Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Top Religion Stories of 2010

It is the time of the year for various organizations to list their top ten news stories of the year. I give you the list from the Religion Newswriters Association recently released here:
1. A proposal to build an Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero leads to a national debate on religious freedom, with strong statements on both sides as the 9/11 anniversary approached. A Gainesville, Fla., pastor, who vowed to burn copies of the Qu'ran in protest, backs down.

2. The catastrophic earthquake in Haiti sparks relief efforts by many and varied faith-based groups. One by Idaho Southern Baptists leads to child-smuggling accusations, as well as to examinations of others’ practices. Leader Laura Silsby is imprisoned for four months.

3. Pope Benedict XVI is accused of delaying church action against pedophile priests in Ireland, Germany, the United States and other countries when he led the Vatican office in charge of discipline 1981 to 2005. Several bishops resign. Benedict continues to criticize the church’s handling of past cases.

4. The rise of the Tea Party movement is seen by some as a return to political prominence for the religious right; others see it as stressing economic rather than social issues. Mormon Glenn Beck pushes a Washington rally. Election results are mixed. One Tea Party candidate who loses, however, is Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell, who was pilloried for responding to critics with an ad that stated, "I am not a witch.”

5. President Obama signs the health-care reform bill for which many faith-based groups labored. Near year’s end the Catholic bishops repeat their strong opposition to it due to the belief that it provides funding for abortions, and lament support some Catholics gave it.

6. Sexuality continues as a hot topic among mainline congregations. The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA votes for the fourth time to lift the ban on noncelibate gay clergy; the presbyteries are again voting on it. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America suffers scores of defections after its 2009 vote on the issue. The Episcopal Church is asked by the archbishop of Canterbury to take a lesser role in the Anglican Communion after a lesbian assistant bishop is ordained.

7. The prolonged economic slump spells trouble for additional churches and ministries. In the highest profile case, the Crystal Cathedral declares bankruptcy after downsizing efforts fall short. The Lutheran publishing house, Augsburg Fortress, drops its pension plan; Focus on the Family cuts 110 employees; the Seventh-day Adventist publishing arm removes top executives.

8. Bullying draws attention with several suicides attributed to it, including a New Jersey college student. Religious groups strongly condemn it, but some see it as having religious roots, especially in regards to homosexuality. Several religious voices take part in the "It gets better" YouTube video project to encourage gay youth not to commit suicide or succumb to depression.

9. The U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey released by the Pew Forum offers some surprising findings, including that atheists, agnostics, Jews and Mormons had the highest correct answers.

10. The U.S. Supreme Court convenes for the first time ever without a Protestant in its number (6 Catholics and 3 Jews). The court hears arguments in the case of the Kansas church that loudly protests at funerals of servicemen; the decision will come this spring. The Court earlier allows a cross to remain at least temporarily on National Park land in the Mojave Desert, but then the cross is stolen.
You might also be interested in a separate list from the Religion Clause Blog which gives a list of top ten stories about church-state developments in 2010.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Festivus Miracle

A prisoner gets nicer meals when Festivism, the made-up religion popularized in a Seinfeld episode, is claimed as his religion. Once found out, the means stopped. So it was a temporary Festivus miracle. Read about it here and here.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Why are Religious People Happier?

It's their friends at church, according to the study just published in the American Journal of Sociology and reported here and here . People who report going to church more often also report higher happiness. And it is appears that the number of close friends at church explains this pattern. Moreover, individuals with a larger proportion of close friends at church report higher life satisfaction than those with the same number of close friends but where those friends are not at church. The authors conclude that it is a social mechanism for how religion improves happiness rather than a theological or spiritual one.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Oklahoma Ban on use of Shariah Law

In last month's election, Oklahoma voters approved an amendment to the Oklahoma Constitution forbidding state courts from considering international and Shariah law. A federal court has now placed this amendment under preliminary injunction. See Religion Clause for additional information.

Islamic Ratings for Video Games

See here for the explanation.

The Market for Organists

There are various kinds of religious markets. We often mean the market for religious adherents when we talk about religious markets, but there are markets for other goods or services that are also religious. Consider this ABC News article about the market for organists. Both supply and demand have shrunk over time, and there is now a shortage.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Kosher Internet

Yep, that's right, I said Kosher Internet. Read here.

Reports on Hate Crimes

The F.B.I.'s U.S. hate crime statistics for 2009 were just released, as was a report on hate crimes in Europe. Many acts classified as hate crimes involve religion; about 20% of reported hate crimes in the U.S. have a religious component.

2010 Report on International Religious Freedom

The State Department recently released its 2010 Report on International Religious Freedom. The accompanying press releases are here and here. The Executive Summary reviews changes--both positive and negative--in various countries.

The purpose on of the report is to identify countries in which religious freedom is hindered. Not surprisingly, some people will disagree with how their countries are portrayed, e.g., disagreements with the report have come out of Egypt and Jordan.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Blasphemy Laws and Human Rights

A new report titled Policing Beliefs: The Impact of Blasphemy on Human Rights by Freedom House examines how blasphemy laws in various countries are used "to legitimize crackdowns on minority groups, dissidents and other divergent views under the pretext of maintaining 'social harmony.'" Also see the press release here.

