Posts Tagged ‘Volume 32 No. 10’

ISR Interview/ A Godly Sociology of Religion

ISR co-director Rodney Stark has recently written Why God?: Explaining Religious Phenomena (Templeton Press, $24.95). In this interview with RW, Stark discusses, among other things, why sociological theory dealing with religion needs to take into account people’s belief and images of God and the importance of history in understanding religious change.

RW: You state in the book’s introduction that Why God? is your third effort in writing a work on theory. Why did you feel it is important to do that now?
Stark: I returned to theorizing about what religion is, what it does, and why it seems to be a universal feature of human societies because I know more now than I did in 1999 when I wrote Acts of Faith and because I finally felt able to extend my theorizing to include such things as miracles and revelations as well as religious conflict and civility.

RW: You stress the role of belief in a supernatural God in creating religious vitality throughout the book. Can you explain its importance in your work?
Stark: From the very start I have limited my definition of religion to systems of thought based on the existence of conscious supernatural beings—gods—despite the fact that most sociologists, especially back then, went along with Durkheim and accepted the notion of godless religions. That is, the prevailing view was that all systems of thought about the existence of life were religions, even those that denied the existence of gods. It seemed to me obvious that it was silly to be unable to distinguish the village priest from the village atheist. And I think even my earliest theorizing was far more powerful because I did limit my definition to godly systems of thought.

RW: The role of emotion in religious ritual has been something else for which you have gained a new appreciation. Can you explain that?
Stark: One loses a great deal if one fails to recognize the emotional aspects of, say, people’s prayer lives or what many people feel during such things as communion. People don’t just pray to get stuff; for many people prayer is a conversation with a friend.

RW: The media and many scholars see the growth of the non-affiliated as the major trend in American religion. Yet your theory views the “nones,” and even secular Europeans, as being candidates for re-joining religious groups, even new religious movements.
Stark: Certainly Richard Dawkins qualifies as one of the most famous and “intellectual” of the “nones”—the title of his book The God Delusion would seem to say it all. And yet at the end of the book, he wrote, “Whether we ever get to know them or not, there are probably alien civilizations that are superhuman, to the point of being god-like in ways that exceed anything a theologian could possibly imagine.” Indeed, it is self-styled atheists, not religious believers, who are the most likely to believe in UFOs, ghosts, astrology, Bigfoot, and the other occult notions. So much for anti-religious claims of credulity.

Evangelical church music bridging secular and sacred

Evangelicals are using new musical forms that go significantly beyond “traditional” contemporary Christian music (CCM) in both worship and outreach, but such experimentation may have unintended consequences for churches according to two reports. Christianity Today magazine (July–August) reports on the rise of electronic dance music (EDM) in evangelical churches that may be challenging the lyric-based […]

Religious environmentalists step up activism in the face of government retreat

The critical attitude toward environmental controls and regulations and the withdrawal from the Paris accord on climate by the Trump administration appears to be driving up the environmental activism of American churches reports The Economist magazine (July 28). The Erasmus blog of the magazine reports that “green-minded congregations, and even those who have not hitherto […]

Brazil’s Pentecostal and charismatic missions target Brazilian diaspora, Europe

There are probably 3,000 Brazilian Protestant missionaries abroad, mostly Pentecostal, and 90 percent of them are sent  by Brazilian missionary agencies, reported Paul Freston (Wilfrid Laurier University) at the conference of the International Society for the Sociology of Religion in Lausanne, Switzerland (July 4–7), which RW attended. One in five Brazilians today is Pentecostal. Like […]

Current Research August 2017

The election of Donald Trump may be a political after-effect of the steep decline of mainline Protestantism in American culture, writes Lyman Stone in the web magazine Vox (July 14). Stone, a population economist, looks at average change at county-level Republican share of the vote per member of each denomination from 2012–2016. In other words, […]

Buddhism clashing with and appealing to British youth culture

While some ethical values of young adult Buddhists in the U.K. strongly correlate with broader youth culture—e.g. gender equality—other values do not cohere well, such as reluctance about high alcohol consumption, reported Sarah-Jane Page (Aston University) in her paper presented at the conference of the International Society for the Sociology of Religion in Lausanne (July […]

Hindu nationalists defining Indian democracy down

India may well be on its way to becoming a Hindu state, even as its secular constitution remains officially in force, writes Christophe Jaffrelot in the Journal of Democracy (July). In an article marking the 70th anniversary of democracy in India, the political scientist notes that much of this change toward favoring Hinduism and cracking […]

Muslim refugees disenchanted with Islamic community in Germany

The large wave of new Muslim immigrants in Germany are showing themselves to be less religiously conservative than the pre-existing Muslim community as well as more concerned with integrating into mainstream German society, reports The Atlantic magazine (July 26). The more than one million refugees that have settled in Germany are from Muslim-majority countries and […]

Serbian feast reflects rising religious nationalism

The celebration of the slava feast throughout Serbia blends secular, familial, and religious elements, but the observance is also increasingly tied to the Serbian Orthodox Church and nationalism, writes Sabina Hadzibulic in the journal Temenos (53:1), the journal of the Finnish Society for the Study of Religion. Besides Christmas and Easter, slava is the most […]

Muslim Brotherhood marginalized and divided on strategy

Critics still see the Muslim Brotherhood as a source of Islamic extremism, but the New York Times (July 16) reports that the movement is struggling for survival in its birthplace of Egypt and among exiles. Current members of the group, many of whom are in exile or in prison, say the group has become more […]