“The Future of Mainline Protestantism in America” (Hudnut-Beumler & Silk, eds.)

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We close the week with an interesting-looking new book from Columbia University Press on one of the most noteworthy changes in American religious culture in recent decades: the collapse of the mainline churches. Once the dominant group in American religious life, mainline Protestant churches experienced a dramatic decline in the last generation. Why has this occurred? The new book, The Future of Mainline Protestantism in America, edited by historian James Hudnut-Beumler (Vanderbilt) and religion scholar Mark Silk (Trinity College) attempts to explain. Unlike most treatments, this volume apparently is optimistic, in a way, about the mainline’s future. Here’s the description from the Columbia website:

As recently as the 1960s, more than half of all American adults belonged to just a handful of mainline Protestant denominations—Presbyterian, UCC, Disciples of Christ, Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, and American Baptist. Presidents, congressmen, judges, business leaders, and other members of the elite overwhelmingly came from such backgrounds. But by 2010, fewer than 13 percent of adults belonged to a mainline Protestant church. What does the twenty-first century hold for this once-hegemonic religious group?

In this volume, experts in American religious history and the sociology of religion examine the extraordinary decline of mainline Protestantism over the past half century and assess its future. Contributors discuss the demographics of mainline Protestants; their beliefs, practices, and modes of worship; their political views and partisan affiliations; and the social and moral questions that unite and divide Protestant communities. Other chapters examine Protestant institutions, including providers of health care and education; analyze churches’ public voice; and probe what will come from a diminished role relative to other groups in society, especially the ascendant evangelicals. Far from going extinct, the book argues, the mainline Protestant movement will continue to be a vital remnant in an American religious culture torn between the contending forces of secularism and evangelicalism.

Lewis, “The Rights Turn in Conservative Christian Politics”

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Minorities always favor civil rights, because rights protect them from the majority. So it shouldn’t be surprising that conservative Christians in twenty-first century America increasingly find themselves asserting rights in public controversies. A forthcoming book from Cambridge University Press, The Rights Turn in Conservative Christian Politics: How Abortion Transformed the Culture Wars, by University of Cincinnati political scientist Andrew Lewis, discusses the subject, and claims Christians’ move to a rights-based rhetoric is tied up with the abortion debate. Here is the publisher’s description:

The Rights Turn in Conservative Christian Politics documents a recent, fundamental change in American politics with the waning of Christian America. Rather than conservatives emphasizing morality and liberals emphasizing rights, both sides now wield rights arguments as potent weapons to win political and legal battles and build grassroots support. Lewis documents this change on the right, focusing primarily on evangelical politics. Using extensive historical and survey data that compares evangelical advocacy and evangelical public opinion, Lewis explains how the prototypical culture war issue – abortion – motivated the conservative rights turn over the past half century, serving as a springboard for rights learning and increased conservative advocacy in other arenas. Challenging the way we think about the culture wars, Lewis documents how rights claims are used to thwart liberal rights claims, as well as to provide protection for evangelicals, whose cultural positions are increasingly in the minority; they have also allowed evangelical elites to justify controversial advocacy positions to their base and to engage more easily in broad rights claiming in new or expanded political arenas, from health care to capital punishment.

Perry, “May We Forever Stand”

9781469638607

I was a twenty-something in Washington, DC, when I first heard a choir perform “Lift Every Voice and Sing” at an outdoor concert in Rock Creek Park, and the song has stuck in my head ever since. The melody, by John Rosemond Johnson, is dignified and stirring, and the words, by his brother, James Weldon Johnson, are moving. Also known as the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice” has a large place in the history of the civil rights movement. It serves as a reminder of the role religion played in that movement, and, more generally, the role religion has played in our national experience.

A new book from the University of North Carolina Press, May We Forever Stand: A History of the Black National Anthem, by Princeton scholar Imani Perry (African-American Studies), tells the song’s story. The title refers to the final verse:

“Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand,
True to our God,
True to our native land.”

The publisher’s description follows:

The twin acts of singing and fighting for freedom have been inseparable in African American history. May We Forever Stand tells an essential part of that story. With lyrics penned by James Weldon Johnson and music composed by his brother Rosamond, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” was embraced almost immediately as an anthem that captured the story and the aspirations of black Americans. Since the song’s creation, it has been adopted by the NAACP and performed by countless artists in times of both crisis and celebration, cementing its place in African American life up through the present day.

In this rich, poignant, and readable work, Imani Perry tells the story of the Black National Anthem as it traveled from South to North, from civil rights to black power, and from countless family reunions to Carnegie Hall and the Oval Office. Drawing on a wide array of sources, Perry uses “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as a window on the powerful ways African Americans have used music and culture to organize, mourn, challenge, and celebrate for more than a century.

