Tag Archives: Sociology of Religion

“Muslim Minority-State Relations: Violence, Integration, and Policy” (Mason, ed.)

In January, Palgrave Macmillan will release “Muslim Minority-State Relations: Violence, Integration, and Policy” edited by Robert Mason (London School of Economics and Political Science, UK). The publisher’s description follows:

This volume explores the dominant types of relationships between Muslim minorities and states in different parts of the world, the challenges each side faces, and the cases and reasons for exemplary integration, religious tolerance, and freedom of expression. By bringing together diverse case studies from Europe, Africa, and Asia, this book offers insight into the nature of state engagement with Muslim communities and Muslim community responses towards the state, in turn. This collection offers readers the opportunity to learn more about what drives government policy on Muslim minority communities, Muslim community policies and responses in turn, and where common ground lies in building religious tolerance, greater community cohesion and enhancing Muslim community-state relations.

Stolz, et. al., “(Un)Believing in Modern Society: Religion, Spirituality, and Religious-Secular Competition”

In January, Ashgate will release “(Un)Believing in Modern Society: Religion, Spirituality, and Religious-Secular Competition” by Jörg Stolz (University of Lausanne, Switzerland), Mallory Schneuwly Purdie (University of Lausanne, Switzerland),  Thomas Englberger (University of Lausanne, Switzerland), Judith Könemann (University of Münster, Germany), and Michael Krüggeler (University of Münster, Germany). The publisher’s description follows:

This landmark study in the sociology of religion sheds new light on the Unknownquestion of what has happened to religion and spirituality since the 1960s in modern societies. Exposing several analytical weaknesses of today’s sociology of religion, (Un)Believing in Modern Society presents a new theory of religious-secular competition and a new typology of ways of being religious/secular. The authors draw on a specific European society (Switzerland) as their test case, using both quantitative and qualitative methodologies to show how the theory can be applied. Identifying four ways of being religious/secular in a modern society: ‘institutional’, ‘alternative’, ‘distanced’ and ‘secular’ they show how and why these forms have emerged as a result of religious-secular competition and describe in what ways all four forms are adapted to the current, individualized society.

“Religion after Secularization in Australia” (Stanley ed.)

In September, Palgrave Macmillan released “Religion after Secularization in Australia” edited by Timothy Stanley (University of Newcastle, Australia). The publisher’s description follows:

Religion’s persistent and new visibility in political life has prompted a 9781137536891
significant global debate. One of this debate’s key features concerns the nature and impact of secularization. This collection of essays draws together leading sociologists, historians, philosophers of religion, and political theorists in order to provide a broad and up-to-date account of religion after secularization. Contributors explore the meaning and conceptual legacies of religion, as well as the unique features of the Australian case such as religion as it relates to law, education, gender, media, and radical political movements. Intervening in the current debate, this book provides summative accounts of the history, culture, and legal interactions that have informed Australia’s relationship to religion and secularization. Contributors critically analyze and engage with secular political theory concerning the public sphere, while also dissecting deliberative politics and democratic practices. This book propels the debate over religion’s place in public life in new directions and promotes urgently needed public understanding.

Venters, “No Jim Crow Church”

In October, the University Press of Florida released “No Jim Crow Church: The Origins of South Carolina’s Bahá’í Community,” by Louis Venters (Francis Marion University).  The publisher’s description follows:

In No Jim Crow Church, Louis Venters recounts the unlikely emergence of a cohesive interracial fellowship in South Carolina, tracing the history of the community from the end of the nineteenth century through the civil rights era. By joining the Bahá’í Faith, blacks and whites not only defied Jim Crow but also rejected their society’s religious and social restrictions.

The religion, which emphasizes the spiritual unity of all humankind, arrived in the United States from the Middle East via northern urban areas. As early as 1910, Bahá’í teachers began settling in South Carolina, where the Bahá’í Faith is currently the largest religious minority. Venters presents an organizational, social, and intellectual history of South Carolina’s early Bahá’í movement and relates developments within the community to changes in society at large, with particular attention to race relations and the civil rights struggle. He argues that the state’s Bahá’ís represent a significant, sustained, spiritually based challenge to the ideology and structures of white male Protestant supremacy. His research provides a fascinating study of an unlikely movement’s rise to prominence and the role of the South Carolina Bahá’í community in the cultural and structural evolution of a new world religion.

Holidays of Forgetting

Halloween-Hero-1-AThis article is another installment in the ongoing holidays wars. As I have previously noted, how and what we celebrate has reached a tipping point, due to two competing and perhaps ultimately irreconcilable trends. Our calendar, which marks out sacred space as “holidays,” either civil or in recognition of some religious tradition, is being pummeled between secularization on the one hand, but also a blossoming pluralism on the other.

