Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Religion Related Lobbying on the Rise in the U.S.

The Pew Forum just released a very interesting study of religious lobbying in the U.S. The complete report is long (here), but definitely read the executive summary found here. Here are two paragraphs from the executive summary:
The number of organizations engaged in religious lobbying or religion-related advocacy in Washington, D.C., has increased roughly fivefold in the past four decades, from fewer than 40 in 1970 to more than 200 today. These groups collectively employ at least 1,000 people in the greater Washington area and spend at least $390 million a year on efforts to influence national public policy. As a whole, religious advocacy organizations work on about 300 policy issues. For most of the past century, religious advocacy groups in Washington focused mainly on domestic affairs. Today, however, roughly as many groups work only on international issues as work only on domestic issues, and nearly two-thirds of the groups work on both. These are among the key findings of a new study by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life that examines a total of 212 religion-related advocacy groups operating in the nation’s capital.
Previous studies indicate that lobbying in general has increased rapidly in recent decades. But the growth in the number of religion-related advocacy organizations appears to have kept pace with – or even exceeded – the growth in some other common types of advocacy organizations...
The dollars expended on this lobbying is large -- over $390 million -- but the expenditures did decline during the recession. The lobbying groups represent a wide range of religious groups, including Catholic, Protestant, other Christian, Jewish, Baha'i, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, and more. And the lobbying is aimed at a wide range of issues, from inherently religious ones such as the promotion of religious freedom to social and political issues such as HIV-AIDS.

Why do religious groups expend so much on lobbying? And why has it grown over time?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Book Club - God is Back #4 & #5 - Fall 2011

One of the most interesting chapters in God is Back is the chapter on the "The Bible versus the Koran." From p. 282:
[T]he plain fact is that the Islamic world is a long way behind the Christian one in its engagement with modernity. Islam is coming to a succession of epochal religious debates--particularly about the relationship between faith and authority--much later than Christianity. Christianity, particularly in its American version, has resolved those debates in a way that has rendered it well equipped to thrive along with modernity.
For this and other reasons, the authors see Christianity as still ahead in the competition between Christianity and Islam.

In prior posts on the blog, I have raised doubts about this conclusion. Definitely check out these earlier posts here and here to see my doubts. Stephen Prothero, in his 2010 book God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World--and Why their Differences Matter, gives the nod to Islam in terms of impact on society today:
The case for Christianity's preeminence is compelling. In the United States, the most powerful country in the world, Christianity is the religion par excellence. . . . Nonetheless, Islam is the Muhammed Ali of the world's religions. Statistically, it is second to Christianity, but its numbers are growing far more rapidly. . . . Numbers aside, Islam is the leader of the pack in terms of contemporary impact.
So which is it? Is Christianity winning the battle? Does Islam have the bigger impact? Is it possible to have both?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Religion and the Rise of Civilization

Jean-Paul Carvalho, another UCI Department of Economics faculty member, sent me this great article from the National Geographic. It's too long for me to make it a required reading for the class, but it may be of interest to you.

Here's the basic story. Archaeologists have long understood that human society took a dramatic change when it developed agriculture. They have thought that it was the development of agriculture that allowed for more complex human societies to form. Yet they are now beginning to understand that it may have happened the other way around: agriculture arose as a response to humans settling first.

And why did settlement occur? Religion, according to the article. Read the article for the details. It is a fascinating piece on how religion may have been tightly integrated with the very origins of our modern human society.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Doing Church on Facebook

That's what a pastor at Liberty University did last night. They usually meet in the on-campus arena, but because of a scheduling conflict, the pastor decided to just use Facebook.

I'd like to find out if it was successful. Of course, that begs the question of what would be considered a success. But assuming it was successful, would it be in the interest of the involved parties to just do church on Facebook everytime? Why even use the arena?

A Difficult-to-enforce Religious Regulation

Today's Reuters religion blog FaithWorld has a short piece about a particular religious regulation in Saudi Arabia that is associated with the Hajj.

Here are the brief facts. The Saudi monarchy enforces a strict Wahhabi school of Islam. Praying at historic Islamic sites is, according to Wahhabi thought, a problematic practice that goes against the spirit of Islamic teachings. During the Hajj, many people come to Saudi Arabia to visit various sacred Islamic sites in the country. Religious police try to enforce a ban on praying at sites. Religious police patrol selected areas and warn visitors against certain practices.

The short blog post does not explain what punishment results from violating the rule. But it strikes me as a very difficult rule to enforce. Although the presence of the police may prohibit certain overt forms of prayer common, the police cannot stop more discreet forms of prayer. Moreover, the blog post mentions that even the belief that a site is sacred is something the police try to stop, and this strikes me as impossible.

Clearly, the religious police are confronted with a cost-benefit calculation. They could put police at every location and interrogate every visitor to ensure no praying happens. But doing so would involve a tremendous amount of resources, and it seems clear from the blog-post that the police are not committing the resources necessary for such an endeavor. Is this an indication that the Wahhabi scholars care only a limited amount about the rule, or is it more the cold hard reality about the cost of resources for enforcement?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Decline in Episcopal Church Membership

Here's the news story mentioned in class today about the decline in membership in the Episcopal Church. As you read this story, look for clues about how the level of strictness (or lack thereof) of the Episcopal Church may be related to the decrease in membership.