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

Regnerus, “Cheap Sex”

9780190673611We’re a little late getting to this, but a few months ago Oxford published a new book by University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus, Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage, and Monogamy, which has received a lot of attention. Regnerus addresses millennials’ apparent lack of interest in marriage and family and says much of the problem (if it is a problem) results from the fact that sex has become more accessible and less costly, and not only in monetary terms. As religious scruples fade, the spiritual costs of easy sex decrease as well — and when the cost of something goes down, more people decide they can afford it. In fact, Regnerus argues, for some people sex may take the place of traditional religion, offering a substitute, though ultimately dissatisfying, path to the transcendent. There are interesting gender dynamics, too. Regnerus, a conservative, points out that a regime of cheap sex favors men more than women–another irony of the sexual revolution, which was supposed to lead to greater equality between the sexes. Here’s the description from the Oxford website:

Sex is cheap. Coupled sexual activity has become more widely available than ever. Cheap sex has been made possible by two technologies that have little to do with each other – the Pill and high-quality pornography – and its distribution made more efficient by a third technological innovation, online dating. Together, they drive down the cost of real sex, and in turn slow the development of love, make fidelity more challenging, sexual malleability more common, and have even taken a toll on men’s marriageability.

Cheap Sex takes readers on an extended tour inside the American mating market, and highlights key patterns that characterize young adults’ experience today, including the timing of first sex in relationships, overlapping partners, frustrating returns on their relational investments, and a failure to link future goals like marriage with how they navigate their current relationships. Drawing upon several large nationally-representative surveys, in-person interviews with 100 men and women, and the assertions of scholars ranging from evolutionary psychologists to gender theorists, what emerges is a story about social change, technological breakthroughs, and unintended consequences. Men and women have not fundamentally changed, but their unions have. No longer playing a supporting role in relationships, sex has emerged as a central priority in relationship development and continuation. But unravel the layers, and it is obvious that the emergence of “industrial sex” is far more a reflection of men’s interests than women’s.

Hudnut-Beumler, “Strangers and Friends at the Welcome Table”

9781469640372While on a recent trip to Charlotte, North Carolina — home of the Billy Graham Library — I attended Sunday Liturgy at St. Sarkis Armenian Church, founded about a dozen years ago. St. Sarkis is not the only Orthodox Church in Charlotte. There is a Coptic church, at least two Greek Orthodox churches, a couple of Russian Orthodox churches, a couple of Ethiopian Orthodox churches, and at least one Syriac church. The point is that if one thinks of Southern  Christianity as strictly Evangelical, one is making a mistake — though I should point out, in the interests of full disclosure, that the line of cars outside the Evangelical church a couple blocks away was a lot longer than the one at St. Sarkis!

A new study from the University of North Carolina Press, Strangers and Friends at the Welcome Table: Contemporary Christianities in the American South, by Vanderbilt University historian James Hudnut-Beumler, describes the Christianities of the New South. Looks interesting. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In this fresh and fascinating chronicle of Christianity in the contemporary South, historian and minister James Hudnut-Beumler draws on extensive interviews and his own personal journeys throughout the region over the past decade to present a comprehensive portrait of the South’s long-dominant religion. Hudnut-Beumler traveled to both rural and urban communities, listening to the faithful talk about their lives and beliefs. What he heard pushes hard against prevailing notions of southern Christianity as an evangelical Protestant monolith so predominant as to be unremarkable.

True, outside of a few spots, no non-Christian group forms more than six-tenths of one percent of a state’s population in what Hudnut-Beumler calls the Now South. Drilling deeper, however, he discovers an unexpected, blossoming diversity in theology, practice, and outlook among southern Christians. He finds, alongside traditional Baptists, black and white, growing numbers of Christians exemplifying changes that no one could have predicted even just forty years ago, from congregations of LGBT-supportive evangelicals and Spanish-language church services to a Christian homeschooling movement so robust in some places that it may rival public education in terms of acceptance. He also finds sharp struggles and political divisions among those trying to reconcile such Christian values as morality and forgiveness—the aftermath of the mass shooting at Charleston’s Emanuel A.M.E. Church in 2015 forming just one example. This book makes clear that understanding the twenty-first-century South means recognizing many kinds of southern Christianities.

White, “Other Worlds”

9780674984295-lgSpiritualism, the belief that the living can communicate with the dead, goes back a long way in America. The nineteenth-century Transcendentalists dabbled in it, some of them, and Mrs. Lincoln conducted seances in the White House. A new book from Harvard University Press, Other Worlds: Spirituality and the Search for Invisible Dimensions, by Vassar College religion professor Christopher White, suggests spiritualism may be coming back, re-enforced by new scientific theories about the multiverse. These theories, he argues, make spiritualism more plausible. Which makes me wonder, actually: how many of the growing number of American Nones are spiritualists? Anyway, here is the description from the Harvard website:

What do modern multiverse theories and spiritualist séances have in common? Not much, it would seem. One is an elaborate scientific theory developed by the world’s most talented physicists. The other is a spiritual practice widely thought of as backward, the product of a mystical world view fading under the modern scientific gaze.

But Christopher G. White sees striking similarities. He does not claim that séances or other spiritual practices are science. Yet he points to ways that both spiritual practices and scientific speculation about multiverses and invisible dimensions are efforts to peer into the hidden elements and even the existential meaning of the universe. Other Worlds examines how the idea that the universe has multiple, invisible dimensions has inspired science fiction, fantasy novels, films, modern art, and all manner of spiritual thought reaching well beyond the realm of formal religion. Drawing on a range of international archives, White analyzes how writers, artists, filmmakers, televangelists, and others have used the scientific idea of invisible dimensions to make supernatural phenomena such as ghosts and miracles seem more reasonable and make spiritual beliefs possible again for themselves and others.

