Religion news in the year to come: 10 predictions and 30 sources for 2023

What's to come for religion news in 2023? ReligionLink offers some predictions.

Maybe the last thing we need this time of year is another round of annual predictions.

Nevertheless, every December and January, numerous pundits and forecasters offer their crystal-ball takes on financial futures, political potentials and what they think will be the calendar-defining or epoch-making events in the year to come. 

But what about religion? As is often the case, while there is no shortage of political, economic and ecological auguries, very few attempt to discern the future for religious actors, communities and those who report on or study them.

In this edition of ReligionLink, we try our hand at predicting some of next year’s big religion news themes and tease out the kinds of stories journalists, commentators and analysts might be working on, talking about or sharing with one another in 2023. 

To help you get a jump start on your own research, we also provide potential resources, experts or sources for each topic. Throughout the year, we will also be back with in-depth source guides and reporting guides on many of the topics below. 

1. Religion and the global economy

Not to start the predictions off with bad news, but analysts’ projections are increasingly negative for the world’s financial futures. With inflation, supply-chain issues and COVID-related slowdowns still dragging down global economies, strategists are forecasting that stocks will be flat and the bear market will continue growling before any kind of stabilization arrives. 

And, a long-awaited and projected recession seems to be on its way, if a little later than expected. Bill Conerly, a Forbes contributor, wrote that “recession is very likely in America’s future, but it will take its time arriving.” Current projections suggest the recession may finally hit in 2023’s third quarter, or even in early 2024. 

What will this mean for religious communities still reeling from the pandemic and its associated closures? How might religious organizations adapt to lower donor intake? How might they respond to the needs of their communities’ poorest members? Will the so-called faith economy, which contributes around $1.2 trillion of socioeconomic value to the U.S. economy each year, take a significant hit? 

Related ReligionLink resources:

Sources to turn to:

  • Carmel Chiswick

    Carmel Chiswick is professor of economics at George Washington University. Her research focuses on economic development and growth, economic history and economics of religion.

  • 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.

  • Mike Sharrow

    Mike Sharrow serves as president and CEO for the C12 Group — the nation’s largest network of Christian CEOs, business owners and executives. Prior to his role with the C12 Group, Sharrow worked in a variety of industry settings, including Walgreens Health Initiatives, TQ Strategies, Health by Design and Grace Point Church.

2. The ongoing war in Ukraine

The war in Ukraine, with origins stretching back to 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea and pro-Russian separatists in the Donbas region of Ukraine declared independence, has resulted in thousands of deaths and displacements. As was frequently reported in 2022, there are important religion angles at work in the ongoing conflict involving Western-backed Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists and Russian military forces. 

Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow defended the action as part of a metaphysical battle against Western liberalism. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church declared independence from the Russian Orthodox Church but faces growing government scrutiny over clerics’ alleged ties to Moscow. And numerous faith-based aid groups from across the globe responded to Europe’s biggest refugee flight since World War II.

As the war drags on, the question of whether peace is possible in 2023 remains unknown. Whether conflict continues or the respective parties try to end the bloodshed and destruction, religion will remain a factor. On the one hand, religion can provide a set of values and principles that can guide peaceful resolution of conflicts and promote understanding and cooperation among different groups. On the other hand, religion can also be used to justify violence and intolerance, and can be a source of conflict and division. It is important for journalists to recognize and address the complex ways in which religion will continue to shape the conflict. 

Related ReligionLink resources:

Sources to turn to:

  • John P. Burgess

    John Burgess is a professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary who has spent years covering the revival of Orthodoxy in Russia.

  • Caroline Dunbar

    Caroline Dunbar of the Yale MacMillan Center’s European Studies Council researches church-and-state relations in 20th-century and post-Soviet Ukraine and Russia; Soviet anti-religious policy; and the historical role of Eastern Orthodoxy in the development of Ukrainian cultural identities.

