No Longer Invisible

Congratulations to my colleagues Jake and Rhonda Jacobsen whose new book No Longer Invisible: Religion in University Education will be published next month with Oxford University Press.

The website of the United Methodist Church has a nice writeup on the book and their work, which included visits to 50 public and private schools of higher education. 

Here is a taste:

Religion is back on campus, but in forms that might surprise those thinking only in terms of the traditional roles of organized churches in higher education.

The science-oriented Massachusetts Institute of Technology has hired its first paid chaplain, overseeing 22 volunteer chaplains, whose goal is to make sure students of all faiths are comfortable with each other.

At the University of Southern California, a young Hindu lawyer is dean of the Office of Religious Life; his predecessor was a female rabbi.

Even the Mormon church’s Brigham Young University has a prayer room for the small number of Muslim students who have enrolled there, taking comfort in the school’s conservative values.

These are among the findings from two professors at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa., who spent four years visiting 50 public and private schools of higher education, ranging from small community colleges to large research universities.

Sunday Morning, Kenneth Woodward, and the New York Times

Kenneth Woodward

Over at dotCommonweal, Peter Steinfels has posted a “notice” he received recently from Kenneth Woodward, the former religion writer at Newsweek.

Woodward writes:

For the past couple of years, or for long as it has existed, I’ve been reading—religiously, you might say—a short weekly column in the Sunday New York Time’s Metro section called “Sunday Routine.” It features a tightly edited interview with a locally prominent New Yorker about how he or she spends Sunday. I read it because it is a revealing peephole into the newsroom culture of the Times.

Last week’s interview was with Dennis Walcott, chancellor of New York City’s Department of Education who lives in Queens. What makes the piece striking is that Walcott is the first person featured in this column who, in my monitoring of it, has ever acknowledged going to church. Among the three accompanying photos there is even one of a robed Walcott singing in his church choir, as if in proof of his odd Sunday habit.

To be sure I may have missed one or two other New York notables whose Sunday routine includes church. And of course a lot of the chosen are Jews who may have worshipped on the Sabbath. But the column recalls to mind an ad campaign some years back The Times ran to promote its Sunday edition. It showed a handsome couple, perhaps married, coffee in hand, lounging in bed reading different sections of the Sunday paper.

Which raises the question: are prominent New Yorkers not likely to be the kind of folks who worship God on Sunday? Or does the choice of whom to feature in “Sunday Routine” say something about the culture of the people and paper doing the selecting?  Is it the mirror or the lamp?

Check Walcott out here. It could be years before church appears as a part of another New Yorker’s “Sunday Routine.”

Steinfels, a former Times religion writer, says that he has “a different view on the matter,” but he does not say what it is.

So what do you think?  Is Woodward correct?  If he is, what does this mean, if anything?

Michael Sean Winters Slams Ross Douthat’s New Book

I have yet to read a positive review of Ross Douthat’s new book, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics.  Now Michael Sean Winters joins the chorus.  You can read his entire review here, but here is the conclusion:

My problem with Douthat’s book is not that his opinions differ from my own. My problem is that he does not seem to have any idea what he is talking about. In the West, there has been no universally accepted authoritative voice on orthodoxy since the Reformation. “What am I to do when many persons allege different interpretations, each one of whom swears to have the Spirit?” asked Erasmus in 1524. But Douthat does not see the larger picture that he aims to explain, and his treatment of his subject is so pitifully mistaken in things large and small that what we are left with is a meandering, self-serving screed. The book has the same reliance on private judgment that anyone who was really concerned with heresy would recognize as part of the problem, not part of the solution.

The Top 10 "Prayerful Athletes" in Recent History

The Huffington Post is at it again.  Here is the list:

1. Tim Tebow
2. Kareem Abdul Jabbar
3. Muhammad Ali
4. Tiger Woods
5. Michael Chang
6. Sandy Koufax
7. Hakeem Olajuwon
8. Serena and Venus Williams
9. Reggie White
10. Dmitriy Salita

A generally good list, but what about Roger Staubach., Kurt Warner, A.C. Green, Chris Jackson (Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf), Hank Greenberg (The “Hebrew Hammer”), Drew Brees, Mark Spitz, George Foreman, Pete Maravich, David Robinson, Orel Herschiser, and Mike Singletary?

Who I am forgetting?

