via AlaskaDispatch: How religion in the US today tracks closely with geography

How religion in the US today tracks closely with geography

Brad KnickerbockerThe Christian Science Monitor

February 9, 2014

 Mississippi or Alabama? Protestant. Rhode Island or New Jersey? Roman Catholic. Mormon? That’s easy: Utah, although a substantial minority in Idaho is Mormon too. Vermont or Oregon? You could well be “unchurched.”

Demography isn’t exactly spiritual destiny. But for most Americans, their religious identity tracks closely with where they live.

If they’re Protestant, they’re more likely to live in the South. Seven of the ten most-Catholic states, on the other hand, are in the Northeast – although California and New Mexico, with heavily Hispanic populations, have large numbers of Catholics as well.

These are some of the findings in a new Gallup survey.

“All 10 of the most Protestant states are located in the South,” Gallup reported this week. “Nine of these states are at least 70 percent Protestant, including the two most highly Protestant states, Mississippi and Alabama, each with a 77 percent Protestant population.”

“Two other religious groups that are much smaller constitute about 2 percent of the population each, with Mormons concentrated in Utah and Idaho, and Jewish Americans most likely to be found in several Middle Atlantic and New England states, plus the District of Columbia,” according to Gallup.

But what about the degree of fervency or devoutness?

Vermont has the smallest percentage of those who identify themselves as “very religious” (just 22 percent) with other New England states – New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts – not far behind.

Mississippi has the highest percentage of “very religious” (61 percent), with Mormon Utah and other Protestant southern states – Alabama, Louisiana, and South Carolina – not far behind.

Increasing numbers of Americans refer to themselves as “spiritual but not religious,” and this shows up in the number of unaffiliated adults queried by Gallup and the Pew Research Center’s Religion and Public Life Project – a figure that’s risen to nearly 20 percent in the most recent Pew survey (2012).

It’s a figure that’s likely to grow as the generations move on.

“A third of adults under 30 have no religious affiliation (32 percent), compared with just one-in-ten who are 65 and older (9 percent),” Pew reported. “And young adults today are much more likely to be unaffiliated than previous generations were at a similar stage in their lives.”

A key question: Will today’s “millennials” retain that attitude later in life, or will they “find religion” – at least a generally accepted denomination – as they advance in years?

There may be an important political dimension paralleling if not attributable to shifting religious attitudes.

“In the 2008 presidential election, [the religiously unaffiliated] voted as heavily for Barack Obama as white evangelical Protestants did for John McCain,” according to Pew. “More than six-in-ten religiously unaffiliated registered voters are Democrats (39 percent) or lean toward the Democratic Party (24 percent). They are about twice as likely to describe themselves as political liberals than as conservatives, and solid majorities support legal abortion (72 percent) and same-sex marriage (73 percent).”

Meanwhile, two-thirds of Americans – affiliated and unaffiliated alike – say religion is losing its influence in Americans’ lives, Pew reported last year.

At the same time, the US – founded by those looking for a religious freedom they had not known in Europe, and despite the growth in atheism and agnosticism – remains more religious than most other western countries.

A majority continues to say that religion is very important in their lives – much higher than Britain (17 percent), France (13 percent), Germany (21 percent), or Spain (22 percent). And 76 percent say that prayer is an important part of their daily life – the same level as in 1987, Pew finds.

Self-described Protestants may still be a majority of religious Americans (although that percentage has slipped to barely more than half). But their influence at the top levels of government continues to wane.

Between 1961 and 2014, the percentage of Protestants in Congress dropped from 75 percent to 56 percent. Over the same period, the percentage of Catholic lawmakers in Washington rose from 19 percent to 31 percent, and the percentage of Jewish members tripled from 2 percent (in line with the overall US population) to 6 percent.

The current Congress also includes the first Buddhist to serve in the Senate, the first Hindu to serve in either chamber and the first member of Congress to describe her religion as “none.”

On the US Supreme Court, in its early days a largely WASP institution, there are no Protestant justices today. Six are Catholic and three are Jewish.

Via PRI: A Haitian artist fights to preserve the vodou religion

A Haitian artist fights to preserve the vodou religion

Credit: Swoan Parker/Reuters
A vodou worshipper takes part in festivities on the first day of the Haitian Festival of Ancestors in Port-au-Prince.

Erol Josué is a dancer, a recording artist, a vodou priest, and an expert on the vodou religion’s culture and history.

“They beat me in the name of Jesus,” Josué sings in one song. “They burn me in the name of Jesus.”

The lyrics of this old vodou song date back to slavery days in the 18th Century, but their warning rings true today for some vodou practitioners — or vodouisants — who feel under attack. The old joke goes that Haiti is 70 percent Catholic, 30 percent Protestant and 100 percent Vodou.

For Josué, this is no joking matter. Last year, he took a government job as head of Haiti’s National Ethnology Office. He’s on a mission to get Haitians to realize that they need to embrace their vodou heritage — whether they agree or not.

Ground zero for the tension is Bwa Kayiman, a site in northern Haiti. A late-night meeting there in 1791 set in motion what would become one of history’s most successful slave revolts. It’s essentially where the country of “Haiti” was born — as a union of different tribes, faiths and languages.

