The future of faith: expert ideas and trends

In 2006, President George W. Bush said that he sensed a spiritual “Great Awakening” in America. Sam Harris portrayed religion as a menace, even in its moderate forms, in his 2005 book The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason (W.W. Norton, 2005). Almost everyone has an opinion on the future of religion – whether it has one, whether it should have one, or what that future might look like. It is an issue that has fascinated analysts long before Sigmund Freud penned his famous 1927 essay The Future of an Illusion, in which he called religious ideas “illusions, fulfillments of the oldest, strongest and most urgent wishes of mankind.”

To get a better sense of the trends shaping faith in the 21st century, ReligionLink canvassed experts for their ideas on the topics and movements that reporters and editors ought to track.


Why it matters

Far from withering away, religion seems to be a more potent force than ever, exerting a powerful influence not only on the spiritual lives of Americans and citizens of other nations, but also on the political, social and cultural worlds in which we live. Even in less devout societies, experts say, the endorsement of secularism or the struggle against religion can take on quasi-religious overtones.

The 'hinge of history' swings open ... again

by Phyllis Tickle

“Western religion is in the midst of an upheaval of epic proportions, but with historic precedents.”

My work rests increasingly on a linchpin thesis. Western religion is in the midst of an upheaval of epic proportions, but with historic precedents. Far wiser folk than I am have observed that in Western [or Judeo-Christian] culture there is a kind of 500-year cycle that appertains and that both effects and is also reflected in religion as well as in simultaneous social, economic, political and cultural changes. Those of us persuaded by this observation also postulate that we are presently passing through such a period.

To sketch the thesis briefly, 500 years ago was the Great Reformation, when Roman Christianity lost hegemony or pride of place to the Protesting/Reforming/Confessing forms of Christianity we now lump together as Protestantism. Five hundred years before that was 1054 C.E. and the Great Schism, when Roman Christianity [along with the European culture from which it arose and for which it was an expression] successfully severed itself from Constantinople and/or Eastern Orthodoxy in its various forms. Five hundred years before that was essentially the fall of Rome [480 C.E.] and of Mediterranean stability, reflected in the Council of Chalcedon in 451 when the Oriental Church was drummed out, and Western Christianity turned from a religion dominated by the early Church fathers, moving instead toward monastic Christianity and the authority of the men like Benedict for shape and form. Five hundred years before that is, of course, the changing of the eras or, as is more commonly referenced in this line of discussion, the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E., with the effective demise of Temple Judaism and the diaspora of proto-Christianity as well as of early-rabbinic Judaism.

The point here is that I see the answers to questions about the future through the lens of ours being a “hinge time in history,” yet once again. My guess is that this one will be the Great Emergence and that those restless, coalescing, morphing and re-aligning gatherings of North American and European Christians, whom we label as progressives or emergents, are taking hegemony away from Protestantism and fashioning, even as we speak, the next permutation of Christianity, the next form of Christianity to take hegemony. Because of this conviction, I see the drop from institutional or organizational religion into house churches and emergent “cohorts” and vowed communities as both inevitable and wondrous. We are, in my perception, for the first time in history, witnessing a Great Transformation in a situation and under a set of circumstances which allow us to communicate with each other constantly about what is happening and what it means. Such a set of conditions, of course, also lays upon us the obligation or responsibility to effect and shape what happens, rather than merely react passively to it all.

Each time an upheaval has occurred, the religious expression or institutional form that was drummed out did not cease to be. It simply reconfigured, which is what much of Western Protestantism is hard at work to do, even as I write. Just as the receding form, as it lost dominance, changed itself to accommodate, so too did the confused and confusing, mortally restive new forms swirl and group, only to regroup again, but with a common sensibility that, like a centrifugal force, drew them ultimately into the center and into cohesion of a sort. That is precisely what is happening now; and the result, which suffers the burden of many names because of its current diffuseness, is most frequently called “emergent Christianity” or “emerging Christianity” and loosely gathers itself under the cyber-site of “emergent Village.”

