Tag Archives: Sociology of Religion

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.

“Atheist Secularism and its Discontents” (Ngo & Quijada, eds.)

This May, Palgrave MacMillan will release “Atheist Secularism and its Discontents: A Comparative Study of Religion and Communism in Eurasia” edited by Tam T. T. Ngo (Max Plank Institute) and  Justine B. Quijada (Wesleyan University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Atheist Secularism and Its Discontents takes a comparative approach to understanding religion under communism, arguing that communism was integral to the global experience of secularism. Bringing together leading researchers whose work spans the Eurasian continent, it shows that defining, co-opting and appropriating religion was central to Communist political practices. Indeed, it is precisely because atheism was so central to the communist project that atheism’s others, superstition and religion, were essential to the communist experience. Although all forms of communism sought to eradicate or limit religion, this book demonstrates that religious life under such regimes was unexpectedly rich, and that throughout the communist and post-communist world religious and political imaginaries are intimately intertwined.

Hoque, “British-Islamic Identity”

This May, Trentham Books will release “British-Islamic Identity: Third Generation Bangladeshis from East London” by Aminul Hoque (University of London).  The publisher’s description follows:

British-Islamic IdentityHow does it feel to be constructed as the violent, terrorist, un-British “other”? To be a minority in a majority situation, to have no sense of belonging, to be voiceless, marginalized and invisible? British-Islamic Identity examines these issues through an ethnographic account of the lives and multifaceted identities of six British-born third generation Bangladeshis from east London. Do they see themselves as Bangladeshi, British, Muslim, Londoners, none of these or a fusion of them all? Their stories are powerful, clear and unsettling, charting their journeys from invisibility to visibility and from the periphery to the core of social life.

The book shows how young Bangladeshis have constructed a new British Islamic identity for themselves. British Islam is a dynamic and syncretic identity that occupies a social and spiritual space in their lives. It helps young British-born Bangladeshis to manage the complexities of being British, Bangladeshi and Muslim. It gives them a sense of belonging, recognition and acceptance, as they struggle against systemic and institutional racism, isolation and poverty.

The book tackles the layers of sociological postmodern identity – language, race, religion, nation and gender – and frames them within the context of young people’s self-narratives. It offers important new insight and understanding of their own stories of identity and allows us to hear these ignored and alienated voices. This makes the book essential reading for those who work with or are concerned about young people – parents, teachers, youth workers, students, academics, policymakers, politicians, journalists. It will interest young people whose roots, ancestry and heritage lie outside the UK. And with Islam dominating the domestic and international news agenda, it is a timely and positive contribution to the often misunderstood notions of what it means to be a British Muslim.

Jouili, “Pious Practice and Secular Constraints: Women in the Islamic Revival in Europe”

In May, Stanford University Press will release “Pious Practice and Secular Constraints: Women in the Islamic Revival in Europe” by Jeanette S. Jouili (College of Charleston). The publisher’s description follows:

The visible increase in religious practice among young European-born Muslims has provoked public anxiety. New government regulations seek not only to restrict Islamic practices within the public sphere, but also to shape Muslims’, and especially women’s, personal conduct. Pious Practice and Secular Constraints chronicles the everyday ethical struggles of women active in orthodox and socially conservative Islamic revival circles as they are torn between their quest for a pious lifestyle and their aspirations to counter negative representations of Muslims within the mainstream society.

Jeanette S. Jouili conducted fieldwork in France and Germany to investigate how pious Muslim women grapple with religious expression: for example, when to wear a headscarf, where to pray throughout the day, and how to maintain modest interactions between men and women. Her analysis stresses the various ethical dilemmas the women confronted in negotiating these religious duties within a secular public sphere. In conversation with Islamic and Western thinkers, Jouili teases out the important ethical-political implications of these struggles, ultimately arguing that Muslim moral agency, surprisingly reinvigorated rather than hampered by the increasingly hostile climate in Europe, encourages us to think about the contribution of non-secular civic virtues for shaping a pluralist Europe.

 

“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.