Findings & Footnotes- February 2019

  • The rise of Hindu nationalism and the way it has morphed, particularly during the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, into what is called “Neo-Hindutva,” a diffuse movement comprising various leaders and strategies, is the subject of a special issue of the journal Contemporary South Asia (Volume 26, No. 4). The contributors view Neo-Hindutva as seeking a Hindu revival in Indian society and politics, but these efforts have now made inroads into education, development, industry, culture and every other area of public life. Similarly, the organizational reach of Neo-Hindutva goes far beyond such prominent groups as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to encompass the popular guru and business entrepreneur Baba Ramdev and activism in the Indian “hinterlands” of the Northeast, the tribal areas of Nagaland, and the far-flung Indian diasporas that exist around the world.

    An interview with veteran Hindutva specialist Christophe Jaffrelot suggests that while there is a “saffronization of the public square” and state-sponsored pressure against religious minorities—especially Muslims but increasingly Christians—under Prime Minister Modi, including “unofficial” support of cow protection vigilantism, Hindutva has become too adaptive and diverse to even fit the usual nationalist narrative. This is especially borne out in the articles on yoga and holistic health, as promoted by the consumer brand Patanjali, and social media, where Neo-Hindutva has gained a hearing among the middle class, taking on more cosmopolitan and less dogmatic forms. For more information on this issue, visit:

  • The current issue of the journal Religion, State and Society (Vol. 47, No. 1) presents in-depth analyses of round three of the Religion and State project dataset (1990–2014). The project is a cross-national study (183 countries) covering data relating to issues of religious freedom and conflict and competition between religious and secular political actors. Political scientist Jonathan Fox opens the issue with a survey of how state religion policies are becoming more common throughout the world, with only a small minority of countries making no changes in these policies between 1990 and 2014. The issue covers a wide swath of topics, including the relationship between terrorism and government interference in religious institutions (making religious freedom the best preventative measure against religious violence), the role of religion-based parties in religious mobilization, and the role of church-state relations in the growth of populist parties. On the latter topic, Andrea Molle looks at the development of the nationalist-populist National League and the rise to power of its leader Matteo Salvini (now Minister of the Interior and Deputy Prime Minister of Italy), and finds that while church-state relations may not explain the rise of such parties, religiosity, including such indicators as having a religious rather than a secular wedding, was a strong predictor of support for the National League. For more information on this issue, visit:
  • Sean Everton’s pioneering new book Networks and Religion (Cambridge University Press, $34.99) is both a primer for studying how networks influence religion and a collection of studies showing how this method yields significant insights about changes in contemporary religion that should have a wider readership beyond the scholarly community. Although the study of social networks has become an important part of social science research, it has only recently found a hearing in the social scientific study of religion, with social network analysts paying scant attention to religion (in fact, often viewing religion as a foil against the dynamism of network formation). The book’s empirical section starts with an engaging examination of the role of network ties in conversion, citing case studies of everything from how C.S. Lewis’s colleagues at Oxford (including J.R.R. Tolkien) were instrumental in his turn from atheism, to the growth of Mormonism worldwide and house churches in China. The importance of such connections in solidifying religious commitment and involvement, as seen in megachurches’ use of small groups and new religious movements’ (NRM) encouragement of familial ties (as opposed to the stereotype of NRM members being isolated from family), suggest that dense rather than sparse ties (encouraged by patterns of high mobility) are more beneficial to religious organizations. In fact, ties that are too dense might encourage religious radicalism.

    Throughout the book, Everton uses social network theory and methods to reexamine prominent research findings. For instance, he finds that—echoing the work of Robert Putnam—social networks are central in connecting congregation members to opportunities to engage in civic life through volunteering, and that the spread of acceptance of women’s ordination within segments of Protestantism was because such an innovation was diffused through network ties between similar denominations. Everton, who teaches at the Naval Postgraduate School and has done previous work on terrorism, returns to extremist groups toward the end of the book and finds that network ties are particularly important in predicting which ones may engage in violent behavior. It is those groups that, along with holding apocalyptic beliefs, limit their ties to fellow members and draw recruits through those strong ties that are most likely to become radicalized. Everton counsels authorities to maintain ties and contact with groups that are in danger of radicalizing. He actually concludes that minimizing media scrutiny and public ridicule of such groups while encouraging religious freedom have been shown to prevent isolation and perceptions of persecution which drive radicalization.