Findings & Footnotes- September 2018

  • The new book Religion and the Social Sciences (Templeton Foundation Press, $24.47) brings together contributors to account for the place of religion in their respective disciplines—from criminology and family psychology to outliers like epidemiology and gerontology (although the latter discipline has dealt with religious topics for over a century). Editor Jeff Levin of Baylor University writes that while sociology is the most active field in researching religious subjects, writing and research on religion has grown in most disciplines. But until recently, those doing research in these fields tended to be a “beleaguered lot,” often bringing these scholars together to make common cause. In his chapter on political science, Anthony Gill writes that there has been a “great awakening” in the field of political science since 2001 and the growth of religious terrorism. He notes that not only do many political scientists recognize that believers may bring their values to bear on political actions, but that “now we are open to approaches that see religious actors and organizations influenced by a whole host of incentive structures, many of which have commonalities with other political phenomena….”

    Much of the recent growth in religious research in social science has taken place in economics, but Charles North notes that much more work needs to be done on the theoretical level. Along with several chapters on the growing body of research showing correlations between religious faith and physical, psychological, and family health and wellbeing, as well as the preventative role faith-based efforts seem to play regarding criminal behavior, Levin concludes the book with an overview of the new field of the epidemiology of religion. This study of population-wide patterns and causes of health and mortality has focused more on the preventative roles of religion and less on the clinical outcomes, but Levin writes that approaches that also include populations suffering from particular health challenges, as well as ones that study more diverse religious groups (other than Christian), represent the next frontier of this discipline.

  • Most of the current issue of the journal Religion, State, and Society (46:3) is devoted to religion and the rise of populism. Noting how religion has been neglected in the burgeoning field of populism studies, editors Daniel Nilsson DeHanas and Marat Shterin write that populism carries implicit religious themes, most notably the upholding of the “sacred” value of “the people.” But most of the contributions focus on the more explicit religious elements of populist movements. Greg Smith and Linda Woodhead look at the relation of British churches to the Brexit cause. While many practicing Anglicans gave support to Brexit, an unexpected finding was that evangelicals were far less supportive. They write that the middle class and internationalist outlook of British evangelicals distinguishes them from their populist counterparts in the U.S. But they also argue that the Anglican support of Brexit was not populist in the way that many Americans supported Trump; “Brexit-supporting Anglicans defend liberal democracy against EU incursions and have no leader, party or movement. The only feature of populism they share is a defense of their ethno-religious identity and heritage against elites whom they believe to be indifferent or hostile to them.” Other articles include an ethnographic account of a “white supremacist” family of Trump supporters in Arizona and studies of populist-religious connections in Turkey, Kazakhstan, and Greece, though in the latter case, Orthodox religiosity negatively correlates with far-right sympathy. For more information on this issue, visit:
  • The Future of Mainline Protestantism in America (Columbia University Press, $30), edited by James Hudnut-Beumler and Mark Silk, at first resembles several books appearing every few years and attempting to chart the future of this liberal wing of Christianity, begging the question of what more can be forecasted about mainline Christianity. The book does hit on the familiar themes of decline both in numbers and social prestige, but the editors suggest larger trends, such as the growth of the unaffiliated, shifts in immigration, the megachurch phenomenon, and new configurations and divisions among Protestant Christians, that complicate the picture of a steadily declining segment of Christianity. The most provocative thesis in the book is in Hudnut-Beumler’s chapter on the “Quakerization of Mainline Protestantism,” where the author argues that the fragmentation and loss of social status and influence of mainline denominations is similar to the situation of the Quakers in the Middle Atlantic states of the U.S. during earlier centuries.

    Like the Quakers, mainline Protestants may still maintain symbolic influence, and their colleges and other institutions may carry some weight, but they will become known mainly for their past teachings and traditions rather than for their current expressions and activism, according to Hudnut-Beumler. Other trends and forecasts that he discusses can also be related to the Quakers, including the greying of mainline churches and the growing tilt of mainline denominations—at least demographically and on a congregational basis—toward evangelicals (evangelical Quakers now far outnumber liberal “unprogrammed” Quakers).

  • Sriya Iyer’s new book The Economics of Religion in India (Harvard University Press, $49.95) shows how Indian society is a particularly fertile ground to understand religion from an economic perspective. Iyer, a Cambridge University economist, argues that the growth in religious social service provisioning, faith-based schooling, such as the vast network of madrasas, and vigorous competition between temples and gurus all lend themselves to market dynamics to a greater extent than in the more secular West. She bases much of the book on her 2010 India Religion Survey, the first large-scale economic survey of religious institutions in India (which was reported on in RW from conference presentations Iyer made), showing that the competition between different religious social service providers (each providing distinct services, such as education and childcare) has increased the level of such services since the Indian economy was liberalized in the 1990s and is substituting for the lack of state provisioning. This public involvement can result in greater religious radicalism and liberalism over time.

    Iyer also focuses on India’s socio-economic inequalities and how religion reflects these dynamics; for instance, even as Hindu and Muslim birthrates may well converge over time, educational and economic levels among the latter remain lower, as does their access to credit. A later chapter returns to the issue of competition and how Indian religions market themselves and engage in innovation. But Iyer concludes that government intervention may be necessary to prevent radicalism: “better state-provided public services now can minimize religious conflict in the future…[even if] religious organizations may then have a very positive role to play in economic development….”