This Week’s Patheos Column: Religion is MIA at the National Museum of American History

On Saturday, I spent the day in Washington D.C. at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. It is a fine museum, one that should be on the itinerary of anyone making a pilgrimage to our nation’s capital. During my visit I stood in awe of the American flag—worn and tattered—that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the Star Spangled Banner in 1814. A moving and relatively new exhibit focused on the visual culture of the Civil Rights Movement. I exercised my historical imagination by staring into the hull of the revolutionary-era Gunboat Philadelphia, the oldest surviving American fighting vessel. I got a bit nostalgic looking at a collection of vintage lunch boxes and children’s toys.

The National Museum of American History does an excellent job of capturing the nation’s past in an informative and entertaining manner, but during this trip to the museum I could not help but think that something was missing. It hit me as I browsed the book section of the museum store. The aisles were filled with books about science and technology, the Civil War, the presidents of the United States, and the American Revolution, but I could not find a single book dealing with the American religious experience. Maybe I didn’t look hard enough, or maybe I was just feeling a bit oversensitive because the store was not selling my Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction—but it was clear to me that American religion was unimportant at the National Museum of American History.

Read the rest here.

Praying at Ground Zero

I don’t know about you, but I have 9-11 commemoration fatigue.  There is a part of me that is glad that the ceremonies are over–at least for the moment.

Yet, glutton for punishment that I am, I continue to read some good stuff on the tenth anniversary of this tragedy and get the urge to blog about it.

For example, Mark Silk, writing at his fine blog Spiritual Politics, discusses Michael Bloomberg’s decision to keep clergy out of yesterday’s Ground Zero commemoration. He then calls our attention to a way in which the commemoration of the dead might serve both religious and civic ends.  Here is a taste:

Let’s hark back…to the way New Englanders used to remember the fallen on Memorial Day.

In “An American Sacred Ceremony,” anthropologist W. Lloyd Warner‘s classic account published six decades ago, Memorial Day in “Yankeetown”–Newburyport, Mass.–began with members of the different religious bodies attending services in their own houses of worship; then forming a parade and marching together to the town’s main cemetery, where separate ceremonies were performed; then reforming the parade with a final collective salute, and heading back to town. As Warner summed it up:

Here we see people who are Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and Greek Orthodox involved in a common ritual in a graveyard with their common dead. Their sense of separateness was present and expressed in the different ceremonies, but the parade and the unity gained by doing everything at one time emphasized the oneness of the total group. Each ritual also stressed the fact that the war was an experience where everyone sacrificed and some died, and not as members of a separate group, but as citizens of a whole community.

In today’s America, it is no longer possible to make the civil religious umbrella work with a rabbi, a Catholic priest, and a Protestant minister; or an Abrahamic triplet of rabbi-priest-imam; or anything short of a herd of be-robed clerics. And even then there will be exclusions–of those of no faith, of course, but also Mormons and Missouri Synod Lutherans, and others who for their own theological reasons will not pray with those who do not share their beliefs.

Educated People Tend To Be More Religious….Sort Of

According a recent study by University of Nebraska sociologist Philip Schwadel, educated people tend to be more religious than non-educated people.

So much for the theory that people give up religious faith when they become more educated.

But wait….

According to Schwadel, if you define “religious” in terms of simply attending church services, then highly educated people are indeed more religious than others.

But if you define “religious” as “saying the Bible is the literal word of God and saying that only one religion is the true religion,” then highly educated people are less religious than others.

Read more here.

Anyone want to bite on this one?

The Religion of Oprah

I don’t think we have devoted a post here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home to Kathryn Lofton’s Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon.  The book has been getting a lot of attention of late, including this profile in The New York Review of Ideas.

Here is a taste:

Most importantly is the message of Oprah: the “gospel of you,” writes Lofton. The gospel of you goes like this: Winfrey says she is no different from her fans. From dirt poor, to rich and famous, anyone can do the same. When you’ve discovered this (by listening to Oprah) and become a successful person––inherent within us all––it’s time to spread the message to those who haven’t heard it yet. And, here’s how to get started: treat yourself to great shoes that will inspire you to walk to that job interview. Take out a loan, whatever it takes. Get the job. Become an executive who believes in herself; someone who has agency. Then, tell someone else to do the same, because it feels so good. Does the Bible inspire you to do that? Great. Just don’t let it hold you back. If the word God doesn’t sit right, use Spirit, or Universe. This is Oprah Winfrey’s mission––to help her fans live their “best lives” and to discover their “inner fabulous.” What she preaches is a quest for the best you, as Lofton reiterates in a podcast interview with University of California Press (February 16th, 2011), “The good news is you! You’re amazing.”

