Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Pew Forum's Report on Religious Groups Around the World

The Pew Forum has released a new study:  A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World's Major Religious Groups as of 2010.

Of the world's 6.9 billion inhabitants:  Christians make up 31.5%, Muslims 23.2%, unaffiliated 16.3%, Hindus 15.0%, Buddhists 7.1%, folk and traditional religionists 5.9%, and other 0.8%.

The unaffiliated, making up 1 in 6 of the world's population, are an interesting category.  The large majority of them are in the Asia-Pacific region, with many of those in religiously-stifled China.  Some of those unaffiliated actually believe in God or other deities.  Unaffiliated make up the majority in China, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hong Kong, Japan, and North Korea.  Unfortunately, some outlets are reporting "Unbelief" as the third largest religion worldwide (e.g., here), but unaffiliated does not equal unbelief.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Some News on Religious Regulation Around the World

You can read about all of these on the Religion Clause site.
  • The United Nations Human Rights Panel has determined that a French Sikh student's religious freedom rights were violated when he was expelled from his school for wearing a turban.
  • The French government has new plans to emphasize secularism, including possibly teaching classes in  public schools on secular morality.  The goal is to reduce the influence of the particular religious movements, including a lay Catholic movement and Salafi Islam.
  • Kazakhstan is proceeding on its plans to close religious organizations that have not registered with the state.

Monday, December 10, 2012

2011 Hate Crime Statistics

(Don't worry, this is not on the final exam.)  The FBI just released its hate crime statistics for 2011.  Here is the press release.  Of the 6216 hate crimes, 19.8% were motivated by religious bias.  The majority of the crimes were crimes against property.  You can view the full report here.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Pope's Twitter Account

Yes, Pope Benedict XVI has opened a personal Twitter account and will address faith in his first tweet, which is scheduled for Wednesday, December 12.  The CNN Belief Blog has a short write-up here.

Two key paragraphs here:
"The Pope's presence on Twitter is a concrete expression of his conviction that the Church must be present in the digital arena,” the church said in a written statement to reporters. The pope’s account on Twitter, the statement said, “can be seen as the 'tip of the iceberg' that is the Church's presence in the world of new media.”
A Vatican official told CNN the pope will be composing the tweets for the new account himself. For the first tweet from the account, the pope will also press the button to send the tweet himself, but after that others will send the tweets on his behalf.
But what effect will this really have on Catholics and Catholicism?  The only downside I see from this is the potential for the the Pope to spend time composing tweets that would be better spent doing something else.  But I suspect that will not be a problem;  tweets are short, and he doesn't need to send them that frequently to keep a presence.

So the real question is:  what is the upside?  Younger Catholics on Twitter will surely find this a neat thing.  It give them an additional and convenient way to feel connected with their Church's leader, which would imply a slight increase in their religious capital.  And it also allows the Pope a direct route for reaching out to younger Catholics with brief messages of faith, devotion, and inspiration.  This is not likely to generate hordes of converts into Catholicism, but the modest benefits in building ties within the Catholic community seem real.

With almost no downside, and a little upside, it appears like a smart move to me.

UPDATE 13-Dec-2012:  GetReligion reviews some of the articles about the Pope's first tweet here.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Two and a Half Men and a Half Convert to SDA

Here are two links to the story about Angus Jones's conversion to Seventh-day Adventism that I mentioned in class today:  here and here.

This attention given to Jones's remarks about the TV show "Two and a Half Men" reflects how controversial aspects of religious individuals and groups gets more press than non-controversial aspects.  Of course, the Hollywood angle has a role, too.

The first link is more informative for our class's purposes than the second.  You can see how Jones reacts to the pejorative use of "cult" (are they really a cult by our class's definition? ask yourself), and the author explains how Jones's remarks reflect some of the religious teachings about maintaining a pure life.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Yoga and Religion in School

Some parents in Encinitas, CA, are upset that Yoga has been introduced in the public schools.  They claim that having all children practice Yoga in school is akin to indoctrination into Hinduism.  See this article.

The argument demonstrates the difficulty some people have in defining religion.  To some people Yoga is not religion, but to others it is.  The wikipedia entry on Yoga links it with Hindu philosophy.  Unfortunately, the author of the article does not address the parents' claim about the link between Yoga and Hindu philosophy, which is a gaping hole in the article.

