Findings & Footnotes August 2017

  • The International Yearbook of Religious Demography (Brill, $98) has quickly emerged as the equivalent to an annual journal on religion and demography. With its global reach and plethora of useful statistics, the 2017 yearbook, edited Brian Grim, Todd Johnson, Vegard Skirbekk, and Gina A. Zurlo, yields important insights on issues ranging from the familiar ground of changing religious populations to shifts in religious identity. The first chapter provides a comparison between the period of 1970–2000 and projected 30-year trends (2000–2030) and finds the “unexpected trend” that the world is becoming increasingly religious—from about 80 percent affiliated with a particular religion in 1970 to over 90 percent in 2030. Another chapter covers the influx of more than 3.1 million asylum seekers into Europe between 2010 and 2015. This migration has slightly increased the share of Muslims on the continent, by nearly half a percent, but with marked variations from one country to another, report Michaela Pontančoková (Joint Research Centre of the European Commission), Marcin Stonawski, and Anna Krysińska (both at Cracow University). Such statistical data matters, especially considering the fact that many Europeans tend to overestimate—often by a wide margin—the percentage of Muslim population in their respective countries, thus making them reluctant to host Muslim asylum seekers. While there are uncertainties, the authors estimate that approximately 1 million Muslim migrants arrived in the region in the year 2015 alone, comprising about three-fourths of all asylum seekers in that year. The share of Muslims among asylum seekers has increased over the years in most countries, with the exception of Italy due to the increase of the share of sub-Saharan Africans there.

    The Pew projections on the global future of religion that were published in 2015 could not take into account those migratory changes. Revised estimates proposed by the authors suggest significant changes in Sweden, where the asylum seekers may have brought the Muslim population to 8.1 percent instead of the projected 5.7 percent (+2.4 percent), in Austria (7.1 percent instead of 5.9 percent, +1.2 percent) and in Germany (7 percent instead of 6.4 percent, +0.6 percent). While Germany received the largest number of asylum seekers in 2015, it also has a much larger population overall, hence the lesser proportional impact. In those countries (especially in Sweden), asylum seekers have also significantly augmented the share of young people among Muslims, something that may imply other long-term demographic consequences. The authors add, “In many countries, the countries of origin for Muslim asylum seekers differ from those of the established Muslim communities there, contributing to an increased ethnic and linguistic heterogeneity of the Muslim population in Europe.” Not all Muslim asylum seekers will get recognition, however. But repatriations are unlikely to be massive, which means that most of those who arrived will stay anyway. One needs also to take into consideration the levels of religiosity as well as potential changes in religious identity during the migration and integration process. In any event, the study shows that the religious demographic impact of migration waves, even on a relatively short period, deserves close attention.


  • In the Shadow of Moses: New Jewish Movements in Africa and the Diaspora (TSEHAI Publishers, $29.95), edited by Daniel Lis, William F. S. Miles, and Tudor Parfitt, tells the fascinating story of the emerging Jewish communities in Africa, as well as how these newcomers to Judaism interact with traditional Jews and Israel. The first chapter by Miles relates these new Jewish groups both to growth of new religious movements as well as to globalization, seeing Judaism belatedly following a similar pattern to the ways that Christianity and Islam spread from their traditional bases in Europe and the Middle East to take up residence and flourish in the global South. In this process, Africans have been most receptive to Judaism that emphasizes faith over ethnicity and culture and are drawn to the economic prosperity associated with Jews and Israel, while they have few qualms about mixing Judaism with their native traditions and spirituality.The other chapters deal with Jewish groups and movements in specific African countries and in diaspora communities, including a study on African Jews in France and tensions they feel with native born French Jews while also fighting back against the growth of anti-Semitism in the Muslim community. The most interesting contributions focus on the gradual process of various African groups adopting Judaism (with many coming from evangelical, often messianic Jewish groups) and then trying to gain recognition and legitimacy from mainstream Jews and Israel, such as Ethiopian Jews. The role of the Internet has been influential among converts, especially in societies where there are few ties to the global Jewish community.
  • While the new book Global Chinese Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity (Brill, $103) refrains from giving an estimate of the number of Pentecostals and charismatics in the country, just about every other characteristic of these movements is measured and parsed in this informative volume. Editors Fenggang Yang, Joy K. C. Tong, and Allan H. Anderson note in the Introduction that the problem of estimating these movements relates to their ill-defined nature, especially in China and among the Chinese diaspora. They add that Pentecostal practices, such as healings and speaking in tongues, may influence many churches that may not use the label. Other churches, influenced by Chinese folk traditions, appearing very similar to charismatics/Pentecostals further complicate the situation. The editors use the framework of “light” and “heavy” Pentecostal identities, with the latter often identified with specific Pentecostal denominations, the most well known being the True Jesus Church.This lack of distinctions makes it difficult to study Chinese Pentecostals, and the restrictions these groups face due to the Chinese government’s concern that they are especially difficult to control compound the situation. The book is divided into historical and contemporary sections, with the latter offering noteworthy contributions on the way these churches are involved in social ministries, even as they are restricted, and the way that such megachurches as City Harvest in Singapore offer a successful church paradigm to the postmodern world. A chapter on Forerunner Christian Church and its pastor Grace Chaing in California provide an interesting case study of a growing women-led charismatic movement in the Chinese-American community where neither female clergy nor Pentecostalism are the norm.