Friday, April 21, 2017

The U.S. Military's Definition of Religion is Expanding

As stated in class, how we define religion is not merely an arcane academic matter;  it has real consequences for people's behavior and well-being.  This announcement reported by the Religion News Service provides a nice case in point.
The Department of Defense announced a near doubling of its list of recognized religions. It will now formally recognize humanism and other minority faiths among members of the armed forces.
The move, which came at the end of March but was made public this week, means servicemen and women who are adherents of small faith groups are now guaranteed the same rights, privileges and protections granted to their peers who are members of larger faith groups.
The move was lauded by humanist organizations, which have been pushing for full recognition, including their own chaplains, for 10 years.
Supports applaud the move as it extends benefits to people previously prevented from those benefits, but critics argue that the definition of religion is too broad.  Is secular humanism a religion?  Well, it depends on your definition, and the military is now using a broader definition than before.

Also of interest is that the military is now allowing soldiers to choose from a much wider selection of options when reporting their religious affiliation.  So when will they allow someone to choose more than one option...

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Russian Supreme Court Ruling on Jehovah's Witnesses

Remember the recent post from a couple week ago (here).  Well, the Russian Supreme Court has just ruled that the Jehovah's Witnesses are an extremist group that must hand over all of its property to the state.  See a short article here.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, which you will learn about later in this course, has issued a statement condemning the decision (here).  The chair of the commission calls it "harassment."  The USCIRF notes that the Russian law in question enables Russia to label groups as extremist even when those groups do not advocate or engage in violence.

What do you expect will happen to Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia?  How might this ruling affect other religious groups?  Will it hurt or hinder their success?

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Pew Research Center Report on Global Restrictions on Religion

Earlier today, the Pew Research Center released a special report on global restrictions on religion around the world.  The Pew Research Center is a non-partisan organization that conducts public opinion polling and demographic research around the world.

The entire report (pdf here) is about 80 pages, so it is too much to ask you to read all of it.  However, do read the summary page here (hint: that means reading the summary page is required for the class).

Let me point out a few things that stood out to me.

First, "Government restrictions on religion and social hostilities involving religion increased in 2015 for the first time in three years, according to Pew Research Center’s latest annual study on global restrictions on religion."  We should expect slight upticks and downticks from year to year, so it is not the slight uptick that is so important but rather that there has been a more noticeable increase in religious restrictions and hostility over the last decade.

Second, "The global rise in social hostilities reflected a number of factors, including increases in mob violence related to religion, individuals being assaulted or displaced due to their faith, and incidents where violence was used to enforce religious norms."  The increases were around the world:  Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, and elsewhere.

Third, Europe had the largest increase in measures of government harassment of religious groups.  "Two countries in Europe, France and Russia, each had more than 200 cases of government force against religious groups – mostly cases of individuals being punished for violating the ban on face coverings in public spaces and government buildings in France, and groups being prosecuted in Russia for publicly exercising their religion."

Fourth, "Jews and Muslims remain victims of social hostilities in most European countries," and "Muslims and Christians – who together make up more than half of the global population – continued to be harassed in the highest number of countries."

These trends in global hostility of religion constitute one of the most important trends in religion today.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia

Last month the Russian Justice Ministry suspended the operations of Jehovah's Witnesses, claiming that their activities violate Russian laws meant to combat extremism.  See the NY Times article here.  There are almost 200,000 Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia, so many people are affected by the action.  Various groups have criticized the move, including the USCIRF here (you will learn more about the USCIRF later this quarter).

Just yesterday, the Russian Supreme Court began hearings on the action by the Justice Ministry.  They will have to determine whether or not the suspension is constitutional.  Stay tuned to see the outcome.

These events in Russia illustrate the importance of the "rules of the game" discussed in our first lecture.  By changing the rules of the game for Jehovah's Witnesses, the success of that religious group is dramatically affected.  If they must cease operations, current adherents will lose religious support, and fewer people may be exposed--and possibly convert--to the group.  Moreover, if the suspension stands, then more religious groups could be targeted for similar sanctions.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Collective Production and Aging Women in the Church of England

This Christian Today article describes a serious issue in the Church of England.
The Church of England is facing a demographic time bomb as an entire generation of active lay women is starting to pass away, according to new research.
The research found that the unpaid work in cleaning, furnishing, catering, fundraising, and supporting midweek services by 70,000 older women effectively keeps the church from collapse.
There is no evidence that younger people are coming up to replace them.
In religious congregations that rely heavily on volunteers to contribute towards the production of services, there is an ever-present challenge to replace in the future those individuals that contribute a lot in the present.  We will discuss this particular challenge later in the course when discussing the free-rider problem.  Just what can a religious group do to solve this problem?  And what might have the religious group done incorrectly to put itself in this position?