Current Research: December 2016

Results from exit polling suggests that Donald Trump did as well if not better than his Republican predecessors Mitt Romney and George W. Bush among evangelicals, as well as picking up a clear majority among Catholics, reports First Things magazine (November 9). Political scientist Darren Guerra writes that Trump drew a high 81 percent of self-identified “born-again” voters—three points higher than Romney and Bush. But Trump’s 81 percent support from those identifying as born again contrasts sharply with the 36-percent plurality that he drew among Republicans in the primaries before the Indiana contest. While fewer church-going Americans voted for Trump than Romney—seven percent less—Trump did better among regular attenders than among those who seldom or never attend church. In contrast to Romney, Trump also carried a majority of Catholics. The Supreme Court and the associated issues of religious liberty and pro-life concerns served as a flashpoint for many Trump supporters. For those to whom the composition of the Supreme Court mattered little, Trump lost by 10 percentage points. Guerra concludes that it took a long time for evangelical voters to warm up to Trump, and many clearly voted for him out of opposition to Hillary Clinton; thus, such “contingent support…could evaporate if Trump does not deliver as promised.”
(First Things,


The literal interpretation of the Bible and a conservative theology are important factors leading to church growth in Canada, according to a new study. The debate about strict and conservative teachings and practices leading to church growth continues, but the new study focuses more on theology—a factor that some scholars have questioned having a strong effect. The study, conducted by David Haskell and published in the Review of Religious Research (December), drew from surveys of 2,225 churchgoers as well as interviews with 29 clergy and 195 congregants. It compares the beliefs and practices of churches and clergy in mainline bodies whose attendance was growing compared with those that were declining.

On all measures, the growing churches “held more firmly to the traditional beliefs of Christianity” and were more committed to Bible study and prayer. The study found that 93 percent of clergy and 83 percent of worshippers from growing churches agreed with the belief that Jesus rose from the dead compared with 67 percent of the worshippers and 56 percent of the clergy from declining churches. Fifty percent of clergy from declining churches agreed that it was “very important to encourage non-Christians to become Christian,” compared with 100 percent of clergy from growing churches. As previous studies have shown, services at growing churches featured contemporary worship with drums and guitars, while declining churches favored traditional worship styles with organ and choir.

(Review of Religious Research,


A study of Canadian and American evangelical schools finds more commonalities than differences between them, though the former are more liberal on social issues and more engaged in the surrounding culture. The study, conducted by Sam Reimer and David Sikkink and presented at the late October meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, used Internet panel surveys of graduates from these schools as well as analysis of qualitative interviews with high school students, principals, and teachers in 18 evangelical schools in Canada and the U.S. The researchers found that the similarities outweighed the differences between the students. Most principals and teachers agreed that engagement with culture and society is encouraged more than separation and isolation from secular currents. Yet more American students agreed that their parents sent them to Christian schools to protect them from non-Christian influences and are politically conservative. The Canadian schools tended to view interaction with those of other cultures and religions as enriching students’ lives, while American schools were more likely to see such pluralism as a challenge that required apologetics or evangelism of those of other religions.


Attacks against American Muslims rose last year, causing an increase of about 7 percent in hate crimes against all victims, according to FBI statistics. The New York Times (November 14) reports that the most comprehensive look at threat crimes nationwide expanded on previous findings by researchers and outside monitors, who have noted an alarming rise in some types of hate crimes tied to the intense vitriol of the presidential campaign and the aftermath of terror attacks at home and abroad since 2015. Among the reported 5,818 hate crimes in 2015—a rise of nearly 340 over the year before—attacks against Muslim Americans saw the biggest surge: 257 reports of assaults, attacks on mosques, and other types hate crimes against Muslims last year, a jump of about 67 percent over the year before. It was the highest total since 2001, when the aftermath of the September 11 attacks saw more than 480 such incidents.

But an analysis in the libertarian magazine Reason (November 15) reports that the FBI figures that among crimes deemed “single bias incidents” (i.e., those motivated by just racial animosity, not racial and anti-gay animosity), hate crimes based on race or ethnicity were by far the most common, accounting for nearly 57 percent all incidents. Religious bias drove a little more than a fifth of all incidents (21.26 percent), while crimes motivated by sexual-orientation bias accounted for a little under a fifth (18 percent). For crimes motivated by just religious bias, anti-Jewish sentiment was by far the most common prejudice, accounting for 664 or the 1,244 identified incidents, or 53.4 percent. The next most targeted religion was Islam, with anti-Muslim bias behind 20.7 percent of the incidents. Non-specified religious bias or that which targeted multiple religions was the next most prevalent (11.8 percent of incidents), followed by anti-Catholic incidents (4.3 percent), anti-Eastern Orthodox incidents (3.9 percent), anti-Protestant incidents (3 percent), anti-other Christian incidents (1.2 percent), anti-Mormon incidents (0.64 percent), and anti-Hindu or anti-Sikh incidents (0.88 percent). For comparison, in 2014, 154 incidents of religious bias were categorized anti-Islamic, while 609 were anti-Jewish, 64 were anti-Catholic, and 25 were anti-Protestant.


Sharing the same religion may not be enough to bring about peace in cases of groups engaged in ethnic civil war, according to a study in the journal Religion and Politics (online November). Researchers Mehmet Gurses and Nicholas Rost examine all ethnic wars that began and ended between 1950 and 2006, measuring the co-religiosity between the ethnic group in power and the main opposition group and the duration of the conflict. Religious leaders and scholars have argued for the peacebuilding potential of religion, as well as the constructive role religious institutions can play in post-war reconciliation. The authors find that it is more often the case that political actors exploit religion to pursue their ambitions. Included in the 72 wars under study were instances when rebels aspired to change the regime rather than create their own state (such as in Lebanon, Iraq, Rwanda, and South Africa) and wars of secession (Sudan, Chechyna), but cases where the warring parties were from the same ethnicity were excluded.

The statistical tests conducted by the authors failed to support claims that common faith helps insure a durable peace. In other words, it seemed to be more difficult to establish a lasting peace after an ethnic conflict the closer the religious ties are between a rebel group and the government. Gurses and Rost note, “If a common faith was a unifying, peacemaking factor, war between two groups that share the same religion should not have broken out in the first place.” While religious leaders can condemn violence and foster cross-communal cooperation, such outcomes require a vital civil society, democratic traditions, and assistance from the international community—factors not found in many war-torn societies.

(Politics and Religion,