The wild card here – and there are many, so I speak of the wildest card, perhaps – is that each time an upheaval has come, there has been a monumental increase in both the geographic and demographic reach of the Christian Church. This time around, however, the movement has jumped the cultural values and norms of Western culture completely. The Council of Chalcedon drop-kicked inhabited Europe to prominence; the Great Schism jumped Western heritage and values to dominance; the Great Reformation empowered both the conversion of North America and the colonial Christianizing of much of the known world. Those are facts. But the question about the current Emergence is whether or not it will jump Mediterranean/European/Western culture and integrate the post-colonial Christian groups of the two-thirds world with the post-modern, post-Enlightenment, post-denominational, post-Reformation Christian groups of the first world. That is, indeed, the largest of the dramas now playing out.

Given all of this, how do I see young folk? Most of the young folk I actually talk with at any length are on college campuses I am visiting or in gatherings outside of, or only loosely connected to, sacred space where I am speaking. Almost to a man and woman, they voice the theme songs of emergent: “I don’t want a religion that doesn’t cost me anything!” Or “Does it worry anybody besides us that our parents all go to church like robots, and yet we never mention God in the kitchen at home?” Or “I want a community I can live in that believes in loving the Earth and not using up so much of our resources and not trying to dominate the world.” Or “I want less stuff and more real things that are authentic.” Or “I want to feel God, and I sure never once did that in church. It’s the last place I’d even think to go looking, to tell you the truth.” Or “I don’t want to be famous or right or any of those things; I just want to be real.” Etc., etc. These are all direct quotes, by the way, or combinations of direct quotes; and they speak to me of a rising generation far more on fire for God than have been the three or four generations before them. Religion, I suspect, has never been in better shape in America than it is right now … though it has also never been so confused before, a delicious paradox for those of us who watch and report on it.

As for the megachurches, much can be said, and is. Most obvious is the fact that in disturbed or chaotic times, the human impulse, especially in midlife and older populations, is the impulse toward surety; and the megachurches, by and large, provide surety. They celebrate the “traditional” or the “established” or the “accustomed” ways and values that appertained prior to the upheaval, just as they usually provide the emotional satisfaction of what is called the cult of personality … that is, of knowing and being known by a famous man (almost always) who pronounces his concern for you in these difficult times. The presence of megachurches is, in other words, as predictable and inevitable as is any reaction to any action.

Beyond that, however, one needs to consider just how confused and obscuring it is to lump groups together under this particular label of megachurch and just on the basis of numbers or head-count alone, without looking instead at the individual units as individual. I have, for example, been fascinated to see how Saddleback Church has taken its famous pastor to task of late, even as he himself appears to be leading them more and more toward emerging ways of being church. Likewise, the prosperity gospel of some of the megacongregations is receiving some fairly hearty condemnation by some of both the centrist and highly conservative megas that do not agree with such an interpretation of the Gospel. Arresting to me also is the fact that Willow Creek some several weeks ago disestablished its Saturday evening folk/young adult/whatever service because it was not holding those congregants after adolescence and certainly was not merging them into the main body of the church.

And so it goes, on and on.

    From South to North: Christians in 'mission' lands return the favor

    by Edith Blumhofer

    “As world Christian realities and vigorous new evangelical voices emerge from non-Western contexts to lead constituencies in the West, their different evangelical or Pentecostal histories and lived religious experiences promise to nuance Western evangelical self-understanding and challenge Western assumptions about Christian faith and practice.”

    The Daily Telegraph (London) reported in December that on average Sunday mornings in the United Kingdom, more Pentecostals than Methodists attend church. While Methodist membership plummets in the homeland of the Wesleys, Pentecostals reclaim empty sanctuaries. But Britain’s small homegrown Pentecostal denominations are not in the throes of revival; rather, immigrants are bringing African and Asian expressions of charismatic fervor into their new homeland. While a mere 5 percent of British Methodists are immigrants, fully 40 percent of British Pentecostals hail from elsewhere. According to the Telegraph, the number of self-identified Pentecostals in Britain is well under 300,000 – but the trend is worth noting: New immigrants are planting robust varieties of world Christianity in the West. So-called classical Pentecostals have often been marginalized in the United States and Europe. Now immigrants swell Pentecostal ranks. What is happening in the United Kingdom is accelerating in the United States, too. Missionaries from one-time “mission fields” now evangelize in the West, and Pentecostal forms of Christianity once banished to the margins are pushing toward the center. While they are not all Pentecostal, new Americans bring experiences of Christianity that often differ dramatically from those familiar to Western churchgoers, Catholic or Protestant. The style of the Christianity from outside the West seems curious to people unaccustomed to exorcisms, dreams, trances, prophecies, or miraculous healing.

