• A new study examining the political behavior of people engaged in spiritual activities such as yoga, meditation, making art, and walking in nature, finds not much difference from the behavior of more conventional religious believers. The study, conducted by Evan Stewart and Jaime Kucinkis and published in the online magazine The Conversation (September 3), measured such political activities as voting, volunteering, contacting representatives, protesting and donating to political campaigns. The researchers then compared those behaviors, distinguishing between people who see these activities as spiritual and those who see the same activities as religious. The study, originally published in the American Sociological Review, finds that spiritual practitioners are just as likely to engage in political activities as the religious.

    After controlling for demographic factors such as age, race and gender, frequent spiritual practitioners were about 30 percent more likely than nonpractitioners to report engaging in at least one political activity in the past year. Similarly, devoted religious practitioners were also about 30 percent more likely to report one of these political behaviors than respondents who did not practice religion. “In other words, we found heightened political engagement among both the religious and spiritual, compared with other people. The spiritual practitioners we identified seemed particularly likely to be disaffected by the rightward turn in some congregations in recent years. On average, Democrats, women and people who identified as lesbian, gay and bisexual reported more frequent spiritual practices.”(The Conversation,


  • While “congregational shopping” was extensive during the pandemic, it has not resulted in a high rate of switching from one’s home congregation. Writing in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (online in September), political scientists Nicholas J. Higgins and Paul A. Djupe analyzed a non-probability “quota” sample (that tries to match demographic features reported from sources like the census) from Qualtrics Panels of 1,790 adults. They found that congregational shopping was very high during the pandemic, motivated by congregational closures and the opportunities afforded by online services that made it unnecessary to physically visit other religious services. But Higgins and Djupe found that there was a “null relationship” between shopping and leaving home congregations.

    Source: iStock – SDA Church.

    They were surprised by the fact that while the heaviest shoppers were non-denominational Christians, there was a low rate of switching to other congregations among this group. Politics also did not play a significant role in congregational shopping, though it did motivate a segment of members to leave their congregations during the pandemic. Even if congregational shopping does not lead to high rates of members leaving their congregations, if the practice is continued, it may have other effects. Higgins and Djupe write that congregational shopping could “intensify the pressure on congregations to attract and retain attenders in part because they know people are shopping, while they do not know their likelihood of leaving.” The practice could promote standardization of services, especially in the same community. “If political engagement, for instance, is becoming more common among evangelicals, ease of accessing other congregations could encourage the diffusion of that norm,” they conclude.

    (Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion,


  • A new Pew Research Center study has modeled several hypothetical scenarios describing how the U.S. religious landscape might change over the next half century. Depending on whether religious switching continues at recent rates, speeds up, or stops entirely, the projections show Christians of all ages declining from 64 percent to between a little more than half (54 percent) and just above one-third of all Americans by 2070. During this same period, the non-affiliated would rise from the current 30 percent to somewhere between 34 percent and 52 percent of the U.S. population. Pew offers some possible scenarios of what could happen based on trends of survey data from Pew Research Center and the long-running General Social Survey. There is the “steady switching” scenario, which depicts moderate, steady “net” switching (taking into account some “partially offsetting movement in both directions”) away from Christianity among young adults, in contrast to a decades-long trend of increasing disaffiliation across younger cohorts; this scenario best represents what would happen if the recent period of rising attrition in Christianity is winding down or already has ended.By contrast, a second scenario of rising disaffiliation without limits assumes an ever-increasing momentum behind religious switching. The rise of the unaffiliated might induce increasing numbers of young people to leave Christianity and “further increase the ‘stickiness’ of an unaffiliated upbringing, so that fewer and fewer people raised without a religion would take on a religious identity at a later point in their lives.” But continued religious socialization of children may make them less likely to disaffiliate, continuing a “self-perpetuating core of committed Christians who retain their religion and raise new generations of Christians.” The “rising disaffiliation with limits” scenario best illustrates what would happen if recent generational trends in the U.S. continue, “but only until they reach the boundary of what has been observed around the world, including in Western Europe.” This scenario reflects the patterns observed in recent years. “These projections indicate the U.S. might be following the path taken over the last 50 years by many countries in Western Europe that had overwhelming Christian majorities in the middle of the 20th century and no longer do. In Great Britain, for example, ‘nones’ surpassed Christians to become the largest group in 2009, according to the British Social Attitudes Survey. In the Netherlands, disaffiliation accelerated in the 1970s, and 47 percent of adults now say they are Christian,” the report concludes.(The Pew report can be downloaded from: modeling-the-future-of-religion-in-america/)


  • The interplay between terrorism and organized crime has turned up in several cases of jihadist terrorist violence in Europe, but the connection is weaker among these Islamic terrorists than domestic terrorists. In research published in the CTC Sentinel (September), Raphael D. Marcus, of the NYPD Intelligence Bureau, studied a dataset of 237 individuals who were defendants in U.S. federal courts for carrying out terrorist attacks (including 10 who were killed by law enforcement) from 2014 to 2022. Past research has found that those with a criminal background were more likely to engage in terrorism than those who did not have criminal records. Marcus found that 31 percent of Islamic State defendants and perpetrators killed in an attack had prior criminal records, a trend that has remained constant between 2014 and 2022.Domestic abuse was prevalent among Islamic State defendants, with 36 percent having prior arrests for this crime. There was also a prevalence of prior firearm offenses found among the defendants. Gang membership and prison time are important elements of terrorism, but they had less relevance among Islamic State defendants than other extremists, such as white supremacist terrorists. Most U.S. Islamic State defendants with a gang affiliation withdrew from the gang upon Islamic radicalization, and there were few examples of “outsourcing” Islamic State operations to gangs or criminal networks. The relationships that U.S. Islamic State inmates had to others in prison only occasionally had “plot relevance [though] exposure to charismatic or high-profile terrorist inmates was a key factor” in the minority of cases of prison radicalization (involving 17 percent of the 29 defendants who served time in prison).(CTC Sentinel,

    Source: Combating Terrorism Center.


  • A new study looking at survey data from 103 countries finds religious decline occurring in Latin America, Central Europe and the Balkans, the Mideast, and North Africa. But there is little evidence of such decline elsewhere in Asia, Africa or the former Soviet Union states despite the broad reach of many modernizing social trends. The study, conducted by Louisa Roberts of the University of South Dakota and presented at the American Sociological Association meeting in Los Angeles in August, which RW attended, analyzed World/European Values Survey data from 1981 to 2020. While survey results point to a gradual pattern of decline in Europe (Western, Central, and Eastern) as well as the U.S. and possibly Latin America and even the Middle East, there has been less research on Asian and African trends. Roberts’ study is among the first to report on these regions, and she finds that average levels of religiosity in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia were stable over time.Country-average trends in Southeast Asia and East Africa were mixed, with some countries, such as Indonesia and the Philippines, having stable averages, others, like Vietnam and China, becoming more religious over time, and still other countries, like South Korea and Thailand, becoming less religious. Roberts also finds that little-studied sub-regions, such as the former Yugoslavia, the Caucuses, and Central Asia, appear to have become more religious over this period. Roberts concludes that the study’s results are not consistent with what she calls a “strong version of secularization theory” that ties such factors as economic security, education, and urbanism to a weakening of religion, since global increases in these economic, educational, and urbanization levels have apparently not led most major world regions to become less religious between 1980 and 2020.

    Source: The Hank Center for the Catholic Intellectual Heritage.


  • While 41 percent of Arab youth see their religion as the most important part of their identity—above their nation, family or tribe—73 percent feel that religion plays too big a role in the Middle East and 77 percent think that Arab religious institutions should be reformed. Journalist and researcher James M. Dorsey (Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Singapore) also reports on his webpage (The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer, September 24) that several recent surveys “reveal contradictory attitudes among Arab youth towards religion as well as widespread rejection of notions of a moderate Islam and formal diplomatic ties with Israel.” This is the fourteenth year that the Arab Youth Survey has been conducted by the Dubai-based public relations agency ASDA’A BCW. The survey is based on a sample of 3,400 youths (equally divided between males and females) from 17 countries in the Gulf, the Levant and North Africa.In some cases, answers reflect similar percentages from one area to another, but there are also significant regional variations. Fifty-four percent of youth in North Africa and 45 percent in the Gulf states claim religion as the most important part of their identity, but the percentage is down to 24 percent in the Levant. Despite widespread feelings that religion plays too big a role in the Middle East, 70 percent in the Gulf, 60 percent in North Africa, and 41 percent in the Levant say the laws in their country should be based on sharia. A majority (up to 91 percent in Algeria) claim to be concerned about the loss of traditional values and culture, and stress that it is important for them to preserve their religious and cultural identity, even if it means giving up a globalized and more tolerant society; but the proportion goes down to 34 percent in Yemen and 23 percent in Syria, two war-torn countries. In-depth country-specific surveys and field research are required in order to understand what the trends among Arab youths mean in relation to religion, its public role, and the place of religious institutions. Indeed, as the history of contemporary Islam shows, the desire for “reform” can have different practical meanings.(James M. Dorsey’s informative column, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer, has been published for 12 years and can be accessed for free or be supported by becoming a paid subscriber:; Arab Youth Survey – 


  • A new survey about Muslim consumers in Southeast Asia suggests Islam’s central role in people’s daily lives and choices. James M. Dorsey (Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Singapore) reports in his column and blog (The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer, September 28) that the survey, released on September 21, was conducted in May 2022 by New York-based Wunderman Thompson Intelligence in cooperation with the Muslim Intel Lab established last year by communications agency YMLY&R. The sample included 1,000 people, half of them in Malaysia and the other half in Indonesia. The interest of the agencies in those countries is understandable, since as Dorsey remarks they rank among the top halal markets. Some 250 million Muslims live in Southeast Asia. The survey sees Muslims living vastly different lives than their parents, “shaped by two potent forces: a resurgence of faith and the spread of Western-style consumerism.” In one generation, there has been an extension of the understanding of halal (what is considered as permissible for Muslim believers), which no longer applies primarily to food, but now includes areas such as travel, fashion, banking, education—even halal lifestyle apps. In buying any product, halal has become a primary consideration for 91 percent of the interviewees. When it comes to banking or investment, 61 percent feel it very important for the institution to be Islamic, although other factors matter as well (such as the reputation and responsiveness of financial institutions).The growth of Islamic stamps of approval for products and services has been encouraged by government policies implemented in Malaysia and Indonesia to promote sectors such as halal food and Islamic banking as economic drivers, as well by political parties who have “helped bring religious observance, once personal and private, into the public sphere” in their search for Muslim votes. Urbanization is also said to have played a key role, since those who left villages have been looking “for a network they can trust.” But there are also voices decrying a “commercialization of religion.” And the report warns that “the definition of halal is
    evolving all the time. What’s halal in one country could be haram in another,” for instance cryptocurrency. The survey provides additional information about self-perceived religiosity, with a third of the respondents considering themselves to be more observant than their parents were at their age, and only 21 percent less observant; 84 percent of respondents said that they pray five times a day, while 53 percent across all age groups use prayer and Quran apps.(The New Muslim Consumer: How Rising Observance is Reshaping the Consumer Landscape in Southeast Asia and Beyond –