“It was the moment the slaves said, ‘we’ve become Creoles today; we’re no longer African. We won’t fight to return to Africa, but for this land,” Josué said.

These days, Bwa Kayiman is a mess. On a visit with a team of ethnologists, Josué found a handful of historical sites unmarked and decaying. This is supposed to a heritage site, but buildings have been built illegally, including Protestant churches.

Josué is not happy.

“Vodou has never been a religion of conquest,” he says. “We don’t raise awareness to convert people to vodou, but to educate them about the importance of the national identity, the importance of respecting the sites, of respecting the patrimony. The churches and houses that were built on the Bwa Kayiman site is, personally, a kind of sacrilege. But it’s also an attack on the state.”

This “attack,” as Josué puts it, comes mainly from the evangelical movement. Unofficial estimates suggest about half of Haitians are Protestant these days, a rise fueled in large part by American-funded Evangelical missions, churches and schools.

Elizabeth McAlister is a Haiti scholar at Wesleyan University, and a long-time friend of Josué’s.

“The evangelical movement desires to reduce vodou entirely, if they could they would have a Christian revival and transform the country to a Christian majority,” she says.

McAlister says there’s no question that foreign religious influence is affecting Haitians’ attitudes about vodou but she says that even many Haitians feel the vodou religion and culture is something they would rather leave in the past.

“Among educated and other people who see vodou as always having been denigrated, always having been insulted, the discourse on vodou are either that it’s an illegal practice or it’s a practice of superstition done by the ignorant,” she says. “Meanwhile, so much of the culture is infused with the principles of the form. So, it creates a tension, psychologically — how does one represent the culture, and how does one come to terms with being from this culture which is so saturated with this religion?”

Vodou’s influence is felt just about everywhere in Haiti, from the country’s music and art to the latest locally-designed fashions and accessories on display in uptown boutiques.

As head of the Haitian ethnology office, Josué has demonstrated and lobbied to create the first national holiday to honor vodou. Like it or not, he says, vodou is soaked deep into Haiti’s local and international brand — as an aesthetic, a philosophy and a way of life.

“You can be what you want, but stay a Haitian. Stay a proud Haitian,” Josué says.

Ferreira’s reporting was supported by a grant from the International Reporting Project.

PRI-The World: ‘Burka Avenger’ Cartoon Aimed at Empowering Pakistani Girls | @pritheworld

Topics: Gender empowerment, GEM, Gender Equity, Religion, Islam


‘Burka Avenger’ Cartoon Aimed at Empowering Pakistani Girls


This past Sunday, TV host Aamir Liaquat Hussain gave one couple the surprise of a lifetime. He handed the childless couple an abandoned baby girl to keep. He stunned the couple and the nation. Hussain’s stunt is an extreme example of a relatively new phenomenon says Arif Rafiq who studies Pakistani politics for the Middle East Institute.

“Pakistan has a booming private media,” Rafiq says. “Dozens of privately owned news channels and cable entertainment changes and much of the content is religious. So what we see is a merging of religious sentiment as well as a budding form of commercialism and materialism and capitalism and what we saw in that television program was an ugly confluence of the two.”

Model Mathira Mohammed starring in the controversial Josh Condoms advertisement. (Photo: Screengrab)

Meanwhile, while an apparently abandoned baby was doled out as a prize, an effort to stop the conception of unwanted babies caused another minor stir on Pakistani TV. The Pakistan media regulatory agency banned a commercial for Josh condoms saying that it violated a code of conduct.

The ad stars the 21-year-old super model Mathira Mohammed as herself. Mathira’s beau in the commercial is the envy of the neighbors. They can’t figure out why she’s with him. The super model makes her average-looking guy a drink, she plays with his hair, she feeds him.

It’s all pretty tame by Western standards and then when the neighbor gets the average guy alone he asks for his secret. Average guy flashes a smile and a Josh condom.

“She is in many ways the Paris Hilton of Pakistan,” Rafiq says. “Her association with the ad is what gave the ad the hyper sexual connotation as opposed to what it should have been, which is a public service announcement that focused on a key public health issue.”

The ad was funded by an international NGO. Some Pakistanis view the funding of public service announcements by foreign entities like NGOs or even foreign governments themselves with some suspicion says Rafiq.

Animated TV series “Burka Avenger.” (Photo: “Burka Avenger”)

A few eyebrows have been raised in Pakistan by a different kind of TV project that’s funded by an anonymous donor. It’s a new superhero cartoon that’s actually debuting next month. The heroine is fast; she’s fierce; she’s wearing a burka; she’s the Burka Avenger.

Burka Avenger was created by the Pakistani pop star known as Haroon. The heroine is a mild-mannered teacher who wields her super weapons — some very powerful pens and books — against the evil Baba Bandook who is trying to shut down the school.

It’s an Urdu-language cartoon aimed at middle class Pakistani girls. While the lack of transparency about the funding troubles Arif Rafiq, he says the message is a positive one.

“I think the message is primarily to young Pakistani girls that they could do anything they want, that they can be full and active citizens of their own country,” says Rafiq.

Wonder Woman watch out.

via ‘Burka Avenger’ Cartoon Aimed at Empowering Pakistani Girls | @pritheworld.