Thursday, June 21, 2018

Global Uptick in Government Restrictions on Religion in 2016

That is the title of a new publication by the Pew Research Center just released today.  See here.  The complete report in pdf is here.  Here are the first few paragraphs of the overview:

Restrictions on religion around the world continued to climb in 2016, according to Pew Research Center’s ninth annual study of global restrictions on religion. This marks the second year in a row of increases in the overall level of restrictions imposed either by governments or by private actors (groups and individuals) in the 198 countries examined in the study. 
The share of countries with “high” or “very high” levels of government restrictions – that is, laws, policies and actions by officials that restrict religious beliefs and practices – rose from 25% in 2015 to 28% in 2016. This is the largest percentage of countries to have high or very high levels of government restrictions since 2013, and falls just below the 10-year peak of 29% in 2012. 
Meanwhile, the share of countries with “high” or “very high” levels of social hostilities involving religion – that is, acts of religious hostility by private individuals, organizations or groups in society – remained stable in 2016 at 27%. Like government restrictions, social hostilities also peaked in 2012, particularly in the Middle East-North Africa region, which was still feeling the effects of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings. The number of countries with high or very high levels of social hostilities declined in 2013 and has remained at about the same level since, but it is higher than it was during the baseline year of this study (2007). 
In total in 2016, 83 countries (42%) had high or very high levels of overall restrictions on religion – whether resulting from government actions or from hostile acts by private individuals, organizations and social groups – up from 80 (40%) in 2015 and 58 (29%) in 2007.
At the same time, most countries in the world continued to have low to moderate levels of religious restrictions. Looking separately at the global median scores on the Government Restrictions Index (a 10-point scale based on 20 indicators of government restrictions on religion) and the Social Hostilities Index (a 10-point scale based on 13 measures of social hostilities involving religion) offers a mixed picture of how religious restrictions are changing. In 2016, the global median score on the Government Restrictions Index ticked upward, from 2.7 to 2.8, while the median score on the Social Hostilities Index fell slightly, from 2.0 to 1.8.
The report provides a rich amount of information about religious restrictions.  It is a good start for a person or student that wants to understand the state of religious regulation around the world today.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Age Gaps in Religiosity Around the World

The Pew Research Center just released a study on the age gap in religiosity around the world.  By most measures, young adults tend to be less religious than older adults.  This is true in the U.S.A. as well as in many other countries, but there is variation across countries.  The full report in pdf can be found here.

The younger are less religious in forty-one countries, including the U.S.A., Canada, Mexico, much of South America, many countries in Western Europe, Russia, and Australia.  In only two countries -- Chad and Ghana -- are the older less religious.  In the other countries there is no difference or no data available.

What does this mean about the future of religion around the world?  The report states this:
The widespread pattern in which younger adults tend to be less religious than older adults may have multiple potential causes. Some scholars argue that people naturally become more religious as they age; to others, the age gap is a sign that parts of the world are secularizing (i.e., becoming less religious over time). (For a detailed discussion of theories about age gaps and secularization, see Chapter 1.) 
But even if parts of the world are secularizing, it is not necessarily the case that the world’s population, overall, is becoming less religious. On the contrary, the most religious areas of the world are experiencing the fastest population growth because they have high fertility rates and relatively young populations. 
Previously published projections show that if current trends continue, countries with high levels of religious affiliation will grow fastest. The same is true for levels of religious commitment: The fastest population growth appears to be occurring in countries where many people say religion is very important in their lives.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

What to do with Unused Churches?

With the large decline in church attendance in Western Europe, you might be wondering what is going on at all the churches that used to have churchgoers but do not anymore.  Some are converted for other practical or mundane uses.  The converting of this church in Spain into the Kaos Temple Skate Park is particularly colorful.  Yet, the author of this article would rather have them be torn down and replaced than converted for more practical uses.

What do you think?  Should old churches be torn down or converted?

Christians in Western Europe

Our next lecture will discuss the process of secularization, a process that seems to be furthest along in Western Europe.  But just what exactly does religion look like in Western Europe?  Earlier today the Pew Research Center released a report titled "Being Christian in Western Europe" (complete report in pdf here) that answers exactly that question.  It's one sentence summary is:
The majority of Europe’s Christians are non-practicing, but they differ from religiously unaffiliated people in their views on God, attitudes toward Muslims and immigrants, and opinions about religion’s role in society.
Put differently, although church attendance rates are low, being Christian is still a meaningful notion in Europe as it does correlate with religious, political, and cultural views.

The report is long, but do read the overview page to find answers to these questions.
  1. What country in Western Europe has the highest rate of church attendance?
  2. Which is larger: the number of non-practicing Christians or the number of unaffiliated?
  3. Who are more likely to express nationalist views:  non-practicing Christians or church-attending Christians?
  4. What percent of church-attending Christians favor legal gay marriage?
  5. Those that report "none" for their religious affiliation might still believe in God or a higher power.  For which Western European countries, is the rate of agnostic or atheists among the "nones" the highest?

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?