    We are beginning to see in Europe and North America what the explosion of Christianity in two-thirds of the rest of the world may mean for Western Christianity. In December 2006 – following a trend that had been building for several years – a few large Virginia Episcopal parishes traded submission to their American bishop for obedience to the Bishop of Nigeria. There are fewer than 3 million American Episcopalians, while the Anglican Church of Nigeria is 17 million strong. Some American conservative Episcopalians discover that they have more in common with Anglicans in the two-thirds world than with their denominational leadership at home. Philip Jenkins reminds us that Christians in the Global South find it easier than do their Northern counterparts to connect the language of the Bible directly to their everyday lives. Their sheer numbers compel Western Christians to take notice of how their brothers and sisters who live amid poverty, the AIDS pandemic or religious persecution conceptualize and practice the Christian faith.

    Recent immigrants, many of whom are Christians – Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant – have already changed the face of American Christianity. The Protestants among them are likely to subscribe to the form of faith Westerners label Pentecostal or evangelical (though participants might prefer other designators). As world Christian realities and vigorous new evangelical voices emerge from non-Western contexts to lead constituencies in the West, their different evangelical or Pentecostal histories and lived religious experiences promise to nuance Western evangelical self-understanding and challenge Western assumptions about Christian faith and practice.

    • Edith L. Blumhofer

      Edith L. Blumhofer is director of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill. She has written extensively on Pentecostalism.

    From North to South: Religious trends among African-Americans

    by Lawrence Mamiya

    “Growing numbers of African-Americans are returning to Southern states, reversing some of the effects of the Great Migrations of the 20th century.”

    Future trends in religion among African-Americans:

    1. Going Home or Homecoming – Recent census data indicate that growing numbers of African-Americans are returning to Southern states, reversing some of the effects of the Great Migrations of the 20th century. Most of those who are moving are young, well-educated, upwardly mobile African-Americans who like the growing cosmopolitanism of large Southern cities such as Atlanta, Raleigh-Durham, etc. The data also indicate that some older black retirees are moving to Southern rural areas where housing and other living costs are cheaper. Warm weather, the surge in oil prices, coupled with other relatives and the graves of their ancestors are also some additional factors. On the whole, this trend of homecoming (ca. 56% of the black population) will continue to grow in the next decade, perhaps reaching beyond 60 percent. For black churches this is a positive factor for their growth. Since the South is still the Bible Belt, church membership is still a salient factor in the social milieu. Oftentimes, the third question asked in social gatherings after name and employment is what church do you belong to? So even secularized blacks from Northern cities will face social pressures to conform. However, more black clergy will need to get divinity school education or credentials since their congregations will be more educated. At the present time, only 20 to 30 percent of black clergy have Master of Divinity degrees.

    2. The failure or decline of megachurches – While the growth and success stories of megachurches have dominated recent trends among both black and white churches, very little work has been done on reasons why megachurches fail or decline. What happens when a famous charismatic preacher of a black megachurch of 15,000 members retires (for example, the Rev. Dr. Gardner Taylor’s Concord Baptist Church in Brooklyn, which now has 3,000 members)? Financial and sexual scandal can disrupt the growth of a megachurch, as it did in the Ward AME Church in Los Angeles. Will megachurches lose their appeal over the next decade? The Barna Institute has indicated that there is a growing trend of establishing “house churches.”

    3. The secularization of the Bible Belt – While Southern states are strongly rooted in fundamentalistic Christianity, their large urban areas are attracting more diverse migrants, especially those from the Northeast, upper Midwest and the West Coast. Will the new migrants change the religious environment over the next two decades? If so, the implications for American religion and politics are enormous.

