Findings & Footnotes – August 2018

  • RW has cited various results from the Cultural and Religious Identity among 1845 Year-olds in Canada Survey, and now the study (part of a larger project on religious diversity based at the University of Ottawa) has issued its final report. The survey was structured to allow respondents to identify themselves between the shifting poles of “religious” and “spiritual,” using open-ended questions, and it then categorized them as “religious,” “spiritual but not religious,” or “non-religious.” Additionally, it divided the religious into the “standard” type of religious who practiced only one faith and the “moderately” religious, including those who might practice more than one faith and engage in spiritual seeking outside of their own tradition. Interestingly, the survey found the non-affiliated or “nones” in all of the categories, although obviously progressively more in the moderate, spiritual but not religious, and non-religious categories. Over half of the non-religious respondents (about one-fifth of all respondents) identified as atheists (although one-quarter of the non-religious believed in the soul). Generally, the survey found a decline in standard religious, an increase in non-Christian religions, and more space given for “indigenous” spirituality. For more information on this report, email: or to view the report click here:

  • The July issue of Charisma magazine suggests how political sympathy has created new alliances between charismatic and conservative evangelical churches in the Trump era. The cover story about Liberty University is a fairly even-handed portrayal of this mega-evangelical university started by Jerry Falwell and then revitalized by his son Jerry Jr. The article by Taylor Berglund portrays the school as being misunderstood and often attacked by secular media, which relentlessly focus on Falwell’s close relationship with President Trump. Liberty students may be conservative in politics, but they are less politically activist and enthused about Trump than they are alleged to be, allowing for at least Republican diversity on campus and the inviting of speakers who are far out of the conservative mold (Bernie Sanders and Jimmy Carter). A separate interview with Falwell by Charisma editor and Trump booster Stephen Strang does show how the Trump alliance has healed past theological rifts. Falwell says that his father was never as anti-charismatic as other fundamentalist Baptists and that today Liberty welcomes charismatics and Pentecostals, as there is a “real common thread with social and political issues between charismatics and Baptists.” Falwell goes on to say that his strong support for Trump has become less contested on campus, explaining that most of it came when there were 16 or 17 candidates during the Republican primaries, and was based among Ted Cruz supporters. For more information on this issue, write: Charisma, 600 Rhinehart Rd., Lake Mary, FL 32746.
  • Women’s ordination is the main topic of the new book She Preached The Word (Oxford University Press, $29.95), but authors Benjamin R. Knoll and Cammie Jo Bolin also explore women’s roles in churches and how congregants respond to such changes. Much of the book is based on a nationwide telephone and Internet survey of American worshippers, as well as interviews with clergy and congregants. One puzzle the authors look at is the fact that while support of women’s ordination is high—72.3 percent among churchgoers—there is still a strong gender gap in the ranks of clergy in the U.S. and the movement to ordain women has stalled in recent years. When it comes to personal preferences for clergy in their own congregation, clergymen still draw more support than clergywomen. “That less than 10 percent of those who attend religious services in the United States specifically prefer a female leader…may help to explain” the enduring gender gap. Aside from congregational policies and practices, political affiliations and policies may help shift support for women’s ordination in their congregations. Liberals and Democrats are more likely to break with their churches’ policies if they are against women clergy. Women’s ordination can also serve as a “signaling device” that can draw liberals and conservatives to like-minded congregations.Yet the authors do not find that women-led churches are synonymous with declining mainline churches; in fact, levels of attendance and other religious behaviors are slightly higher in congregations that ordain women and moderately higher for younger women in congregations with a female pastor and priest. Continuing in that vein, the book looks at the effect of having (or not having) female pastors on congregational life and both male and female worshippers. The authors look at whether women who worship in congregations with female pastors or priests (or imams, rabbis, bishops, etc.) show higher levels of spirituality and religious investment than women who have male religious leaders. They find that gender leadership in congregations does make a difference, but it matters less to women whether the pastor or priest is male or female than whether the congregation allows women to serve as the principal leader at all. Women who attend congregations with male-only leadership policies are somewhat less likely than women who attend congregations that ordain women to feel a sense of personal commitment and trust in their religious community. Knoll and Bolin argue that policies that give women the potential of gender equality are empowering for women, even if the current leader at that moment happens to be a man. In contrast, men are equally as invested and trusting in religious communities that do not ordain women as they are in ones that do.
