28 September 2010

Pew Forum's U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey

Executive Summary: U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey (Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life)

Full report:
Abbreviated Online Quiz

Excerpt from Executive Summary:

Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons are among the highest-scoring groups on a new survey of religious knowledge, outperforming evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Catholics on questions about the core teachings, history and leading figures of major world religions.

On average, Americans correctly answer 16 of the 32 religious knowledge questions on the survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life. Atheists and agnostics average 20.9 correct answers. Jews and Mormons do about as well, averaging 20.5 and 20.3 correct answers, respectively. Protestants as a whole average 16 correct answers; Catholics as a whole, 14.7. Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons perform better than other groups on the survey even after controlling for differing levels of education.

27 September 2010

Missionary to the Forbidden City

Missionary to the Forbidden City, by Sheila Melvin (New York Times, 27 September 2010)

In early May of 1610, the renowned Italian missionary Matteo Ricci took to his bed in the small Beijing rectory he shared with his fellow Jesuits.

It was the Confucian exam season, when candidates from around China flocked to the capital to be tested, and Ricci had been besieged by visitors — sometimes 100 a day. The men who knocked unbidden were drawn by his knowledge of astronomy, mathematics, mechanics, philosophy, literature and rhetoric; the widely popular books he had written — in Chinese — including “On Friendship” and “Ten Discourses of a Strange Man”; his Chinese translation of Euclid’s “Geometry”; annotated maps of the world; deep knowledge of the Confucian classics; phenomenally trained memory — he could scan a list of 500 Chinese characters once and then recite it from memory — backwards — and, no doubt, his reputation for sincerity and modesty.
Link: Missionary to the Forbidden City

23 September 2010

When A Catholic Priest Said Mass In A Muslim Home

When A Catholic Priest Said Mass In A Muslim Home, by Rev. Bekeh Utietiang (Huffington Post, 20 September 2010)

We finally gathered for Mass at 9 p.m., and the opening song to the celebration lasted for one hour. Present at the Mass were Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians, African Traditional Religionists, Muslims, and others. Everyone sang, and the women danced -- and danced and danced. The Mass lasted till 1 a.m. The Mass was powerful and moving for me. I had never had such a wonderful experience in the celebration of the Eucharist, not even in my very first Mass as a priest. If this was the only Mass I had to celebrate as a priest, I told myself, it was worth my becoming a priest. The people gathered for this celebration did not see each other as foreigners from different tribes, religions, and churches. They saw each other as one people, with one common origin. This unity is never portrayed in the media. What we see are stories of the radical fringe elements in the different religions. They seem to be the loudest, and so often, their story is one that is told, casting religion in bad light.
Link: When A Catholic Priest Said Mass In A Muslim Home

22 September 2010

Christian Activists Show Faith in East Oakland

Christian Activists Show Faith In East Oakland, by Hilary Abramson (San Francisco Chronicle, 20 September 2010)

In the past three years, two bullets shattered the front window, a teenager was shot just outside and the downstairs neighbor was mugged. Before that, a woman's lifeless body was unearthed from a trash bin less than a block away.

But that part of East Oakland - where the neighborhoods of Fruitvale and San Antonio meet - is where Dr. Joan Jie-eun Jeung has chosen to live with her husband and their 6-year-old son.


Their home is where 25 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and barely 50 percent of the adults graduated from high school. There are people who only go outside in daylight. But with more than 40 percent of the residents foreign-born, the community has African American, Latino and Tongan churches, Southeast-Asian American shopkeepers and European Americans.
Link: Christian Activists Show Faith In East Oakland, by Hilary Abramson

21 September 2010

The Meaning of the Koran

The Meaning of the Koran, by Robert Wright (New York Times' Opinionator, 14 September 2010)

Test your religious literacy:

Which sacred text says that Jesus is the “word” of God? a) the Gospel of John; b) the Book of Isaiah; c) the Koran.