    4. Islam and African-Americans – The growth of Islam among African-Americans and in the U.S. will depend on America’s war on terrorism. Right now, that growth has been stymied by FBI harassment, travel difficulties and negative media portrayals. If the country moves beyond the present wars and negativity, then Islam will continue to grow in black communities and possibly attract larger numbers of white Americans.

    5. What will happen to the Nation of Islam when Minister Louis Farrakhan dies? After a recent 12-hour operation, which indicates that his condition was more severe than indicated earlier, speculation is growing among members about who will take over when Farrakhan leaves the scene. Can a national board of directors succeed in taking his place, as Farrakhan desires? Or will one dominant leader emerge? Similar questions can be raised about Imam Warith Deen Mohammed’s leadership of The Mosque Cares ministry. His movement is also dependent upon his charismatic leadership. Who will take his place? What will happen to the movement?

      Religious or secular? How about 'Religiosecular'?

      by Martin Marty

      “One reality, two apparent extremes bound together. This is the present and likely future on a global scale.”

      For a long time I’ve sought a patent on an inelegant coinage, “religiosecular.” Not two words. No hyphens. One reality, two apparent extremes bound together. This is the present and likely future on a global scale, though Western Europeans and northern North Americans may be the least ready or the last to recognize it.

      We used to make neat distinctions between secular and religious. Decades ago, a British sociologist of religion said that in one phrase he could show how irrelevant and obsolete that distinction is: “Texas Baptist Millionaire.” He did not want the pulpit to relate to politics, economics and social spheres, but wanted to hear of an otherworldly redemptive gospel. Yet who was more earthbound and material? He has his counterparts everywhere. Conservative religion is selectively countercultural, yet what religious element is more at home in the world of “civil religion,” commerce, markets, advertising, than its agents? Yet they are also genuinely “religious.” So are their counterparts in most of the faiths.

      Recently I shared a program with Richard Dawkins, who predicts the end of religion and the triumph of the secular, and who wants to be an agent of killing of religion so that the humble, scientifically based, humane secular order replaces it. We did not debate. My parallel talk, in front of a “Pop-Tech” audience of people adept in matters technological (“secular?”) was to say that every sign shows that technology AND religion are both blooming, blossoming and burgeoning, if not in “this” locale, then in “that.” To use a word of an African-American movement leader decades ago, the movements and causes, experiments and venture, are “religiocifying.”

      We may not LIKE the many patterns, since so much religion IS murderous, and can at least be oppressive, repressive, suppressive. Yet whoever deals with people at the times of rejoicing over births, mourning and seeking hope in the face of death, enjoying wedding rituals, facing disappointment, mobilizing volunteers, knows how strong the positive forces of religion are. Since science and faith, technology and religion, are both waxing and prospering, it makes more sense finding ways for the two sets of forces to interact creatively than to try to purge or annihilate the other. So, a “religiosecular” culture we have and are.

      • Martin Marty

        Martin Marty, retired professor of religion at the Divinity School at the University of Chicago, is the author of Education, Religion and the Common Good: Advancing a Distinctly American Conversation About Religion’s Role in Our Shared Life.

      Among young and old, a return to tradition

      by Richard Land

      “One of the things that is now being picked up on and is a story with huge implications is the enormous difference in birthrates between people who are more traditionally religious people and people who are not.”

      Dr. Land addressed future trends in religion in a phone interview. Here are edited excerpts from his comments:

      Young, old more traditional: I think that the aging baby boomer population is going to have a huge influence because it’s so big. They have been a tremendous influence at every stage of their life, and I think they will redefine retirement and old age in active ways. They’ve also become more religious as they’ve become older, and more religious in a more traditional way than we might have expected. That will be a bridge of commonality with the younger generation. Far more of the younger generation are far more traditional in their faith, although they express that in nontraditional ways. We see enormous upsurges in young persons espousing very traditional Protestantism and Catholicism, and also Judaism. I think that the country itself is becoming much more traditionally religious. The percentage of people going to worship hasn’t changed much in 30 years, but the nature of the places where they worship has. These places have become much more traditional.