There is also money side to the story:  the school accepted a $533,000 grant to do the Yoga in the school, and the school does not want to give up that money.  It is clearly in the school's interest to say that Yoga is NOT religion so that they can keep the grant money.  Just as it is clearly in a Yoga business's interest to say that Yoga IS religion to avoid paying sales taxes (see this case from a couple years ago).

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Return of Confiscated Church Property

The Czech Parliament recently approved a plan to return valuable property that was confiscated by the Communist government back to the original Roman Catholic Church owners.  The total value of the returned amount equals about $7 billion, which would be given back over 30 years.  The Czech president can now approve or veto the deal to make it official, but there are enough votes to overturn a veto.  See the short story here.

This story is interesting and relevant for us in a few ways.  First, it illustrates again how the fate of churches so often depends on their relationships with the government.  Second, it demonstrates how large the stakes may be for some church-state interactions.

But the sentence that really caught my eye was this one:
Under the plan, the churches would become independent from the state and gradually stop getting government financing.
It is not clear whether the author means that the Catholic Church would stop receiving any money from the government, or if only the facilities on the returned properties would stop receiving government funds.  My guess is the later, but I welcome clarification.  As I understand it (and I welcome correction from a reader), the Czech government subsidizes officially recognized religions, of which the Roman Catholic Church is one.  So ending the subsidy to the Church would be a significant change.

It remains to be seen how this affects the long-run success of the Roman Catholic Church in the Czech Republic.  They were once the dominant religious body but are now around 10% of the country's population.  Czechs are also known for being some of the least religious in all of Europe.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Reviewing God is Back

The midterm is coming up, and your studying should include reviewing the God is Back book.  To help you review, you should check out these past posts on the class blog about the book.  See here and here.  Focus on the big questions asked in the book.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

What is a "place of worship?"

A member of the Church of Scientology in England is challenging a law that she cannot be married in a Scientology chapel.  See the article here; for more on the legal side, see here. According to a law from 1855, a chapel has to be registered as a place of religious worship for religious marriages performed therein to be accepted by the state.  However, her Scientology chapel is not certified as a place of worship but instead is recognized as a place where instructions are concerned with man but are not religious worship.

This story reveals just another one of those ways in which religion is regulated.  People can participate in Scientology activities, but the state has decided which of those activities to recognize as legally significant.  The state must decide what is and what is not religion.  As discussed in class, this is a trick question for scholars to resolve, and it is here leading to contention in the courts.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Fewer Protestants and More Nones

The two biggest headlines in the last week have come from the Pew Forum's latest survey.  Below are links to CNN reports on each.

The first headline is that self-identified Protestants no longer comprise a majority of the U.S. population.  The Protestant population has dropped from 53% of the U.S. population in 2007 to 48% now.  Much of the decline is among the white mainline Protestants which as a group have been declining in numbers steadily for decades.

The second is that one in five Americans now claim to have no religious affiliation.  This group, called the "religious nones," is an eclectic group.  Two-thirds of the nones say they believe in God, one-third refer to themselves as "spiritual but not religious," one in five admit praying every day, and 64% of them identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party.  Religion & Ethics Newsweekly will actually be doing a three-part miniseries on the rise of the religious nones (October 12, 19, and 26).

There can be disagreement about how to interpret these trends.  One is that it is the continued march of secularization.  Another is that the first findings is further evidence of religious competition, while the latter is evidence that a new niche may exist for religious groups to court.  In any event, the former trend has been continuing for decades, while the latter trend has been more recent.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Mutual Fund Investing and Local Religiosity

Two paragraphs from this University of Georgia news report (HT to TA Robert):

New research from the University of Georgia and Southern Methodist University and published in Management Science [pdf here, but you are not required to read it] shows that the dominant local religion—whether Protestant or Catholic—significantly affects mutual fund behaviors.

Specifically, the findings show that mutual funds headquartered in heavily Catholic areas tend to take more risks and funds in heavily Protestant areas take less risks, said lead author Tao Shu, assistant professor of banking and finance in UGA’s Terry College of Business. The paper was co-authored with Eric Yeung of the Terry College and Johan Sulaeman of Southern Methodist University.