  • Wasyl Hrynkiw

    Wasyl Hrynkiw is pastor at St. Vladimir Ukrainian Catholic Church in Hempstead, New York.

3. Religious nationalisms shape global politics

Religious nationalism, often linked with Christian nationalism in the U.S., received significant coverage in the U.S. media in recent years. The ideology, which holds that the U.S. is a Christian nation and that its laws and policies should reflect Christian values, helped elect Donald Trump, informed his policies and appointments and influenced the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, fueled in part by Christian nationalist rhetoric. 

Beyond the U.S., religious nationalism involves the promotion of any specific religion as the dominant religion within a nation at the expense of other religions, which can lead to discrimination and persecution of minority religious groups.

One example is Hindu nationalism in India, where the Bharatiya Janata Party has been in power for several years and has implemented policies that favor Hindus and discriminate against minority religious groups, such as Muslims. This has led to increased tensions and violence between Hindus and Muslims in India. In countries such as Saudi Arabia or Iran, the state is closely tied to a specific interpretation of Islam, and non-Muslim religious practices are heavily restricted. In Asia, Buddhist nationalism has been on the rise in countries such as Sri Lanka and Myanmar, leading to discrimination against Muslims, Hindus and other minority groups. And in Russia, the Russian Orthodox Church has a strong presence and is closely tied to the state, playing a significant role in Russian nationalism and Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine. 

In 2023, be on the lookout for multiple source guides from ReligionLink covering religious nationalisms of varying kinds. 

Related ReligionLink resources:

Sources to turn to:

4. Following in God's carbon footprints

When Japan reopened for tourists and other visa-free travelers in October 2022, it seemed to signal that COVID-related travel restrictions would become a thing of the past. Yet, a New York Times article explored how, with tourism slowly returning, Japanese cities such as Kyoto — as well as its famed and often congested Kiyomizu Temple — are “grappling with how to accommodate the crowds without sacrificing quality of life.”

Although travel restrictions may not immediately disappear in 2023, as vaccination rates increase it is likely that travel restrictions will continue to ease. This will have a significant impact on religious communities around the world, as many religious practices and rituals involve travel and pilgrimage. For example, Muslims make the pilgrimage to Mecca for the annual hajj, and Christians often travel to holy sites such as Jerusalem and Rome. The easing of travel restrictions will allow these religious communities to once again participate in these important practices, which are often central to their faith and identity.

In addition to the impact on individual religious practices, the easing of travel restrictions will have consequences for the economies of countries that rely on religious tourism — and on the environment. Many religious sites and destinations, such as the Vatican, Varanasi and the Western Wall in Jerusalem, are major tourist attractions that generate significant revenue for the local economies. The easing of travel restrictions will likely lead to an increase in tourists visiting these locations, providing a much-needed boost to these economies along with questions about how to accommodate for visitors in a post-COVID world and what kind of environmental impact pilgrimage has in a world more conscious of its carbon footprint.  

Related ReligionLink resources:

Sources to turn to:

  • Saffet Abid Catovic

    Saffet Abid Catovic is a Muslim environmental leader. He co-founded Green Muslims of New Jersey and helped launch the Islamic Society of North America’s Green Masjid Task Force. In 2018, he shared his efforts to offset the carbon footprint of his pilgrimage to Mecca with Sojourners. Imam Catovic serves as Washington office director for the Islamic Society of North America. He earned a master’s in religion and society from Drew University, specializing in religion and the environment.

  • Carole M. Cusack

    Carole M. Cusack is professor of religious studies at the University of Sydney, Australia. Trained as a medievalist, Cusack has taught about contemporary religious trends, publishing on pilgrimage and tourism, modern pagan religions, new religious movements, the interface between religion and politics, and religion and popular culture since the 1990s.

