Tag Archives: Sociology of Religion

“The Routledge Companion to Religion and Popular Culture” (Lyden & Mazur, eds.)

This April, Routledge Press will release “The Routledge Companion to Religion and Popular Culture” edited by John C. Lyden (Grand View University) and Eric Michael Mazur (Virginia Wesleyan College).  The publisher’s description follows:

Routledge CompanionReligion and popular culture is a fast-growing field that spans a variety of disciplines. This volume offers the first real survey of the field to date and provides a guide for the work of future scholars. It explores:

  • key issues of definition and of methodology
  • religious encounters with popular culture across media, material culture and space, ranging from videogames and social networks to cooking and kitsch, architecture and national monuments
  • representations of religious traditions in the media and popular culture, including important non-Western spheres such as Bollywood

This Companion will serve as an enjoyable and informative resource for students and a stimulus to future scholarly work.

Scharbrodt et al., “Muslims in Ireland”

This March, Edinburgh University Press will release “Muslims in Ireland: Past and Present” by Oliver Scharbrodt (University of Chester), Tuula Sakaranaho (University of Helsinki), Adil Hussain Khan (Loyola University), Yafa Shanneik (University College Cork) and Vivian Ibrahim (University of Mississippi).  The publisher’s description follows:

Muslims in IrelandSince 9/11, the interest in Muslims in Europe has increased significantly. There has been much public debate and academic research focused on Muslims living in larger Western European countries like Britain, France or Germany, but little is known of Muslims in Ireland. This book fills this gap, providing a complete study of this unexplored Muslim presence, from the arrival of the first Muslim resident in Cork, in the southwest of Ireland, in 1784 until mass immigration to the Republic of Ireland during the ‘Celtic Tiger’ period from the mid-1990s onwards. Muslim immigration and settlement in Ireland is very recent, and poses new challenges to a society that has perceived itself as religiously and culturally homogeneous. Ireland is also one of the least secular societies in Europe, providing a different context for Muslims seeking recognition by state and society. This book is essential for anyone who wants to understand the diversity of Muslim presences across Europe.

Numrich & Wedam, “Religion and Community in the New Urban America”

In March, Oxford University Press will release “Religion and Community in the New Urban America”  by Paul D. Numrich (Methodist Theological School & Trinity Lutheran Seminary) and Elfriede Wedam (Loyola University Chicago). The publisher’s description follows:

Religion and Community in the New Urban America examines the interrelated transformations of cities and urban congregations. The authors ask how the new metropolis affects local religious communities and what role those communities play in creating the new metropolis. Through an in-depth study of fifteen Chicago congregations-Catholic parishes, Protestant churches, Jewish synagogues, Muslim mosques, and a Hindu temple, both city and suburban-this book describes congregational life and measures congregational influences on urban environments. Paul D. Numrich and Elfriede Wedam challenge the view held by many urban studies scholars that religion plays a small role-if any-in shaping postindustrial cities and that religious communities merely adapt to urban structures in a passive fashion. Taking into account the spatial distribution of constituents, internal traits, and external actions, each congregation’s urban impact is plotted on a continuum of weak, to moderate, to strong, thus providing a nuanced understanding of the significance of religion in the contemporary urban context. Presenting a thoughtful analysis that includes maps of each congregation in its social-geographic setting, the authors offer an insightful look into urban community life today, from congregations to the places in which they are embedded.

Vaccination, the Nones, and Hobby Lobby

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Map from the New York Times

Measles is back. In recent weeks, an outbreak that originated in Southern California has spread across the nation (above). Public health officials seem confident the outbreak is explained, in large part, by the fact that significant numbers of parents no longer have their children vaccinated. These parents rely on exemptions that state laws, like California’s, provide for parents who object to mandatory vaccination programs. Perhaps surprisingly, the resistance is disproportionately high in wealthier, better educated, bluer neighborhoods, the sort of communities that pride themselves on their enlightened, progressive outlook.