  • The new book, Why Terrorists Quit (Cornell University Press, $39.95), by Julie Chernov Hwang, is especially relevant now that foreign fighters for the Islamic State and other terrorist organizations are returning to their home countries or migrating to new societies. Hwang, a political scientist, conducted over 100 interviews with former leaders and followers of Islamic jihadist groups in Indonesia, tracing how they made their exit from extremist organizations. The author finds that disengagement from jihadist groups tends to take place very gradually and that the accompanying process of reintegration is often just as lengthy. It wasn’t just cost-benefit thinking (that violence and extremism did not pay off) that alone accounted for members leaving these groups; rather, the disillusionment usually took place within a social network of other dissenters and disgruntled members. Such social support—usually in the form of new friendships and family—and an “alternate set of loyalties” were necessary in breaking the strong spiritual bonds and “addictive” quality of life in a jihadist group. Because the Indonesian jihadist landscape is so factionalized, always offering a more violent group to join or a way to reengage with these movements, alternative networks are especially important. Hwang argues that her findings apply to other locations besides Indonesia, but the appeal of her book is in her keenly observed case studies of former jihadists who have transitioned to ordinary life.
  • Christianity in North Africa and West Asia (Edinburgh University Press and Oxford University Press, $230), edited by Kenneth R. Ross, Mariz Tadros, and Todd Johnson, is the most recent book in a series looking at the global demographics of Christianity (see June 2017 RW for the review of the first book of the series on sub-Saharan Africa). The two regions of North Africa and West Asia share a past of churches that were once sizeable and influential minorities (though the term “minority” is still controversial because of the Christian involvement in colonialism). That is no longer the case now (except in Cyprus, Georgia, and Armenia), with signs of Christian extinction showing in Middle Eastern and North African countries, particularly Libya and Iraq. Gina Zurlo reports that Christianity in the region declined from 14 percent at the turn of the 20th century to 7 percent in 1970, to 4.4 percent by 2015.The largest bright spot is the growth of new Christian communities and multi-ethnic and multi-denominational churches in Gulf countries, such as Dubai, due to the rapid migration of migrant workers and professionals to the area. The expansion of Pentecostalism and house churches—even in Islamic societies such as Morocco, the revival of monasticism (such as in Egypt), and the proliferation of Christian broadcasting stations and social media also reveal how innovation often co-exists with modes of survival and resistance against religious restriction and persecution in these areas. The rest of the book follows a country-by-country format, with concise chapters tracing the Christian presence and its prospects in each society.
  • It has been 10 years since social philosopher Charles Taylor published his massive and acclaimed tome A Secular Age, which traced the emergence of secularity in Western Christian societies. To both mark the occasion and extend and critique Taylor’s argument, scholars, mainly from Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa, have issued the new book A Secular Age Beyond The West (Cambridge University Press, $120). The book, edited by Mirjam Künkler, John Madeley, and Shylashri Shankar, notes that Taylor himself called for his examination of secular currents in the West to be extended to non-Western societies, and the contributors to this anthology oblige with interesting case studies and analyses of these developments in China, Japan, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Iran, Israel, Turkey, Russia, Egypt, and Morocco. The editor’s note that when Taylor discussed secularity, he tended to refer to different expressions of the trend. What he called “Secularity I” was the way different spheres of life (government, law, science, and education) separated themselves from religious authority over centuries, while “Secularity II” can be understood as what Taylor sees as the decline of religious belief and practice. The other category of “Secularity III,” referring to the way that religion has been transformed from a social and communal reality to one where personal choice and self-fulfillment become the overriding values, is more unique to the West.The contributors struggle to relate these three kinds of secularity to different societies and cultures; as the editors ask, “Can we talk of secularity in environments where religious identity is something not voluntarily acquired but imposed by state policies or social pressures?” In the chapters on Morocco, Russia, Israel, Pakistan, and Iran, authoritarian rule and a strong link between “church and state” have limited pluralism within religions as well in the wider societies. The different trajectories of the establishment and freedom of religion in these countries—influenced by their specific religions and their histories of colonialism—make any easy comparisons with the West difficult. While most of the countries show some signs of Secularity I—the emancipation of law, state, and economy from religious institutions—most of the authors opt for the idea of “multiple secularities” when it comes to the other forms of secularity. In Taylor’s response to the contributors, he acknowledges that Secularity III (which he allows may not even be considered “secularity”) is the most complex trend when applying his analysis at a global level, although he sees signs of it in unexpected places, such as Russia. He adds that he didn’t account for the growth of religious nationalism and mobilization in his 2008 book, but that such currents as the expansion of political Islam and reactions against it, such as Hungary’s restriction of Muslim refugees, challenge his portrait of accelerating secularity.