There are still the annual Christmas wars, where fidgety towns debate how many reindeer can neutralize a crèche, or where to place the menorah in relation to the Christmas tree. The Supreme Court jurisprudence on this point is a hopeless morass, and so many places have tried simply to ignore it, one town famously referring to this time of year as “the sparkly season.”

The Christmas wars were largely a debate between those who think the Constitution enacts some impenetrable boundary between religion and government, and those who did not. Most of the former were generally, but not always, antipathetic specifically to the background Christian culture of the United States. To impose a secularist view would by definition, make the culture less Christian and also less religious. But the more current controversies are adding a new wrinkle.

The underlying theory of the Connecticut schools profiled in the article seems to be that one cannot publicly observe a holiday where some people feel “excluded” or “offended.” Such a position runs against the equally strong current in public schools of multiculturalism. Even if some people don’t like Halloween, shouldn’t the traditions of all people be reflected and invited to understand those holidays? On the other hand, some evangelical Christians also do not like Halloween, so it is easy to understand a decision to ban the holiday by your average school administrator.

Other school systems are taking exactly the opposite tack , and designating more holidays, across a number of traditions, such as Muslim holidays and the Chinese New Year, to accommodate the various traditions present. The logical conclusion of this reasoning is of course, to have no holidays at all, except perhaps secular ones (though some, like Columbus Day are also under attack).

As Paul Connerton writes in his book, How Societies Remember, holidays and the rites associated with them, “have as one of their defining features the explicit claim to” commemorate continuity with the past. It makes a difference therefore whether Halloween is meant to claim continuity with some pagan past, real or imagined, or whether it looks forward to All Saints’ Day. But the real trouble Halloween, as well as other holidays, may have is that it is emptied of memory. In a secular culture, such holidays express nothing but themselves and the passing moment. And that ritualized forgetting may be the real lasting danger to how we celebrate.

Zaman, “Islamic Traditions of Refuge in the Crises of Iraq and Syria”

In November, Palgrave Macmillan will release “Islamic Traditions of Refuge in the Crises of Iraq and Syria” by Tahir Zaman (Center for Research on Migration, Refugees & Belonging (CMRB) at the University of East London, UK, and SOAS, University of London, UK). The publisher’s description follows:

The intersection of migration and religion has received little systematic investigation in the social sciences with scant attention paid to the lived experiences of refugees. Weaving together narrative analysis within a Bourdieuian framework, this book addresses this shortcoming in the literature. The constraints and opportunities Iraqi refugees encounter in emplacing themselves indicate contesting notions of religion. The challenges of facing a protracted exile and a protection impasse in Syria mean Iraqi refugees are compelled to reflect upon their specific experiences of religion and to mobilize their understandings of religious traditions in innovative ways in order to construct inhabitable worlds – in the process refugees move beyond the management and care of institutional actors. The study has immediate relevance – contributing to our understanding of power relations in the humanitarian field. Continuities are drawn between the crises of Iraq and Syria to better illustrate the role of religion during displacement crises.

Lauzière, “The Making of Salafism”

In December, the Columbia University Press will release “The Making of Salafism: Islamic Reform in the Twentieth Century,” by Henri Lauzière (Northwestern University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Some Islamic scholars hold that Salafism is an innovative and rationalist effort at Islamic reform that emerged in the late nineteenth century but disappeared in the mid twentieth. Others argue Salafism is an anti-innovative and antirationalist movement of Islamic purism that dates back to the medieval period yet persists today. Though they contradict each other, both narratives are considered authoritative, making it hard for outsiders to grasp the history of the ideology and its core beliefs.

Introducing a third, empirically based genealogy, The Making of Salafism understands the movement as a recent conception of Islam projected back onto the past, and it sees its purist evolution as a direct result of decolonization. Henri Lauzière builds his history on the transnational networks of Taqi al-Din al-Hilali (1894-1987), a Moroccan Salafi who, with his associates, oversaw Salafism’s modern development. Traveling from Rabat to Mecca, from Calcutta to Berlin, al-Hilali interacted with high-profile Salafi scholars and activists who eventually abandoned Islamic modernism in favor of a more purist approach to Islam. Today, Salafis claim a monopoly on religious truth and freely confront other Muslims on theological and legal issues. Lauzière’s pathbreaking history recognizes the social forces behind this purist turn, uncovering the popular origins of what has become a global phenomenon.

Ghosts in Norway

The_ScreamChesterton famously said that if people do not believe in God, they will believe in anything. And the historian Christopher Dawson wrote that in the absence of God, people will take as gods Hitler or Stalin. Both were arguing the same point: people are naturally religious, and they seek a system of beliefs in order to understand the transcendent nature of human existence.