The correct answer is the Koran. But if you guessed the Gospel of John you get partial credit because its opening passage — “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God” — is an implicit reference to Jesus. In fact, when Muhammad described Jesus as God’s word, he was no doubt aware that he was affirming Christian teaching.

Extra-credit question: Which sacred text has this to say about the Hebrews: God, in his “prescience,” chose “the children of Israel … above all peoples”? I won’t bother to list the choices, since you’ve probably caught onto my game by now; that line, too, is in the Koran.
Link: The Meaning of the Koran

Turnout Still Falling At Masses

Turnout Still Falling At Masses: Catholic Church Struggles Against Attendance Trend, by Dan Horn (Cincinnati Enquirer, 19 September 2010)

Almost two out of three Catholics in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky won't go to church this weekend to celebrate Mass, an event they have been told since childhood is the center of their spiritual lives. The church's most recent count of people in the pews found that about 290,000 Catholics in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and 60,000 in the Diocese of Covington skip Mass in a typical week. The annual attendance count begins again next month, but church officials don't expect dramatic improvement.
Link: Turnout Still Falling At Masses: Catholic Church Struggles Against Attendance Trend

20 September 2010

The Jews and the Chinese: Reaching for the Moon

The Jews and the Chinese: Reaching for the Moon, by Michele Kriegman [source: Moment 10 (1995): 32-33]

Every autumn since my marriage to an ethnic Chinese man, I had celebrated the holiday of the 5,000-year-old culture whose people gather on the 15th of Tishri to reenact an important historic event while enjoying the harvest moon. But although the 15th of Tishri is the first day of Sukkot, these people are not Jewish and the holiday celebrated is not Sukkot. It is the Chinese Moon Festival, or Mid-Autumn Festival, that is celebrated throughout the sphere of Chinese cultural influence, from Vietnam to Japan. Not having grown up in a family of Sukkot-celebrators, it took several years before I realized that the Asian holiday coincided with a holiday of my own people. I have found that selectively borrowing from the Moon Festival can draw us back to the agricultural roots of Sukkot, to appreciate better the Creator of nature, and fulfill our need for connection with other peoples. But juxtaposing these two different full-moon holidays also confirms for me the distinctiveness of the Jewish people and our ethical mission
Link: The Jews and the Chinese: Reaching for the Moon

19 September 2010

Part of the Fabric of the City, a Growing Islamic Community

Part of the Fabric of the City, a Growing Islamic Community, by Julia O'Malley (Anchorage Daily News, 14 September 2010)

Anchorage's Muslim community has no Imam, or main religious teacher. On Friday, Mohamed Sayed, a 28-year-old petroleum engineer for BP who is originally from Egypt, led the prayers and gave the sermon. I asked what he wanted people to take from what he said. He told me he hoped they would remember to be devout and unified, that they would try to be visible examples in Anchorage of compassion and charity. Islam, he said, is just like any other religion.

He hoisted his young sons in either arm. They were wearing matching sweater vests. He introduced me to his wife. They like Anchorage because it's quiet and family-oriented, he said. He plays in a soccer league with people from all walks of life. That's an example of how the city is tolerant, and how Muslims like him are integrated into the mainstream, he said.

"You'll find us around you, but you probably won't notice we are Muslim," he told me. "Because we are just like you."

17 September 2010

Religious Studies Thrive In Troubled Times

Religious Studies Thrive In Troubled Times (Newsweek, 12 September 2010)


But elsewhere, the study of religion thrives, often in surprising places. Sociologists, anthropologists, and psychologists are all getting into the religion game, trying to discover the roots of human religious belief and bring quantitative methods to bear on the study of religious practice. A small but growing number of economists are endeavoring to measure the impact of the business cycle on religiosity—and, conversely, the impact of religiosity on prosperity. At the University of California, Santa Barbara, long home to one of the country’s most innovative religion departments, two new courses illustrate religious studies’ shift in emphasis. One, The Evolutionary and Cognitive Science of Religion, looks at the religious impulse of the human mind; the other, Origins: A Dialogue Between Scientists and Humanists, is cross-listed as a physics course and is UCSB’s answer to the broader culture’s larger “faith versus reason” debates.

