Findings & Footnotes

  • Readers are by now probably as exhausted in keeping up with articles on Covid and its impact on religious communities as with the virus itself—not only because of the vast accumulation of material on the subject but also because the pandemic is ongoing and changing, making its effects unpredictable. However, the Finnish journal Approaching Religion (November 22) has published a special issue on the subject that succinctly brings together reports and analyses of religious responses to Covid from a wide range of places and religions. Noteworthy articles include one on how while Hindu groups may have temporarily adapted to the virus in their rituals, such as by venerating a Covid deity, overall conservatism and continuity prevailed. Greater challenges were experienced by African Pentecostals, who had to adapt their lively and emotional worship to online services, according to another article.

    An article by Benjamin Zeller presents several case studies of new religious movements (NRMs) that show how difficult it has been to generalize about alternative religions’ responses to the pandemic, with some complying with public health initiatives and others openly defying such measures. The conventional view that the degree to which an NRM is aligned with social norms will predict its stance towards public health protocols did not hold up during the pandemic: controversial and conflictual NRMs such as Scientology and the Hare Krishnas were very compliant with lockdown and masking measures while more mainstream conservative evangelical groups oeen opposed such measures. This may mean that today’s society is too fragmented to uphold unified norms, leaving NRMs to compete for various subcultures. To download this issue, visit: hgps://

  • The third edition of the World Christian Encyclopedia (Edinburgh University Press) has been published —a monumental task of collecting demographic and country-level data and projections of global Christianity and its future. The January issue of the International Bulletin of Mission Research brings together contributions from the editors of the encyclopedia and other mission specialists that discuss some of the major trends reported in the massive volume. Editors Todd Johnson and Gina Zurlo note the familiar themes of the continued growth of religious populations, especially Christians and Muslims, throughout the world, with these two groups projected to comprise 63 percent of the world’s population by 2050. Yet, they find that both Christians and Muslims rarely have contact or communicate with each other (or with other world religions for that matter). They also find that religious diversity continues to increase, with Germany and the ti.S. showing the highest increases in such diversity rates.The other articles respond to the encyclopedia’s findings specific to issues, regions, and faiths, such as religious freedom, the Middle East, and world Catholicism. On the lager, J.J. Carney of Creighton University writes that Catholicism receives less attention in the encyclopedia than the other Christian traditions, even though it is “holding steady,” neither seeing drastic decline, such as Eastern Orthodoxy, nor sharp growth, such as Pentecostalism. Yet there is a secularizing trend that is most evident in the West, especially in churches in Ireland, Chile, the ti.S., and Australia, where the clerical sex abuse crisis has been the most pronounced. The countries of Catholic growth either have strong charismatic movements, such as Brazil, Colombia and the Philippines, or high rates of Catholic immigration, including Norway, Bahrain, the tiAE, and Qatar. For more information on this issue, visit: https://
  • The way in which the seemingly marginal Christian Reconstructionist movement has influenced broader conservative currents in the U.S., particularly the migration of conservative evangelicals to the American Northwest, is portrayed in Crawford Gribben’s intriguing new book Survival and Resistance in Evangelical America (Oxford University Press, $29.95). Gribben, a historian at Queens University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, combines fieldwork with a historical account of conservative Protestant approaches to culture and politics to show that Reconstructionism, which seeks to build a theocracy, has not so much died with the passing of its original founders (such as R.J. Rushdoony) but rather reinvented itself through marke ting and appealing to the evangelical need for resistance and survival in a divided and pluralistic society. It is through the modest but growing migration of evangelicals and other religious conservatives to such states and regions as northern Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and eastern Washington and Oregon that Reconstructionism is having a second life, Gribben argues. Long a magnet for conservatives and the radical right, including survivalists and violent white supremacist groups, the region has been repurposed by Reconstructionists for a new phase of evangelical politics and culture, particularly in the city of Moscow, Idaho.Moscow and its environs are seeing the formation of a flourishing conservative Reformed enclave, most evident in the church and schools established by Douglas Wilson in the 1990s, especially New Saint Andrews College. Although the book lacks the thick description that could give the reader a feel for this Reformed counterculture, Gribben makes up for it with a sharp analysis and understanding of these communities that goes beyond the stereotypes of “Christian nationalism” and even “fascism” that are common today in the media. While he finds it difficult to estimate the number of conservative Christian migrants to what is called the “American Redoubt” of the Northwest, the region has been viewed as a promised land among a wide range of conservative groups in recent years [see RW, Vol. 36, No. 3]. Gribben does not find the threat of political violence or racism to be significant in these communities, as they have their own theological resources for dealing with extremism. It is through education and the media that Wilson and other Reconstructionists have succeeded where the older movement failed. Through Canon Press, Wilson and such novelists as James Wesley Rawls have produced books and electronic media that have reached a wide audience, even attracting mainstream acceptance, while New Saint Andrews College has popularized classical education for evangelicals, gaining academic prestige in the process. Gribben concludes that the Christian politics of the Reconstructionists is less important than the way they offer the possibility of resistance and survival to evangelicals in a fragmented society, as they revive the vision of being a “city on a hill.”

