Monday, August 8, 2022

Millennials and Digital Worship

According to this article at RNS, a recent research study found that 32% of American and Canadian millennials consume religion digitally but only 5% said they consume digitally without also participating in person. The millennials are an interesting population because they grew up before smart phones.

The author of this research study, sociologist Sarah Wilkins-Laflamme, left it up to the respondents to define digital religion themselves.  Here are a few quotes from her:

"For the most part, people are both involved in person and supplement that through digital religion."

"There are a lot of savvy religious users using it to complement existing ties (to religion)."

"The overall takeaway for me was that digital religion is definitely a thing, but it's a thing that only a chuck of the (millennial) population does."

These findings match what we have discussed in class previously, namely that online and digital resources tend to supplement other existing forms of religion rather than displace them.  As children who grew up with smart phones enter adulthood, new studies will be needed to see if they manifest the same pattern.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Zoroastrianism's Uncertain Future

This AP News article from 1 July 2022 describes some of the challenges facing Zoroastrians today.  Zoroastrianism is one of the world's oldest religious groups, but despite its historic past, its future is highly uncertain.  The religious group has only about 125,000 members worldwide, and its prospects for growth are grim.  It does not conduct missionary work, and it has only limited retention of children  --  in part because children of mixed-faith marriages are not considered Zoroastrians.

The future of Zoroastrianism will be one of the discussion topics at the upcoming World Zoroastrian Conference 2022 held in New York City this weekend.

"Praedicate Evangelium" and Reforms in the Catholic Church

On 19 March 2022, Pope Francis, published the Praedicate Evangelium ("Preach the Gospel"), a constitution that details reforms in the Catholic Church.  These reforms officially took effect on 5 June 2022.  It redefines and reforms how the Roman Curia (the administrative institutions of the Vatican) operates.  Many reforms have been discussed and planned in the years since Pope Francis began his term in 2013, so this publication was highly anticipated.  The full text in English of the Praedicate Evangelium can be on the Vatican web site here.

The document is a kind of constitution, so it defines and describes operations.  Some of its content describes reforms that have already occurred under Pope Francis's leadership.  One of these was the creation of an office to police financial matters within the Vatican.  Other reforms are innovations that are now just made public. Yet, there is an underlying, unifying theme that is captured by the title of the document, i.e., that the church's primary function is missionary work.

It is difficult to understand the significance of many of the changes without some insider knowledge of the Roman Curia's structure, but some developments are understandable to outsiders.  One of these later changes is that many Vatican offices will now be open to lay leadership.  This is significant because many leadership positions can now be filled by women whereas previously that was not possible.  Nuns will be likely candidates for many of these positions, but they do not have to be nuns.  Just today, Pope Francis announced that three women will serve on the council that that vets bishop nominations -- see this RNS news post.  Two of these women are nuns, but the other has been serving as the leader of Catholic women's organization.

If you are interested in learning more about these developments, Thomas Reese provides a nice discussion of the reforms on this blog post at RNS.

Religious groups must continually adapt to changing circumstances in the religious marketplace, and the Catholic Church is no different in this regard.  What makes the Catholic Church unique is its immense size, its long history, and its long-standing organizational institutions.  But even a group as old as the Catholic Church must still confront the challenges of being relevant and impactful in the world today.

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

To Be a Jehovah's Witness in Russia

This article in the Associated Press provides a glimpse into what life is like for Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia.  Consider the following questions as you read this article:

  • How have Jehovah's Witnesses been treated in Russia?
  • What justification has the Russian government given for this type of treatment?
  • What is distinctive about Jehovah's Witnesses teachings?
  • In what other countries have Jehovah's Witnesses experienced persecution?
  • How do many Jehovah's Witnesses respond to the persecution?

Friday, March 4, 2022

The Russia-Ukraine War and Religious Minorities

The title of this article in Religion & Politics asks an important question about the Russia-Ukraine war:  What does the Russian Invasion Mean for Religious Minorities in Ukraine?

Read the article to find out.  Here are some key questions for you to ask yourself as you read the article:

  • What religious minorities currently exist in Ukraine?
  • What types of challenges have religious minorities recently faced in Ukraine?
  • What does the experience of religious minorities in Russia tell us about what the experience of religious minorities in Ukraine might be in regions of Ukraine that are taken over by Russia?
  • Does the experience of what has happened in Crimea since Russia invaded in 2014 provide any clues?
These questions matter far beyond the scope of this class.  As the author states near the end of the article, "The protection of the rights of religious minorities is often the litmus test for democracy."  There is research to support this claim -- indeed the case of what has happened in Russia during the last two decades is itself evidence that religious protections are among the first to disappear when on a path that diverges from democracy.

Global Methodist Church to Begin Officially in May

Schism in the United Methodist Church is taking another turn.  During the last couple years, leaders of the UMC have been negotiating a peaceful way for the UMC to split into separate progressive and conservative groups.  The vote over a proposed plan was delayed due to the COVID pandemic, but various members and leaders in the church have sought to move forward without waiting any longer for the vote.  One group of members have set up a new Methodist denomination -- the Global Methodist Church -- announced yesterday that this new denomination will officially begin on May 1 of this year.  See this article at Religion News Service.

This is not the first new group to form as a result of the prolonged internal disputes over same-sex marriage and gay clergy.  The Liberation Methodist Connexion formed in January 2020 as a progressive alternative.  The Global Methodist Church is theologically conservative.

This schism is yet another case for us to consider using the sect-to-church theory.  The United Methodist Church began as an upstart sect and then transitioned to a low-tension church.  It has experienced revival efforts from within, but the progressive voices seem to have gained the upper hand, thereby compelling the conservative faction to break off and form their own group.  This summary matches the sect-to-church theory well on the surface, but of course there are other aspects of the case that do not fit the theory so easily.  For example, the formation of the progressive Liberation Methodist Connexion is a break-away sect with lower (not higher) strictness than its parent organization.  Examining cases like these can help us to modify and amend the basic sect-to-church theory.

If you are interested, you can see two earlier blog posts on the Methodist schism here and here.

Monday, February 28, 2022

The Russia-Ukraine War and Religion

Religion remains a significant part of national identity in many European countries, and this is true for both Russia and Ukraine.  Both have historical ties to the Eastern Orthodox Church, yet there have also been divisions.  Since the end of Soviet rule in 1991, religion and the official status of religious groups in both Russia and Ukraine have undergone significant changes and not without disagreement.

Three Orthodox churches have played the most significant roles in Ukraine, one of which has strong ties to Moscow.  As recently as 2018, there was a unification of the three into a single Orthodox Church of Ukraine -- although some of those with ties to Moscow did not join the unification.  This development was supported by many Orthodox leaders worldwide and gained official support by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in 2019.  However, it was criticized by Russian political leaders and leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church who want Ukrainian Orthodox Christians to exist under the direction of Orthodox religious leaders in Moscow.

Read this article about religion in Russia-Ukraine war from the Religion News Service, and think about the following questions.  What key religious developments have occurred in Ukraine?  What is the significance of religious developments in Ukraine?  What role has religion played in the war?

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Students' Beliefs and Academic Success

This article by Ilana Horowitz at Religion News Service reports on interesting findings on the relationship between religiosity and academic success.  Religiously devout American students get higher grades and are more likely to graduate from college, on average, than students who are much less religious, but they also attend less selective colleges.  Read the article to see the explanation, and to see what the research reveals about atheist students.