It’s this spiritual mantra, consumed by millions, that Lofton writes is an indication of how religion shows up now. The religious present is not extremism, and it’s not post-religious, she argues. Religion is everywhere, even in the Oprah show, and it’s tied to consumerism. Oprah’s advice always comes with a little nudge to buy more stuff: “I believe in meditating in the tub with some very nice bath products,” Winfrey said in 2001 on the “Live Your Best Life Tour.”

Read the whole piece here.  It is a nice profile of both the book and the scholar who wrote it.

American Grace

The Hedgehog Review is running an interview with Robert Putnam and David E. Campbell, authors of American Grace: How Religion Divides and United Us. (I picked up a copy at a Borders Books going-out-of-business sale, but have not read it yet).

Here a few things I culled from the inteview:

  • Americans “overwhelmingly believe that people of other religions can go to heaven.” Even evangelical Protestants believe this.
  • Most American believe that truth can be found in all religions.
  • People make choices to attend church or not to attend church based on their political convictions.
  • People who are religious are more engaged in their communities.
  • More religious diversity is on the horizon.
  • One-third of all Americans are “worshipping in a faith tradition other than the one that they were raised in.”
  • There has been a “sharp increase” in interfaith marriages.
  • Denominational borders have broken down.
  • There are a growing number of “nones”–young people who have no religious affiliation, but want a spiritual life.

Religion and the Wisconsin Labor Protests

Over at Religion in American History, Heath Carter has a very thoughtful piece about the relationship between religion and labor in the context of the recent situation in Wisconsin.  Here is a taste:

To have a fuller sense of the relationship between religion and labor in present-day Wisconsin one would need to pay close attention to the rhetoric that everyday people are using on both sides of the debate – who is marshaling religious language and arguments to support their view, and to what effect? (It would be interesting, for example, to study the language on signs that demonstrators on both sides are carrying). In addition, one would need to know more about what happens this weekend, in synagogues and churches around the state: will rabbis, priests, and ministers broach the labor dispute, and if so, what notes will they strike? Most interesting to me – and most difficult to recover – are the conversations that will happen over meals following those religious services: in the restaurants and kitchens where ordinary people will debate the meaning of religion for economic life. It is in those places and amongst those people that lasting change begins. 

Richard Mouw on Civility

Over at American Public Media’s “Krista Tippett on Being,” the focus is on civility and the featured guest is Fuller Seminary president Richard Mouw.  Here is a taste:

As a person who has written and spoken a lot about civility, I regularly face situations in which I know I have to put up or shut up on the subject. Two closely related encounters stand out for the lessons I learned.

The first happened when I drove into a mini-mall one day to pick up some groceries. It was a crowded parking lot, and when I spotted an open space I pulled right into it. Then I heard some angry horn-blowing from a car facing from the opposite direction. The driver had obviously been waiting for the spot, and I had simply pulled in without noticing. She kept at the honking for several seconds, then gave me the middle finger and searched for another spot.

I decided to go looking for her. When I walked up, she was just getting out of her car.

“I’m very sorry,” I said, “That was very thoughtless of me. I should have been paying closer attention to other drivers.”

She sobbed. “If you knew the kind of day I have had … But … Oh, never mind!” And she walked away. After many steps she turned around. There were tears in her eyes. “Thank you,” she said softly, and then she walked away.

The second encounter occurred a few weeks later when, returning a rental car, I got into an argument with the attendant. He wanted to charge me an extra hour, and I was convinced he was misreading the contract. Our heated exchange was interrupted by a supervisor, a middle-aged African American woman. She asked what was wrong, and I explained the situation to her in irritated tones. She looked at the contract, and said to her associate, “He’s right.”

Then she turned to me, and said, “Honey, you need a hug!”

After a brief embrace, I said, “Thank you,” in the soft tone that I remembered from the woman in the mini-mall lot. Then I quietly apologized to the attendant for the tone I had used with him.

That little encounter reminded me that civility takes work. It takes spiritual work. Sometimes the Lord makes that point for us by sending someone to give us a hug!

