia
- Scandals, schisms and politics cause Korea’s protestant decline?
- Current Research: September 2007
- Uneasy Unitarian — Pagan marriage heading for divorce?
- The return of the Latin mass — new diversity or division?
- Campus religion — pluralistic and vital
- Iran universalizing the message of Mahdism
Findings & Footnotes: September 2007
01: The summer issue of Nieman Reports, the journal of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University, is devoted to Islam and the media. The considerable diversity of topics covered in this issue suggests that the usual question of how reporters “missed” the role of Islam in world affairs is by now an old story. In fact, the opening article by Griff Witte of the Washington Post charges that religion has all too often become the main source of conflict in most reporting on the Middle East. He writes that the media often misses the ethnic and geostrategic elements in the conflicts of the Islamic world.
In another article, Geneive Abdo writes that another danger has been setting up a “good Muslim/bad Muslim” scenario where the most secular Muslims–even those who attack the faith–are portrayed in the media as the “good” ones, even if they are offensive to most of the world‘s religious Muslim. Abdo also describes the way American Muslims have created their own alternatives to the media, such as “Radio Islam.” Other interesting articles include an account by the New York Times Islam reporter on how she gained access to her sources, and an examination of how the media tends to portray women as the “good” Muslims favoring peace and freedom. This issue is available at: http://www.nieman.harvard.edu
02: The two words “evangelical” and “elite” may not seem to belong together but D. Michael Lindsay’s new book Faith in the Halls of Power(Oxford University Press, $24.95) is a convincing examination of the rising influence of a new type of evangelical leader in American society. Unlike recent conspiratorial treatments of evangelical influence in politics, Lindsay portrays the emerging evangelical elite as a diffuse movement of laypeople and clergy that have gained influence in many spheres of American society–from entertainment and journalism to business, academia, and politics.
Lindsay interviewed 360 such leaders and finds little conspiracy to take over America but a “remarkable cohesion” among them because of their shared identity and the overlapping networks of influence they have created. It is these networks often located in centers of prestige, whether it be the Fellowship, an exclusive organization for Christian politicians or the newly formed Christian actor guilds, that lend legitimacy to such evangelical elites.
These “cosmopolitan evangelicals” are different than the evangelical rank-and-file in various ways. They tend to distance themselves from the evangelical subculture, viewing it as tacky and unsophisticated. Unlike “populist” evangelicals, the evangelical elite tends to have a more “flexible orthodoxy” and weak relationships with congregational life, often preferring their parachurch networks for spiritual sustenance. Lindsay is ambivalent about the future influence of the new evangelical leadership While they undoubtedly have growing influence in American society due to their positions, it is not clear that they have the ear of a large evangelical constituency or can calm the fears of other Americans who fear evangelical domination.
03: There have been many books and studies on Pentecostal growth around the world, but Donald A. Miller and Tetsunao Yamamori’s new book Global Pentecostalism (University of California Press, $24.95) focuses largely on how these Christians engage social issues. Miller and Yamamori study only what they call “progressive Pentecostals“- those that espouse a holistic ministry including social programs rather than those holding the “health and wealth” teachings (though there is not always a clear demarcation between the two camps). These Pentecostals cover the spectrum on the scale of social involvement–from operating “mercy” ministries (feeding the poor) to emerging community development projects (sometimes in partnership with NGOs) to, less frequently, seeking to change policy through political involvement.
Based on 300 interviews with pastors and others involved in Pentecostal social outreach, the book is in some ways a global sequel to Miller’s previous work on “new paradigm” charismatic churches in the U.S. Most of the traits that make new paradigm churches effective–informality, use of networks over bureaucracy, and charismatic leadership–fit the progressive Pentecostals. It is the informality and sense of ownership given to members in in these congregations that leads the laity to take up social ministry. The emotional intensity and emphasis on gifts provides a strong sense of self-worth to both ministry workers and recipients and the flexibility to avoid bureaucracy, at least in the first generation of believers. Miller and Yamamori agree that Pentecostalism is providing a Protestant work ethic to members, but not in the puritanical vein as much as a more joyful and communal version.
Indonesia sees a Confucian revival
Among Indonesians of Chinese descent, Confucianism is experiencing a comeback as it is again recognized as a religion– a status of which it has been deprived since the 1970s, said Yumi Kitamura (Kyoto University) at the International Convention of Asia Scholars in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. In 1965, Confucianism had been listed among the six religions practiced by Indonesians.