The outbreak has obvious, unsettling public health implications. We are witnessing the recurrence of a serious, highly contagious disease we thought we had eradicated. In this post, though, I’d like to discuss some important cultural and legal implications. Culturally, the outbreak suggests the growing influence of the Nones—those Americans, maybe as many as 20% of us, without a formal religious affiliation. As I’ll explain, many of the parents who object to vaccination reflect the spirituality of the Nones. Legally, the outbreak seems likely to provide ammunition for opponents of last term’s decision in Hobby Lobby, the Contraception Mandate case. As I’ll explain, though, Hobby Lobby wouldn’t allow parents to claim religious exemptions in this context.

Let’s start with the cultural implications. To understand why the measles outbreak suggests the growing influence of the Nones, consider the reasons parents give for refusing to vaccinate their children. Some parents, it’s true, worry about the threat of toxins and an alleged link with autism. But the link with autism has been debunked; scientifically, there’s nothing to it. Some parents belong to religions that oppose vaccination. But the number of religions that forbid or even discourage vaccination is actually quite small. Conventional religious teachings cannot explain the widespread resistance we’re seeing, particularly in those blue, progressive neighborhoods.

Based on media accounts, much of the resistance comes from parents who object to vaccination, not because of science or conventional religion, but “personal belief.” Indeed, California law speaks in terms of a “personal belief exemption.” Many of the objectors have an intuitive conviction that vaccination is not right, natural, or wholesome. They associate it with capitalism and anti-environmentalism, which they see as morally deficient. Immunization makes these parents sincerely uncomfortable on a gut level. One told the New York Times, simply, “Vaccines don’t feel right for me and my family.”

Now, it’s impossible to hear these objections without thinking of the Nones. The Nones are a diverse group with varied commitments and philosophies. But sociologists have identified a common characteristic. Nones reject organized religion, not faith. In fact, they tend to be quite comfortable with spirituality, as long as it is personal and authentic: they are the “Spiritual but Not Religious.” So when a parent says vaccination seems wrong to her on a visceral level, and that she therefore refuses to allow her children to go through the procedure, she is reflecting the spirituality of the Nones. Of course, I don’t claim that all Nones reject vaccination, or even that all the parents who object to vaccination are Nones. But the Nones’ worldview pretty clearly provides the anti-vaccination movement with much of its considerable force.

Next, the legal implications. It seems to me very likely that opponents will use the outbreak to attack the Court’s decision last term in Hobby Lobby, the Contraception Mandate case. In fact, in her Hobby Lobby dissent, Justice Ginsburg argued that that, under the Court’s reading of RFRA, employers with religious objections could refuse to cover vaccinations for employees. This argument is a bit ironic, since, as I say, most religions don’t object to vaccinations. But some religions do object, and anyway, under Supreme Court precedent, the personal, anti-vaccination beliefs of Nones could be treated, for legal purposes, like traditional religious convictions. So Justice Ginsburg’s argument has a surface plausibility.

The Hobby Lobby Court expressly declined to address the implications of its holding for vaccination requirements. But Justice Ginsburg’s argument is misleading. Under RFRA, the government must offer an accommodation where a less restrictive alternative exists, that is, one that would allow the government to fulfill its compelling interest without substantially burdening the claimant’s exercise of religion. In Hobby Lobby, an alternative did exist. The government could have allowed the employer to opt out of coverage and have the plan administrator itself pay for the contraception. A similar accommodation could be worked out for vaccinations. If an employer didn’t want to pay, the plan administrator could be required to do so.

But here’s the important point: the vaccinations would take place. Hobby Lobby would not allow parents with religious objections to refuse to have their kids vaccinated at all. This is because there is no less-restrictive alternative to a mandatory vaccination protocol. For vaccination to work in preventing the spread of serious disease –surely a compelling government interest—more than 90% of a population must be vaccinated. (Scientists refer to this as the percentage necessary to create “herd immunity”). If the government allowed exemptions for people with religious objections, the percentage of vaccinated children could quickly fall below this number, endangering the whole population. In one California location, for example, the Times reports that exemptions have allowed 40% of schoolchildren to skip their measles vaccination.

