What Is The Future Of Religion? – A Worldwide Religious Awakening

Here’s how he begins, with a discussion of specific trends (both encouraging and disappointing) afterwards:

It is a very religious world, far more religious than it was 50 years ago. Gallup World Poll Surveys [link?] of more than a million people living in 163 nations show that:

— 81 percent claim to belong to an organized religious faith, and most of the rest report engaging in religious activities such as prayer or making offerings to the gods in various “folk religion” temples.

— 74 percent say religion is an important part of their daily lives.

— 50 percent report they have attended a place of worship or religious service in the past seven days.

In very few nations do as many as five percent claim to be atheists, and only in China, Vietnam, and South Korea do they exceed 20 percent.

Furthermore, in every nook and cranny left by organized faiths, all manner of unconventional spiritual and mystical practices are booming. There are more occult healers than medical doctors in Russia, 38 percent of the French believe in astrology, 35 percent of the Swiss agree that “some fortune tellers really can foresee the future,” and nearly everyone in Japan is careful to have their new car blessed by a Shinto priest.

Hat tip: Alan Jacobs

A chronicle of favela life

Child of the Dark: The Diary of Carolina Maria de JesusChild of the Dark: The Diary of Carolina Maria de Jesus by Carolina Maria de Jesus

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Carolina Maria de Jesus lived for many years in a favela (shantytown) called Canindé outside of Sao Paulo, Brazil. On paper that she gathered from the trash (mostly to sell), she wrote a diary describing her life. Needless to say, this isn’t the kind of source that we get very often. Her descriptions of living a life of dire poverty and raising three children as a single mother are really compelling. When the diary was published, it made her famous for a time, though she unfortunately died in poverty and obscurity.

Here’s a brief passage from one of her reflections that shows how life in the favela shaped her thoughts:

When I have a little money I try not to think of children who are going to ask for bread. Bread and coffee. I sent my thoughts toward the sky. I thought: can it be that people live up there? Are they better than us? Can it be that they have an advantage over us? Can it be that nations up there are as different as nations on earth? Or is there just one nation? I wonder if the favela exists there? And if up there a favela does exist, can it be that when I die I’m going to live in a favela? (43)

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Urbanization, Pentecostalism, and Islamism

Writing at The Christian Century, Philip Jenkins notes parallels between the rise of modern Pentecostalism and modern Islamism among urban newcomers.

On Pentecostalism:

Most have moved to new megacities in their own countries, but other former rural dwellers have journeyed to cities in the Global North. In the challenging situations they face in their new homes, migrants naturally gravitate to those religious groups that offer them the means of survival. They find there opportunities for fellowship and community, but also the basic necessities of welfare, education, and health that the state cannot provide. Commonly, it is the Pentecostal and charismatic churches that are best organized to supply these needs, and in turn they benefit most from the repeated infusions of the uprooted.

Social change means religious transformation. People abandon the old sacred landscapes they knew in their rural homes, with all their saints and shrines, and a sacred year marked by religious feasts and fasts. In the cities, they adopt a globalized form of modern faith, characterized by sophisticated modern media and advertising, including the most contemporary social media. They abandon their old languages and dialects, so that pastors hold their revival crusades in the global languages of modernity—English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.

But whatever new believers have lost through cultural change, they feel that they have gained much. However poor in material things, they know in their hearts that they are following a pristine form of apostolic faith.

On Muslim immigrants in the West:

In books like Holy Ignorance, [Olivier] Roy relates global religious change to such mega­trends as mass migration, urbanization, and modernization. He stresses how deeply integrated Islam was in traditional societies like Morocco or Pakistan, where faith was tied to particular communities and clan structures, to shrines, saints, and sacred landscapes, and to a sacred calendar. All were severed with the migration to the West, creating an Islam that was suddenly and painfully deterritorialized….

In the Muslim case, the young respond by rejecting both the lost traditional culture and the new Western alternative. They turn instead to the apparent certainties of a universalized or globalized Islam, which in practice offers the sternest and most demanding standards of the Wahhabis or Salafists. In return, believers receive a vision of themselves as the heroes of a glorious historical narrative in which faith defeats the temporary and illusory triumph of disbelief and paganism.

