Findings & Footnotes

■ The current issue of the journal Communal Societies (43:1) carries several interesting articles on the past and future of communal movements in the U.S. Historian Carl Guarneri retraces the history of communal groups and movements, arguing that classic interpretations of them as mainly responses to socio-economic conditions ignore more important cultural and religious factors, such as millennialism. Guarneri sees the last major communal revivals starting in the 1960s, but expects that because these movements tap into enduring concerns about individualism and materialism, they will “remain an attractive option for a minority of Americans.” In another article, Dan McKanan of Harvard Divinity School argues that rather than focusing on the success or failures of communes, more attention should be paid to how they transition over generations. He writes that communal movements either continue as “self-enclosed societies,” they “evolve beyond community,” or they experience a “creative symbiosis.” These movements frequently shift to the second category, expressing more individual forms of belonging (the Bruderhof and Hutterite movements, belonging to the first category, are notable exceptions), but McKanan doesn’t necessarily see such individualism as spelling their demise. Those following the creative symbiosis route tend to lower the boundaries of belonging to the group but retain communal features, such as with the kibbutz and Catholic Worker movements as well as monastic orders that now allow oblates (laity) to become members. For more on this issue, visit:

■ The recent news that Richard Dawkins, a fervent atheist, has now become a “cultural Christian,” as well as the conversion of atheist human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali to Christianity, have spurred talk of atheists and agnostics increasingly being on the precipice of religious faith, even if they don’t take the final plunge. The UK newsletter Future First (June) notes that the recent book by Justin Brierley, The Surprising Rebirth of Belief in God (Tyndale Elevate), has attracted attention in reporting on the phenomenon of how key agnostics’ beliefs about God and religion have changed over time. Based on interviews, the book finds that some have converted to full Christianity, though not all have yet reached that far. Brierley seeks to explain “why new atheism grew old” in the lives of his interviewees “and secular thinkers are considering Christianity again.” The book is in some ways an apologetic account of Christianity and theism, looking at the key challenging points of the Christian story and the rediscovery of the Bible’s relevance, and argues that the alternative story offered by science and materialists can never match the strength and wonder of belief in God.