According to the 1970 census, it gathered 0.9 percent of the population, a small percentage, but roughly equivalent to the percentage of Buddhists in Indonesia. However, following a series of measures taken against various Chinese traditions, the Indonesian government dropped Confucianism from the list in 1979, stating that it was merely a belief, and not a religion. In order to continue to exist, Confucians had to register and camouflage themselves as Buddhists, adding statues of Buddha to their places of worship.
In the mid-1990s, explained Kitamura, some Confucians decided to fight fir their rights. A couple married according to Confucian rites asked for the wedding to be entered into official registers. When their request was turned down, they took the authorities to court, with the support of some Muslim intellectuals. Following the resignation of President Suharto in 1998, the new government rapidly expressed signs of support for Confucian demands. This new approach was finalized in February 2006, with an edict requiring local and provincial administrations to give official recognition to the existence of Confucianism.
Confucians in Indonesia have adjusted to patterns of recognized religions in the country, presenting Confucius as their “prophet.” Their rituals combine traditional Chinese practices with choirs, hymns and altar boys. Since the 1980s, there has been a revival of Confucianism in different areas of the world, Kitamura noted.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer
Democratic and public Islam in Indonesia
Islamic preaching in Indonesia has not only undergone a process of radicalization, but also of democratization, according to Indonesian scholar Noorhaidi Hasan, who spoke on new media and public Islam at the International Convention of Asia Scholars in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (August 2-5), which RW attended. Increasingly, people have come to believe that Islam can be implemented in daily practice without necessarily sacrificing the benefits of globalization as enjoyed by the middle class. A new sense of piety is present, but there is also a dimension of entertainment in religious activities, which are ways of socializing, according to Hasan.
One sees the rise of new religious figures who are alumni of national education systems and have acquired their religious knowledge through self-study or participation in small discussion groups. Well-known examples are Muhammad Arifin Ilham, Abdullah Gymnastiar and Jeffry al-Buchari. They may be religiously less literate than their classical predecessors, but they tend to link religious teachings with political and cultural dimensions.
They attract a middle class audience, not always interested in Islamic activism, but eager to express an Islamic identity. Muslims can now choose from a wider range of options. The new media, such as the Internet, plays a role here, featuring Islam as a part of global culture, providing means of interactive communication and enabling everybody to share religious reflections. It is true that the role of the new media is ambivalent; they also facilitate violent mobilization and fuel Islamic militancy. However, Hasan expects that such trends are bound to fail in the long-run, since they contradict public rationality and a new kind of post-Islamist piety which is on the increase – and not only in Indonesia.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer
Scandals, schisms and politics cause Korea’s protestant decline?
Only a decade ago considered a phenomenal success, Protestant churches in Korea are meeting with widespread public disenchantment as well as numerical decline and internal crises, according to a new study. In a paper presented at the ASR in New York, Kyuhoon Cho of the University of Ottawa said that the sharp growth of Korean conservative Protestant (often Pentecostal) megachurches during the 1970s and 1980s was often linked in the public’s mind with the pro-American and anti-communist influence in South Korea.. Just as these social and political forces have faded in South Korea during a period of globalization and Asian-based democratization, the Protestant growth has stalled and even declined. Cho cited figures showing that Protestantism is now the only declining religion (except for the quasi-religion of Confucianism), while Catholicism shows the most significant growth.
Cho argues that the many scandals involving church leaders, the frequent splits and schisms among conservative churches, and the fervent missionary drive that is seen as breeding intolerance toward non-Christians—especially Buddhists–is behind much of the decline. A segment of the public now views Korean conservative Protestantism as a “social problem”—a view spread widely in the media and on the Internet in Korea. To regain its prominent status and push back liberalization in Korean society, the evangelical churches have been increasingly politically active. The churches active in the Christian Council of Korea and the more recently founded Christian Social Responsibility have become the main source of conservative and anti-communist sentiment against North Korea and opposing internal liberalization as found in the reforms of national security laws.
Current Research: September 2007
01: A survey of religious political action groups and their effectiveness in influencing state legislatures finds that the use of lobbyists and building a strong membership base are more important than holding a specific ideology. The study, presented at the meeting of the ASR, is based on a survey of 15 Indiana legislators (exactly 10 percent of the Indiana General Assembly), and on research of and interviews with Indiana-based religious political action organizations and their leaders. Joe Micon, an Indiana State Representative who conducted the survey, found that the most effective and successful organizations were the Jewish Community Relations Council, followed by the Indiana Catholic Conference, the Lafayette Urban Ministry and Advance America. The groups are spread out across the liberal-conservative spectrum (Advance America is the most conservative of these groups). Irrespective of whether a group was conservative or liberal in theology, it was the presence of lobbyists and such pragmatic measures as providing “talking points” to their members, and helping them communicate with legislators that mattered in their level of effectiveness.
