Posts Tagged ‘Volume 33 No. 12’

Religious leadership takes on new roles in post-Arab Spring, Islamic State Middle East

Religious leaders of all faiths in the Middle East underwent a dramatic shift after the Arab Spring and the rise of the Islamic State, taking on greater public roles that extended beyond their communities and dealt with matters of security and governance, while also losing clout among their followers. That is the conclusion of most of the articles in a special issue of the journal Sociology of Islam (6:2) devoted to religious authority in the contemporary Middle East. In the introduction to the articles, Mehran Kamrava of Georgetown University writes that after the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, sectarianism among most religious groups in the region became more predominant, especially in the case of conflict between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims. He points out that, the greater the state’s power and capacity and the less united the religious hierarchy have been, the more likely the state’s attempt to incorporate religious institutions within itself. Yet because of the more hostile environments within which leaders find themselves, “religious leadership has only become more centralized, and its role and significance more critical to the overall health of the community, especially among minority religious groups such as the Zaydis, Yazidis, Baha’is, Maronites, Chaldians, and others.”

In another article, Albert de Jong writes that while the role of religious leaders as dispensers of elite knowledge and guardians of traditions had already been in decline with the growth of higher education among the laity, the waves of unrest that have recently swept over the Middle East have sped up this process. These disturbances, “in conjunction with large-scale displacement [of religious minorities], which has weakened the crucially important ties most of these communities maintained with their physical surroundings—with their rivers, tombs of holy people, and similar loci of religion—make the future of these communities highly uncertain.” Another article on religious minorities suggests that the leadership of the Yezidis, a mystical group active in Iraq, has better withstood the forces of modernity than have native Christian groups, although the toll of attacks and displacement by the Islamic State makes their future precarious. A similarly dire forecast is made in regard to the future of the leadership of Syria’s ‘Alawis, an esoteric quasi-Islamic sect that has been seen as a pillar of the Asad regime, although these leaders (shaykhs) have traditionally not been politically active. Leon Goldsmith of Sultan Qaboos University notes that the cooptation of the ‘Alawi religious leadership by the Asad regime has been an “instrument of regime maintenance since 1982.” This has divided the religious leadership between the traditional and the regime-appointed leaders. The standards of shaykhs have deteriorated as regime loyalists have been appointed to leadership positions, and they have lost respect and independent status in their communities. Goldsmith concludes that the “growing corruption and opportunism creeping into the ‘Alawi religious class at the expense of traditional shaykhs bodes poorly for the future of religious leadership as a positive agent for political transformation and stability in Syria.”

“Bishops vs. everyone else” overshadows right-left Catholic split

The decades-long split between liberal and conservative Catholics may be giving way to a stronger division between Catholic laity and their bishops in the wake of reports that members of the hierarchy covered up for priests and fellow bishops engaging in sexual abuse, writes John Allen on the Catholic website Crux (September 30). He asks: […]

Lay Scientologists take up apologetics, public relations

Although observers have predicted the near-demise of the Church of Scientology under the influence of Internet critics and activists who have targeted the leadership over scandals and abuses, the church has largely weathered these attacks, with its members increasingly involved in publicity efforts to spread the faith, writes Donald Westbrook in the journal Studies in […]

Occult practitioners build their brands on the Internet, with some struggles

Occult practitioners are moving from part-time avocational interest to professional work as they ply their trade in the spiritual marketplace on the Internet, writes Karen Gregory in American Behavioral Scientist (online in September). Gregory looks specifically at how Tarot card reading has shifted from being a face-to-face practice one might do for spiritual fulfillment alongside […]

Remnant Church emerges as bearer of Mormon restoration

With its headquarters close to the Independence Temple and the headquarters of the Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or RLDS), the Remnant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has emerged as the most organized of the groups born out of opposition to developments within […]


A new survey finds that divisions based on religion remain within the Republican Party almost two years after the election of Donald Trump. The survey, conducted by Emily Ekins for the Voter Study Group, finds that regular church attenders who voted for Trump over Clinton still tend to hold different views than his more secular […]

Orthodox Church and culture sector clash over property restitution in Russia

Since the 2010 law allowing for the restoration of church property in Russia, competing interests continue to battle over just what its implementation means for the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). This can be seen in the recent request of the ROC to take ownership of the UNESCO-protected 12th-century Golden Gate in the city of Vladimir, […]

Ukrainian Orthodox Church autonomy likely to strain Orthodox, ecumenical relations

The move of the Ecumenical Patriarchate (EP) toward granting autonomy (or autocephaly) to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church will likely have global repercussions for Orthodox churches and beyond, according to recent reports. On September 7, an EP announcement stated that, “within the framework of the preparations for the granting of autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in […]

Hindu nationalism presents kinder, gentler face

The Hindu nationalist organization that helped bring Prime Minister Narendra Modi to power is “attempting a makeover to soften its image ahead of next year’s national elections,” writes Joanna Slater in the Washington Post (September 21). The main Hindu nationalist group, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), recently held an unprecedented three-day event where its leader […]

Druze religion sees youth disaffection

The Druze religion is facing a pattern of defection and inactivity among its young people, according to The Economist magazine (September 21). The approximately one million members of the Druze are spread across Israel, Lebanon, and Syria, but the esoteric religion does not proselytize and only accepts members whose parents are both Druze. The faith […]