Current Research December 2017

The Amish community is showing a unique continuity in fertility behaviors across the generations, according to a new study by Cory Anderson (Truman State University), Joseph Donnermeyer (Ohio State University), and Samson Wasao. The preliminary study, which was presented at the recent meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, is based on a newly constructed Amish population database that draws on information from 60 Amish directories published between 2011 and 2017. The average age of first marriages for male and female birth cohorts is actually getting younger, starting at 26 and 24 for men and women, respectively, in 1920–1929, and now being in the range of a 21 to 20 ratio at the new millennium. While “more recent cohorts have not all married or have not completed fertility, so figures can’t quite be compared, they seem on track to have large families again,” Anderson concludes.

Catholic voters who voted for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were more similar than different in their essential beliefs, according to a survey on American Catholics and politics conducted by William D’Antonio. The survey results, published in the National Catholic Reporter (November 17–30), dealt particularly with the 2016 elections, showing that more Catholics voted for Clinton than Trump (48 versus 43 percent)—which conflicted with exit polling results showing a Trump victory among Catholics. D’Antonio writes that the difference may be because the NCR poll was conducted six months after the election and voters may have been recalling how they wanted to vote. When it came to such beliefs as Mary as the mother of God and the papacy as essential, about half of both Trump and Clinton supporters said these were important. Only about half of both groups saw charitable efforts to help the poor as essential or agreed that celibate male clergy are essential. About half of each camp also agreed that one could be a good Catholic and disagree with church teachings. While there were predictable differences on such issues as immigration and the death penalty between Catholic Trump and Clinton supporters, differences also came out on such matters as perception of the increase or decrease of religion’s influence in the U.S.: 64 percent of Trump Catholics saw religion as losing influence compared to only 48 percent of Clinton Catholics.

(National Catholic Reporter,

Canadians are fine with religious diversity, although when Islam is introduced into the picture a significant segment of the population reacts negatively, according to a new poll by the Angus Reid Institute. The survey, conducted in partnership with Faith in Canada, found 26 percent of respondents saying that increasing religious diversity was a good thing, while 28 percent said it was bad. Nearly half—44 percent—said diversity brought a mix of good and bad. Anti-Islamic views stood out among the respondents, with 46 percent saying Islam was damaging Canada in contrast to only 13 percent who said the religion was beneficial. The other respondents did not know (20 percent) or said it had no real impact (21 percent). The only other religion with an overall negative score was Sikhism, with 22 percent calling it damaging to Canada, compared with 13 percent saying it was beneficial.

An international poll on what makes for a good life by the British firm GfK found that respondents in the UK tended to rate spirituality differently by age—and not in the expected direction. The blog Counting Religion in Britain (November) cites the poll as showing that, when asked to rate the 15 factors that go into making a “good life,” UK respondents ranked health, financial security, and leisure time at the top. Spiritual enrichment was in 11th place (26 percent compared with a multinational mean of 39 percent, the national peak being reached in Brazil at 47 percent). On the spirituality measure, there was no significant difference between the sexes in the UK, but, interestingly, it was surprisingly unimportant for the older respondents (21 percent for those over 60) and higher among those under 20 (30 percent).

(Counting Religion in Britain,

A study by Pew Research Center finds that Ethiopia, with the largest Orthodox Christian population outside Europe, shows higher levels of Orthodox religious commitment than in the faith’s heartland in the north. Nearly all Orthodox Ethiopians (98 percent) say religion is very important to them, compared with a median of 34 percent of Orthodox agreeing with this across 13 countries surveyed in Central and Eastern Europe. About three-quarters of Orthodox Ethiopians say they attend church every week (78 percent), compared with a median of 10 percent in Central and Eastern Europe and just 6 percent in Russia. The vitality of Ethiopian Orthodoxy compared to Orthodoxy in the north is comparable to that of Catholic and Protestant churches in the global South versus their counterparts in Europe and the U.S.


The popular view that oil and Islam have gone into making the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) a region where religious freedom has one of the poorest records in the world comes in for criticism in a study by political scientists Daniel Albertsen and Indra de Soysa. Writing in the journal Politics and Religion (online November), the researchers note that oil-rich countries do use Islamic religious monopolization to control dissent, but that other geopolitical factors have more influence on religious freedom. Albertsen and de Soysa used data on human rights based on information from the U.S. State Department and Amnesty International, comparing it with Pew-Templeton data on Muslim populations, oil rent per capita records compiled by the World Bank, and data on political structures in the Middle East and North Africa.

The authors find that the effect of Muslim dominance on religious freedom “washes out,” while Middle East and North Africa government dynamics and the effects of oil production are both statistically significant. In fact, the MENA region has a strong effect on religious repression independently of both oil and Muslim dominance. Albertsen and de Soysa argue that what are seen as the double “curses” of oil and Islam on religious freedom do not hold up; in the MENA region, many oil producers tend to have marginally better rights for religion than several oil-producing countries in other regions, such as Central Asia, while Muslim dominance “seems to reduce the chance of minority exclusion and discrimination outside of the MENA region….”

(Politics and Religion,