I think that this also works for the appeal of socialism and popular nationalism to urban workers in 19th-century Europe, who also were recently uprooted from their rural communities and traditions. This isn’t something that I came up with on my own, but I don’t remember where I read it.

The appeal of membership in large-scale groups — the global umma for Muslims, the (German, French, etc.) nation for nationalists, the working class for workers — is all part of the movement in modern times away from local identities toward large-scale ideologies, states, identities, and movements. Of course, with independence movements in regions of different European countries and the breakup of Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, we could be seeing the limits of that trend in the contemporary world.

Portraying Hugo Chavez as Christ

At First Things, Lisa Carroll-Davis recently described the Venezuelan president’s striking language about his predecessor Hugo Chávez on the one-year anniversary of his death: “Christ the Redeemer became flesh, became spirit, became truth in Chávez” and was “the Christ of the poor, the Christ of the humble, he who came to protect those who have had nothing.”

This was hardly an isolated incident:

The social unrest and economic privation that spilled out in protests in February 2014 were met by Venezuela’s leaders with redoubled proclamations of Chavista messianism. During the height of the protests, in a speech made March 5, 2014 at a military parade in Caracas marking the one year anniversary of Chávez’s death, Maduro proclaimed, Chávez “the Redeemer of the poor” and said that the poor were calling to Chávez the “Redeeming Christ of the 21st Century” to help them against the capitalist protestors attempting to undo all he had done for the poor….

In Venezuela, the conflation of politician and messiah have saturated the popular culture, as not only are the leftist political actors making statements exalting the deceased Chávez as Christ, the average citizens venerate the former president. Immediately after his passing in March 2013, public processions honoring Chávez included his supporters carrying posters of him and Jesus together. There were reports and pictures of widespread household altars to Chávez, with an effigy or image of him replacing Christ on the cross. Presenting Chávez as the messiah is not merely a convenient rhetorical trope for the ruling party. It is a sentiment that has been internalized and codified by those who supported him. What otherwise would be considered unorthodox, or at least heterodox, has become fully acceptable to a largely Catholic population.

Carroll-Davis puts this devotion to Chavez in the context of the Latin American Left and liberation theology.

Protestants and politics in five Latin American countries

Evangelical Christianity and Democracy in Latin AmericaEvangelical Christianity and Democracy in Latin America by Paul Freston

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Essays by different authors focused on evangelical political activity in five different countries: Mexico, Guatemala (the Latin American country with the highest percentage of evangelicals), Nicaragua, Peru, and Brazil. The most interesting essays were the ones on Brazil and Mexico. A couple of takeaways:

-There has been a trend of more Pentecostal involvement in Brazil and Mexico in politics recently after a period with little involvement.

-There are evangelicals that belong to denominations as well as the well-known Pentecostal groups.

-Evangelicals have gotten involved in many different parties, and sometimes there have been evangelical parties or political groups.

I wish that I had a better historical and cultural framework in which to fit the information in the book. I may go back to it to absorb some of the details better.

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A critique of U.S. Cold War policy in Latin America

The Killing Zone: The United States Wages Cold War in Latin AmericaThe Killing Zone: The United States Wages Cold War in Latin America by Stephen G. Rabe

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Pros: lots of information about the period, a lot of analysis of policymaking, made a strong argument

Cons: could have been better organized, bordered on polemical and left me wanting to read a different perspective on US Latin America during the Cold War

Overall, I learned a lot, and I will probably go back to it if I teach Latin American history again.

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Ariel v. Caliban

ArielAriel by José Enrique Rodó

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Rodo, influenced by Plato, Renan, and a host of other authors (who are constantly referenced), sets his work in a Latin American classroom, where the wise teacher urges his young students to pursue idealism and excellence over materialism and utilitarianism. I need to understand more about Hegelian thought and Romanticism, but it is certainly in that stream of thought, where cultures contribute to the progress of the human spirit. It was a thought-provoking read, and according to Howard Wiarda it’s a very influential book in Latin America.

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