      Conservatism on the rise: Perhaps the biggest story of faith in the last 30 years is the explosion of evangelicalism and the implosion of mainline Protestantism. … That’s a huge story, and that’s going to continue to be a huge story. One of the things that is now being picked up on and is a story with huge implications is the enormous difference in birthrates between people who are more traditionally religious people and people who are not. There’s a 41 percent fertility gap between couples who describe themselves as conservative and couples who describe themselves as liberal. How does that play out? In the 2004 election, George W. Bush carried 24 of the 25 states with the highest birthrate. John Kerry carried the 18 states with the lowest birthrates. … The Achilles’ heel of moral relativism is that it produces catastrophically low birthrates.

      Every state that is growing in population at higher than the national average, except California, is gaining electoral votes. The states that Bush carried gained seven electoral votes after 2000, and the states that Kerry carried lost seven. If current trends continue, after the 2010 Census, Bush’s states will gain nine electoral votes and Kerry’s will lose nine. And that’s driven by population.

      A spiritual revolution: George Barna’s book Revolution (Tyndale House, 2005) says that 45 percent of the adult population are born-again Christians. That’s approximately 77 million Americans. Barna identifies 20 million of these Americas as “revolutionaries” because they are extremely committed to living lives of radical obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ. He believes that they are going to revolutionize America. They are largely flying under the radar screen of the national media because they are mostly 20 somethings and 30 somethings and about half are not participating in local congregations of organized denominations. One of the great challenges facing religious denominations in this country is to find ways to engage and harness the energy of these young people.

      We see it in our denomination. Our seminaries have record enrollment. There are more mission volunteers. Giving is at an all-time record high. As a baby boomer, I must confess I am awed by the dedication and commitment of today’s seminary students. What surprises me most is how committed they are to values that were under such attack when I was their age, and half these kids come from broken homes. They do not want what their parents had.

      Things have really changed in a way that I consider positive. A lot of it is camouflaged because there are literally no social pressures against living a totally pagan lifestyle. I think you see this rising tide of traditional religious faith and traditional lifestyle being camouflaged by the surface level of people who behave in very nontraditional ways.

      Religion in the public square: Institutional religion will continue to have a big impact in the public square because it’s important in people’s lives. [In the past the debate was] about whether religious perspectives should be taken seriously in the public life. Now we’re having a far healthier debate about how we bring our religious perspectives to bear to frame our arguments in moral terms so they’re accessible to people who don’t share our faith. That’s a very different debate than whether religious convictions should have a place the public square. Of course you have the right to bring your religious perspective into public policy. After all, let’s not forget that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a Baptist minister. He did talk about issues in moral terms. I think [this new] debate, if it’s conducted responsibly and civilly, can make Republicans better Republicans, Democrats better Democrats, independents better independents, and all of us better Americans.

      • Richard Land

        Richard Land is president of the nondenominational Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, N.C., and previously served for 25 years as president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

      Race & ethnicity: religious diversity or religious enclaves?

      by Daisy Machado

      “Christianity in the U.S. is being reshaped, redefined by the immigrants who come to this country and bring with them their own culture, traditions and rituals of the faith.”

      I do not believe that mainline churches or the historical denominations in the U.S. have really improved much in regards to the issue of race and inclusion. Surely, the language has been updated so that most if not all denominations have a language that speaks of inclusion, taking responsibility for “sins of the past,” have tried to hire more racial and ethnic church leaders, have in some cases created national departments to deal specifically with racial and ethnic issues. However, the talk is better than the actual practice.

      I can speak specifically for my denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples), which celebrates the fact that more than 30 percent of the new church starts are Latina. Yet these new churches still do not have the adequate financial resources to provide just and equitable salaries for their pastors, and the leaders still do no active recruiting for the denomination’s seminaries in racial/ethnic churches and communities. I still think that most church leaders – national, regional and congregational – are not very informed about racial groups that are not African-American. Holding on to this understanding of race as a black/white dichotomy works to the disadvantage of congregations and communities who continue to ignore the rapid growth of the Latino and Asian communities; they know very little about the religious roots of these communities.