Now, there is a complication. All states allow parents to claim exemptions from mandatory vaccination requirements for medical reasons. In some very rare cases, vaccination can endanger the health of a child, and in those circumstances, parents can decline to have their child vaccinated. Well, you might ask, doesn’t the possibility of medical exemptions suggest that the government doesn’t have a compelling interest in vaccinating absolutely everybody? And doesn’t that mean the government must also allow religious exemptions?

Maybe—some lower court caselaw does suggest that outcome. But I doubt it. No medical protocol is ever completely categorical; we don’t insist that doctors carry out a course of treatment even if it’s not medically indicated. It’s hard to imagine the Supreme Court would hold that allowing any medical exemption at all would necessarily require an exemption for religious reasons. It wouldn’t make sense.

Anyway, an outbreak of the sort we’re experiencing now is not an inevitable consequence of Hobby Lobby. It’s worth keeping that in mind in the weeks ahead.

Bowman, “Cosmoipolitan Justice”

This January, Springer Press will release “Cosmoipolitan Justice: The Axial Age, Multiple Modernities, and the Postsecular Turn” by Jonathan Bowman.  The publisher’s description follows:

Cosmoipolitan JusticeThis book assesses the rapid transformation of the political agency of religious groups within transnational civil society under conditions of globalization weakening sovereign nation-states. It offers a synthesis of the resurgence of Jasper’s axial thesis from distinct lines of research initiated by Eisenstadt, Habermas, Taylor, Bellah, and others. It explores the concept of cosmoipolitanism from the combined perspectives of sociology of religion, critical theory, secularization theory, and evolutionary cultural anthropology. At the theoretical level, cosmoipolitanism prescribes how local, national, transnational, global, and virtual spaces ought publically to engage in transcivilizational discourse without presuming the secular assumptions tied to cosmopolitanism. Employing insights of critical theory, this book offers a micro-level analysis of the pragmatics of discourse of each axial tradition contributing to the role of religion within multiple modernities. While circumscribing the particular historical limits of each tradition, the book extends their internal claims to species universality in light of the potential for boundless communication Jaspers saw initiated with the Axial Age.

Commins, “Islam in Saudi Arabia”

In February, I.B.Tauris will release “Islam in Saudi Arabia” by David Dean Commins (Dickinson College). The publisher’s description follows:

In the popular imagination, Saudi Arabia is a monolithic and static relic from an earlier age, wedded to a reactionary interpretation of Islam and led by an authoritarian monarchy whose alliance with a retrograde religious establishment has assured its survival. David Commins challenges this view by tracing the origins and evolution of the Saudi state from its eighteenth century roots through the present day. For Commins, Saudi Arabia’s contemporary social and political order is the product of dynamic historical and ongoing struggles, both internal (pitting dynasts against religious traditionalists, Wahhabi true believers against non-Wahhabis and their more liberal Wahhabi allies, and an old guard against a younger generation habituated to a world of social media, cable television, and consumerism) and external (including threats from imperial powers in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Arab nationalists in the 1950s-60s, Saddam’s Iraq in the 1990s, and, currently, Iran and al-Qaeda). Commins tracks the Al Saud’s efforts to balance and overcome these challenges, in the process creating a system whose defining characteristics are contradiction and ambiguity.

Sciorra, “Built with Faith: Italian American Imagination and Catholic Material Culture in New York City”

Later this month, the University of Tennessee Press will release “Built with Faith: Italian American Imagination and Catholic Material Culture in New York City” by Joseph Sciorra (Queens College). The publisher’s description follows:

Over the course of 130 years, Italian American Catholics in New York City have developed a varied repertoire of devotional art and architecture to create community-based sacred spaces in their homes and neighborhoods. These spaces exist outside of but in relationship to the consecrated halls of local parishes and are sites of worship in conventionally secular locations. Such ethnic building traditions and urban ethnic landscapes have long been neglected by all but a few scholars. Joseph Sciorra’s Built with Faith offers a place-centric, ethnographic study of the religious material culture of New York City’s Italian American Catholics.

