Current Issue: February 2019

Eastern spirituality in the West-secularizing or globalizing?

How much of Eastern spirituality and practice in the West is really dressed up secular therapy and consumerism? In his new book, Secular Beats Spiritual: The Westernization of the Easternization of the West (Oxford University Press, $32.50), sociologist Steve Bruce casts doubt on the notion that the “turn to the East” represents anything like a spiritual revolution that is replacing traditional religion. The subtitle refers to Colin Campbell’s 2007 book, The Easternization of the West, which argued that Western culture was undergoing a transformation to Eastern spiritual values. Bruce, a longtime defender of the secularization thesis, looks at many of the influences Campbell sees as Eastern spiritual themes and stirrings and dismisses them as largely secular or at most “quasi-spiritual.” Bruce takes the reader on a colorful tour of New Age and Eastern spiritual gatherings and groups, especially in the UK, making the book more ethnographic than his other works. He looks at such New Age communities as Findhorn and Glastonbury and finds small if devoted followings (mainly of older people), a tolerance for diversity and absence of a set of unifying beliefs, syncretism, and a therapeutic mindset (discovering one’s true self). In subsequent chapters on yoga, neo-Hinduism (such as Hare Krishna), and Buddhism, Bruce finds a similar pattern: the groups and ideas that thrive in mainstream society (such as human potential concepts and physical and emotional well-being) are the most distant from traditional religious expressions and practices. This is especially the case with the practice of “mindfulness,” as this insight form of Buddhist meditation has evolved into a stress on calmness, increasingly leaving behind any religious trappings.

Not unexpectedly, Bruce finds that his theory of secularization is confirmed by what he sees as the secular drift of these groups. In the final chapters, he returns to his usual number crunching, acknowledging the difficulty of counting the loosely affiliated and individualistic Eastern seekers. From surveys, subscription lists and other studies, he estimates New Age adherents as ranging between seven and one percent of the UK population, mainly middle-class, middle-age and elderly and not likely to reproduce their numbers. “Put very simply, ‘alternative spirituality,’ as it is sometimes called, is not an alternative to religious indifference. It is an alternative to conventional religion [since so many of such seekers had religious upbringings] and, as the proportion of people with any childhood religious socialization declines, so too does the pool from which spirituality recruits,” he argues. Campbell’s book was not so much about the growth of New Age and Eastern religious groups, but rather the diffusion of Eastern spiritual influence in Western culture. Bruce, who sees the same secularizing currents in the UK as soon to arrive in the U.S., denies that Eastern spirituality, given its individualism, has had much public influence. He concludes that the “Western appropriation of Eastern religious themes has been accompanied by a considerable reshaping of those themes. What we have actually seen is the Westernization of the Easternization of the West.”

Congregations’ role as sanctuary coming under strain under Trump administration?

The longtime tradition of government respecting the autonomy of churches in offering sanctuary to illegal immigrants and other violators of the law is gradually being dissolved under the presidency of Donald Trump, reports the libertarian magazine Reason (February). The internal policies of government immigrant agencies such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have long treated […]

Calvinist charismatics flourishing by joining head and heart religion

Reformed churches, known for their intellectual and doctrine-based approach to the faith, are also adopting charismatic practices, reports Christianity Today magazine (January/February). The mixing of Calvinism and charismatic practices is particularly evident in the new church planting networks, such as Advance, Newfrontiers, and Acts 29 (to some extent), which are active in the U.S., Britain, […]

#MeToo movement resonates with evangelical women

The #MeToo movement, involving women speaking out against sexual harassment, is finding expression in religious institutions, particularly evangelical churches where there is sometimes a conflict between granting offending clergy forgiveness and holding them accountable for their actions. National Public Radio (January 24) reports on how the issue of evangelical churches dealing with pastoral sexual abuse […]

C3 expands in Canada by winning over hipsters

“A church for hipsters”—that has been the tone of several media reports on C3 Church for the past few years, the latest one being an article about the Toronto branch in The Globe and Mail (January 18). C3 stands for Christian City Church, a neo-Pentecostal church launched in 1980 that now counts 450 churches around […]

Current Research – February 2018

A new study, Going, Going, Gone: The Dynamics of Disaffiliation in Young Catholics, looks at a sample of former Catholics, aged 15 to 25, to shed light on the movement of young people exiting the church in recent years. The National Catholic Reporter (January 22) notes findings from the survey, which was conducted by St. […]

European women’s circles embracing spirituality and “sisterhood”

Since the early 2000s, the emergence of women’s circles, small, intimate monthly gatherings exploring women’s issues, in Europe has also seen the growth of eclectic spirituality among participants, writes Chia Longman in the journal Religions (January 1). These circles “appear to be a growing phenomenon across the globe in recent years, as they have become […]

Segments of French Catholicism pursue resistance while tide of decline continues

Facing a sociological decline as well as a shift of values, a number of practicing Roman Catholics in France have become more combative on the public stage, according to a new book by historian and political scientist Jérôme Fourquet, a leading expert at IFOP, a French survey firm. He finds that six percent of the […]

Poland shows more individualistic approaches to religion

Although there have not been changes as radical as what some observers had expected to see in Polish religiosity and its connections to the dominant Roman Catholic Church, sociological research as well as surveys report stronger secularization and a changing attitude toward the church in Poland since 2008. Still, writes Fr. Janusz Mariański  (Catholic University […]

Flourishing Lubavitch Hasidim positions itself as voice of Russian Jewry

Chabad, the outreach arm of Lubavitch Hasidic Judaism, shows significant growth in Russia and has successfully created the image of itself as the leader of Russian Jewry in line with Russian nationalism, writes Galina Zelenina of Moscow State University in the journal Contemporary Jewry (online January). Chabad entered the stage when traditional Russian Jewish communities […]

Findings & Footnotes- February 2018

While RW (November 2017) had already reported on some of the results of the Orthodox Christian Parish Life in America study by Alexei Krindatch, the full report has now been published under the auspices of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America and brings additional, significant observations about trends in […]

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

1. The American Muslim Civic Leadership Institute (AMCLI) is one of the country’s most influential networks of American Muslim civic leaders. Founded in 2006, AMCLI is based at the University of Southern California’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture. The Carnegie Foundation helped inaugurate the program with an initial $50,000 grant, followed by a $200,000 […]