Category Archives: Mark L. Movsesian

Fewer Christians, More Nones

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Image from Patheos

That’s the takeaway from the latest Pew survey of American religion, released with great fanfare this week. The percentage of Americans who describe themselves as Christians has dropped sharply, by nearly eight percent since the last analogous Pew survey, in 2007. Most of the decline comes from mainline Protestant denominations and the Catholic Church. The percentage of Americans who call themselves Evangelicals has stayed roughly the same.

A corresponding increase has occurred in the number of Americans who say they are religiously unaffiliated–the so-called “Nones.” In the 2007 survey, roughly 16% of Americans described themselves as unaffiliated. Now it’s about 23%, a seven percent rise. When one looks at younger Americans, the numbers are even more stark. More than one-third of Millennials say they are religiously unaffiliated. The younger Americans are, the more they have checked out of religious institutions.

Some argue that surveys like Pew’s overstate the percentage of American Nones, and I’m curious what sociologists will say about these numbers. But the trend is clear, at least for the moment. A significant and growing percentage of Americans are detaching from organized religion, especially from the historically important mainline churches. A minority of American Nones–a growing number, according to Pew–describe themselves as atheists or agnostics. But the majority of Nones do not have problems with belief as such. They reject, or are at least indifferent to, the claims of organized religion. They are the so-called “spiritual but not religious,” or, perhaps “religious indifferents.”

A few quick observations. First, it seems unlikely that these new Nones have had sudden, reverse-Damascus Road experiences in the last several years. I suspect many of the new Nones already had weak commitments to their religious institutions–or, in the case of Millennials, commitments that never really formed–and now have dropped out completely. Church membership confers less social status than it used to do–in some settings, it confers negative social status–and the marginal probably feel more comfortable cutting their ties completely. So the decline in genuine religious attachment is probably not as precipitous as the Pew numbers would suggest.

Second, one often hears that Christianity’s identification with conservatism explains the Nones. People, especially the Millennials, don’t care for conservatism, and so avoid conservative Christian churches. But it’s precisely the liberal churches that have experienced the greatest decline in the last several years. Plus, George W. Bush has been out of office for six years, during which time we have had a president who touts his liberal Christianity on many occasions. If it were just about politics, you would expect the liberal Christian churches to be gaining ground. But they’re falling further behind. Perhaps the association with conservatism is so profound and odious that people don’t want to be affiliated even with liberal Christian churches. Whatever the explanation, the political dynamic seems to be complicated.

Finally, it’s hard to see how the rise of the Nones is good for religious freedom. As people check out of organized religion, they are less likely to view it as important and worthy of protection. People with even marginal affiliations may still understand and endorse the importance of religious commitment. The fact that they affiliate at all shows that religion makes up at least some part of their identity. Once people cut their ties completely, however, they are much less likely to be sympathetic to religious communities. If the future of religious freedom depends on the ability of believers to persuade our fellow citizens that faith commitments deserve respect and protection, that task may well become more difficult in the years ahead.

Hudson Institute Posts Audio of Panel on Genocide

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L-R: Kiely, Boghjalian, La Civita, Movsesian

For those who are interested, the Hudson Institute has posted the audio from last week’s panel (above), “Genocide and Crimes against Humanity.” I was one of the presenters, along with Sarkis Boghjalian (Aid to the Church in Need) and Michael La Civita (Catholic Near East Welfare Association). Fr. Benedict Kiely moderated. The audio link is available here (first link).

UPDATE: Video is now available at the Hudson website.

Oxford Conference on Magna Carta (June 21-24)

The International Center for Law and Religion Studies and the Oxford Journal of Law and Religion will host the 2015 Oxford Conference next month. This year’s theme is “Magna Carta and Freedom of Religion or Belief.” Here’s a description:

The International Center for Law and Religion Studies, in cooperation with the Oxford Journal of Law and Religion, is hosting its 2015 Oxford Conference, June 21-24, 2015, at St. Hugh’s College, Oxford. The event will begin with dinner on Sunday evening and continue with presentations on Monday addressing the conference theme, Magna Carta and Freedom of Religion or Belief. On Tuesday, participants will visit Runnymede and locations in London, with dinner at Inner Temple, featuring keynote speaker Rt Hon Lord Igor Judge. On Wednesday, all participants are invited to join, once again at St. Hugh’s College, in the Oxford Journal of Law and Religion Academy.