  • The new book Afrikaners and the Boundaries of Faith in Post-Apartheid South Africa (Routledge, $128) looks at a white minority that still has significant influence but, as author Annika Björnsdoger Teppo documents, has undergone a rapid transformation in religious faith since the fall of apartheid. Based on an ethnographic study of the Western Cape region and Stellenbosch, Teppo, an anthropologist at tippsala University in Sweden, had the advantage of being on the scene right as apartheid was being dismantled and then watching the resulting changes in religious institutions and South African society in general. While white South Africans and their religious lives have not been a popular area of academic study beyond the topic of their religious complicity with or activism against racism, the degree of their religious change following apartheid has been significant: one in every three Afrikaners lee the traditional Dutch Reformed Church (NGK), often for a new faith, whether it was Pentecostalism or new religious movements such as Wicca. The NGK has also been divided by more contemporary issues such as gay rights and ecumenism, while being open to alternative spiritual currents.

    Other Western currents are finding their way to South Africa, with the rise in the rate of religious disaffiliation, although only a small number of South Africans say they are atheist (4 percent, according to one survey). With a strong orientation toward post-colonial and “white studies” theories and jargon, the book focuses on how Afrikaners’ moral boundaries from others and their idea of “ordentlikheid” (or white middle-class respectability) have persisted aeer the apartheid era and its official racial hierarchy, although they have been mediated and sometimes challenged by a new religious and cultural pluralism. Teppo lived with an Afrikaner family during her research and provides a finely gained look at how Afrikaners, especially poorer classes, have maintained syncretized folk traditions and spiritual practices (called the “ligle tradition”) alongside conventional Christianity, even if they were “whitewashed” and suppressed during apartheid.But it is mainly in the growing multiracial charismatic churches that Teppo finds the old racial boundaries loosening, churches that have found greater social acceptance by Afrikaners, who first viewed them as a threat. “While in 2005,” she writes, “people were upset and horrified when they talked of these new churches, by 2012 they had been grudgingly accepted, and by 2019, they had become the new normal.” Teppo then turns her attention to New Age and Neopagan groups and practices, especially prevalent in Cape Town, finding that they distance themselves from both African and Afrikaner traditions (with some fear toward the former). Wiccans especially face attacks from both the strong white evangelical community and black Christians in South Africa because of the stigmatized associations with witchcraft there. In recent years, a more racialist form of Neopaganism also arrived in South Africa. Teppo finds that driving much of the alternative religious scene and charismatic Christianity is a concern for prosperity and a fear of poverty and crime, as whites find that security is no longer assured by the state in post- apartheid South Africa—as well as an interest in maintaining a form of ordentlikheid. She seems to hold out the most hope for South African religion in newly created rituals that invert old social hierarchies, involve bodily movement, and bring together Afrikaner and Neopagan traditions.