  • Brett Webb-Mitchell

    Brett Webb-Mitchell, a Presbyterian minister, is founder and director of the School of the Pilgrim in Carrboro, North Carolina, which encourages people to experience pilgrimages and other Christian practices. A former president of the religion division of the American Association on Mental Retardation, Webb-Mitchell is the author of God Plays Piano Too: The Spiritual Lives of Disabled Children and the 2006 book Follow Me: Christian Growth on the Pilgrim’s Way.

5. Gaia, Greta and "green religion"

As governments and businesses waffle on their commitments and “green-washing” accusations grow, religious communities around the world are trying to find practical ways to address the issue of climate change and mitigate its effects.

Christians are responding to the call to care for creation and are working to reduce their carbon footprint through initiatives such as energy conservation, renewables and sustainable agriculture. Pope Francis has spoken out about the need to address climate change and has called for greater efforts to protect the environment.

Muslims and Jews, too, are increasingly recognizing the need to address climate change and are finding ways to reduce their environmental impact, like cutting meat consumption. In addition, some Muslim scholars argue that Islamic principles, including the belief in the oneness of God and the interdependence of all living things, support the need to protect the environment.

Pagans, including those who follow traditions such as Wicca and Druidry, also place a strong emphasis on nature and the environment and see their spiritual practices as being closely tied to the natural world.

With California set to be the first state to ban the sale of fur clothing and solar installations in the U.S. to likely exceed 2 million in 2023, religion will continue to play a role in the fight against climate change, with people of many different faith traditions recognizing the need to take action to protect the planet.

Related ReligionLink resources:

Sources to turn to:

  • Daniel Swartz

    Daniel Swartz is executive director of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life. He also is a rabbi and the author of To Till and to Tend: A Guide for Jewish Environmental Study and Action.

  • Sarah McFarland Taylor

    Sarah McFarland Taylor is an associate professor of religion at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. She is the author of Green Sisters: A Spiritual Ecology, about the growing number and strength of environmentally activist Roman Catholic nuns. She is at work on Green Convergence: Religion, Environment and Popular Culture and has also written about creation spirituality; the Gaian, or Earth-based, Mass; the idea of the eco-church; and the general “greening” of religion in America. She teaches several courses on religion and ecology.

  • Oscar Zapata

    Oscar Zapata is assistant professor in the School of Environment and Sustainability at the University of Saskatchewan, Canada. His research examines energy security, community well-being and the promotion of renewable energy projects in remote, isolated and First Nations communities. He has written on how injuries and loss of life boost religious faith among survivors after disasters.

6. Religion goes to the movies (again and again)

On Jan. 24, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will announce the nominations for the 2023 Oscars. Among contenders are movies with religion angles and actors with faith backgrounds, including “Avatar: The Way of Water,” the Elvis biopic and “The Whale.”

Beyond awards season, 2023 has a slew of new releases sure to catch a religion journalist’s attention. First up is the hallmark Miami Jewish Film Festival in January and then the premiere of “Jesus Revolution,” starring Kelsey Grammer, on Feb. 24. “Jesus Revolution” is based on the story of pastors Chuck Smith, Lonnie Frisbee and Greg Laurie, who opened the doors of Smith’s church to the “hippie generation” in the 1970s, helping launch the “Jesus movement” and its two most famous evangelical institutions: Calvary Chapel and the Vineyard Movement. 

This is just one of the many films with faith angles coming in 2023, with the Roma Downey-produced “On a Wing and a Prayer” (starring Dennis Quaid); “Are you there God? It’s Me, Margaret,” based on Judy Blume’s book about an adolescent exploring everything from bras and boys to having a very personal, if disorganized, relationship with God; and “The Pope’s Exorcist,” about the Rev. Gabriele Amorth (played by Russell Crowe), who performed tens of thousands of exorcisms on behalf of the Diocese of Rome, all set for April releases. Beyond April, we have another “Exorcist” reboot in October, “Dune Part Two” in November and even some religious references and locations in “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One,” the seventh film in the Tom Cruise-starring spy-thriller movie series, premiering in July.

