CURRENT RESEARCH – September 2018

The increase in the number of Catholics who claim an evangelical identity and experience, such as being born again, may have more to do with different educational trajectories among Catholics than the alliance between evangelicalism and Catholicism or immigration, according to sociologists Samuel L. Perry and Cyrus Schleifer. Writing in the Review of Religious Research (online August 23), the researchers find that the percentage of American Catholics reporting a born-again experience nearly doubled between 2004 (14 percent) and 2016 (27 percent). Analyzing data from the General Social Survey (2004–2016), Perry and Schleifer consider, and discount, such possible factors behind this development as the growing contact and coalitions between evangelicals and Catholics on pro-life issues, evangelical conversion to Catholicism, and immigration of Catholics from countries experiencing evangelical growth (such as some Latin American countries). Rather, they point to the fact that reporting a born-again experience has “taken place almost solely among those without a college degree. In contrast, Catholics with a college degree showed little increase in their likelihood of reporting a born-again experience over time.” This finding may mean that Catholics who are marginalized in American society may experience a weakening attachment to mainstream Catholic identity. They note that this pattern is only present among Catholics, thus the modest increase of Protestants reporting born-again experiences is likely due to other factors. Perry and Schleifer acknowledge that the causal arrow may move in the other direction of born-again Catholics attending college less than mainstream Catholics.

Evangelical women entering the workforce showed a drop-off in religious involvement, but no such effect was observed among Catholic women, according to a longitudinal study of women from these churches from 1975–2016. The study, by Linda Kawentel of the University of Notre Dame, was presented at the recent meeting of the Association for the Sociology of Religion in Philadelphia, which RW attended. The researcher used the General Social Survey to analyze Catholic and evangelical women’s entrance into the workforce and their rate of religious involvement. The biggest effect on evangelical women was seen in the 1970s and 1980s, when there was a decrease in religious involvement as they took full-time jobs, though this pattern was also seen in the early 2000s. Mothers who did not work full-time attended church more and showed more overall religious involvement. For Catholic women the trajectory was very different, with those working full-time actually showing more religious involvement than non-working mothers. In the 2010s, the relationship between being in the workforce and religious involvement no longer varied between Catholic and evangelical women. Kawentel noted that it is not certain if entering the workforce alone was the major causative factor behind the drop-off in evangelical activity.

The personal religiosity of members of the U.S. Senate has long been thought to have an influence on their legislative behavior, but a new study finds that religious affiliation is less important in having such an impact, even while personal beliefs do have an effect. The study, conducted by political scientist Daniel Arnon and published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (online in August), compiled a data set of senators’ religion that coded the religious tradition, engagement, and theology of over 150 senators during the 110th to 113th sessions of Congress (2007–2014). Arnon found that only religious beliefs had an enduring effect on the senators’ legislative behavior. Some evangelical and Jewish traditions had some impact on senators’ work, but most did not (practices were more difficult to ascertain and code in the data set). The effect of beliefs on legislative behavior involved not only culture-war issues but also diverse social issues. It was also found that while in the general public there may be an “attendance gap,” where those attending church more often tend to be more politically conservative, this was not true of the senators. Arnon found that senators who were religiously engaged were not more likely to vote conservative.

(Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion,

Scientists who are politically liberal are more likely to be atheist than agnostic or other affiliations, according to a recent study by Rice University researchers. The findings, based on a survey of 1,989 biologists and physicists, were presented at the August meeting of the American Sociological Association in Philadelphia, which RW attended. Sociologists Sharan Kaur Mehta, Robert Thomson, and Elaine Howard Ecklund found that scientists are more politically liberal than the American public in general. Thirty-five percent of the respondents were atheists, 29 percent agnostic, and 36 percent theists. There was no difference in rates of belief in God between political conservatives and left-leaning moderates, nor were differences in agnosticism and political leanings explained by religious controls. But liberals had higher odds of being atheists as opposed to both agnostics and believers in God, even with religious controls. The researchers concluded that, “in contrast with agnosticism, atheism in the U.S. is overtly political [as] U.S. scientists draw upon both scientific and religious tools to construct political identities.”

Governments that restrict religious freedom tend to be clustered together and to mimic each other, even when accounting for internal policies and characteristics that drive such restrictions, according to a study by Dane Mataic in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (57:2). Previous research on governmental restrictions of religion has suggested that internal factors, such as maintaining religious monopolies and the desire to control pluralism and resulting cultural conflict, explain policies that clamp down on minority faiths and favor alliances between majority religions and the state. But Mataic finds that restrictions on minority religions are clustered in particular regions, with the highest level of regulations and restrictions situated near China, Russia, and the Middle East.

The lowest levels of such restrictions are clustered in North and South America as well as southern Africa. The researcher calculated averages of restrictions for countries in these regions at four periods between 1990 and 2008 and found that the implementation of government restrictions increased and decreased over time in distinct spatial patterns. By analyzing 155 countries, Mataic found that while internal policies predicted a significant degree of government restrictions, the diffusion of such policies and practices between neighboring countries (especially immediate neighbors) also accounted for the levels of restrictions and regulations in each society. Increases in restrictions in one year in one country tended to reflect high levels of restrictions among neighbors in previous years.

Italians are increasingly opting for cremation of the dead rather than traditional forms of burial despite the strong opposition to this practice of the Catholic Church in Italy, according to a study in the Review of Religious Research (online August 2). Although Italy was actually the first European country to allow cremation in the 19th century, in practice it has been strongly discouraged by the Catholic Church and there has been little diffusion of it throughout the country. This is changing, however, as researchers Marco Breschi, Gabriele Ruiu, and Marco Francini find a growing trend of cremation after the passage of a 1987 law that allowed public support for the practice and a 2001 law allowing for the dispersion of ashes into the environment. Although there is no central record for cremations, the researchers collected data from associations of crematoriums and other unofficial sources.

They found a significant increase in the practice, growing by eight percent each year since 2001. The authors controlled for poor economic conditions in Italy (since cremation is less expensive than burial) and still found cremation becoming more widespread, although the practice is resisted more in the more religious southern regions of the country. Breschi, Ruiu and Francini conclude that the growth of cremation can be associated with the lifting of taboos on same-sex unions, out-of-wedlock births, and civil marriages, as they are all related to the expansion of individual preferences and economic incentives over the “moral values expressed by religious authorities.”