Whether “intense religion” has decreased or is holding steady in the U.S. has come under debate by sociologists, touching on the wider question of just how exceptional America is on religion. RW cited an initial article by Landon Schnabel and Sean Bock in Sociological Science [see January 2018 RW] where the researchers argued that intense personal religion, marked by frequent church attendance and regular prayer, has persisted since the 1970s, although they found moderate religion to be in decline. In response, demographer David Voas and sociologist Mark Chaves have looked at the data on religious practice and belief in Sociological Science (5:694) and concluded that intense religiosity has in fact gradually declined, just as Christianity in general has declined in the U.S.

Voas and Chaves argue that Schnabel and Bock looked at data only since the late 1980s and did not take into account slow declines, used a limited set of indicators, such as self-reported religiosity and certainty of God’s existence, and paid insufficient attention to cohort change, which shows each generation more secular than the previous one. Voas and Chaves conclude that the “intensely religious segment of the American population” is shrinking and is another sign that the U.S. is following in the tracks of Europe in secularizing. In a rejoinder to Voas and Chaves appearing in the same journal issue, Schnabel and Brock maintain that there are non-linear patterns of intense religion since the 1970s (such as an uptick during the Reagan years) that suggest persistence rather than decline. They also criticize Voas and Chaves’ failure to include immigrants in their analysis, and find that when such factors are considered intense religion appears “persistent in the United States in a way that makes it an outlier in relation to comparable countries.”

(Sociological Science,

Although Catholic schools are slowly declining in the U.S., they are still in strong demand, with new research showing that such institutions foster more self-discipline among students than other schools. Enrollment figures show a 2.3 percent decline from the previous academic year (with 43,448 fewer students). But there are waiting lists to enter Catholic schools in 29.5 percent of these institutions, primarily in suburban areas. Across the nation, 16 new schools opened this year, and more are slated to open in the coming years. And despite competition from charter schools, Catholic schooling shows itself to be distinctive in developing stronger skills of self-discipline and self-control than other schools.

An analysis by Michael Gottfried and Jacob Kirksey of the University of California at Santa Barbara looked at Early Childhood Longitudinal Study data for students in public and private schools—half of which were Catholic schools—and found that students in Catholic educational institutions were less likely to act out or be disruptive than those in private or public schools. Catholic school students fought, argued, and engaged in other impulsive and disturbing activities less frequently and were more likely to control their tempers, respect others’ privacy and accept their fellow students’ ideas than students at the other schools. Regardless of racial, gender, and socioeconomic and family immigrant status, as well as initial behavior as rated by kindergarten teachers, Catholic school students exhibited more self-control than their peers in other schools, according to the study cited in the CARA Report (Fall) of Georgetown University.

(CARA Report,

Many of the studies showing the prosocial effects of meditation are marred by methodological problems, such as bias, suggesting that the practice may have a weak association with such values as compassion and empathy, according to a researcher interviewed in the Buddhist magazine Tricycle (November). In a 2018 meta-analysis of meditation studies in the open-access journal Scientific Reports, researchers found that the methodological quality of these studies on the much-publicized effects of increased compassion, connectedness and empathy, and decreased aggression and prejudice were weak (61 percent of the studies) or moderate (33 percent), with none having a grading of strong. In the Tricycle interview, one of the authors of the meta-analysis, Ute Kreplin of Massey University, said that bias was revealed in the fact that many of the researchers were meditation practitioners who tended to run the whole study without trying to minimize experimental bias. There was often no attempt to blind the analysis so that the person looking at the results did not know which group received the meditation instructions.

While cautious in supporting any of the benefits to meditation claimed in the studies under review, Kreplin did say that they seemed to show an increase in compassion. Yet even here, she said that the results on compassion fell apart when looking at the methodological flaws: “Compassion was supported only when the people used the passive control group—when it was compared to doing nothing—but it wasn’t really supported when it was compared to active control groups [who did something similar to the meditation interventions that were tested]. Also, compassion was supported only when the researcher was part of the intervention team; when we separated out the studies where the researcher didn’t participate, those results fell apart again.”

A new survey finds that Jews report greater security and freedom from anti-Semitism in conservative Eastern European countries rather than Western Europe—a pattern that has grown considerably in recent years. The survey, conducted by the Joint Distribution Committee’s (JDC) International Center for Community Development among 893 Jewish leaders and professionals throughout Europe, found that as much as 96 percent of respondents felt safe, while only four percent felt unsafe, in Eastern European countries. This contrasted sharply with Western European countries, where 76 percent felt safe and 24 percent felt unsafe. The magazine Commentary (November 26) cited the JDC report as also showing that “Western European respondents were more likely to consider anti-Semitism as a threat than were Eastern Europeans, and to report deterioration in the situation from earlier surveys.”

The idea that Eastern European countries, such as Poland, Romania, and Hungary, that are experiencing a wave of populist and conservative—often described as near fascist—governments and political movements provide environments safer from anti-Semitism than more democratic and pluralist Western countries (which would be a reversal of the situation over the past two centuries) is counterintuitive. The report argues that a reason for the new disparity is that violence and hate crimes against Jews in Western Europe come mainly from Muslim anti-Semites rather than from the more traditional right-wing or left-wing sources. In contrast, Eastern Europe has much smaller Muslim populations due to historical and political (often populist) reasons. More speculative (and controversial) is the idea that hostility toward Israel is more widespread in Western than Eastern Europe, which might result in or be associated with higher rates of anti-Semitism.