Sciorra has spent thirty-five years researching these community art forms and interviewing Italian immigrant and U.S.-born Catholics. By documenting the folklife of this group, Sciorra reveals how Italian Americans in the city use expressive culture and religious practices to trans- form everyday urban space into unique, communal sites of ethnically infused religiosity. The folk aesthetics practiced by individuals within their communities are integral to understanding how art is conceptualized, implemented, and esteemed outside of museum and gallery walls. Yard shrines, sidewalk altars, Nativity presepi, Christmas house displays, a stone-studded grotto, and neighborhood processions—often dismissed as kitsch or prized as folk art—all provide examples of the vibrant and varied ways contemporary Italian Americans use material culture, architecture, and public ceremonial display to shape the city’s religious and cultural landscapes.

Written in an accessible style that will appeal to general readers and scholars alike, Sciorra’s unique study contributes to our understanding of how value and meaning are reproduced at the confluences of everyday life.

Curiel, “Islam in America”

This February, I.B. Tauris Publishers will release “Islam in America” by Jonathan Curiel.  The publisher’s description follows:

Islam in AmericaIslam is a hidden ingredient in the melting pot of America. Though there are between 2 and 8 million Muslims in the USA, Islam has traditionally had little political clout compared to other minority faiths. Nonetheless it is believed to be the country’s fastest-growing religion, with a vibrant culture of theological debate, particularly regarding the role of women preachers. In Islam in America, Jonathan Curiel traces the story of America’s Muslims from the seventeenth-century slave trade to the eighteenth-century immigration wave to the Nation of Islam. Drawing on interviews in communities from industrial Michigan to rural California, Curiel portrays the diversity of practices, cultures and observances that make up Muslim America. He profiles the leading personalities and institutions representing the community, and explores their relationship to the wider politics of America, particularly after 9/11. Islam in America offers an indispensable guide to the social life of modern Islam and the diversity of contemporary America.

“Religion and the Marketplace in the United States” (Stievermann et al., eds.)

This month, Oxford University Press releases “Religion and the Marketplace in the United States”  edited by Jan Stievermann (Heidelberg University), Philip Goff (Indiana University Indianapolis), Detlef Junker (Heidelberg University), with Anthony Santoro (Heidelberg University), and Daniel Silliman (Heidelberg University). The publisher’s description follows:

Alexis de Tocqueville once described the national character of Americans as one question insistently asked: “How much money will it bring in?” G.K. Chesterton, a century later, described America as a “nation with a soul of a church.” At first glance, the two observations might appear to be diametrically opposed, but this volume shows the ways in which American religion and American business overlap and interact with one another, defining the US in terms of religion, and religion in terms of economics.

Bringing together original contributions by leading experts and rising scholars from both America and Europe, the volume pushes this field of study forward by examining the ways religions and markets in relationship can provide powerful insights and open unseen aspects into both. In essays ranging from colonial American mercantilism to modern megachurches, from literary markets to popular festivals, the authors explore how religious behavior is shaped by commerce, and how commercial practices are informed by religion. By focusing on what historians often use off-handedly as a metaphor or analogy, the volume offers new insights into three varieties of relationships: religion and the marketplace, religion in the marketplace, and religion as the marketplace. Using these categories, the contributors test the assumptions scholars have come to hold, and offer deeper insights into religion and the marketplace in America.

Clements, “Religion and Public Opinion in Britain”

This March, Palgrave Macmillan Press will release “Religion and Public Opinion in Britain: Continuity and Change” by Ben Clements (University of Leicester).  The publisher’s description follows:

Religion and Public OpinionBased on extensive analysis of social surveys and opinion polls conducted over recent decades, this book provides a detailed study of the social and political attitudes of religious groups in Britain. It covers a period when religion has declined in significance as a social force in Britain, with falling levels of identity, belief, attendance and of the traditional rites of passage. It looks at group attitudes based on religious affiliation, attendance and other indicators of personal engagement with faith. It details the main areas of attitudinal continuity and change in relation to party support, ideology, abortion, homosexuality and gay rights, and foreign policy. It also examines wider changes in public opinion towards the role of religion in public life, charting the decline in religious authority, a key indicator of secularisation. It provides an important ‘bottom-up’ perspective on the historical and contemporary linkages between religion and politics in Britain.