Related ReligionLink resources:

Sources to turn to:

  • Heather Choate Davis

    Heather Choate Davis is a writer, musician and theologian based in the Los Angeles area. She is co-creator of Concordia Seminary’s annual Faith and Film Festival, a gathering to screen and ponder Christian themes in contemporary cinema.

  • Heather Greene

    Heather Greene is a writer and editor who covers religion, art and the occult. She is the author of Lights, Camera, Witchcraft: A Critical History of Witches in American Film and Television. Contact her through her website.

  • Alissa Wilkinson

    Alissa Wilkinson is a writer, professor and film critic. She covers film and culture for Vox and teaches at The King’s College in New York City. Contact her through her website

7. God is watching. So are "they."

One of the lingering questions from the COVID-19 pandemic is whether a more permanent surveillance structure would replace pandemic related measures. With more everyday items getting connected to the internet, governments replacing traditional census apparati with big-data technologies and ongoing privacy debates linked to social media giants and nation-states such as China, some are wondering if privacy might be a thing of the past. At the same time, analysts at global management consulting firm Gartner estimate that by 2023, 65% of the world’s population will have some form of modern privacy regulations to manage the handling of their private information — some seeking parity with Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation.

All of this raises the question of what religious actors have to say about data privacy and whether the “digitization-revolution” that altered the way we do religion has come with a commitment to protect adherents’ personal data. Churches and other religious institutions are not known for considering data privacy even as they adopt apps, launch software initiatives or offer other digital interfaces for their members. Perhaps 2023 is the year when religious institutions and leaders start to take data privacy more seriously. 

Related ReligionLink resources:

Sources to turn to:

  • Institute for Theological Encounter with Science and Technology

    The Institute for Theological Encounter with Science and Technology in St. Louis is an interfaith organization of Christians working to foster a “community of scientists and technologists who are dedicated both to the advancement of scientific understanding AND to the growth of Christianity.” Sister Marianne Postiglione is director of communications.

  • Diana Walsh Pasulka

    Diana Walsh Pasulka is a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Her areas of specialization include Catholic studies, religion and new media, digital culture and gender.

  • Oliver Steffen

    Oliver Steffen, who is based at the University of Bern in Switzerland, studies religion and the media, with an emphasis on the spiritual aspects of digital games.

8. Our aging planet

COVID-19 also shone a light on how the world’s populations are aging. Declining fertility rates, increased longevity and decreasing mortality averages mean the number of older people is growing disproportionately, relative to the number of younger people. While religions have often been linked with life, death and questions of ultimate concern, the fact that people are dying later means religious communities are addressing questions of more immediate concern, such as the potential strain this aging can place on health care systems and social welfare programs. 

Some religious communities are providing support and care for older members through programs such as home visits, transportation assistance and meal delivery. Others are advocating for policies that address elders’ needs, such as improved access to health care and social services. Still others are rethinking their approach to how to care for an aging population’s spiritual needs, including specialized worship services, programs and retreats for older members, as well as support for those grieving or facing end-of-life issues. In 2023 and beyond, religious communities will continue to play a vital role in addressing the challenges and opportunities presented by an aging population. 

Related ReligionLink resources:

Sources to turn to:

  • F. Michael Gloth

    F. Michael Gloth is clerkship coordinator at Florida State University’s College of Medicine. Gloth has written extensively about pain management in the elderly.

  • Jewish Sacred Aging

    Jewish Sacred Aging is an online forum offering resources to those dealing with aging-related issues. Rabbi Richard Address is founder and director.

  • Kenneth Pargament

    Kenneth Pargament is a professor emeritus of psychology at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. His research addressed religious beliefs in various traditions and health. He also researched how the elderly who struggle with their religious beliefs and hold negative perceptions about their relationships with God and life meaning have an increased risk of death, even after controlling for physical and mental health and demographic characteristics. Among other research, he has studied religious coping and the mental health of Hindus in the U.S., spirituality and coping with trauma, spirituality in children with cystic fibrosis, and religion as a source of stress, coping and identity among Jewish adolescents. He can also speak about the relationship between atheism and mental health.