Many regard scientific ideas as disenchanting and secularizing, but Other Worlds shows that these ideas—creatively appropriated in such popular forms as C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, the art of Salvador Dalí, or the books of the counterculture physicist “Dr. Quantum”—restore a sense that the world is greater than anything our eyes can see, helping to forge an unexpected kind of spirituality.

Ecklund & Scheitle, “Religion vs. Science”

9780190650629Here is an interesting-looking contribution from Oxford University Press to the sociology of religion in the United States: Religion vs. Science: What Religious People Really Think, by sociologists Elaine Howard Ecklund (Rice University) and Christopher P. Scheitle (West Virginia University). Perhaps unsurprisingly, the authors conclude, after a five-year study, that media portrayals of an anti-science bias on the part of religious Americans are simplistic. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

At the end of a five-year journey to find out what religious Americans think about science, Ecklund and Scheitle emerge with the real story of the relationship between science and religion in American culture. Based on the most comprehensive survey ever done-representing a range of religious traditions and faith positions-Religion vs. Science is a story that is more nuanced and complex than the media and pundits would lead us to believe.

The way religious Americans approach science is shaped by two fundamental questions: What does science mean for the existence and activity of God? What does science mean for the sacredness of humanity? How these questions play out as individual believers think about science both challenges stereotypes and highlights the real tensions between religion and science. Ecklund and Scheitle interrogate the widespread myths that religious people dislike science and scientists and deny scientific theories.

Religion vs. Science is a definitive statement on a timely, popular subject. Rather than a highly conceptual approach to historical debates, philosophies, or personal opinions, Ecklund and Scheitle give readers a facts-on-the-ground, empirical look at what religious Americans really understand and think about science.

Denysenko, “Theology and Form”

P03253As readers of this blog know, our center is in the midst of the Tradition Project, a multi-year research initiative on the continuing role of tradition in politics, law, and culture. One of the project’s themes is how traditional religious communities adapt to American liberalism. The religions change, of course–a strong pressure exists to reform along Protestant lines–yet they also remain, in some respects, the same. A new book from the University of Notre Dame Press, Theology and Form: Contemporary Orthodox Architecture in America, by Loyola Marymount University professor Nicholas Denysenko, examines how Orthodox parishes adapt traditional architectural forms in the new world, and how the adaptations influence liturgy and parish identity. Looks fascinating. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

How do space and architecture shape liturgical celebrations within a parish? In Theology and Form: Contemporary Orthodox Architecture in America, Nicholas Denysenko profiles seven contemporary Eastern Orthodox communities in the United States and analyzes how their ecclesiastical identities are affected by their physical space and architecture. He begins with an overview of the Orthodox architectural heritage and its relation to liturgy and ecclesiology, including topics such as stational liturgy, mobility of the assembly, the symbiosis between celebrants and assembly, placement of musicians, and festal processions representative of the Orthodox liturgy. Chapters 2–7 present comparative case studies of seven Orthodox parishes. Some of these have purchased their property and built new edifices; Denysenko analyzes how contemporary architecture makes use of sacred space and engages visitors. Others are mission parishes that purchased existing properties and buildings, posing challenges for and limitations of their liturgical practices. The book concludes with a reflection on how these parish examples might contribute to the future trajectory of Orthodox architecture in America and its dialogical relationship with liturgy and ecclesial identity.

Nicolaou, “A None’s Story”

The rise of the Nones has been the most remarked upon development in American religion since the turn of this century. A recent book from Columbia University Press, A None’s Story: Searching for Meaning Inside Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Islam, by author Corinna Nicolaou, is an insider’s depiction of what it’s like to follow the Nones’ path–or, perhaps, it’s better to write, a None’s path. The publisher’s description follows:

9780231173957The rising population known as “nones” for its members’ lack of religious affiliation is changing American society, politics, and culture. Many nones believe in God and even visit places of worship, but they do not identify with a specific faith or belong to a spiritual community. Corinna Nicolaou is a none, and in this layered narrative, she describes what it is like for her and thousands of others to live without religion or to be spiritual without committing to a specific faith.

Nicolaou tours America’s major traditional religions to see what, if anything, one might lack without God. She moves through Christianity’s denominations, learning their tenets and worshiping alongside their followers. She travels to Los Angeles to immerse herself in Judaism, Berkeley to educate herself about Buddhism, and Dallas and Washington, D.C., to familiarize herself with Islam. She explores what light they can shed on the fears and failings of her past, and these encounters prove the significant role religion still plays in modern life. They also exemplify the vibrant relationship between religion and American culture and the enduring value it provides to immigrants and outsiders. Though she remains a devout none, Nicolaou’s experiences reveal points of contact between the religious and the unaffiliated, suggesting that nones may be radically revising the practice of faith in contemporary times.

 

 

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