For further details, click here.

Capizzi, “Politics, Justice, and War”

In July, Oxford University Press will release Politics, Justice, and War: Christianczpi Governance and the Ethics of Wartime, by Joseph E. Capizzi (Catholic University of America). The publisher’s description follows:

The just war ethic emerges from an affirmative response to the basic question of whether people may sometimes permissibly intend to kill other people.

In Politics, Justice, and War, Joseph E. Capizzi clarifies the meaning and coherence of the “just war” approach, to the use of force in the context of Christian ethics. By reconnecting the just war ethic to an Augustinian political approach, Capizzi illustrates that the just war ethic requires emphasis on the “right intention,” or goal, of peace as ordered justice. With peace set as the goal of war, the various criteria of the just war ethic gain their intelligibility and help provide practical guidance to all levels of society regarding when to go to war and how to strive to contain it.

So conceived, the ethic places stringent limits on noncombatant or “innocent” killing in war, helps make sense of contemporary technological and strategic challenges, and opens up space for a critical and constructive dialogue with international law.

Tadros, “Islamist vs. Islamist”

Western observers often group all Islamist parties together. But the groups often compete with one another there are subtle differences among them; it’s important to keep those differences in mind in analyzing Islamist politics. We’re a little late getting to this, but it December, the Hudson Institute published a monograph by Samuel Tadros, Islamist vs. Islamist:The Theologico-Political Questions, that analyzes the situation in Egypt. Here’s the publisher’s description:

This monograph is the second part of a two-year study on Egyptian Islamism funded by the Smith Richardson Foundation. The study is divided into two parts. The first maps the various currents, groups, and individuals that form the complex Egyptian Islamist scene. The second examines the internal dynamics of Islamism in terms of the interrelationship between its various constituent currents and their disagreements on key theological political questions. The study aims to fill two significant gaps in our knowledge of the Egyptian Islamist scene.

Movsesian at Hudson Institute Event Today

I’m honored to be speaking in New York today at an event sponsored by the Hudson Institute, “The Islamic State’s Religious Cleansing and the Urgency of a Strategic Response.” I’ll be discussing the Armenian Genocide on a panel titled “Genocide and Crimes against Humanity: The Islamic State’s Impact on Vulnerable Religious Minority Communities.” Other speakers include Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Walter Russell Mead, and Kirsten Powers.

Details about the program are here. CLR Forum readers, please stop by and say hello!

Rayski, “The Choice of the Jews under Vichy”

This summer, the University of Notre Dame Press will release a translation P00978of The Choice of the Jews under Vichy: Between Submission and Resistance, by the late Adam Rayski. The publisher’s description follows:

“It is France that, along with Germany, has persecuted the most Jews.” Spoken at the beginning of 1943, this phrase was not a denunciation, but an unashamed assertion by André Lavagne, the chief of Marshal Pétain’s civil cabinet. Indeed, France’s leadership stood prominently among the governments of occupied Europe in its initiative and zeal in collaborating with the Nazis. Yet nearly three-quarters of the Jews living in France at the beginning of the war survived the “Final Solution.” How was this possible?

And what considerations motivated many prominent representatives of French Jewry, at least initially, to submit to the antisemitic measures of Vichy? Adam Rayski addresses these and other important questions in The Choice of the Jews under Vichy. He writes from the joint perspective of a historian and a participant in the events he describes. An organizer of the communist faction of the Jewish resistance in France, Rayski buttresses his analysis of war-era archival materials with his own personal testimony.

Based on extensive research into previously unpublished sources, including the archives of the military, the Central Consistory of French Jewry, police prefectures, and Philippe Pétain, Rayski clearly demonstrates the Vichy government’s role as an accomplice in the Nazis’ program of genocide. He also explores the sizeable pre-war divide between French-born and immigrant Jews. This manifested itself in cultural conflicts and mutual antagonism as well as in varied initial responses to the antisemitic edicts and actions of the Vichy government. Rayski reveals how these communities eventually set aside their differences and united to resist the Vichy-supported Nazi threat.