Public universities often host the best religion departments. For one thing, they are newer and don’t have to cope, institutionally, with a legacy of Christian origins. And, as recipients of taxpayer money, they have to be very clear about their secular framework: they can’t teach students to be religious; they have to teach about religion.

15 September 2010

Black Muslims: Left Out Of The National Conversation On Islam

Black Muslims: Left Out of the National Conversation on Islam (New America Media)

But despite the protests and the vitriol directed at the proposed mosque (and Islam in general), Abdur-Rashid sees something missing when it comes to the national conversation: Black Muslims.

“The first thing we need to do is decode some of the language,” said Abdur-Rashid. “The first language that has to be decoded is “Americans.” That really means “white Americans.” That’s who’s uptight about this. It’s opposition that’s occurring in different parts of the country in reaction to the construction of mosques. It’s not just Park 51 in Lower Manhattan. It’s in Milwaukee. It’s in California. It’s in different parts of the country.”

But Abdur-Rashid also detects something more than a religious angle to the protests. “The opposition that is coming from certain segments of the White American community is not just tied to the building of mosques. There’s a race angle, an ethnicity angle as well as a religious angle,” he said. “Ethnicity wise, it’s not just Arabs. It’s Arabs and southern Asians. Southern Asian immigrants, according to all of the studies done over the past 15 to 20 years, are the largest group of Muslims in the United States. Then African-Americans are second and Arabs are third.
Link: Black Muslims: Left Out of the National Conversation on Islam

Race and Ethnicity of the U.S. Adult Catholic Population by Generation (CARA)

Diversification: Race and Ethnicity of the U.S. Adult Catholic Population by Generation (CARA Blog, 25 August 2010)

According to the results of recent CARA Catholic Polls (CCP), generational changes are underway that are transforming the demography of the U.S. Catholic population. Through a combination of immigration and different fertility rates among sub-groups of the population, racial and ethnic identities of the Catholic population now vary significantly by generation.
As the figure below shows, differences between these groups are not limited to age. Estimates based on the aggregated results of multiple recent CCPs indicate that three in four of the oldest generation of Catholics self-identifies their race and ethnicity as non-Hispanic White. By comparison, just fewer than four in ten of the youngest generation of adult Catholics identifies as such.

Link: Diversification: Race and Ethnicity of the U.S. Adult Catholic Population by Generation

12 September 2010

Islam & Modernity: Not All Muslims Think Alike

Islam & Modernity: Not All Muslims Think Alike, by Patrick J. Ryan (Commonweal, 10 September 2010)

Since the dreadful events of September 11, 2001, Americans have been living in a world riven by antagonism between Muslims and non-Muslims, a polarization arguably not seen since the medieval period and the Crusades of Christian Europe. In the face of this antipathy, it’s important to acknowledge that just as the West today is more religiously diverse than was Europe when Pope Urban II called for the First Crusade almost a thousand years ago, so too is the Muslim world. Too many talking heads in the American media want to reduce the Islamic tradition to its most politicized and militant version. Such a simplification insults the richness of that religious tradition.

When I recently read through the names of those who died in the World Trade Center that September morning, I was struck by how many were identifiably Muslim. In this regard it seems wholly suitable that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf wishes to build, on a site two blocks from Ground Zero, a community center and mosque. Like us, our Muslim neighbors need a place to pray and mourn for their relatives and friends who died on that terrible day. But the willingness, even the ability, to extend sympathetic support for such a need depends on a knowledge of Islam many Americans lack.