McClay on American Grace

Check out Wilfred McClay’s review of Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell’s American Grace: How Religion Divides and United Us.  McClay writes:

Perhaps the best and most interesting chapter in this respect is “Religion and Good Neighborliness,” which convincingly argues that, contrary to the stock depiction in popular culture, religious Americans make better neighbors by almost every index. They are more generous, with both their time and money; more civically active, in community organizations and political reform; more trusting; more trustworthy; and even measurably happier. The only exception to this list of positive traits: religious people tend to be less tolerant of views that clash with their own. These results hold even when the authors control for such factors as gender, education, income, race, region and age.

To what do the authors attribute this extraordinary edge among the religious? “Theology and piety,” they say, have “very little” to do with it. Instead, the explanation has to do with the social networks that grow out of religious commitment, networks offering “morally freighted personal connections” combined with an “inclination toward altruism.” If this seems a rather predictable conclusion for social scientists to reach, it is not without its uses, if only as a stimulant to reconsidering settled ideas.

To what do the authors attribute this extraordinary edge among the religious? “Theology and piety,” they say, have “very little” to do with it. Instead, the explanation has to do with the social networks that grow out of religious commitment, networks offering “morally freighted personal connections” combined with an “inclination toward altruism.” If this seems a rather predictable conclusion for social scientists to reach, it is not without its uses, if only as a stimulant to reconsidering settled ideas.

But it is indicative of a bias in the book, in favor of easygoing, temperate, smoothly functioning, non- threatening, non-boat-rocking religion, whose health is judged only by external and measurable factors. American religion is found praiseworthy by the authors chiefly for its too often underrated moderation, its appreciation of diversity and its good “social” effects. Much of “American Grace” attempts to provide support for that view. The religious category that the authors label, with ill – concealed disparagement, as “true believers” is small and diminishing—and a darn good thing, it would seem.

In this way, Messrs. Putnam and Campbell, while cutting against the conventional wisdom about religion’s divisiveness, devalue the very thing they are trying to defend. They reprise the view lambasted by Will Herberg, more than a half-century ago, in his searing critique of American religious flaccidity, “Protestant Catholic Jew.” Surely there is something ironic about preferring a form of religion that asks us to admire and study the great prophets and preachers while warning us against imitating them and their true-believing faith.

This is interesting in light of recent discussions on this blog about neo-Anabaptists.  While McClay is certainly no neo-Anabaptist, his essay shows that conservative and Reformed thinkers can still embrace a prophetic religion that critiques the flaccidity of the kind of civil religion that Putnam and Campbell apparently celebrate in their book.

Martin Marty Brings Some Historical Context to the Pew Religion Survey

At Sightings, the publication of the The Martin Marty Center for the Advanced Study of Religion at the University of Chicago Divinity School, Martin Marty comments on the Pew “U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey.”  As a good historian, Marty notes that these kinds of results should not surprise us.  They reflect patterns of religious ignorance that have been around for a long time.

Here is a snippet of Marty’s article:

Should we be shocked! shocked! at this new Pew set of findings? Hardly. In 1955 Will Herberg’s Protestant-Catholic-Jew, the most quoted account of religion in our most religiously-touted modern decade, produced data that anticipates and parallels the new findings.

I recently had occasion to revisit a book from that era by (my then Ph.D. co-advisor) Daniel J. Boorstin, later Librarian of Congress. His The Genius of American Politics came out when we were trying to make sense of the religious scene in the Eisenhower years, Herberg’s prime. At chapter length he noticed that “Perhaps never before in history has a people talked so much and said so little about its basic beliefs.” He gave many illustrations of practices in the then-as-now Overclothed Public Square. The U.S. Supreme Court rulings against school prayer and devotional Bible reading had not yet come down, but, never mind, when religious propagation and worship was still allowed and sometimes practiced in public schools and other such institutions, “we” were illiterate. There was no golden age, no time of “good old days.”

The Founding Fathers and Religious Ignorance

Thomas Kidd, author of the new book God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution, reflects on what the founding fathers might have thought about the recent Pew study revealing the religious ignorance of the American people.

Kidd writes:

The founding fathers saw the American people’s faith and knowledge as integral to the well-being of the republic.  Religion, they believed, teaches people about their moral obligations before God and the fundamental equality of all people, while good education trains us in the enlightening wisdom of the ages.  If the recently-released Pew Forum Religious Knowledge Survey is any indication, Americans are in trouble in both religion and education.  It reveals a lack of religious substance and understanding that the founders would have found deplorable.