Although some French Jews did passively submit to the moves of the Vichy regime, Rayski provides evidence that many did not. With an informed account of the formation and actions of the French Jewish resistance, Rayski combats the clichéd image of Jews as victims. He also documents and describes the efforts and the absence of efforts of French Protestant and Catholic groups on behalf of their Jewish countrymen. Written for general readers and scholars alike, this book provides compelling insight into the story of French Jews during World War II.

 

Nettelfield & Wagner, “Srebrenica in the Aftermath of Genocide”

This month, Cambridge University Press releases Srebrenica in the Aftermath of 9781107000469Genocide, by Lara J. Nettelfield (University of London) and Sarah E. Wagner (George Washington University). The publisher’s description follows:

The fall of the United Nations “safe area” of Srebrenica in July 1995 to Bosnian Serb and Serbian forces stands out as the international community’s most egregious failure to intervene during the Bosnian war. It led to genocide, forced displacement, and a legacy of loss. But wartime inaction has since spurred numerous postwar attempts to address the atrocities’ effects on Bosnian society and its diaspora. Srebrenica in the Aftermath of Genocide reveals how interactions between local, national, and international interventions – from refugee return and resettlement to commemorations, war crimes trials, immigration proceedings, and election reform – have led to subtle, positive effects of social repair, despite persistent attempts at denial. Using an interdisciplinary approach, diverse research methods, and more than a decade of fieldwork in five countries, Lara J. Nettelfield and Sarah E. Wagner trace the genocide’s reverberations in Bosnia and abroad. The findings of this study have implications for research on post-conflict societies around the world.

Center’s Annual Year-End Message

This has been another exciting and productive year for the Center for Law and Religion. We co-hosted a conference in Rome on international religious freedom that opened with an address by Pope Francis, as well as events in Manhattan and Queens on the persecution of Mideast Christians. We continued to host our award-winning blog, the Center for Law and Religion Forum, which you are now reading. And Center faculty published articles and book chapters, and participated in numerous academic conferences and panels.

Our annual report for 2013-2014 is available here. Please take a look. Thanks to our friends for their continuing support, and please let us know if you have any suggestions for future activities.

Zaretsky, “Boswell’s Enlightenment”

I’ve always thought of James Boswell simply as the biographer of Samuel boswellJohnson. Apparently, he had an interior life himself. A new book from Harvard University Press, Boswell’s Enlightenment, seems interesting as an intellectual history of his attempt to reconcile Christianity and the Enlightenment–an attempt with which many of Boswell’s contemporaries, including some Framers of the American Constitution, were well acquainted. The author, Robert Zaretsky, is a professor at the University of Houston. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Throughout his life, James Boswell struggled to fashion a clear account of himself, but try as he might, he could not reconcile the truths of his era with those of his religious upbringing.Boswell’s Enlightenment examines the conflicting credos of reason and faith, progress and tradition that pulled Boswell, like so many eighteenth-century Europeans, in opposing directions. In the end, the life of the man best known for writing Samuel Johnson’s biography was something of a patchwork affair. As Johnson himself understood: “That creature was its own tormentor, and I believe its name was BOSWELL.”

Few periods in Boswell’s life better crystallize this internal turmoil than 1763–1765, the years of his Grand Tour and the focus of Robert Zaretsky’s thrilling intellectual adventure. From the moment Boswell sailed for Holland from the port of Harwich, leaving behind on the beach his newly made friend Dr. Johnson, to his return to Dover from Calais a year and a half later, the young Scot was intent on not just touring historic and religious sites but also canvassing the views of the greatest thinkers of the age. In his relentless quizzing of Voltaire and Rousseau, Hume and Johnson, Paoli and Wilkes on topics concerning faith, the soul, and death, he was not merely a celebrity-seeker but—for want of a better term—a truth-seeker. Zaretsky reveals a life more complex and compelling than suggested by the label “Johnson’s biographer,” and one that 250 years later registers our own variations of mind.