ReligionWatch Archives

For ReligionWatch archives prior to February 2016, CLICK HERE or please contact Richard Cimino at relwatch1@msn.com

Eastern Orthodox churches facing their own culture wars?

Eastern Orthodoxy is often said to be resistant to the cultural and theological battles that have marked other denominations, but the familiar scenario of conflict between “traditionalists” and “progressives” on matters of sexuality, gender, and politics is increasingly evident in this tradition. In the conservative ecumenical magazine Touchstone (May/June), Orthodox writer and priest Alexander F. C. Webster identifies an “Orthodox left” that is mounting a “Trojan horse” strategy seeking to effect change in these conservative churches. He charges that an Orthodox “elite” are dismissing more traditional believers as “fundamentalists”—a term that has been making the rounds in Orthodox theological conferences and journals and particularly propagated by prominent Fordham University theologian Aristotle Papanikolaou [see July 2016 RW]. Other theologians, such as Fordham’s George Demaopoulos and St. Vladimir’s Seminary’s Peter Bouteneff, as well as Archbishop Chrysostomous of Cyprus, have targeted such “fundamentalists” as being responsible for the lack of unity evident at last year Pan-Orthodox Council in Crete (several Orthodox bodies did not participate in the council for various reasons).

Webster cites Bouteneff’s report on the council in the mainline Protestant Christian Century magazine, where the latter concludes that Orthodoxy is “lagging in its responsiveness to modern demographic realities and to modernity in general,” as an example of this attitude. Webster’s article itself—and its publication in a well-known conservative magazine—suggests that both sides in these conflicts are positioning themselves in the two-party system of American religion marked by “liberals” and “conservatives.” While some Orthodox theologians have long been open to arguments about restoring women to the diaconate and even ordaining women to the priesthood, Webster sees support for such causes as stemming from Orthodox clergy and theologians’ increasing sympathy with gender and sexual liberation ideologies, leading up to “a soft-sell of the ancient proscriptions against abortions to the latest trend, ‘transgenderism.’” On LGBTQ issues, Webster sees a growing mood of tolerance and downplaying of church teaching on homosexuality among these elite theologians. But they are not far ahead of Orthodox laity; surveys have shown that American Orthodox laypeople are close to mainline Protestants and Catholics in their support of same-sex marriage (54 percent).

Succession leads to Hasidic Jewish success

Hasidic Judaism is in its “golden, even platinum age” thanks to the effective succession of leaders and the dynasties they have built in America, said sociologist Samuel Heilman in a talk he gave at the City University of New York Graduate Center in early May, which RW attended. Heilman was speaking about his new book […]

Rev. Moon’s disputed legacy and the divergent paths of Unificationism

Besides personal rivalries and disputes over the control of assets, divisions within the Unificationist movement after the death of its founder, Sun Myung Moon (1920–2012), are marked by the adoption of both different theologies and different views on the nature of the movement. This divergence was clearly expressed at a conference that took place on […]

Evangelical women bloggers bring gender, authority questions to surface

The democratic and free-wheeling world of the Christian blogosphere has elevated the role of evangelical women while posing a crisis of authority in churches and denominations, writes Tish Harrison Warren in Christianity Today magazine (April 27). The rise of the blogosphere has led to a new kind of Christian celebrity and authority—“the speaker and the […]

American Sikhism’s post-9/11 activism raises women’s status

The creation and growth of American Sikh organizations and activism following 9/11 has given women greater leadership roles and status within Sikhism in the U.S., writes Sangeeta Luthra in the journal Sikh Formations (online April 20). The targeting and misidentifying of Sikhs (usually men with turbans) as Islamic extremists since 9/11 and the attack on […]

Current Research June 2017

Are the number of atheists drastically undercounted in the U.S.? That is the claim of social psychologists Will Gervais and Maxine Najle, who conducted an experiment on the role of stigma in identifying as an atheist and found that the national percentage could be as high as 26 percent. The magazine Vox (May 17) reports […]

Christian Zionism in global South sheds its end-times focus

Christian Zionism is shifting from its American base with its apocalyptic background to charismatic Christian churches in the global South that stress prosperity teachings, writes Daniel Hummel in First Things magazine (June/July). Christian Zionism started under the auspices of evangelicals in the U.S., who taught that Israel would be the stage of end times events […]

Both pluralism and militants gain ground in Iran’s seminaries

Young clerics in Iran’s seminaries and affiliated universities in the sacred city of Qom show a new pluralism and appreciation of non-Islamic disciplines, suggesting the emergence of a more “open and malleable religious life,” through there are also new signs of militancy in these schools, according to two studies. In the journal Sociology of Islam […]

Findings & Footnotes June 2017

The journal Current Anthropology (April) features a symposium on fluid religious identities, with participants arguing that the religious “itinerant” is the rule rather than the exception today. Authors Yonathan N. Gez, Yvan Droz, Edio Soares, and Jeanne Ray even coin a term for the phenomenon of dynamic religious identity—“butinage” (which refers to the practice of […]

On/File: A Continuing Record of Groups, Movements, People, and Events Impacting Religion

Crossroads, recently named the fastest growing church in America, has also made a name for itself for its entrepreneurial ministry that is closely integrated with the startup culture of Silicon Valley. The church, based in Cincinnati, was a startup of executives from Procter & Gamble beginning a Bible study in 1990. The church founders used […]