Tag Archives: Sociology of Religion

How Do You Say “Nones” in French?

From a French post describing my work on the Nones:

Est-il important de donner une définition au mot “religion”? Mark Movsesian, professeur de Droit à l’Université St. John a récemment publié un article sur la montée de la population des “Sans”, ces Américains qui se déclarent sans appartenance religieuse. Selon certaines évaluations, ils seraient 20% des adultes et, parmi les “millénaristes”, atteindraient 30%.

So it’s “les Sans.” I’d have thought it was “les Riens,” or maybe “les Aucuns.” Que sais-je? You can read the whole post in French here.

Barry & Abo-Zena (eds.), “Emerging Adults’ Religiousness and Spirituality”

9780199959181This April, Oxford University Press will publish Emerging Adults’ Religiousness and Spirituality: Meaning-Making in an Age of Transition edited by Carolyn McNamara Barry (Loyola University Maryland) and Mona M. Abo-Zena (Brown University). The publisher’s description follows.

Although most American children are raised in a faith tradition, by the time they reach their early twenties their outward religious expression declines significantly, with many leaving the faith in which they were raised in favor of another faith or none at all, though many still claim that religion and spirituality are important. Reasons for this change in religious behavior include adolescents’ forging their own identities, increased immersion in contexts beyond the family, and exposure to media. As emerging adults encounter events such as attending university, breaking up with a romantic partner, and traveling, they are likely to make sense out of them, a process known as meaning-making. Thus, coming into one’s own takes on great prominence during the years of emerging adulthood (18-29), making it ripe for religious and spiritual development.

Emerging Adults’ Religiousness and Spirituality seeks to understand how the developmental process of meaning-making encompasses American emerging adults’ religiousness and spirituality. This volume does not focus on disentangling religion and spirituality conceptually, but rather emphasizes their centrality in the psychology of human development. It highlights the range of experiences and perspectives of emerging adults in the U.S. grounded in social context, social position, and religious or spiritual identification. Chapters are written by an interdisciplinary group of authors and explore topics such as the benefits and detriments of religiousness and spirituality to emerging adults; contexts and socializing agents such as parents and peers, the media, religious communities, and universities; and variations of religiousness and spirituality concerning gender, sexuality, culture, and social position. Using a developmental lens and focusing on a significant period within the lifespan, this volume embodies the key aspects of a developmental perspective by highlighting specific domains of development while considering themes of continuity and discontinuity across the lifespan.

Quote for the Day

On the crisis in Ukraine, from the Washington Post‘s Robert Samuelson:

“We’re relearning an old lesson: History, culture, geography, religion and pride often trump economics.”

McCrea, “Religion and the Public Order of the European Union”

9780198713944Next month, Oxford University Press will publish Religion and the Public Order of the European Union by Ronan McCrea (University College London). The publisher’s description follows.

Ronan McCrea offers the first comprehensive account of the role of religion within the public order of the European Union. He examines the facilitation and protection of individual and institutional religious freedom in EU law and the means through which the Union facilitates religious input and influence over law. Identifying the limitations on religious influence over law and politics that have been required by the Union, it demonstrates how such limitations have been identified as fundamental elements of the public order and prerequisites EU membership.

The Union seeks to balance its predominantly Christian religious heritage with an equally strong secular and humanist by facilitating religion as a form of cultural identity while simultaneously limiting its political influence. Such balancing takes place in the context of the Union’s limited legitimacy and its commitment to respect for Member State cultural autonomy. Deference towards the cultural role of religion at Member State level enables culturally-entrenched religions to exercise a greater degree of influence within the Union’s public order than “outsider” faiths that lack a comparable cultural role. Placing the Union’s approach to religion in the context of broader historical and sociological trends around religion in Europe and of contemporary debates around secularism, equal treatment, and the role of Islam in Europe, McCrea sheds light on the interaction between religion and EU law in the face of a shifting religious demographic.

Miller, “The Age of Evangelicalism”

9780199777952Next month, Oxford University Press will publish The Age of Evangelicalism: America’s Born-Again Years by Steven P. Miller (Webster University). The publisher’s description follows.

At the start of the twenty-first century, America was awash in a sea of evangelical talk. The Purpose Driven Life. Joel Osteen. The Left Behind novels. George W. Bush. Evangelicalism had become so powerful and pervasive that political scientist Alan Wolfe wrote of “a sense in which we are all evangelicals now.”

Steven P. Miller offers a dramatically different perspective: the Bush years, he argues, did not mark the pinnacle of evangelical influence, but rather the beginning of its decline. The Age of Evangelicalism chronicles the place and meaning of evangelical Christianity in America since 1970, a period Miller defines as America’s “born-again years.” This was a time of evangelical scares, born-again spectacles, and battles over faith in the public square. From the Jesus chic of the 1970s to the satanism panic of the 1980s, the culture wars of the 1990s, and the faith-based vogue of the early 2000s, evangelicalism expanded beyond churches and entered the mainstream in ways both subtly and obviously influential.