02: Mainline Protestants tend to be most socially involved when there is a close fit between the social values of their communities and their congregations, according to recent research. In a paper on the differences between worshippers in liberal “blue states” and conservative “red states” delivered at the ASR, Cynthia Woolever of Hartford Seminary found that this divide extends to local community involvement as much as to national politics. In an analysis of data from the U.S. Congregational Life Survey of 2001, Woolever found that mainline Protestants in blue (or liberal) states and particularly in blue counties tend to be the most involved in their communities. For instance, 43 percent of mainline Protestants in blue states and counties focused on the community compared to 36 percent in a red county.
While evangelical congregations in red (or conservative) states and particularly red counties were shown to have the most overall vitality in their faith (50 percent), there was not much of a difference whether they were in a red or blue state or county in their level of community involvement (falling around the 28-30 percent level). Whether or not a church was in a red or blue state and county was not as influential for the community involvement of worshippers at Catholic churches, according to Woolever.
03: Evangelical teens are just as or even more sexually active as their non-evangelical counterparts. That is only one of the findings noting little difference between evangelicals and non-evangelical teens when it comes to sexual behavior in sociologist Mark Regnerus’ new bookForbidden Fruit (Oxford). Regnerus found that evangelical teens had their first sexual experience at a younger age (16.3) than liberal Protestants (16.7). Young evangelicals are far more likely to have had three or more sexual partners (13.7 percent) than non-evangelicals (8.9 percent). The abstinence pledges that have made so much news tend to work for a while, delaying sex on an average of 18 months, but 88 percent of pledgers eventually give up on their vows to remain virgins until marriage. It is not the case that evangelicals disagree with teachings prohibiting premarital sex; about 80 percent of teens who say they have been “born again” agree that sex outside of marriage is a sin. Yet over two-thirds of these teens violate their beliefs by their own behavior.
04: Married convert Catholic priests, usually from the Episcopal Church, have been generally regarded as more conservative than other Catholic priests, but a new study suggests that the differences may be greater than assumed. The study, presented by D. Paul Sullins of Catholic University of America at the ASR meeting, found the differences between married convert priests and other priests particularly sharp on sexual issues . There are about 70 married men who have become Catholic priests in the U.S,. since 1980. The divide between married convert priests and other priests was especially strong on the question of whether it is “always” a sin to have premarital sex (84 percent of convert priests versus 57 percent of other priests), engage in homosexual behavior (89 percent of convert priests versus 53 percent of other priests), and to use cloning in research (52 percent versus 95 percent). Married convert priests were also more likely to oppose allowing priests to marry as a general rule (61 percent versus 28.8 percent) and define themselves as “somewhat” or “very” conservative (97 percent versus 29.4 percent). Married convert priests were also more likely to see ordination as giving them a distinct and permanent status in the church (92 percent versus 77 percent).
05: A faith-based civil rights organization’s effectiveness during a notorious drug sting operation stemmed from the way the group worked across racial and class lines and transformed the social identity of those charged with the crime, according to a new study. In a paper presented at the meeting of the American Sociological Association in New York, Lydia Bean of Harvard University examined the role of the faith-based group Friends of Justice in the Tulia Drug Sting, which occurred in Texas in 1999. Bean argues that the interracial faith-based group incorporated a religious oriented discourse that advocated for those detained under drug dealing charges.
Her research shows how, by drawing on biblical authority, the civil group characterized themselves as a distinctively religious community opposing the sting and its social consequences, rather than as a left-wing radical group standing against governmental actions. By working through a worshipping community and highlighting its religious identity, Friends of Justice was able to work across both racial and class lines. Also, Friends of Justice created an alternate narrative enhancing the status of the defendants; and challenging the dominant narrative that casts policemen as “heroes” and poor, black men as dangerous and potential criminals (the Tulia drug sting arrested 20 percent of the black adults in the town of about 5,000 people). These differentiations can account for the success of the group in bringing attention to the sting, creating a major scandal and eventually making possible the liberation of the 46 imprisoned men (forty of whom were African Americans), while creating an opening for liberal reforms in Texas.–By Marisol Lopez Menendez, a Ph.D. student in Sociology at the New School for Social Research
06: The number of Muslims in a country is negatively correlated to the incidents of HIV/AIDS infection. This is the main finding of a scientific paper recently published by the open-access journal, PLuS ONE. The paper is authored by John R. Talbott of Africans Against Aids, and was cited by the Turkey-based news service Yunus. The study examined the number of HIV/AIDS patients in different countries and compared that to the number of prostitutes in that country. The rate of the HIV/AIDS infection in prostitutes is usually higher than the general population’s and is said to be a good indicator for predicting the rate of future HIV/AIDS infections.