      The question of the impact of immigration on religion in the U.S. is the most interesting to me.

      The reality is that the geo-theological understanding of Christianity as a Western religion identified Europe and North America as the “truly” Protestant lands, and this understanding is radically being challenged. What is being more clearly understood and better articulated by missiologists and church historians is that the truly global nature of Christianity means that the historical “Protestant lands” are no longer Western nor Northern but Southern and Eastern. It is the Christianity from Africa, Latin America and Asia that is the most vibrant, vital and fastest-growing, while the church in Western Europe and North America is experiencing a deficit growth.

      What is becoming more evident is that Christianity has always been a cross-cultural movement, meaning that it has always taken shape within the customs and realities of those being converted. This also means that Christianity in the U.S. is being reshaped, redefined by the immigrants who come to this country and bring with them their own culture, traditions and rituals of the faith. There is vitality in these, but how will those churches currently at the center or in the dominant position in this country react? What will their response be to the centuries-old reality that Christianity is a religion always in motion, always evolving, and that U.S. Christianity is also undergoing change despite the resistance of those who have always prevailed – the Euro-American core?

      • Daisy Machado

        The Rev. Daisy Machado is Dean of Academic Affairs and Professor of Church History at Union Theological Seminary, New York. She has written about Latina feminist theology, the border, immigrant issues and globalization.

      A shrinking diaspora: Where to now for American Jews?

      by Jonathan D. Sarna

      “The coming decade will answer the question of whether 21st-century American Jews will be able to identify a mission compelling enough for the American Jewish community to become passionate about and rally around.”

      Prophecy is a dangerous assignment for a historian of American Judaism. A cursory examination of the history of prophecies about Jews, whether in America or elsewhere, discloses that a great many of them have proven wrong. Prophecy, Yogi Berra is supposed to have observed, “is very difficult, especially about the future.”

      With that caution in mind, let me make three observations about Judaism in the decade ahead. First, Israel is poised to overtake the United States as the largest Jewish community in the world. Today, there is a lingering dispute concerning the size of the American Jewish population, and some insist that it still slightly exceeds that of Israel. Given Israel’s rate of Jewish population increase, however, its rise to preeminence is only a matter of time. From an Israeli point of view, this will mark the ultimate triumph of Zionism: the first time since the days of the Bible that Israel will truly be the single largest population center of world Jewry. For American Jews, though, the impact of downward mobility, of moving from being the greatest Jewish community in the world – the center of world Jewry – to merely second best may well prove sobering. It will surely affect the self-image of American Jews, their fundraising, their relationship to Israel and their sense of responsibility to the Jews around the world.

      Second, Jewish secularism is making something of a comeback in the United States. Avowed Jewish secularism almost disappeared during the Cold War, when to be secular was to be suspected of communism. Now, with the Cold War behind us, a new generation of Jews is rediscovering the secularist/cultural Judaism of their grandparents. The National Yiddish Book Center, Reboot, Heeb Magazine, the American Jewish World Service, the Center for Cultural Judaism and other institutions all direct themselves, in whole or in part, to “nonreligious, cultural and secular Jews.” More and more young Jews proudly define themselves in precisely this way. As a result, the religious-secular divide, so prominent a feature of Israeli society, may in the coming years become much more pronounced in the American Jewish community, reshaping its religious contours.

      Finally, the coming decade will answer the question of whether 21st-century American Jews will be able to identify a mission compelling enough for the American Jewish community to become passionate about and rally around. The great causes that once energized and invigorated American Jewry – immigrant absorption; saving European Jewry; creating and sustaining a Jewish state; rescuing Soviet, Arab and Ethiopian Jews – all of these great missions have now been successfully completed. Today, for the first time in historical memory, no large community of persecuted Jews exists anywhere in the world. Nor will 21st-century American Jews likely gain the kind of meaning from helping Israel, keeping alive the memory of the Holocaust and fighting anti-Semitism that their 20th-century parents did, though all three themes have recently gained new traction. American Jews today are the poorer for not having found a well-defined, elevating mission to inspire them. Whether such a new and compelling mission can in fact be formulated – or even needs to be – will be determined over the coming decade.