Born-again Christianity permeated nearly every area of American life. It was broad enough to encompass Hal Lindsey’s doomsday prophecies and Marabel Morgan’s sex advice, Jerry Falwell and Jimmy Carter. It made an unlikely convert of Bob Dylan and an unlikely president of a divorced Hollywood actor. As Miller shows, evangelicalism influenced not only its devotees but its many detractors: religious conservatives, secular liberals, and just about everyone in between. The Age of Evangelicalism contained multitudes: it was the age of Christian hippies and the “silent majority,” of Footloose and The Passion of the Christ, of Tammy Faye Bakker the disgraced televangelist and Tammy Faye Messner the gay icon. Barack Obama was as much a part of it as Billy Graham.

The Age of Evangelicalism tells the captivating story of how born-again Christianity shaped the cultural and political climate in which millions of Americans came to terms with their times.

Abbas, “At Freedom’s Limit: Islam and the Postcolonial Predicament”

Next month, Fordham University will publish At Freedom’s Limit: Islam9780823257850_4 and the Postcolonial Predicament, by Sadia Abbas (Rutgers University).  The publisher’s description follows.

The subject of this book is a new “Islam.” This Islam began to take shape in 1988 around the Rushdie affair, the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the first Gulf War of 1991. It was consolidated in the period following September 11, 2001. It is a name, a discursive site, a signifier at once flexible and constrained—indeed, it is a geopolitical agon, in and around which some of the most pressing aporias of modernity, enlightenment, liberalism, and reformation are worked out.

At this discursive site are many metonyms for Islam: the veiled or “pious” Muslim woman, the militant, the minority Muslim injured by Western free speech. Each of these figures functions as a cipher enabling repeated encounters with the question “How do we free ourselves from freedom?” Again and again, freedom is imagined as Western, modern, imperial—a dark imposition of Enlightenment. The pious and injured Muslim who desires his or her own enslavement is imagined as freedom’s other.

At Freedom’s Limit is an intervention into current debates regarding religion, secularism, and Islam and provides a deep critique of the anthropology and sociology of Islam that have consolidated this formation. It shows that, even as this Islam gains increasing traction in cultural production from television shows to movies to novels, the most intricate contestations of Islam so construed are to be found in the work of Muslim writers and painters.

This book includes extended readings of jihadist proclamations; postcolonial law; responses to law from minorities in Muslim-majority societies; Islamophobic films; the novels of Leila Aboulela, Mohammed Hanif, and Nadeem Aslam; and the paintings of Komail Aijazuddin.

Bilgrami, “Secularism, Identity, and Enchantment”

Next month, Harvard will publish Secularism, Identity, and Enchantment, by 9780674052048Akeel Bilgrami (Columbia University). The publisher’s description follows.

Bringing clarity to a subject clouded by polemic, Secularism, Identity, and Enchantment is a rigorous exploration of how secularism and identity emerged as concepts in different parts of the modern world. At a time when secularist and religious worldviews appear irreconcilable, Akeel Bilgrami strikes out on a path distinctly his own, criticizing secularist proponents and detractors, liberal universalists and multicultural relativists alike.

Those who ground secularism in arguments that aspire to universal reach, Bilgrami argues, fundamentally misunderstand the nature of politics. To those, by contrast, who regard secularism as a mere outgrowth of colonial domination, he offers the possibility of a more conceptually vernacular ground for political secularism. Focusing on the response to Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, Bilgrami asks why Islamic identity has so often been a mobilizing force against liberalism, and he answers the question with diagnostic sympathy, providing a philosophical framework within which the Islamic tradition might overcome the resentments prompted by its colonized past and present.

Turning to Gandhi’s political and religious thought, Bilgrami ponders whether the increasing appeal of religion in many parts of the world reflects a growing disillusionment not with science but with an outlook of detachment around the rise of modern science and capitalism. He elaborates a notion of enchantment along metaphysical, ethical, and political lines with a view to finding in secular modernity a locus of meaning and value, while addressing squarely the anxiety that all such notions hark back nostalgically to a time that has past.

Cox, “American Christianity”

Next month, the University of Texas Press will publish American Christianity by Stephen Cox (University of California, San Diego). The publisher’s description follows. American Christianity

Christianity takes an astonishing variety of forms in America, from churches that cherish traditional modes of worship to evangelical churches and fellowships, Pentecostal churches, social-action churches, megachurches, and apocalyptic churches—congregations ministering to believers of diverse ethnicities, social classes, and sexual orientations. Nor is this diversity a recent phenomenon, despite many Americans’ nostalgia for an undeviating “faith of our fathers” in the days of yore. Rather, as Stephen Cox argues in this thought-provoking book, American Christianity is a revolution that is always happening, and always needs to happen. The old-time religion always has to be made new, and that is what Americans have been doing throughout their history.