According to the introduction:
In countries with weak democracies, authoritarian systems, or compromised judiciaries, these laws have a particularly pernicious effect:
  • Governments have abused blasphemy laws to silence the political opposition, government critics, and other dissidents.
  • Individuals have fabricated charges of blasphemy against others in their communities to settle petty disputes.
  • Religious extremists have exploited blasphemy laws to justify attacks on religious minorities, thereby fostering an environment of intolerance where discrimination is effectively condoned by the state.
  • Religious institutions, often with official or unofficial government backing, have used blasphemy laws to impose the state-sanctioned interpretations of religious doctrine on members of minority sects that are deemed deviant or heretical.
While freedom of expression is always constrained by blasphemy laws, through direct enforcement as well as the self-censorship they engender, this report identifies a host of other human rights that are negatively affected by such laws:
  • The selective application of blasphemy laws gives rise to discrimination based on religion and belief, as religious minorities and heterodox sects are often targeted disproportionately.
  • In many cases, alleged blasphemers have been arbitrarily arrested based on false or unsubstantiated accusations of blasphemy, and reports of unfair trials, lax legal procedures, and prolonged periods of pretrial or administrative detention on blasphemy charges are plentiful.
  • Individuals accused of blasphemy have endured torture and ill-treatment in custody.
  • Blasphemy suspects, including those who have been acquitted, have experienced breaches of their right to security of the person in the form of death threats, mob beatings, and other violence by nonstate actors.

Monday, October 18, 2010

My Research on Religion Podcast Interview

The Research on Religion Podcast, a weekly podcast series conducted by Tony Gill, Professor of Political Science at the University of Washington, recently interviewed me about my research on religious free-riding and the Mormon Church. The podcast is now up; click here to listen.

The RoR series is a terrific resource for learning about much of the current work in the social science of religion. Thanks to Professor Gill for providing such a great public good!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

French Burqa Ban to go into Effect

It's official: the French Burqa ban will go into effect in Spring 2011. See CNN's story or Religion Clause's brief summary.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Druids in Great Britain

Congratulations to the Druid Network, which just received official recognition as a charity in England and Wales, putting them on par with other mainstream denominations and granting them valuable tax breaks. See the Charity Commission's official statement here.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Pew Religious Knowledge Survey

The Pew Forum just released results from its Religious Knowledge Survey. See here for details. It's getting a lot of buzz in newspapers and online media sources because atheists and agnostics scored highest on average overall, thus suggesting that atheists and agnostics know more about religion than religious people.

But this way of summarizing the data is very misleading because it implicitly places specific weights on different types of religious knowledge, and people may disagree on how these weights are placed. The simple average gives each question equal weight, but the distribution of questions is certainly arbitrary. Thus, an overall score is an arbitrary measure of religious knowledge and not very insightful. Think about it. What if you removed a couple questions about the Bible? How would that change the overall scores? What if you added a couple questions about the Bible?

A better way to look at the data is to look at topic specific questions. Look at Bible questions, then world religion questions, then public policy and religion questions. Check the scores for the people in different religious groups by type of question. This is more informative. Alas, when you do this you find that that the results are not that surprising if you already know something about the people in these religious groups.

P.S. You can test your own knowledge on this reduced version of the survey. I got 15 out of 15 correct. How many did you get correct?

Monday, May 17, 2010

How Churches Invest their Money

That's the title of this little story. It briefly discusses how the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church allocate their funds. The information is, unfortunately, not too detailed. Each church does generate income from its assets and pays taxes on the profit-making ventures according to U.S. tax policy.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Church is for the Dogs

It is not enough to have a special church service for pet owners as mentioned in an earlier post,
there must also be a special church service for the pets! How widespread will this practice become?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

More Religious Regulation in the News

The 2010 USCIRF Annual Report on Religious Freedom was released last week. The Countries of Particular Concern are Burma, China, North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam. The Watch List consists of Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Laos, Russia, Somalia, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Venezuela.

Meanwhile, Belgium moves closer to banning burqas in public places, and the Workplace Religious Freedom Act is getting renewed attention in the U.S.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Islam and Christianity in Africa

Pew just released a study on these two religious traditions in Africa. Some nice figures.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

New Reports on Religious Freedom and the Religious Blogosphere

Two reports of interest appeared on the Internet recently.

The first is a report from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs called "Engaging Religious Communities Abroad: A New Imperative for U.S. Foreign Policy." It is a bit long, so you might want to just read the executive summary at the beginning.

The second is a report called "The New Landscape of the Religion Blogosphere" by the Social Science Research Council. Unfortunately, this blog did not make it into the report. What an oversight!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Many Recent Events

Too many to say too much:

Monday, February 8, 2010

Monday, January 18, 2010

Religious Regulation in the News

Religious regulation has been big in the news lately.