      • Jonathan D. Sarna

        Jonathan D. Sarna is professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. He is co-author of Religion and State in the American Jewish Experience and author of American Judaism: A History, which won the Jewish Book Council’s Jewish Book of the Year Award in 2004.

      From Muslims in America to 'American Muslims'

      by Omid Safi

      “The most important trend in American Islam over the course of the next decade will be the full emergence of a nascent, confident and pluralistic vision of Islam that is also fully grounded in the American context.”

      While the attention of the world is greatly focused on political crises in the Middle East, it is easy to overlook the dramatic transformations occurring in Islam. All around the world, Muslims are engaged in reinterpreting and debating some of the fundamental practices and teachings of Islam. What might come as a surprise to many is that many of the most innovative ideas are emerging right here in the United States. There is at times a profound disconnect between the ongoing alarmist coverage of jihadist and fundamentalist Islam in American media and the fresh and innovative discussions going on inside many Muslim communities. I believe that the most important trend in American Islam over the course of the next decade will be the full emergence of a nascent, confident and pluralistic vision of Islam that is also fully grounded in the American context.

      Over the course of the last generation, there has been a great tension among various immigrant Muslim communities and African-American Muslims. These tensions have led to African-American Muslims expressing frustration that immigrant Muslims have monopolized the interpretive and public spaces in which Islam is expressed and articulated. For example, many African-American Muslims (and more recently, some second- and third-generation immigrant Muslims), have come to realize that imams (religious leaders) imported from Pakistan and Arab countries oftentimes face great difficulties in fully comprehending the cultural matrix of the United States. For example, they often juxtapose their own cultural understandings of gender norms upon the vision of Islam they bring with them to their American congregations, have little training in pastoral roles, and are often completely unprepared to handle interfaith dialogues. While these tensions between immigrant and African-American Muslims will not disappear immediately, I also believe that we are witnessing a full emergence of a confident, grounded, indigenous and ultimately authentic American Islam. By “authentic” I mean that these interpretations of Islam will both acknowledge and be true to the various cultural, aesthetic and political traditions of America, while also rigorously and imaginatively engaging the various traditions of Islam that have developed over the last 1,400 years. The full development and articulation of this American Islam will take time, and will necessitate the fuller development of institutions that are currently in a state of infancy. For example, American Muslims have not yet fully developed the religious institutions such as madrassas (Muslim seminaries) on American soil that would fully integrate the teachings of Islam in the American cultural setting. And yet, these institutions are being developed. One sees the beginnings of them in the Zaytuna Institute developed by Hamza Yusuf, and the chaplaincy program that Ingrid Mattson heads at the Hartford Seminary.

      Far too much attention has been wasted on identifying the one person who is going to be the “Muslim Martin Luther.” The American Muslim community has already come to realize that the task at hand will require many men – and many women. In genuine Islamic fashion, this is going to be a collaborative process through debate, dialogue, discussion, disagreement and eventually emerging consensus. When not fixated on terrorists and jihadists, much of the Western media has mistakenly looked to secular outspoken figures who, as always, have to pass the litmus tests of radical secularism, finger-pointing at the mainstream Muslim community, and ardent adoration of Israel. The rest of the Muslim community will instead continue to look to this new generation of Muslim leaders and intellectuals to guide them in these most exciting days of American Islam.

      What we are witnessing is the emergence of not one or two or five or 10, but rather a whole generation of indigenous American Muslim scholars who are bringing to the forefront understandings of Islam that are deeply grounded and rooted into tradition while also being fully cognizant of the necessities of modern life. These leaders include people such as Hamza Yusuf, Umar Faruq Abd Allah, Kecia Ali, Zaid Shakir, Ingrid Mattson, Sherman Jackson, Vincent Cornell, Amina Wadud, Khaled Abou El Fadl and many others. Some key elements stand out about this new generation of Muslim activists and intellectuals. It is a generation of pious and observant Muslims, male and female, deeply rooted in the tradition and connected to the Muslim community. This generation will transcend the divides of old immigrants vs. African-American, Sunni vs. Shiite, and traditionalists vs. progressive.

