Tag Archives: Sociology of Religion

Wielander, “Christian Values in Communist China”

The rise of Christianity as a social force in China (unlike the decline of chinaChristianity as a social force in the West) is an underreported story. Even well-informed analysts who look to China as a rising power sometimes ignore it. This month, Routledge releases the paperback version of what looks to be an interesting corrective, Christian Values in Communist China, by Gerda Wielander (University of Westminster). The publisher’s description follows:

This book argues that as new political and social values are formed in post-socialist China, Christian values are becoming increasingly embedded in the new post-socialist Chinese outlook. It shows how although Christianity is viewed in China as a foreign religion, promoted by Christian missionaries and as such at odds with the official position of the state, Christianity as a source of social and political values – rather than a faith requiring adherence to a church is in fact having a huge impact. The book shows how these values inform both official and dissident ideology and provide a key underpinning of morality and ethics in the post-socialist moral landscape. Adopting a variety of different angles, the book investigates the role Christian thought plays in the official discourse on morality and love and what contribution Chinese Christians make to charitable projects. It analyses key Christian publications and dedicates two chapters to Christian intellectuals and their impact on political liberal thinking in China. The concluding chapter highlights gender roles, the role of the Chinese diaspora, and the overlap of the government and Christian agenda in China today. The book challenges commonly held views on contemporary Chinese Christianity as a movement in opposition to the state by showing the diversity and complexity of Christian thinking and the many factors influencing it.

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.

Routledge Handbook of Law and Religion (Ferrari, ed.)

In March, Routledge released its new Routledge Handbook of Law and Religion,rout edited by Silvio Ferrari (University of Milan). The publisher’s description follows:

The field of law and religion studies has undergone a profound transformation over the last thirty years, looking beyond traditional relationships between State and religious communities to include rights of religious liberty and the role of religion in the public space.

This handbook features new, specially commissioned papers by a range of eminent scholars that offer a comprehensive overview of the field of law and religion. The book takes on an interdisciplinary approach, drawing from anthropology, sociology, theology and political science in order to explore how laws and court decisions concerning religion contribute to the shape of the public space.

Key themes within the book include:

  1. Religions symbols in the public space;
  2. Religion and security;
  3. Freedom of religion and cultural rights;
  4. Defamation and hate speech;
  5. Gender, religion and law;

This advanced level reference work is essential reading for students, researchers and scholars of law and religion, as well as policy makers in the field.

Miller, “Mappila Muslim Culture”

This June, SUNY Press will release “Mappila Muslim Culture: How a Historic Muslim Community in India Has Blended Tradition and Modernity” by Roland E. Miller (Emeritus Professor at Luther College, University of Regina, and Luther Seminary).  The publisher’s description follows:

Mappila MuslimsThis book provides a comprehensive account of the distinct culture of the Mappila Muslims, a large community from the southern Indian state of Kerala. Although they were the first Muslim community in South Asia, the Mappilas are little-known in the West. Roland E. Miller explores the Mappilas’ fourteen-century-long history of social adaptation and their current status as a successful example of Muslim interaction with modernity. Once feared, now admired, Kerala’s Mappilas have produced an intellectual renaissance and renewed their ancient status as a model of social harmony. Miller provides an account of Mappila history and looks at the formation of Mappila culture, which has developed through the interaction of Islamic and Malayali influences. Descriptions of current day life cycles, religion, ritual, work life, education, and leadership are included.

Majeed, “Polygyny: What It Means When African American Muslim Women Share Their Husbands”

In June, the University Press of Florida will release “Polygyny: What It Means When African American Muslim Women Share Their Husbands” by Debra Majeed (Beloit College). The publisher’s description follows:

Debra Majeed sheds light on families whose form and function conflict with U.S. civil law. Polygyny–multiple-wife marriage–has steadily emerged as an alternative to the low numbers of marriageable African American men and the high number of female-led households in black America.

This book features the voices of women who welcome polygyny, oppose it, acquiesce to it, or even negotiate power in its practices. Majeed examines the choices available to African American Muslim women who are considering polygyny or who are living it. She calls attention to the ways in which interpretations of Islam’s primary sources are authorized or legitimated to regulate the rights of Muslim women. Highlighting the legal, emotional, and communal implications of polygyny, Majeed encourages Muslim communities to develop formal measures that ensure the welfare of women and children who are otherwise not recognized by the state.

 

“Buddhism beyond Borders” (Mitchell & Quli, eds.)

This June, SUNY Press will release “Buddhism beyond Borders: New Perspectives on Buddhism in the United States” by Scott A. Mitchell (Institute of Buddhist Studies) and Natalie E. F. Quli (Institute of Buddhist Studies).  The publisher’s description follows:

Buddhism Beyond BordersBuddhism beyond Borders provides a fresh consideration of Buddhism in the American context. It includes both theoretical discussions and case studies to highlight the tension between studies that locate Buddhist communities in regionally specific areas and those that highlight the translocal nature of an increasingly interconnected world. Whereas previous examinations of Buddhism in North America have assumed a more or less essentialized and homogeneous “American” culture, the essays in this volume offer a corrective, situating American Buddhist groups within the framework of globalized cultural flows, while exploring the effects of local forces. Contributors examine regionalism within American Buddhisms, Buddhist identity and ethnicity as academic typologies, Buddhist modernities, the secularization and hybridization of Buddhism, Buddhist fiction, and Buddhist controversies involving the Internet, among other issues.