It is not clear why this relationship holds, though the authors mention that surveys show Catholics tolerate more speculative risk than others.  Perhaps you have a better explanation.

And which funds perform better?
Yet, despite the risk-preference differences, the end results are about the same. The risk-taking associated with local religious beliefs does not lead to superior fund returns. The lesson for investors, then, is to ask riskier fund managers to play it safe.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Understanding the Catholic Church-tax in Germany

A new decree in Germany will have any Catholic person that does not pay the Catholic church-tax be ineligible for the sacred rites of Holy Communion or burial.  See the BBC story here.  (HT to TA Jerrod.)   There are many interesting aspect of this story, but some background is necessary.

For many years, most religious individuals in Germany (predominantly Catholic and Lutheran) have not made religious contributions directly to their churches but rather have paid them through the government's tax collection agency at the time they pay taxes.  This donation is called the "church tax," but the name can be misleading.  It is not a tax like the income tax is a tax, so a membership fee might be a better name.  When paying their taxes, they check off their religious identification on the tax forms, and then the government withdraws their contribution on their tax forms.  The government then transfers the money to the church while keeping a little for itself in the form of a collection fee.  But it is like a tax in that a specific percent is specified and because the money is used to fund the church's operations.  For most churches using the church-tax system, the tax is 8 or 9% of the individual's tax bill (e.g., if I pay 1000 in taxes, then I would pay an additional 80 or 90 in church-tax).  Churches with large populations generally use this tax as it is cost-effective, but small churches might not use this system but rather collect their own donations like most churches in the USA do to avoid paying those collection fees.

I make three quick observations.

First, in our class we will discuss how many services provided by a religious group are "club goods."  Communion and burials are already excludable services, so there has already been a boundary between those who receive these services and those who do not.  The policy change merely changes the location of the boundary.  But as we will see in class, these boundaries are important for the group's success because they create incentives for people to contribute to the group, and the group would not survive without those contributions.

Second, we will also discuss in class some of the differences between religion in the USA and religion in parts of Europe.  In short, there is a much more recent legacy of intricate state-church relations in Europe, and the Germany church tax is just one example.

Third, although the differences between the USA and Europe are striking, it is still the case that how religion is practiced on both continents depends to a certain degree on what courts have decided about what is appropriate.  As stated in the article, a retired professor is challenging this policy in court.  Ironically, in the USA it is the IRS that has arguably the biggest influence on religion of any government institution because they determine when churches in the USA comply with US tax code to receive tax-deductible religious contributions.

Update 27 Sep 2012:  The German Court ruled in favor of the Catholic Church, i.e., that German believers who refuse to pay the church tax could be denied sacraments and a religious burial.  See here.

Rising Religious Restrictions Around the World

The Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life recently released its third report on religious restrictions around the world.  According to this latest report:
A rising tide of restrictions on religion spread across the world between mid-2009 and mid-2010, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center’s Forumrestrict3-1 on Religion & Public Life. Restrictions on religion rose in each of the five major regions of the world – including in the Americas and sub-Saharan Africa, the two regions where overall restrictions previously had been declining.
The share of countries with high or very high restrictions on religious beliefs and practices rose from 31% in the year ending in mid-2009 to 37% in the year ending in mid-2010. Because some of the most restrictive countries are very populous, three-quarters of the world’s approximately 7 billion people live in countries with high government restrictions on religion or high social hostilities involving religion, up from 70% a year earlier.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Religion and State Around the World

This recent Research on Religion podcast is an interview with Jonathan Fox, a political scientist who has recently been studying religious liberty around the world.  He has constructed a database of information about religious freedoms around the world that can be accessed here.  The interview is a bit long but there are some good points made about the subtleties associated with religious freedom law.  For example, every country regulates religion in some form or another, but the extent and bias in privileges is what differs across countries.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

USCIRF Comparative Study of Constitutions of OIC Countries

The USCIRF has released a special report that compares the constitutional protections of religious freedom in member countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).  The report's front page is here, the full report here, and the two-page summary here.

From the two-page summary:
The study shows that:

  • Approximately 44% of the world’s Muslim population live in 23 majority Muslim countries that have declared Islam to be the state religion; the remaining 56% live in countries that either proclaim the state to be secular or make no pronouncements concerning an official state religion.