      As one American Muslim as stated, some Muslims around the world have today achieved the almost-impossible: that of making Islam ugly. Yet someday we will tell our grandchildren that we saw with our own eyes the wondrous days in which a whole new generation of American Muslims rose up majestically and heroically to restore loveliness to their faith.

      Religious freedom and the 'clash of civilizations'

      by Roger Finke

      “Contrary to the implications of the Clash of Civilizations thesis, attempts to regulate religion (and reduce diversity) result in higher levels of religious persecution.”

      Despite promises of religious freedom in most national constitutions, such freedoms are routinely denied around the globe. Data recently assembled by the Association of Religion Data Archives now offers cross-national comparisons on freedoms promised, freedoms denied and a host of other measures on church-state relations.

      In an article published in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion in 2006, Brian Grim and I offer summary indexes (measures) on government regulation, government favoritism and social regulation of religion for 196 countries and territories.

      The indexes alone offer interesting findings for research and public policy (e.g., China is shown to score high on the government regulation index, but falls to the middle range on social regulation). But the greatest promise of these indexes is stimulating research that increases our understanding of how religious regulation may be related to religious persecution, violence and armed conflict.

      In papers presented at the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of Religion, Economics and Culture, Grim and I find that contrary to the implications of the Clash of Civilizations thesis, attempts to regulate religion (and reduce diversity) result in higher levels of religious persecution. Whereas Huntington calls upon countries to avoid conflicts by reaffirming their commitment to a single civilization, we argue that attempts to force religious homogeneity within a country can result in conflict. Additional papers and research will follow.

      The indexes on religious regulation (or freedom) and many other cross-national measures of religion are included in the “National Profiles” section. of the ARDA. Many additional measures on religion will be added to the “National Profiles” by Jan. 31, 2007, and the data on religious persecution will be added in approximately nine months. Other ARDA features frequently used by journalists include the recently added “QuickStats” and the “Maps and Reports” feature. “QuickStats” provides one-click access to major survey findings, and “Maps and Reports” offers detailed church membership reports for all United States counties, metro areas, states and the nation as a whole.

      Moral voices in public affairs: new alliances, new disputes

      by John C. Green

      “A diverse agenda may produce new religious alliances on some topics, but it may also generate new religious disputes on others.”

      In the future, the United States is likely to experience more diverse “moral voices” in public affairs.

      One reason is the great diversity of American religion and the prospect of even greater diversity in the decades to come. The increasing number of Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus is just one example of such diversity, and another example is extensive experimentation with individual spirituality.

      But innovations and divisions within Christianity will contribute as well. These trends will change the character of American religious institutions, bringing more religious perspectives into the public square.

      The social issues – such as abortion and homosexuality – are likely to remain an important focus of America’s diverse religious communities. In fact, the activism of Christian conservatives on these matters was a product of such diversity. Some of the new religious perspectives are likely to strengthen conservative activism on these issues – for example, many immigrants have very traditional beliefs – and others may invigorate the opposition. Still other perspectives may change the nature of the debate.

      At the same time, the social issues may well expand to a wider range of “life” and “lifestyle” concerns, such as cloning and obesity. The agenda of religious communities is likely to diversify in other ways as well. Issues such as poverty, economic development, environmental protection and especially foreign policy and global affairs are likely to become more salient. Already there is a push for a more diverse agenda among evangelical Protestants, and this pattern is likely to spread to other religious communities, some not yet fully engaged in public affairs. Here the re-emergence of religious progressives is an important trend.

      Such a diverse agenda may produce new religious alliances on some topics, but it may also generate new religious disputes on others. In sum, the “moral voices” of American religion will become increasingly diverse in the public square.

      • John C. Green

        John C. Green is a senior fellow at the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, specializing in religion and American politics. He also serves as interim university president, director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics and distinguished professor of political science at the University of Akron.

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