The study found that as the population share of Muslims increases in a country, the number of prostitutes decreases. This, the author attributes, is the major factor for the impact of the presence of Muslims in negatively affecting the rate of HIV/AIDS infection. However, the paper does not go into detail as to why the increase in the Muslim population leads to a relative decrease in the number of prostitutes or whether the drop could be due to other factors, such as prohibitions on certain sexual behavior and alcohol use, as previous studies have suggested. (http://www.yunusnews.com)
Uneasy Unitarian — Pagan marriage heading for divorce?
Recent news that the Unitarian-Universalist Association (UU) suspended its Neopagan caucus suggests the uneasy relationship that may have existed between the establishment liberal denomination and this new religious movement. This development and others relating to Paganism and Wicca were discussed by specialists on these movement at a session of the Association for the Sociology of Religion (ASR) meeting in New York attended by RW. In the last two decades, the UUA has allowed “independent affiliates” to operate within its structure in order to cater to special interest groups. It was cautioned that the UUA’s action against the Neopagan association should not be viewed solely as a result of anti-pagan sentiment, since other independent affiliates were also disbanded in an effort to trim the denominational structure. Helen Berger, a scholar of Neopagan groups, added that many Unitarian-Universalist congregations and even UU Sunday School literature continue to draw on pagan teachings and practices.
Yet Berger added that increasingly many pagans don’t feel welcome in UU congregations, some of which fear that that the Neopagan current was becoming too dominant. There was also the concern that Pagans were not very generous in their giving to congregations. In the pagan movement as a whole, Berger sees a leveling off of interest after a period of growth. “The numbers may be decreasing soon due to young people (including the second generation) losing interest,” she added. Margot Adler, a journalist who has written on paganism, said that she sees more stability than decline. The burst of popularity of Wicca generated by portrayals of Wicca on such TV shows as Buffy the Vampire Slayer may have faded, but today the “ones who stay with it are serious,“ she added.
The return of the Latin mass — new diversity or division?
Depending on one’s perspective, a recent papal document allowing for greater use of the Latin Mass may make for healthy liturgical diversity or increase divisions in the church. The document, the Motu Proprio, along with an accompanying “Letter to the Bishops,” allows parishes wide freedom in using the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass. Previously, a bishop’s permission was needed to conduct this Mass. On the surface, at least, it seems that the Latin Mass and the 1970 “new” Mass symbolize the two warring camps in American Catholicism, writes Peter Jeffery of Princeton University in Commonweal magazine (August 17). The new Mass stresses the communal nature of the church, lay participation, and social justice. The Latin Mass, with its clear separation of priest and holy things from the people, depicts a hierarchical and contemplative model of a more authoritative church.
Jeffrey adds that most Catholics value elements from both models and that the document may be the first of many that will try to work out a reconciliation between tradition and innovation. But for now, Jeffrey admits that disunity may be the most obvious result, especially when the lectionary readings (scriptural passages read during services) are different for the two Masses. In the same issue of Commonweal, Rita Ferrone writes that the gradual advances of women’s participation in Catholic worship (such as altar girls and liturgical ministers) are reversed in the Latin Mass, which mandates only males at the altar. She concludes that the document is only one more step in the “dismantling of the liturgical reform in its entirety.” A similar sentiment is found in the conservative and especially traditionalist press. Inside the Vatican (August/September) editor Robert Moynihan writes that the document demonstrates that Benedict “intends to guide the Church, despite many pressures to temporize and delay, toward a `reform of the reform.’ (Benedict’s own phrase).” Moynihan adds that the renewal of the ancient Latin Mass could pave the way for greater unity with Eastern Orthodox churches, who have criticized the modern Mass.
Meanwhile, The Tablet (July 28) notes that in France, which has the largest number of Catholic traditionalists, the Motu Proprio is likely to fan the flames of church conflict. Alain Woodrow writes that under the papacy of Benedict, traditionalists feel they have gained the upper-hand in the conflict with liberal Catholics and that the Motu Proprio is the first step to other reversals of Vatican II reforms.