Link: Islam & Modernity: Not All Muslims Think Alike

Wrong Then, Wrong Now

Wrong Then, Wrong Now, by Paul Moses (Commonweal, 26 August 2010)


Look, for example, at just one day in the city’s history: Sunday, October 31, 1880. All the “right” people—former President Ulysses S. Grant, for example—filled the pews of Protestant churches to hear accusations from a multitude of ministers that the pope was poised to take over New York if William R. Grace, a Democrat, was elected several days later as the city’s first Catholic mayor.

At Central Methodist Episcopal Church on Fourteenth Street, the Rev. J. P. Newman argued that if Grace was a good Catholic (he attended daily Mass), he was unfit to be mayor. “The Catholic candidate for Mayor is the shadow of a man who is the shadow of another man,” he said, meaning the pope.


The bottom line was that many of the city’s most influential people contended that Catholicism was a foreign religion bent on usurping America’s democratic values and that Catholics—by that time already well-established in New York—would carry out Rome’s malevolent dictates. Catholicism was considered inherently dangerous, a view the elite fanned to gain political advantage in the upcoming election.

Daisy Khan: Reaction to Park51 'Un-American,' Muslim Community At Risk: Transcript

Daisy Khan: Reaction to Park51 'Un-American,' Muslim Community At Risk: Transcript (WNYC, 93.9 FM, 10 September 2010)

"When you feel that your faith is persecuted and you feel alienated and you feel that you're not accepted as an equal in your own country, some people do fall prey to radicalization. And this is a real concern. We have seen somebody like Faisal Shahzad, a classic example of a person who can fall prey to extremist recruiters. I know that young American Muslims who are civically engaged are very concerned about that. People like Ebu Patel who spent his entire career, his short-- he's very young and Reza Aslan and these are people who are real advocates for pluralism in this country. They are talking about the very ideology that extremists hate. Extremists promote exclusion where as Islam has always been inclusive, has always been pluralistic which are the two things that the United States and Islam share. And I know that is what we need to focus on and a center like this would celebrate the pluralism, not only within Islam but also within America. And the extremists-- that is a blow to the extremists."
Link: Daisy Khan: Reaction to Park51 'Un-American,' Muslim Community At Risk: Transcript

08 September 2010

A Transnational Approach To Religion

A Transnational Approach To Religion, by Kwok Pui-Lan (Patheos.com, 6 September 2010)

In the 21st century, Christianity will be a non-Western religion, as Christian demographics has shifted to the global South. At the turn of the 20th century, 70 percent of the world’s Christians were Europeans, but by 2025, Africans and Latin Americans will make up the majority of Christians. To understand the tremendous church growth in Africa, we have to pay attention to the responses of the church to the poverty and suffering that has plagued the continent, the adaptation of African Indigenous Churches to African cultural forms, and the roles of indigenous leadership. As Lamin Sanneh of Yale University has said, it is noteworthy that such vitality has occurred without the structures and institutions that defined Western Christianity. In China as well, it was only when foreign missionaries had left and the Chinese assumed the responsibilities of propagating the Gospel that rapid church growth occurred. It is regrettable that Philip Jenkins uses the concept “the new Christendom” to characterize the coming of global Christianity. By using the medieval concept of Christendom, Jenkins reactivates a Eurocentric script, without paying sufficient attention to the enormous diversity of Christianity in the global South.
Link: A Transnational Approach To Religion

06 September 2010

American Muslims Ask, Will We Ever Belong?

American Muslims Ask, Will We Ever Belong? (New York Times, 5 September 2010)

Several American Muslims said in interviews that they were stunned that what provoked the anti-Muslim backlash was not even another terrorist attack but a plan by an imam known for his work with leaders of other faiths to build a Muslim community center.

This year, Sept. 11 coincides with the celebration of Eid, the finale to Ramadan, which usually lasts three days (most Muslims will begin observing Eid this year on Sept. 10). But Muslim leaders, in this climate, said they wanted to avoid appearing to be celebrating on the anniversary of 9/11. Several major Muslim organizations have urged mosques to use the day to participate in commemoration events and community service.

Ingrid Mattson, the president of the Islamic Society of North America, said many American Muslims were still hoping to salvage the spirit of Ramadan.