  • Approximately 39% of the world’s Muslims live in 22 countries whose constitutions provide that Islamic law, principles, or jurisprudence should serve as a source of, or limitation on, general legislation or certain select matters. This is the case in 18 of the 23 countries where Islam is the religion of the state, as well as four majority Muslim countries where Islam is not the declared state religion.

  • Only 6 of the countries surveyed, in all of which Islam is the declared state religion, provide no constitutional provision at all concerning religious freedom specifically.2 Other countries, including ones in which Islam is the declared state religion, provide constitutional guarantees of the right to freedom of religion or belief, which comply in varying degrees to international human rights norms. For example, some provisions compare favorably in clearly specifying that the right to freedom of religion or belief is to be extended to every individual, or in protecting individuals against coercion in matters of religion or belief. Others do not compare favorably, for example by only protecting particular religions or class of religions, only encompassing worship or the practice of religious rites, or allowing limitations by any ordinary law.

To be sure, religious freedom abuses occur in countries whose constitutional provisions compare favorably with international standards. Constitutional text alone may not necessarily reflect actual practice, especially in the field of human rights. Nevertheless, constitutional text remains important, not only as a statement of fundamental law and national aspirations, but also as tool for those seeking to enforce its promises.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

2011 International Religious Freedom Report

The 2011 International Religious Freedom Report was just released by the U.S. State Department.  Full information can be accessed here;  but you might want to see the shorter Executive Summary.  The State Department has yet to designate the Countries of Particular Concern.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Church Towers as Cell Phone Towers

Charging a cell phone company to put its antennas in your church's tower is a new way some churches are earning revenue.  See this story in the Baltimore Sun.  On the surface, it makes perfect sense:  churches, particularly old ones, are often located on centrally located real estate and have large towers ideal for antennas;  those same churches need revenue to cover operating expenses; and those cell phone companies need antennas in prime locations to provide good cell coverage.  It sounds like a win-win scenario.

The GetReligion blog identifies some aspects of the story that deserve attention, namely, that this church tower-cell phone tower phenomenon may, for some particular reasons, be more common among mainline Protestant denominations than other denominations.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Eight Religious Wonders of the U.S.

Large resources are devoted to religous activities, and that includes the construction of religious edifaces.  Large, dramatic, and breathtaking buildings have been built by a number of religious groups, and CNN has identified the top eight such wonders in the U.S.  Link here.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Cambodian Religious Switching and Cheapness Considerations

According to this story, members of the Jarai indigenous group in Cambodia are switching from their traditional worship to Christianity because it is cheaper.

Is Technology Good or Bad For Religion?

Lisa Miller at the Washington Post says it can be good.  And she even quotes me in making her case.  See her article here.

She contacted me after seeing our class blog post on religious apps.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The God Issue at the New Scientist

The New Scientist magazine has released a special issue of articles devoted to the scientific study of religion--see here. The articles address many questions such as do people have to be indoctrinated to believe in God (no, it appears children are born primed to see God in the world around them) and is religion necessary for morality (no, but it helps). Warning: some of the articles are gated online.

2012 USCIRF Annual Report Released

The USCIRF released its annual report yesterday. The full report can be found here. As usual, they suggest as "countries of particular concern" (CPCs) those countries with particularly egregious religious freedom violations. The countries identified as CPCs this year are Burma, North Korea, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.

This year there is some controversy about whether Turkey should have been on this list, see this post at Religion Clause.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Religious Freedom Day, 2012

... was yesterday, by a presidential proclamation given by President Obama. Read the short proclamation here. It occurs on the 226th anniversary of the Virginia Statue for Religious Freedom.

Important Supreme Court Ruling on Ministerial Exceptions

On January 11, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in the Hosanna-Tabor Case that a "ministerial exception" is grounded in the First Amendment, and that a teacher fired at Lutheran school was lawfully fired according to that exception and that she cannot sue

Ministerial exceptions in hiring and firing illustrate one margin where religious and other rights can come into conflict. For example, hiring based on religious characteristics is certainly a form of discrimination, but the Supreme Court acknowledges that such discrimination is legitimate for ministerial positions. Importantly, this ministerial exception, as interpreted and articulated as part of this ruling, applies to religious institutions and their ability to provide religious services. The institution is free "to accept or retain an unwanted minister."

See some useful analysis from the Religion Clause blog here and here.