Yet a study in the Serbian Politics and Religion Journal (12:2) finds that there are greater levels of anti-Semitism in the extreme far-right compared to the far-left, though extreme leftists do seem more anti-Semitic than moderate leftists and European Muslims are more anti-Semitic than non-Muslims. In an analysis of data from 20 nations from the 2014 round of the European Social Survey, Jeffrey Cohen of Fordham University focused on support for Jewish immigration as a way of testing for anti-Semitic attitudes. Respondents who identified with leftist politics were more supportive of Jewish immigration than were those who identified with the right. Even if there were signs that anti-Semitism increases among the far-left as compared to moderate leftists, the far-left is less anti-Semitic than the center and much less anti-Semitic than the right, especially the far-right. “These results suggest the recent European anti-Semitism more closely resembles historical, right-wing European anti-Semitism than the more modern new anti-Semitism, with one exception—European Muslims are more likely to hold negative attitudes toward Jews than non-Muslims.” Cohen’s analysis also suggests that there is less hostility toward Jews than toward Muslims and Roma people in European populations overall.

(Commentary,; Politics and Religion Journal,

Despite claims by adherents that modern Paganism and Satanism are inherently distinct phenomena with little or no common ground, there are clear intersections between the two, writes Ethan Doyle White (University College London) in the newest issue of the Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review (9:2). While Christianity had seen both as inspired by the devil, contemporary Pagans, starting with Wiccans with their potentially misleading self-description as “witches,” have been eager to reject any such association, or even to deem Satanism to be closer to a Christian heresy than to Paganism, since it profanes Christian symbolism. Satanists, on the other hand, have been less insistent on differentiating themselves from modern Pagans—although instances of contempt for Paganism are not unknown.

Based on three case studies—Wicca, the Temple of Set, and the Order of Nine Angles—White examines how the Pagan and Satanic milieus are “able to intersect with comparative ease in that they both form part of several larger, more expansive milieus active within Western society.” Both are forms of occultism and of the “cultic milieu,” as defined by sociologist Colin Campbell, and they belong to “occulture,” a term used by Christopher Partridge to describe a non-Christian religio-cultural milieu linked to popular culture. Moreover, they are oppositional cultures in relation to Christianity, appropriating what “has been regarded as the antithesis of Christianity.”

A study of Wicca and its history shows that Wicca has built on the ambiguous stereotype of the witch and has effectively taken “the early-modern imagery of Satanic witchcraft,” stripping it of its Satanic elements. While Wicca is not a front for Satanism, refuting any link should be seen as a legitimation strategy. The Temple of Set—which started from a schism within the Church of Satan over the belief that Satan was a real entity and not a metaphor—appears as a part of both the Satanic and the Pagan milieus, revolving “substantially around the figure of a pre-Christian god,” the Egyptian god Set. Founded in Britain, the Order of Nine Angles describes itself as Satanist, but appropriates both Satanic and Pagan elements, to the extent of seeing Wicca as sharing “the same ultimate goal,” and claims lineage from an unbroken pre-Christian past. While the categories of Paganism and Satanism should not be rejected, concludes White, they are “fluid and un-fixed” with no neat divisions. Scholars should be aware of the potential use of such observations by critics of Wicca and emphasize that they cannot be used for associating them with problematic groups, but this should not inhibit scholars from researching the fluidity and intersections of their respective milieus.

(Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review is an online, subscription-based academic journal on new religious movements, published biannually by Academic Publishing:

Evangelical Protestants in Britain tend to espouse tolerance and freedom of religion for Muslims, although a segment of them see Islam as a threat to society, according to a survey by Greg Smith (William Temple Foundation) published in the journal Entangled Religions (5). The panel survey was conducted among 1,330 self-described evangelicals living in the UK, recruited through their membership in the Evangelical Alliance and through various social media. Although the sample cannot be taken as representative of evangelicals in the UK, its demographic profile is consistent with that of earlier waves of surveys, with the proportion of repeating panel members being close to 75 percent. The vast majority of respondents held to the exclusivist position that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation (81 percent). When it came to questions about Muslims, the majority held that they should be free to practice their faith, including wearing head scarves and having food products labeled as “halal” or permitted by their faith (57 percent). There was more ambivalence about Muslim influence in society, with 58 percent agreeing that Muslims are “aiming to become the dominant religion in Britain and to impose Islamic rule in this country.” A majority of 87 percent also agreed or strongly agreed that there should be no room for sharia law in the UK. Smith found that Pentecostals and Presbyterians tended to hold the more critical and exclusivist views as compared to Anglican and Free Church evangelicals. Smith concludes that British evangelicals do not conform to the stereotype of conservative evangelicalism being in alliance with the nationalistic religious right as seen in the U.S. and other nations. But there are signs of division between UK evangelicals who are more open to dialogue and cooperation with Muslims and those who espouse a “Crusader” worldview seeing Muslims as having little place in society.

(Entangled Religions,