“In Ramadan, you’re really not supposed to be focused on yourself,” she said. “It’s about looking out for the suffering of other people. Somehow it feels bad to be so worried about our own situation and our own security, when it should be about empathy towards others.”

05 September 2010

An Open Letter to Anne Rice (Jane Redmont)

An Open Letter to Anne Rice by Jane Redmont (Episcopal Cafe)


What I am writing to tell you is that there’s no such creature as a lone follower of Jesus. You can’t be a Jesus-person away in a corner. Even hermits pray in communion with a larger tradition, a church beyond themselves in a world which is the place where God becomes incarnate.

The world: that’s why Jesus showed up. That’s why we are church. I’m with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the pastor and theologian whom the Nazis killed for resisting Hitler and the Third Reich. He wrote: “The church is the church only when it exists for others.”


This Christ you believe in, Anne Rice, where do you meet him? He doesn’t only live in your head and heart, or in the Eucharist you told us you will miss so deeply, or in the scriptures that are our legacy from the early churches. We meet Christ every day in others, especially in what Mother Teresa called “the distressing disguise of the poor.” Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker, knew and lived this also, but she went a step further than her co-religionist in analyzing the causes of poverty, the deadly rush to war that robs the poor even when we are only preparing for military battle and not waging it, the love of possessions and power above the respect for the dignity of humans all made in the image of God.

Authentically Black and Truly Catholic

Authentically Black and Truly Catholic, by C. Vanessa White (CNN, 5 September 2010)

Black Catholics have a heightened awareness of what W.E.B. Dubois called "double consciousness." This emerges from the tension between one's awareness of self and how others perceive one. Dubois used this term to speak of the experience of black people within the segregated United States. Today, a particular form of double consciousness is experienced by black Catholics: as a religious minority within the broader black Church community, who defend our religious affiliation to our black Protestant brothers and sisters while also confronting discrimination and ignorance from those within our own Catholic churches.

What has helped black Catholics survive in the midst of almost insurmountable odds is a spirituality that bridges both our African-American experience and our Catholic faith.

Muslim Americans Find Their Voice Amid The Shouts

Muslim Americans Find Their Voice Amid The Shouts (NPR All Things Considered, 5 September 2010)


Curtis points out that it's only relatively recently that the face of Islam in America has been associated with Middle Easterners or South Asians. The first Muslims in America were actually slaves from West Africa, and African-Americans are still the largest group of Muslims in the nation, even today.

Through much of that history, Islam was associated mostly with civil rights and black subversive movements, he says. Considering the rhetoric of those eras, today's expressions of anti-Muslim sentiment aren't quite so singular.

"It's really hard to compete with Cotton Mather and some of the Protestant evangelicals of the 1820s and '30s," says Curtis. "In terms of that viciousness, I don't think that it's gotten any worse since then."

"But," he says, "I would say that until there was a significant population of Muslims here ... that kind of prejudice didn't lead into discrimination and hate crimes until really pretty recently."

Link: Muslim Americans Find Their Voice Amid The Shouts

02 September 2010

Catholics, Muslims, and the Mosque Controversy

Catholics, Muslims, and the Mosque Controversy, by R. Scott Appleby and John T. McGreevy (New York Review of Books, 27 August 2010)

Alternate Link: Catholics, Muslims, and the Mosque (New York Review of Books, 30 September 2010)


As historians of American Catholicism, and Catholics, we are concerned to see the revival of a strain of nativism in the current controversy over the establishment of an Islamic center some blocks from Ground Zero in lower Manhattan.

For much of the nineteenth century Catholics in America were the unassimilated, sometimes violent “religious other.” Often they did not speak English or attend public schools. Some of their religious women—nuns—wore distinctive clothing. Their religious practices and beliefs—from rosaries to transubstantiation—seemed to many Americans superstitious nonsense.

Alternate Link: Catholics, Muslims, and the Mosque