American Christianity is an engaging book, wide ranging and well informed, in touch with the living reality of America’s diverse traditions and with the surprising ways in which they have developed. Radical and unpredictable change, Cox argues, is one of the few dependable features of Christianity in America. He explores how both the Catholic Church and the mainline Protestant churches have evolved in ways that would make them seem alien to their adherents in past centuries. He traces the rise of uniquely American movements, from the Mormons to the Seventh-day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and brings to life the vivid personalities—Aimee Semple McPherson, Billy Sunday, and many others—who have taken the gospel to the masses. He sheds new light on such issues as American Christians’ intense but constantly changing political involvements, their controversial revisions in the style and substance of worship, and their chronic expectation that God is about to intervene conclusively in human life. Asserting that “a church that doesn’t promise new beginnings can never prosper in America,” Cox demonstrates that American Christianity must be seen not as a sociological phenomenon but as the ever-changing story of individual people seeking their own connections with God, constantly reinventing their religion, making it more volatile, more colorful, and more fascinating.

Religious Indifferents

Image from Patheos

The most important recent development in American religion is the rise of the “Nones,” the increasing number of Americans–it may now be 20% of all adults and 30% of young people–who tell pollsters that they have no religious affiliation. Perhaps surprisingly, most Nones are believers. They reject organized religion, not faith. In fact, the Nones overlap greatly with another much-discussed category of Americans, the “Spiritual But Not Religious,” or SBNRs.

Even the SBNR label doesn’t completely capture things. It’s necessary to dig a little deeper. At the Oxford University Press blog, theologian Linda Mercadante, author of the recently released Belief Without Borders, has a helpful guide to the various kinds of  SBNRs in America today. Mercadante has interviewed hundreds of SBNRs over a five-year period, she reports, and a very large number are best described as “casual” SBNRs. For them,

religious and spiritual practices are generally approached on an “as-needed” basis and discarded or changed when no longer necessary. Spirituality is not felt to be the organizing center of their lives. Many of the “casuals”—especially younger ones—had little or no religious exposure either as children or adults.

In other words, it would be wrong to understand SBNRs or Nones principally as “seekers.” Nor are they hostile to religion. They just don’t care much about it. Better, perhaps, to call these people something else–something more descriptive. “Religious Indifferents” is a phrase that comes to mind.

If we really are looking at a significant and growing percentage of Religious Indifferents in America, the implications for religious liberty could be profound. Consider the politics of religious accommodations. A minority religion that seeks an accommodation in the legislative process needs allies, people who understand why it is important to honor the minority’s religious convictions. Sometimes, the best friends a minority can have are adherents of other religions, who see it in their interest to lobby on behalf of the minority. By banding together, religions can achieve results they might not be able to achieve on their own. This dynamic, as well as the traditional American commitment to religious liberty as a fundamental right, explains how the Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed in 1993.

Large numbers of Religious Indifferents would change this dynamic. First, Indifferents are unlikely to seek accommodations for themselves. If you don’t care very much about religion, you’re not likely to oppose state action for religious reasons. Second, and more important, Indifferents will not likely feel much affinity for believers who do have religious objections to government policy. If you don’t take religion seriously, yourself, you’re not likely to understand why others do. What’s the big deal, anyway?

Some observers, like Rodney Stark at Baylor, think the numbers of Nones/SBNRs are exaggerated. And many younger Americans who are Indifferents now will no doubt join religions as they get older. If Mercadante is correct, though, the politics of religion in America could be in for a significant change.  

Mirsepassi & Fernée, “Islam, Democracy, and Cosmopolitanism: At Home and in the World”

islamThis March, Cambridge University Press will publish, Islam, Democracy, and Cosmopolitanism: At Home and in the World by Ali Mirsepassi (New York University) and Tadd Graham Fernée.  The publisher’s description follows:

This book presents a critical study of citizenship, state, and globalization in societies that have been historically influenced by Islamic traditions and institutions.  Interrogating the work of contemporary theorists of Islamic modernity such as Mohammed Arkoun, Abdul an-Na’im, Fatima Mernissi, Talal Asad, Saba Mahmood, and Aziz Al-Azmeh, this book explores the debate on Islam, democracy, and modernity, contextualized within contemporary Muslim lifeworlds.  These include contemporary Turkey (following the 9/11 attacks and the onset of war in Afghanistan), multicultural France (2009–10 French burqa debate), Egypt (the 2011 Tahrir Square mass mobilizations), and India.  Ali Mirsepassi and Tadd Ferneé critique particular counterproductive ideological conceptualizations, voicing an emerging global ethic of reconciliation.  Rejecting the polarized conceptual ideals of the universal or the authentic, the authors critically reassess notions of the secular, the cosmopolitan, and democracy.  Raising questions that cut across the disciplines of history, anthropology, sociology, and law, this study articulates a democratic politics of everyday life in modern Islamic societies.