BTW–I just received my copy of God of Liberty today.  I hope to blog on it soon.

Is the Tea Party Religious?

More from On Faith:

The editors ask a group of panelists if the Tea Party is religious.  Here is a synopsis of the responses:

Ronald Rychiak reminds us that the Tea Party is not a religious group, despite the fact that it has attracted many, many people of faith. Valerie Elverton Dixon agrees. So does Danielle Bean and Susan Brooks Thistlewaite.

Colleen Carroll Campbell sees a natural fit between Christianity and the Tea Party.  She writes: “They (conservative Christians) resonate with Tea Party resistance to big government because they know that a domineering federal government threatens their most cherished freedoms: the freedom to worship as they wish; to speak publicly of their moral and religious convictions on controversial issues; and to educate their children in the faith and values that they hold dear. Their belief in original sin makes many religious conservatives suspicious of the idea that our human condition can be perfected through the right government program or political ideology.”

Jordan Sekulow, a Tea Partyer and social conservative, sees no difference between the Tea Party and the cause of the Religious Right and resents the media’s attempt to draw a rift between the two factions.

Susan K. Smith suggests that the Tea Party is a reactionary movement that does not like change.  Much of her piece seems to imply that the “change” the Tea Party does not like revolves around race.  Similarly, Samuel Rodriguez concludes that the Tea Party is “too male, too old and too white.”

Janet Edwards thinks the Tea Party is trying to serve both God and mammon.  Debra Hoffner uses her 800 words to criticize Christine O’Donnell, while John Mark Reynolds uses his allotted space to offer a Christian critique of big government.

Matthew Schmalz thinks the Tea Party has become a “religion” in and of itself.

Herb Silverman sees himself in the Tea Party, at least the part of the Tea Party concerned with freedom, controlling government spending, strengthening the military, championing life, and protecting marriage.  By the way, Silverman is the President of the Secular Coalition for America.

The Fate of Beliefnet

Here is a really interesting article about the apparent decline of Beliefnet.

A taste:

When Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation took over Beliefnet in 2007, some feared that the site known for its ecumenical approach to religion and faith would turn into a Fox News-styled mouthpiece for social and religious conservatives. With the storied site now sold and some people writing its obituary, it appears that Beliefnet was harmed not by becoming Fox, but instead by becoming too much like O, the Oprah Magazine full of self-help columns and vague spirituality.

Beliefnet will always have a place in the history of the online journalism world, having experienced a meteoric rise and fall and rebirth helmed by Steven Waldman, one of the site’s co-founders and a pioneer of online journalism.

But when Fox Entertainment Group–which ran faith-related entities Harper Collins’ Zondervan, HarperOne brands, and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment’s faith-based programming–took over the site, the news content that made Beliefnet famous began to collapse to be replaced by self-help blogs, prayer requests, and mystical, pop-religion talk of angels and gauzy spirituality all in an attempt to make more money….

Religion and the World Cup

Here is a nice reflection on the World Cup from Bradley B. Onishi, a doctoral student in religious studies at the University of California-Santa Barbara. A snippet:

If it is not about religion, it seems that the only means of explaining the phenomenon of the World Cup is through categories and concepts that we usually reserve for the religious and the sacred. In a strange way, the World Cup is about none of the forces that overshadow the day-to-day concerns of human life. The Cup is a very elaborate ritual, played out on the largest global scale possible. It transcends politics, economics, and religion by incorporating all of them. It does so by juxtaposing people, groups, national identities, particular belief systems, and political circumstances in manners that simply do not happen in any other setting. In 2006, the small African country of Ghana handed the USA a humbling and hope-crushing defeat. Where and how else in the world does that happen? In the first week of the 2010 Cup alone, Cameroon meets Japan, Argentina confronts Korea, and the freed colonies of the USA revisit mother England. You might tell me that the Olympics do the same thing. True, the Olympics provide a panoply of countries competing against one another in various games. But the World Cup does so in a concentrated setting vis-à-vis the one sport that throughout the world — from Ghana to Germany to Senegal to Korea to Mexico to Chile to Slovenia — creates overwhelming obsession, unbridled devotion, and, sadly, violent fanaticism. Starting to sound like religion yet?