Monday, November 30, 2009

The Swiss Minaret Ban

Following up on an earlier post, you might have heard by now that Switzerland passed yesterday by a margin of 57.5% to 42.5% a law to ban the construction of minarets. Here is the NY Times write-up.

Update (December 1, 2009): See ReligionClause for information about reactions to the ban.

Update (December 2, 2009): See IslamOnline about the possibility of additional regulations on Muslim practices in Switzerland, including bans on hijab and burqas. Meanwhile, the U.N. calls the ban "clearly discriminatory."

Monday, November 23, 2009

Religious hate crimes in the U.S. in 2008

Today the FBI released its hate crime statistics for 2008 (thanks to ReligionClause for the heads-up on this). Religious hate crimes would be an extreme type of "social regulation" that we discussed in class last week. Many statistics are reported by the FBI, and I will mention just a few.

Of the 7780 incidents that had a single bias in 2008, 19.5% were religious hate-crimes. Thus is much less than the racially motivated crimes (51.3%), but more more than the sexual-orientation motivated crimes (16.7%), ethnicity/nationality motivated crimes (11.5%), and disability motivated crimes (1%).

There were 1606 religiously motivated hate crimes in 2008: nearly two-thirds were anti-Jewish, 13% were "anti-other religion," 8% were anti-Islamic, 5% were anti-Catholic, 4% were anti-multiple groups, 4% were anti-Protestant, and 1% were anti-agnostic/anti-atheist.

It would be interesting to compare these with religious hate crime rates in other countries. It is not surprising that the anti-Protestant hate crime rate is very low given that Protestants are not a minority in the country. It is also not surprising that anti-Jewish is the most common type of religious hate crime. I was surprised that "anti-other" was not bigger. Most new religious movements would fall into category.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Lutheran Break-off in Process

Yesterday in class we discussed sect-to-church transitions, including sect break-off formation. Though we discussed why this cycle is not a natural evolution for all religious groups, we also discussed how some religious groups do follow such a trajectory.

Well, some big news broke yesterday: a coalition of Lutherans upset with the direction the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ECLA) has taken has decided to break-off and form their own religious group. Here is the write-up from the Washington Times. They are breaking off for similar reasons why a similar split is occurring in the Episcopal Church: disagreement over interpretation of scripture and Church policy. As we discussed in class, those unhappy with the direction of the Church break off to form a new group that better matches what they consider to be the more original and true teachings.

Such splits happen periodically but not everyday events, so we are witnessing American religious history in the making.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The 2009 Report on International Religious Freedom

Just a couple weeks ago on October 26, the U.S. State Department submitted to Congress its annual Report on International Freedom. The USCIRF,which was mentioned in our recent book club reading and which we will discuss more in our class, issued a press release with their reaction to the report.

The report is too long to read in its entirety in one sitting. However, take a look at the entry for France. Click here for the full entry, but here is an expert:
The [French] Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and other laws and policies contributed to the generally free practice of religion; however, discriminatory treatment of Jehovah's Witnesses and Scientologists remained a concern. Some religious groups voiced opposition to legislation passed in 2001 and 2004, which provides for the dissolution of groups under certain circumstances and bans the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols by public school employees and students...

The Government generally respected religious freedom in practice, but there continued to be concerns about the treatment of some minority religious groups. ... A 2004 law prohibiting the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols in public schools by employees and students continued to be implemented during the reporting period. ... Discrimination against Jehovah's Witnesses, Scientologists, and other groups considered dangerous sects or cults remained a concern and may have contributed to acts of vandalism against these groups...

There were reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice; however, prominent societal leaders took positive steps to promote religious freedom. ... There were 36 violent acts and 99 threats (down from 256 in 2007) directed against individuals of North African origin in 2008. ...

Friday, November 13, 2009

Book Club - God is Back #5

At the close of their book, God is Back, the authors point us to the future of religion. I want to highlight two particular points made in their conclusion.

The first is that religion is not inconsistent with modernity:
The great forces of modernity--technology and democracy, choice and freedom--are all strengthening religious rather than undermining it. Give people the freedom to control their lives and, for better or worse, they frequently choose to give religion more power... The triumph of pluralism means that all religious beliefs (and indeed all secular beliefs) become competitors in the marketplace. (Pp. 355-356)
This discussion fits in well with the economic approach to religion. Many religious goods do not have close substitutes, and the fact that religion has persisted for so long ought to clue us to the fact that religion provides something valuable to many of people's daily challenges.

A second point of the authors is that America has failed to appreciate "the ability of religion to solve problems as well as create them" (p. 362). They consider the USCIRF, which we will study more in this class, to fall short in this respect because it is focused too much on American policy and "does not make a robust intellectual case for religious freedom as a fundamental building block of a civilized and successful liberal society" (p. 362). On the second point, I think the authors expect more from the USCIRF than it was designed to accomplish. Its policy focus is intentional, and a government agency should not be expected to make intellectual arguments--intellectuals and academics should.