9. A new pope?

When Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (1927-2022) died in a Vatican monastery on December 31, 2022, his death provoked numerous questions about how to handle a retired pope’s passing, what future protocols might be put in place for future papal retirees, and whether, perhaps, Pope Francis might “feel more free to consider his own retirement, now that the main impediment to resignation — having two emeritus popes at the same time — has been removed?”

In 2022, Francis increasingly used a wheelchair due to a painful knee injury, canceling a planned trip to Africa. The question is not so much whether Francis, who is in his 80s, might see continued decline of his health, but rather at what pace that might happen. Francis has been serving as pope since 2013. It is not uncommon for popes to serve for many years, and he has indicated that he does not plan to retire.

However, it is also not unheard of for popes to resign due to age or health reasons, and Pope Francis could do so in the coming years. If he were to resign or die, the College of Cardinals would meet to elect a new pope. Who might succeed him as leader of the Roman Catholic Church? Will the next pope come from Africa, Asia or again from Europe or the Americas? Will the church move further left or make a conservative U-turn?

It is impossible to predict with certainty whether there will be a new pope in 2023, but at the very least it will be another momentous year for the Vatican and the worldwide Roman Catholic Church. Not only will the tussle with German bishops persist, but a synodical gathering beginning in October 2023 signals Francis’ long-term hopes for renewal, which are likely to outlast his pontifical reign.

Related ReligionLink resources:

Sources to turn to:

  • Juan Carlos Cruz

    Juan Carlos Cruz is an advocate for survivors of clergy sexual abuse. By sharing his own experience of abuse, he spurred the Vatican to take action in Chile and later received an apology from Pope Francis. Cruz now lives in Philadelphia and works in communications.

  • Colleen Dulle

    Colleen Dulle is associate editor at America Media. Dulle writes and edits Vatican news and analysis pieces, along with hosting and producing the weekly news podcast “Inside the Vatican.” She creates Vatican explainer videos for America Media’s YouTube channel and contributes to Sacred Heart University’s “Go, Rebuild My House” blog.

  • Andrea Tornielli

    Andrea Tornielli is Editorial Director for the Vatican Dicastery for Communication. He is a former Italian journalist and author of numerous books on religion, with a special focus on Catholicism.

10. The promise, peril and potential of religious freedom

As the theme of religious nationalism makes clear, discussions around religious freedom can be complex, nuanced and controversial, with debates over the balance between individual rights and the rights of groups or communities, as well as the role of government in protecting or regulating religious expression.

With the Parliament of the World’s Religions returning to the birthplace of the modern interfaith movement 130 years after its first event there and efforts like Eboo Patel’s Interfaith America continuing to take hold in 2023, interreligious dialogue advocates will continue to promote religious freedom. In addition to Supreme Court cases with consequences for religious freedom, the question will be whether engaging in respectful and open dialogue, individuals and communities can learn from one another and work together to support and protect religious freedom for all — or only for those who enjoy a privileged status.

Related ReligionLink resources:

Sources to turn to:

  • FoRB Women’s Alliance

    FoRB Women’s Alliance is an international community of religious freedom and human rights advocates seeking to advance, facilitate and support solutions for freedom of religion or belief for women.

  • Eboo Patel

    Eboo Patel is the founder and president of Interfaith America, a Chicago-based international nonprofit that focuses on encouraging interfaith dialogue. Request an interview through Teri Simon at Interfaith America.

  • Knox Thames

    Knox Thames is a visiting expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace with the Middle East and Religion and Inclusive Societies teams. Thames joined USIP after 20 years of government service, including at the State Department and two different U.S. government foreign policy commissions. Thames served across two administrations as the special adviser for religious minorities in the Near East and South and Central Asia at the U.S. Department of State.