(Commonweal, 475 Riverside Dr., Rm. 405, New York, NY 10115; Inside the Vatican, via delle Mura Aurelie 7c Rome 00165 Italy; The Tablet, 1 King Cloisters, Clifton Walk, London W6 0QZ UK)
Campus religion — pluralistic and vital
A recent study in the journal Social Forces (June) reports that college-educated Americans are more likely to be religious than the non-college -educated. Such a finding is another reminder that religion remains a vital force on American campuses. In a paper presented at the mid-August meeting of the Association for the Sociology of Religion in New York, John Schmalzbauer of Missouri State University found that the “spiritual marketplace” is particularly vibrant on college campuses. Schmalzbauer, co-investigator of the National Study of Campus Ministries, finds an expansion of evangelicalism on campus, a revitalization of Jewish and Catholic campus organizations; the growth of new immigrant and alternative religions; and the “beginning of a renewal in mainline Protestant campus ministries.”
Along with the growth of the traditional evangelical campus groups, such as Campus Crusade for Christ and InterVarsity, the study finds evangelical denominations, such as the Assemblies of God, Southern Baptists, and the Presbyterian Church in America, having an impact through their own campus ministries. The decline besetting Catholic and Jewish groups is being reversed through innovative programs.
Hillel has been reworked to have a closer relation with the rest of the Jewish community and its funding sources, while Catholic ministries have also improved their fundraising strategy. Conservative Catholic groups, such as Focus, are increasingly making their presence known, according to Schmalzbauer. Mainline campus ministries, long dormant since the 1980s, have shown signs of stirring, also due partly to new fundraising efforts and denominational investments. Mainline denominations are also experimenting with congregational approaches to campus ministries. One of the leaders of this movement is University Presbyterian Church in Seattle, which attracts up to 1,300 students to programs stressing worship, small groups and community service.
(A version of Schmalzbauer’s study can downloaded at:http://religion.ssrc.org/reforum/schmalzbauer)
Iran universalizing the message of Mahdism
Groups of Iranian Muslims are eager to promote the message of Mahdism as answering the expectations of the entire world – and not only of Muslims – for a Savior figure. This was made clear at the Third International Conference on Mahdism Doctrine, meeting in Tehran from August 26-27, which RW attended. The conference gathered participants from various countries (primarily Muslims, including Sunnis) and was inaugurated by President Ahmadinejad. It was organized by the Bright Future Institute, which was created in 2004 and headquartered in Qom. Besides the yearly conferences on Mahdism, the Institute has launched various magazines, educational programs, and a news agency, BF News. It is reported to be currently the largest organization promoting Mahdism in Iran.
The belief in the Mahdi, a messianic figure, is present both in Sunni and Shi’a Islam. However, an atmosphere of awaiting the advent of the Mahdi has been much stronger in Shi’a Islam, where the figure of the Mahdi is fused with the 12th Imam, whom the Twelver Shi’as believe to be alive but concealed for many centuries (what is called the “occultation”). Every Friday, many Shi’a believers hope that the Mahdi will be manfested, and express sadness on Friday night because the Mahdi didn’t come. Similar to attitudes in numerous millenarian movements across religious traditions, the advent of the Mahdi is associated with the hope for the establishment of a just world, from which oppression and suffering will be removed. “Justice shall prevail,” stated the Iranian President in his address to the audience, adding that “everyone is waiting for the Mahdi to come.” With its emphasis on calling for the liberation of all oppressed people around the world (not only Muslims), the 1979 Islamic Revolution of Iran paved the way for attempts to universalize the appeal of Mahdism.
Pour Sayed Aghaei, a Shi’a cleric who is the Director of the Bright Future Institute, said that Mahdism is the “key to the victory of the Islamic Revolution.” Mahdism is now being seen as a true global answer, and conferences such as the one which took place in Tehran represent one step in that direction. Several papers presented attempted to make the idea of the Mahdi acceptable for non-Muslims as well, stressing that similar ideas were present under different names in other religious traditions and that there would be space for non-Muslims under the future rule of the Mahdi. The expectation is not a quietist or passive one: it should be “practical,” and several speakers reminded the audience that the hard work preparing for the coming of Imam Mahdi will make it a reality. It is a dynamic expectation leading to the appearance of an utopian society. The creation of a collective desire for the arrival of a Savior figure is also seen as a way of hastening that event.
— Jean-Francois Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder of the website Religioscope (http://www.religion.info)
(International Conference of Mahdism Doctrine: http://www.intizar.org; BF News [Persian only]: http://www.bfnews.ir).