Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Economics of Church Solar Panels

This article about churches installing solar panels combines religious teachings, church financing, and government regulation all into one story.  Many religious individuals feel compelled to install solar panels on their church buildings both to be better stewards of the environment but also to cut costs.  Churches with enough members are able to raise donations to install solar panels, but smaller congregations are less successful in raising the large funds necessary to pay for the installation.

Well, one church in North Carolina made a deal with a solar company such that the company would install the panels for free if the church would buy its electricity from the company instead of the local power company.  But last week the state's Supreme Court ruled that this arrangement violated state regulations because the local power company was the only authorized seller of electricity.  Read the article to find out what will happen with those solar panels.

Many churches are now fighting for the law to change to make clean energy more accessible for other churches.  Do the churches have a strong case?  Should the state changes its regulations about the sale of electricity?

Episcopalians and the Royal Wedding

The Episcopal Church is the US-based denominational arm of the worldwide Anglican Communion.  It has gone through some tough times in recent decades as it has dealt with both diminishing membership and internal disputes over issues such as same-sex marriage.  So it might not be surprising that the upcoming royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle is welcome event that will generate some positive press and excitement.

As reported in this article, Episcopalians in the USA are indeed trying to use the wedding as positive marketing moment -- especially because an American bishop will be delivering the wedding sermon.  This is an opportunity for the Episcopal Church to get some attention and publicity.  Even congregations are setting up viewing parties to take advantage of the excitement.

But taking advantage of the excitement does not necessarily entail a permanent and lasting enthusiasm or interest.  Do you think that this moment will have a lasting effect on the Episcopal Church as a whole?  What about for a few individuals?  Can you use an economic approach to answer these questions?

Thursday, May 3, 2018

USCIRF 2018 Annual Report

The USCIRF released in Annual Report.  See the announcement here and the full report here (pdf here).

The report is quite long and too much to make it all required.  You will be reading parts of it to complete one of your HW assignments later this quarter.  But for now you should at least read the Overview.

The information the report contains is extremely useful and valuable for understanding religious persecution around the world.  But it is the designating of CPCs that is the most consequential aspect of the report.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Grave Sucking

According to this article, it has also been called "grave soaking" or "mantle grabbing."  The idea is to lay prostrate on the surface above the grave of a holy person and soak up the spiritual power of that person as it leaks from that person's buried body.

The title of the article refers to this practice as "crazy," and its conclusion seems to reveal that the author is highly skeptical of the merits of the practice.  Yet, it is not obvious to me that practice is crazier than other religious practices such as praying, giving offerings, wearing religious tokens, or participating in other religious rites.  Grave sucking is less common that those other practices to be sure, but because a practice is less common or outside traditional practice does not imply that it is necessarily less valid.

However, perhaps the issue of credibility may be more subtle?  Do you think that a practice may be perceived as less credible because it is less common?  That is, is there some possible logical connection between the frequency with which a religious practice is undertaken and its credibility and efficacy?

Monday, April 16, 2018

Religious Freedom in Burma

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (you will learn more about them this quarter) just released a brief report update on religious freedom in Burma.  It is only four pages, so definitely read the entire report (pdf here).

Some questions for you to consider as you read the report:
  • What religious group(s) is facing persecution?
  • What types of persecution?
  • Why has this group(s) been targeted?
  • Has there been an increase in human rights violations?  A decrease?  Neither?

Monday, April 2, 2018

The Church of England Goes Cashless

Technology affects the operations of religious groups in many ways.  As explained in this article at Religion News Service, one of those ways is the way that members pay for various church services or make donations.  In short:
The Church of England has now decided to make their financial transactions easier. Instead of expecting people to rummage for a few coins or bills, it plans to introduce cashless, contactless payments in its 16,000 churches and cathedrals.
The payment machines will first be used for funeral fees, wedding notices or even to buy a coffee after the service. Later, people will also be able to make their weekly offering with the machines.
Question to consider:  Will this change lead to an increase in donations in the Church of England?

Monday, March 12, 2018

Mormon Missionary Work Online

Mormon (LDS) missionaries going door-to-door is a classic image of the type of evangelizing that religious groups used in days past, but times are changing.  And this is true for Mormons as well as they are expanding their online proselytizing efforts.  The church now staffs an increasing number of missionaries at computers to connect and interact with religious investigators online, rather than sending those missionaries out to knock on doors.

The motivation is well stated by one of the church leaders:
We recognize that the methods and the approaches that we’re using to do missionary work need to change with what’s going on in our society with technology.
Adaptation in the face of changing circumstances is one of the secrets to long-run proselytizing success.  In this case we see adaptation in the face of changes in how people interact with technology drives.

Scientology TV Network

The Church of Scientology is about to launch its own TV network today.  It can be viewed on Scientology.tv but also on DirecTV, Apple TV, Roku, plus more.  This is not the first religious organization to create a TV network, of course, but it is interesting in that it allows a group that has received so much negative publicity in other media outlets to spread its message directly to interested parties.

Will this be a successful endeavor?  How would the church measure success?