Current Issue: April 2018

The trimming and taming of the academic study of religion

Declining support for the liberal arts and the growth of administrative bureaucracy and “no harm” policies are cutting into both academic study and research on religion, according to two reports. The academic study of Catholic theology is “undergoing a severe stress test,” as Catholic universities and colleges are trimming their core theology course requirements and are secularizing at the same time that the discipline’s liberal orientation is finding less interest among students, writes Michael Hollerich on Commonweal magazine’s website (March 27). Catholic academic theology’s “hold on the undergraduate curriculum” at Catholic universities was linked to the post-Vatican II changes that expanded theological education to the laity, who were subsequently taught under a rising tide of theologians and historians who were often trained in secular and mainline Protestant schools, such as the University of Chicago and Yale University. Today the respect that academic theological offerings were formerly given at Catholic colleges has eroded to the point where, according to Hollerich, “schools like mine are faced with the need to go big or go home—meaning we have to turn more and more to pragmatic vo-tech educational goals, since we don’t have the cultural prestige of Notre Dame or Georgetown to live off the moneyed elite able to afford us. That leads to hiring policies that further secularize the institution,” adds Hollerich, who teaches at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.

The other side of the stress test is coming from students, especially aspiring academics. These students do not share the same Catholic backgrounds and concerns about academic freedom as preceding generations. “They are far more likely to be anxious about identity questions—what it means to be ‘Catholic’ at all rather than something else. In a situation of market freedom, people choose the specific, not the generic. From the younger generation’s perspective, we can look and sound like generic, dying, irrelevant mainline Protestantism shading toward nothingism,” Hollerich writes. Catholic colleges once provided the feeder system for Catholic doctoral programs, but today’s doctoral students are as likely to come from conservative schools such as Hillsdale College and Steubenville as from Notre Dame or Boston College. “And one wonders where those eager doctorands will ever find jobs if Catholic colleges and universities continue to reduce core requirements. And if there aren’t required undergraduate courses to teach, why do we need those doctoral programs either? I can tell you it’s not because the hierarchy is waiting breathlessly for the latest fruits of our research.”

Coptic Orthodox search for ways to accommodate American converts

While the influx of new migrants from the home country tends to intensify Egyptian cultural influence in the life of Coptic Orthodox parishes in the U.S., the church is attempting to create spaces where converts and second- and third-generation people who are fully integrated into the American way of life can feel comfortable, reports Shira […]

Canadian Sikhs invest political capital in controversial cause

Sikhs in Canada, particularly in the province of British Columbia, have political influence beyond their numbers, but their activism has also become a source of recent conflict in Canadian politics. In the Vancouver Sun (March 10), Douglas Todd writes that Sikhs, who number about 500,000 in Canada, have long had a disproportionate role in Canadian […]

Current Research – April 2018

Despite anecdotal reports of minorities leaving white churches over their support of President Donald Trump, churches, especially evangelical ones, are gradually diversifying in race and ethnicity, according to a recent survey by LifeWay Research (March 20). The survey found that 81 percent of pastors report that their church consists largely of one racial group. While […]

The new way of the pilgrim—non-believers included

While the contemporary interest in the practice of pilgrimage started later in England than in other parts of Europe, it is now attracting a growing number of people there, though with a variety of motivations going beyond the classical Christian model, reports Markus M. Haefliger in the Swiss daily Neue Zürcher Zeitung (March 29). When […]

Completing the work of reconciliation in Northern Ireland and the Balkans

Although Northern Ireland and the Balkans signed peace agreements at around the same time, these countries’ efforts at religious reconciliation have had mixed and sometimes diverging outcomes, according to two reports. Two decades after the “Good Friday” peace accord in Northern Ireland, reconciliation efforts between Catholics and Protestants have been sustained, although generational changes and […]

Political Islam takes center stage in Indonesia and Malaysia

Since the beginning of this decade, conservative and often Islamist groups have amassed power in Indonesia and Malaysia. While they have done so by organizing within democratic politics, they are recently more aggressively seeking to implement laws based on sharia and rolling back protections for religious minorities, writes Joshua Kurlantzick in the Council on Foreign […]

Findings & Footnotes – April 2018

The current issue of the journal Numen (65) devotes several of its articles to religion and terrorism, especially focusing on how foreign policy still tends to downplay the religious dimensions of such forms of violence. Guest editors James Lewis and Lorne L. Dawson note how the “significance of a linkage between religion and political violence […]