Goldscheider, “Israeli Society in the Twenty-First Century”

This June, Brandeis University Press will release “Israeli Society in the Twenty-First Century: Immigration, Inequality and Religious Conflict” by Calvin Goldscheider (Brown University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Israeli Society in the Twenty-First CenturyThis volume illuminates changes in Israeli society over the past generation. Goldscheider identifies three key social changes that have led to the transformation of Israeli society in the twenty-first century: the massive immigration of Jews from the former Soviet Union, the economic shift to a high-tech economy, and the growth of socioeconomic inequalities inside Israel. To deepen his analysis of these developments, Goldscheider focuses on ethnicity, religion, and gender, including the growth of ethnic pluralism in Israel, the strengthening of the Ultra-Orthodox community, the changing nature of religious Zionism and secularism, shifts in family patterns, and new issues and challenges between Palestinians and Arab Israelis given the stalemate in the peace process and the expansions of Jewish settlements.

Combining demography and social structural analysis, the author draws on the most recent data available from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics and other sources to offer scholars and students an innovative guide to thinking about the Israel of the future.

This book will be of interest to scholars and students of contemporary Israel, the Middle East, sociology, demography and economic development, as well as policy specialists in these fields. It will serve as a textbook for courses in Israeli history and in the modern Middle East.

“Judaism, Christianity, and Islam” (Gilman, ed.)

This past February, Columbia University Press released “Judaism, Christianity, and Islam: Collaboration and Conflict in the Age of Diaspora” edited by Sander L. Gilman (Emory University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Judaism, Christianity, and IslamIslam, Christianity, and Judaism share several common features, including their historical origins in the prophet Abraham, their belief in a single divine being, and their modern global expanse. Yet it is the seeming closeness of these “Abrahamic” religions that draws attention to the real or imagined differences between them. This volume examines Abrahamic cultures as minority groups in societies which may be majority Muslim, Christian or Jewish, or self-consciously secular. The focus is on the relationships between these religious identities in global Diaspora, where all of them are confronted with claims about national and individual difference. The case studies range from colonial Hong Kong and Victorian London to today’s San Francisco and rural India. Each study shows how complex such relationships can be and how important it is to situate them in the cultural, ethnic, and historical context of their world. The chapters explore ritual practice, conversion, colonization, immigration, and cultural representations of the differences between the Abrahamic religions. An important theme is how the complex patterns of interaction among these religions embrace collaboration as well as conflict–even in the modern Middle East. This work by authors from several academic disciplines on a topic of crucial importance will be of interest to scholars of history, theology, sociology, and cultural studies, as well as to the general reader interested in how minority groups have interacted and coexisted.

Mustafa, “Identity and Political Participation Among Young British Muslims: Believing and Belonging”

In January, Palgrave Macmillan released “Identity and Political Participation Among Young British Muslims: Believing and Belonging” by Asma Mustafa (Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies). The publisher’s description follows:

The integration of British born young Muslims into wider society is one of9781137302526
the most topical issues challenging policy makers in modern Britain. As citizens with diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds they have aspirations, values and interests which may seem difficult to accommodate within a Western European social and political context.

For an intelligent and well informed analysis of the dynamic nature of social and political integration, we need to listen to the voices of young British Muslims, males and females; and record the diversity of their experiences as citizens. Understanding their motivations and political concerns are key factors in illuminating their identity and predicting their political action. The challenge for informed policy-making is to avoid simple stereotyping of faith communities and examine more deeply the key drivers of identity formation and political engagement of young British Muslims.

Spiegel, “Young Islam”

This May, Princeton University Press will release “Young Islam: The New Politics of Religion in Morocco and the Arab World” by Avi Max Spiegel (University of San Diego).  The publisher’s description follows:

Young IslamToday, two-thirds of all Arab Muslims are under the age of thirty. Young Islam takes readers inside the evolving competition for their support—a competition not simply between Islamism and the secular world, but between different and often conflicting visions of Islam itself.

Drawing on extensive ethnographic research among rank-and-file activists in Morocco, Avi Spiegel shows how Islamist movements are encountering opposition from an unexpected source—each other. In vivid and compelling detail, he describes the conflicts that arise as Islamist groups vie with one another for new recruits, and the unprecedented fragmentation that occurs as members wrangle over a shared urbanized base. Looking carefully at how political Islam is lived, expressed, and understood by young people, Spiegel moves beyond the top-down focus of current research. Instead, he makes the compelling case that Islamist actors are shaped more by their relationships to each other than by their relationships to the state or even to religious ideology. By focusing not only on the texts of aging elites but also on the voices of diverse and sophisticated Muslim youths, Spiegel exposes the shifting and contested nature of Islamist movements today—movements that are being reimagined from the bottom up by young Islam.

The first book to shed light on this new and uncharted era of Islamist pluralism in the Middle East and North Africa, Young Islam uncovers the rivalries that are redefining the next generation of political Islam.