In our own day, denial of that religious impulse results in a curious schizophrenia. The belief in ghosts, for example, now on the rise in ostensibly faithless places like Norway, coincides with the equally sharp loss of organized religion, or even widespread reflection on what religion is. “God is out but spirits and ghosts are filling the vacuum,” the article quotes a professor Methodist preacher in Oslo. But what does that mean?

According to the secular imagination, this was not supposed to happen. Religion – by which is often meant churches – would disappear, to be replaced by science and empirical data. But this is not how it is turning out.

The challenge is that it is difficult for most common forms of secularism to accommodate religious beliefs. The contrary is not equally true. In the Christian tradition, science is perfectly compatible with religion and empiricism has a useful place in understanding the world, even if it is not the only criterion for that understanding. Indeed, there is a not insubstantial body of scholarship that argues Christianity enabled science by positing a comprehensible world according to the laws of nature. But for secularism, religion, either in organized churches or in “spiritual” positions such as the belief in the ghosts must be understood either as irrational or as pathology.

But jettisoning a concrete and intellectually disciplined tradition like Christianity has removed a way to understand spiritual phenomenon like, yes, whether ghosts exist. Replacing that tradition with a loose “postmodern” belief in various “weird things” (as the article calls them) completely severs the connection Christianity formed with empirical science. Further, postmodern faith of this type provides no resistance to secular power. Clairvoyants and ghost-hunters are no Thomas a Becket or Thomas More.

So these trends are not so much a challenge to secularism as a reinforcement of the secular state. It robs believers both of a ground to reality and a mode of resistance to those who treat their beliefs as well, a little spooky.

Invocatin’ Satan

The 2014 Supreme Court case Town of Greece v. Galloway is being used to permit Satanists to give invocations at public events. As this article explains, the case stands broadly for the proposition that invocations at public events such as town council meetings must be open to all faiths within the community, and the municipality cannot discriminate among them.

This being America, one person founded a “First Pompano Beach Church of Satan” and petitioned a number of towns to be included in the invocation list. Some have done away with invocation entirely to avoid having the Satanists there. Some have put him on a (long) waiting list but at least one is permitting him to speak. A self-described “minion of Satan,” the article describes his project as:

“Part political commentary, part performance art, Stevens’ “Satan or Silence Project” has presented 11 South Florida municipalities with some stark choices: Either drop the invocation that opens city commission meetings, or allow him, a self-described ‘minion of Satan,’ to lead a prayer to the prince of darkness.”

As a threshold matter, this may not even pass muster under Galloway, which was concerned about religious communities that actually existed within a political boundary being excluded.  Here the lack of a congregation or physical presence in some of the towns targeted might be enough to justify an exclusion.  But as silly as it may seem, this controversy raises some interesting questions about the connections between religion and society. From the article, the “church” seems more of a stunt than an actual belief system, and seems designed to criticize the notion of public prayer at all (the “minion” notes his invocations might “include beer, nachos and a mariachi band.”) But the case law is somewhat consistent that the sincerity of beliefs cannot be questioned by a court, though the evidence here seems pretty clear. But let’s assume he is a sincere believer in the Tempter.

Should the invocation nevertheless be allowed? That depends on what we want to get out of such an invocation. Christian invocations of this type typically ask for strength and wisdom in public deliberation, and guidance for judgment to do what is in the common good. But not all invocations would be appropriate – for example, an explicit call for unbelievers to convert. As the deputy mayor of Boca Raton says in the article, such invocations set “the proper tone” for deliberations. A mariachi band and an invocation to a being typically associated with deception and cruelty, would seem to be inappropriate.

An invocation then, is not merely ceremonial or rhetorical window dressing. An invocation, therefore, does have a civic purpose and municipalities may have a basis for distinguishing among the kinds of invocations they seek.


Rugh, “Christians in Egypt”

In November, Palgrave-MacMillan will release “Christians in Egypt: Strategies and Survival,” by Andrea B. Rugh (Middle East Institute, Washington, D.C.).  The publisher’s description follows:

Christians in the Middle East have come under increasing pressure in recent years with the rise of radical Islam. Nowhere is this truer than in Egypt, where the large Coptic Christian community has traditionally played an important role in the country’s history and politics. This book examines Christian responses to sectarian pressures in two contexts: nationally as Church leaders deal with Egyptian presidents and locally as a community of poor Christians cope in a mostly-Muslim quarter of Cairo. This intensive study, based on the author’s five years of research in Bulaq, looks at existential questions surrounding the role of religion in poor communities. The book concludes with a review of strategies Egyptian Christians have used to improve their minority status, showing that although expressed differently, both Church leaders and members of the Bulaq community ultimately have worked toward similar goals. The study suggests that under the al-Sisi Government, Christians may be emerging into a more active period after a relative quiescence before the events of the 2011 Uprising.