But here, then, is the challenge for you: can you make a case for why religious freedom is a fundamental building block of a free society? Or can you make a case for why religious freedom is a stumbling block for a free society?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Religious Regulation in Recent News

If you want to get a glimpse of how religion is regulated in the real world, just follow the news. In the past two weeks, I have seen dozens of stories that illustrate how the rules of the religious game are currently being negotiated. Here are a bunch of them, some from in the U.S. and some from out of the U.S. You do not need to read all of these; just get a sense of the variety of ways that religion is regulated.
  1. From the Baltimore Sun: Missouri says Yoga centers must pay sales tax despite the practitioners' claims that it is religion that should not be taxed.
  2. From Florida Today: the self-titled "pot pastor" is found guilty in a Florida court of illegally growing marijuana, though he claims it is used for religious purposes.
  3. From Religion Clause here and here: a West Virgina court ruled that requiring students to get immunizations does not violate religious freedoms, while a teacher sues her school claiming that forcing her to submit fingerprints violates her religious freedom.
  4. From the NY Times: a British court must confront how to define who is and who is not a Jew.
  5. From the Wall Street Journal: a debate in Switzerland centers on whether Muslim buildings can have certain external features.
  6. From The Globe and Mall: a French court finds Scientology guilty of "organized fraud."
  7. From Forum 18: Jehovah's Witnesses are denied legal status in Nagorno-Karabakh (an internationally unrecognized region in Azerbaijan).
  8. From WorldWide Religion News: there is a proposed law to place restrictions on evangelizing in Russia.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Book Club - God is Back #4

In Ch. 10-12 of God is Back, the authors look more to the future and lay out where they see rising tensions between religious and secular and between religion and religion. Ch. 10 is quite provocative in pitting Muslims and Christians against each other in a battle for world domination, or so the book seems to read. The authors claim that Christians will win out in the long run, and let me list some of their argument in my words.
  1. Muslims are less willing to translate the Koran than Christians are the Bible. This fosters more adaptation in Christian groups, thus suggesting that they might be amenable to competition with substitutes. (P. 273)
  2. Christians are more willing to combine religion with commercial enterprises in disseminating the Bible, again suggesting greater flexibility in competition with substitutes as different versions of the Bible can appeal to different market niches. (P. 275)
  3. The Christian population is wealthier overall and has more resources to devote to spreading its message. (P. 277)
  4. Christianity and its various denomination forms has proven adept at competing in open religious markets, while Islam's strongest manifestations are in state-supported nations. If religious freedoms are trending upward around the world, then Christianity has a leg up in succeeding. (P. 277)
  5. Islam has not confronted modernity and pluralism to the extent that Christianity has, and this hinders the spread of Islam in an increasingly modern and pluralistic world. (P. 278)
I wish the authors included some numbers to support their overall argument. I certainly agree with their points that Christianity has proved adept at facing various religious and secular challenges. However, consider these points. (See this Pew Forum Report for more information on the first two points, but this is not required reading.)
  1. Islam is the fastest growing religion tradition (as distinguished from denomination) in Europe, due to both immigration and high birth rates. Muslims comprise about 5% of the European population today, but are predicted to comprise 10% by 2020. This suggests Muslims can compete with Christians on their own turf.
  2. The rise of Muslim populations in Europe has led to increased persecution and restrictions--sometimes even state sponsored--on Muslims in Europe. Those on the European political right disagree religiously with Islam, while those on the political left disagree with Muslim culture. Many Christians fear Muslim competition enough to start changing the rules of the game.
  3. Muslims often try to use democratic methods to enact policies in line with their teachings, which suggests that Muslims are more adept at operating in pluralistic societies than the authors give credit.
Maybe the authors are right that the Bible will win the "Battle of the Books," but with Islam on the rise in many parts of the world, we should be careful to not underestimate the ability of Islamic entrepreneurs to compete with their Christian counterparts.

Who do you think has the edge in this "Battle of the Books," and why? Does one have a competitive advantage in the religious marketplace?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A reincarnated monk as a challenge to the economics of religion

Every so often we come across something in the world of religion which seems beyond the scope of the economic approach to religion. Consider excerpts from this Telegraph article from last week:

Jigme Wangchuk, an 11-year-old boy based in Boston, was today enthroned near Darjeeling [in India] as the reincarnation of Gyalwa Lorepa, a monk who passed away in 1250 AD. . .

The fifth-grader from Boston’s St Peter’s School will now have to spend the rest of his life at the Druk-Sa-Ngag Choeling monastery at Dali, 3km from Darjeeling. He can visit Boston later in his life but to deliver discourses. If he badly misses his friends back in the US — he is an American citizen now — he can speak to them but the conversation cannot be as carefree as what 11-year-olds usually indulge in. . .

The reincarnate touched upon some things he has left behind. “It is a big transition, and yes, I do miss being a joyful schoolboy and my friends, my home, my grandparents, aunts and uncles.”

The rinpoche added later: “In fact, I already miss them” but took solace in the fact that his parents had moved to Darjeeling to serve him.

I mentioned at the start of the quarter that there has been little effort in the economics of religion to study eastern religions. Anyone want to take a stab at this one? Can you give a good economics explanation for this practice of identifying reincarnated monks? Other comments are welcome, too.