A record low number of Americans say that religion can serve as an answer to “all or most of today’s problems,” according to a new Gallup poll published in The Hill newspaper (December 24). The survey found just 46 percent of respondents to say that religion could solve all or most of the world’s problems. It marked the first time in more than six decades that less than half of Americans responded that way. Meanwhile, 39 percent said that religion is “old-fashioned and out of date.” Americans’ perspectives on the issue are predictably divided based on how frequently they attend church, according to the poll. The poll found that 81 percent of people who attend church weekly say religion can answer today’s problems, while 58 percent of people who attend infrequently call church old-fashioned.

Youth who live in counties with a higher population share of Catholics are less likely to use marijuana, according to a study in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (online in December). The study, conducted by Fanhao Nie of Valdosta State University and Xiaozhao Yang of Murray State University and based on analyses of the National Study of Youth and Religion, the U.S. Census, and the Religious Congregations and Membership Study, looked at the predominant religion of a geographic context (the “moral community”) rather than one’s individual religion in affecting one’s use of marijuana. In looking at population shares without considering the moral culture on the county level, being Catholic actually is positively associated with marijuana use, while such use is negatively associated with Protestant population share. The researchers add that the “Catholic contextual effect on marijuana use is diffusive, an outcome that influences almost everyone sharing the same geographic location regardless of individual Catholic affiliation.” Nie and Yang speculate that the negative association between Catholic population share and marijuana use may be related to the generally safer environment in Catholic counties, with lower crime rates and more law enforcement officers per capita. Since the study was based on 2012 data, it could be the case that the Catholic effect has been weakened by the growing legal and personal acceptance of marijuana use.

(Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion,

Although viewed as a secular country approaching European levels of secularity, a recent study finds significant Canadian support for religion in public life. The survey, called “Faith in the Public Square” and conducted by the Angus Reid Institute, found 59 percent of Canadians saying that the free expression of religion in public life makes Canada a better country. Done in partnership with Cardus, a nonpartisan, faith-based think tank, the survey asked 2,200 Canadians 17 questions about their openness to faith in both their own life and the public square. It found that proponents of increased faith in public life tend to be younger, more highly educated and more likely to have voted Liberal—the equivalent of the Democratic Party in the United States. Angus Reid, chair of the institute, said the finding was notable, but understandable. “Millennials are more accepting of almost everything,” he said, noting that they are also more open to LGBTQ people and to seeing Canada accept more refugees. An outlier to these findings is Quebec, where the role of religion in public life is viewed much less favorably. “Looking at Canada, one could get the feeling it is on an inevitable march to secularism, like in Europe, but that might not be the case,” Reid said.

(The survey can be downloaded at:

Contrary to stereotypes, Muslim-majority nations are “likely to be leaders rather than laggards when it comes to free-market institutions and policies,” writes Indra de Soysa of Norwegian University of Science and Technology in the journal Politics and Religion (online December). De Soysa conducted a study using an Index of Economic Freedom, based on a time-series, cross-sectional dataset that now includes 150 nations. The researcher looked at countries where 50 percent or more of the population was affiliated with one religion. The results showed mixed effects, “with majority-Muslim countries sometimes even outperforming the Protestant countries and other Christian groupings.” Actually, majority-Protestant nations had a negative association with limited government and free trade, two important parts of the Economic Freedom Index. While legal security and property rights were more highly regarded in Protestant nations than Muslim nations (particularly in regard to property rights for women), the latter nations supported economic freedom in every other component area, including access to sound money, freedom to trade, and lower business regulation. “Moreover, religiosity in my analyses show positive, not negative effects, both independently and conditionally with the population share of both Protestantism and Islam,” de Soysa concludes.

(Politics and Religion,

For Western Muslims, Sharia law is becoming more “ordinary” and less a legal system that runs parallel to existing legal systems, according to a study in the journal Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations (December). Researchers Adam Possamai, Selda Dagistanli, Bryan S. Turner and Malcolm Voyce conducted ethnographic interviews with 50 Muslim legal professionals in Sydney, Australia, and New York City to explore their experiences with Sharia. Much of the current debate over Sharia has been stalled over the prospect of “group-based loyalties that depart from citizenship and national allegiance.” While Sharia is not officially recognized in the U.S. or Australia, it was found to inform the ideas and practices of these Muslim professionals in various ways, even as they remained “underground.” The researchers found that informal, community-based Islamic tribunals were already active in deliberating on a host of issues affecting the Muslim communities beyond the domain of the formal legal system, including disputes between parties, family law matters involving marriage, divorce, and child custody, and financial matters.

The New York respondents tended to be more positive about Sharia family law and to support a more community-based view of Sharia in general than their counterparts in Australia, while the Sydney interviewees were more positive about Sharia-compliant finance and held to a more formal system. The authors speculate that this difference may be because Islamic finance has received recent positive media coverage in Australia. Most female respondents in both cities did not agree that Sharia treats women unfairly, though they acknowledged that they faced more difficulties in achieving equality with these laws. But the researchers note that Sharia practice was embedded in the respondents’ everyday life, as they saw it as a flexible body of teachings that could be adapted to different contexts. They conclude that, “for Muslims in these two cities, the everyday life of Sharia is common and ordinary and tends to work along with this non-Western law within the existing system rather than in parallel.”

(Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations,