Seven religion stories to cover (and 21 experts to turn to) in 2022

2022 will bring a slew of elections, continuing adaptations due to coronavirus, and more.

From The New York Times to The Economist, pundits and news “prophets” have been predicting that 2022 will be the year of “adjusting to new realities.” This not only means adjustments in daily life, but broader shifts in politics and technology, economics and, of course, religion. 

This edition of ReligionLink explores seven issues that may deserve attention this year, including resources and potential sources to help you cover them:

  • Democracy, autocracy and … aliens
  • Major SCOTUS decisions
  • Endemic religion
  • Religious communities and climate change
  • The continuing rise of “spirit tech”
  • Religious economies
  • International sporting events and human rights

For more on major religion stories in 2021 and what’s to come in 2022, check out the Top Religion News Story and Newsmaker poll from the Religion News Association and an overview of 2021’s top stories from Religion News Service.

1. Democracy, autocracy and … aliens

While 2021 saw the inauguration of President Joe Biden, continuing reckoning with Christian nationalism and the transition into a post-Merkel German political future, 2022 will bring a slew of significant elections and potent political moments across the globe. Besides the U.S. midterms — and the potential that extraterrestrial conspiracies might play a part in political campaigns — there will be major elections in South Korea (March), France (April), Hungary (April), the Philippines (May), Australia (May), Colombia (May/June), Kenya (August) and Brazil (October). Religion promises to play a role in each.

Background reading

Three potential experts

  • Jennifer Glass

    Jennifer Glass is professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of numerous articles, including “Why Aren’t We Paying Attention? Religion and Politics in Everyday Life” in Sociology of Religion in 2019.

  • R. Marie Griffith

    R. Marie Griffith is director of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion & Politics at Washington University in St. Louis. She has written on women in charismatic and Pentecostal movements.

  • Brannon Ingram

    Brannon Ingram is professor of religious studies at Northwestern University and co-director of the Global Religion and Politics Research Groups. Ingram is a specialist in Islamic studies, with a particular interest in how Muslims have debated Sufism, Islamic law and politics in the modern era.

2. Major SCOTUS decisions

The news cycle on the U.S. Supreme Court’s current term started back in October as oral arguments began on several cases. The churn of news will pick back up again in 2022 as decisions are handed down. There are three religion-related cases we think reporters need to keep an eye on (we will have an in-depth guide coming later in the year to help you cover them):

Background reading

  • Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization: The scope of the constitutional right to abortion — and the fate of the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision — is at stake in this case, which involves an appeal by Mississippi to revive the state’s Republican-backed law that bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Carson v. Makin: The possibility of expanding — or restraining — religious rights is at issue in this case, which involves a challenge to a Maine tuition assistance program that bars taxpayer money from being used to pay for religious instruction in schools.
  • Shurtleff v. Boston: The dividing lines between religious and free speech rights are being probed thanks to a group’s challenge to Boston’s rejection of its request to fly a flag bearing the image of a Christian cross at city hall.

Three potential experts

  • Steven K. Green

    Steven K. Green is the Fred H. Paulus Professor of Law and affiliated professor of history at Willamette University, where he teaches courses in constitutional law, First Amendment, legal history, jurisprudence and criminal law in the College of Law, and legal history and American religious history in the College of Liberal Arts. In addition, Green directs the interdisciplinary Center for Religion, Law and Democracy.

  • Elizabeth Shakman Hurd

    Elizabeth Shakman Hurd is a professor of political science at Northwestern University, with an emphasis on international relations, religion and politics, politics of secularism, law and religion, U.S. foreign relations; politics of the Middle East, methods in the study of religion and politics, contemporary religion, and the politics of religious freedom. She is also co-organizer of the Luce Politics of Religion at Home and Abroad initiative.

  • Nomi M. Stolzenberg

    Nomi M. Stolzenberg holds the Nathan and Lilly Shapell Chair in Law at the USC Gould School of Law. Her research spans a range of interdisciplinary interests, including law and religion, cultural pluralism, law and liberalism, and law and literature. She helped establish the USC Center for Law, History and Culture.

3. Endemic religion

In 2020 and 2021 religion newswriters covered “pandemic religion.” In 2022, we could be covering what might be called “endemic religion” — how religious actors and communities adjust to the permanent changes brought on by the pandemic and the pernicious presence of COVID-19 for years to come. Questions abound. Will mass pilgrimages return and if so, what will they look like? Will vaccination passes be required for entry to holy sites? How might religious communities continue to play a role in prevention, control and treatment of the disease?

Background reading

Three potential experts

4. Religious communities and climate change

As hurricanes, heat waves and other natural disasters — and the debate around climate change surrounding them — intensify in frequency and severity, the environment promises to become an increasingly visible aspect of religion reporting in 2022.

Background reading

Three potential experts

5. The continuing rise of 'spirit tech'

While regulators in Europe, China and the U.S. try to rein in tech giants, some innovators are actively probing the ways technology can be used to augment and modify spiritual experiences (and vice versa). Meanwhile, as the space race heats back up in the private sphere and 2022 looks set to be the first year in which more people go to space as paying passengers than government employees, one wonders what religion might look like … in spaaaaace!

Background reading

Three potential experts

  • Andrew Davison

    Andrew Davison is Starbridge Associate Professor in Theology and Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge. His work spans Christian doctrine, natural science and philosophy. Recently, that has taken in life elsewhere in the universe, but also an application of medieval accounts of analogy to help think about what we mean when we attribute humanlike capacities to machine learning or artificial intelligence.

  • Catherine L. Newell

    Catherine L. Newell is assistant professor of religion and science at the University of Miami. Newell is a scholar of the conjoined histories of religion and science (specifically technology, ecology and medicine). She is particularly interested in how scientific paradigms frequently owe their genesis to a religious idea or spiritual belief.

  • Kate Stockly

    Kate Stockly researches affective neuroscience, cognitive science and evolutionary biology to construct biocultural theories of embodied religious ritual at Boston University.

6. Religious economies

Cryptocurrencies, like other disruptive tech, are changing finance as we know it. The economy continues to be in flux as COVID-19 disrupts domestic and global supply chains. Houses of worship face a “reckoning” in the post-pandemic future. Inflation and uncertainty may threaten gains made in 2021. From churches accepting cryptocurrency donations to Brazil’s growing share of the halal economy, religion promises to remain part and parcel to the ebb and flow of market dynamics and the economy to the contemporary practice of religion.

Background reading

Three potential experts

  • Brian Grim

    Brian J. Grim is president of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, which makes the case that religious freedom is good for business. Formerly at Pew Research Center, Grim is a leading expert on the socioeconomic impact of restrictions on religious freedom and international religious demography.

  • Sriya Iyer

    Sriya Iyer is a university reader in the faculty of economics and a fellow of St. Catharine’s College. Her research is in the fields of development economics, economics of religion, health and education. For the past decade, she has been contributing to developing a new field of research called the economics of religion, in which she uses economic methods to study religion.

  • Timur Kuran

    Timur Kuran is professor of economics and political science, and Gorter Family Professor of Islamic Studies at Duke University. His research focuses on economic, political and social change and the economic and political history of the Middle East, with a focus on the role of Islam.

7. International sporting events and human rights

Last but not least on our list are major sporting events on the international calendar, including the XXIV Winter Olympic Games in China (February) and the soccer World Cup in Qatar (November). Not only will there be religion angles to explore among the athletes, but from calls to boycott the Olympics because of  “genocide and crimes against humanity” committed against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang to the role of Islam in sports and entertainment, there will be plenty of questions about human rights and religious freedom for religion journalists to pick up on as part of the coverage of these events.

Background reading

Three potential experts

  • James Dorsey

    James Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, co-director of the Institute for Fan Culture at Universität Würzburg and author of the blog The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.

  • Dru C. Gladney

    Dru C. Gladney is a senior fellow in the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Asia Program and professor of anthropology at Pomona College in Claremont, California.  He is the author of Muslim Chinese: Ethnic Nationalism in the People’s Republic.

  • David B. Roberts

    David B. Roberts is an assistant professor in the School of Security Studies at King’s College London and a visiting assistant professor at Sciences Po’s Paris School of International Affairs. His primary research interests are on Gulf security and international relations.

These past editions of ReligionLink may be especially relevant this year: