Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Recent Articles about Religious Competition

In an article in the Salt Lake Tribune, we read about what happens to empty church buildings no longer being used by congregations.  Some buildings are repurposed, some are razed, and some have various parts salvaged.

An article in The Atlantic describes some of the ways that Catholicism has adapted over the last couple centuries.  While it had "dogmatically opposed modernity" at times, it has also found an active public profile.

Finally, an article at NPR discusses some ways that churches are experimenting with alternative ways to engage with people.  Think gardening!

Thursday, December 8, 2022

USCIRF Religious Freedom Designations and the 2022 Annual Report

Last week the USCIRF issued a press statement about its designated Countries of Particular Concern.  The following twelve countries were given this designation:

  • Burma
  • China
  • Cuba
  • Eritrea
  • Iran
  • Nicaragua
  • North Korea
  • Pakistan
  • Russia
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Tajikistan
  • Turkmenistan

Check out the 2022 Annual Report (pdf) for information about religious freedom in these and other countries.  This report was published back in April 2022.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

COVID-19 Restrictions on Religion Around the World

The Pew Research Center just published two days ago a report titled "How COVID-19 Restrictions Affected Religious Groups Around the World in 2020."  Read the entire summary page here, and if you want to learn more then check out the full report here (pdf).

Several main findings are reported.  For example, 23% of all countries had some sort of penalties for violation of COVID-19 restrictions on religious gathering, 27% of all countries had religious groups that spoke out against the COVID-19 restrictions, and religious groups in many countries were blamed for helping to spread COVID-19.  In other words, there were both government restrictions and social hostilities towards religious groups during the pandemic.  There were also many cases religious groups working with government officials to slow down the spread of COVID-19.

When the pandemic first started and restrictions on religious practice were being instituted here in the U.S., I wrote several posts that tracked the ongoing developments and debates.  So if you want to learn more about these developments, you can see the posts here, here, herehere, here, here, and here.

Monday, November 21, 2022

USCIRF Report on State-favored Religions

Last week the USCIRF (which you will learn about on Homework 7) issued a report on state-favored religions.  Here's the press release, and here is the entire report (pdf).

Some of the key points include:
  • 73% of the 78 countries that have an official or favored religion, also have policies or laws that led to repression or discrimination.
  • Religious minorities and women are among the mostly likely victims of this repression and discrimination.
The report is only 8 pages, so read the entire report.  Ask yourself the following questions as you read:
  • Of the 78 countries with an official or favored religion, in how many is Islam the favored religion?  What about Christianity?  What other religions may be favored?
  • In what parts of the world are countries with favored religions located?  Where are the ones that have discriminatory laws and policies?  Where are the ones that do not have discriminatory policies?
  • Do you see any patterns?
  • What types of repression and discrimination occur?
  • What is the connection between having a favored religion and having discriminatory laws and policies?
  • Are non-religious persons also victims?  Why or why not?

Which is Better: Conducting the Survey Online or Over the Phone?

A recent article at Religion News Service describes a new study of survey responses for the General Social Survey (GSS).  This study finds that the move from conducting the GSS via phone calls to conducting surveys online has led to a change in the set of people to agree to participate in the survey, and that this can lead to mistakes in how we interpret trends in the data.  In particular, the study finds that highly religious individuals are less likely to participate in the online surveys, and that this skews the survey results so that the surveys overstate the decline in religiosity.

There is a counterargument, however, that is also mentioned in the RNS article, namely, that the phone interviews were already overstating American religiosity so the move to online survey is producing more representative data.

This debate illustrates how, even when two people agree on what the data literally report, they may still disagree on the best way to interpret what the data actually mean.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

The Church Like Me

Last week, Christianity Today published an article titled "More Americans Want Their Church to Share Their Politics."  The "more" in the title refers to a finding that the percent of U.S. Protestant churchgoers who want their fellow churchgoers to share their political views has increased.

The figure below is from that article.  According to the blue bars, compared to 2017, more people now somewhat agree or strongly agree with the statement "I prefer to attend a church where people share my political views."  According to the red bars, there has also been a similar shift in people's perceptions of whether their fellow churchgoers' views match their own.

This trend is not a new one in the American religious marketplace.  In their 2010 book American Grace, Putnam and Campbell show that this trend has been in place for decades.  Americans are increasingly sorting themselves into religious groups of people who are more like themselves.

This sorting a natural consequence of a vibrant religious marketplace in which people are able to switch religious groups at relatively low cost, thereby increasing the chance that they find a religious group that better matches their tastes.  Though it is fair to ask about the consequences of this trend.  Of course, the main one is that this sorting further reduces the diversity in the already someone homogenous churches.  Overcoming this homogeneity is difficult, an issue that is discussed in Section 11.5 of the book.

Read this article and Section 11.5 of the book to better understand the challenges with creating and fostering a diverse church.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

The Religious Value of Trunk or Treats

 A "trunk or treat" is a Halloween activity held in a parking lot or large open field in which adults decorate their automobile trunks with Halloween decorations and hand out candy to children who walk from car to car in their Halloween costumes.

This article at RNS discusses how churches have become suppliers of trunk or treats.  Read the entire article and ask yourself why churches have become suppliers of trunk or treats.  Who attends the trunk or treat?  Why can a trunk or treats be an effective religious activity?  What religious purposes can a trunk or treat serve?

Thursday, October 20, 2022

The Market for Communion Wafers

A recent article titled "How Nuns Got Squeezed out of the Communion Wafer Business" tells the story of the market for Catholic communion wafers.  Groups of nuns began producing communion wafers for churches over a hundred years ago.  There was an intensity to the work as, during the first half of the 20th Century, the nuns would cut each wafer individually.  We are talking about millions of wafers, so this was in part a labor of love.  Then a priest asked a man named John Cavanagh to build a machine that would cut the wafers at a larger scale.  Cavanagh not only built the machine for the nuns to use; he also entered the market himself. The company he founded is now the dominant supplier of wafers in the U.S., producing about three-fourths of the wafers used in Catholic churches.  But in becoming the dominant supplier of wafers, Cavanagh's company has also driven out of the market many of the nuns who had been suppliers.

The main plot of this story is the non-profit nuns competing -- and ultimately losing out to -- the for-profit Cavanagh.  That alone makes the account worth reading.

Yet there are other elements that add color to the account and should not be overlooked.  For example:

  • An increase in the demand for wafers in the middle of the 20th Century as many Catholics began to partake in communion weekly instead of monthly meant that new supply needed to be provided, and Cavanagh provided that supply.
  • There was a recent, sharp decline in the demand for wafers during the Covid pandemic
  • There have been several innovations in the ingredients and designs of new wafers -- both by Cavanagh's company and by the nuns.
  • In recent decades, the changes in this market have occurred simultaneously with an overall decline in the number of nuns.
The article conveys a sadness about the loss of nuns as suppliers of communion wafers, but there is an underlying ambivalence.  The nuns were prescient entrepreneurs in this market over a hundred years ago, and that is an impressive feat.  But where the nuns showed the way, others soon followed and perhaps even did better.  Cavanagh's company is the largest supplier in this market now, but you never know if a future competitor will emerge and ultimately push out Cavanagh.