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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The End of Religion?

Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR) recently hosted a symposium that challenged the so-called decline in religion. It featured sociologists Rodney Stark and Byron Johnson, historians Philip Jenkins and J. Gordon Melton, and epidemiologist Jeff Levin. Not only were the presenters diverse in terms of academic specialities but also in terms of faith. Stark considers himself to be an "independent Christian," while Johnson is an evangelical, Jenkins is an Episcopalian, Melton is a United Methodist (in fact, he is an ordained Methodist minister), and Levin is a Conservative Jew (the same denomination as Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of "When Bad Things Happen to Good People").

The symposium was kicked off by Rodney Stark, who has published hundreds of articles and dozens of books, including "The Rise of Christianity" and "The Churching of America" (with Roger Finke). Stark focused on the health of religion around the world. He argued that not only is the world not less religious, but in many ways it is much more intensely religious than it ever has been before. This, in fact, is the topic of his forthcoming book, "The Triumph of Faith: Why the World is More Religious than Ever," which will be published in November). His 38 minute talk appears below:


Stark was followed by Philip Jenkins, a prolific writer whose books include "The Next Christendom," "God's Continent," and "The Lost History of Christianity." He discussed the current state of religion in Europe, which is often held up as the "poster-child" of secularization. He noted that while Europe is anything but devout, he believes that secularization is self-limiting (a point made by Rod Stark several years ago with his co-author Bill Bainbridge in "The Future of Religion") and that religion continues to thrive in some areas. His talk (31 minutes) appears below:


Jeff Levin followed Jenkins. As noted above, Levin is an epidemiologist. He studies the interaction of religion and health and has published several articles and books on this topic, such as "God, Faith, and Health." That is also the topic of his address, which appears below.


Next, came Byron Johnson, a sociologist who specializes in the religion, crime, and deviance. He is probably best known for his book, "More God, Less Crime." That is not what he focused on here, though. Instead, he explored the current state of religion in America:


J. Gordon Melton was the symposium's final speaker. As Johnson's introduction of him suggests, Melton possesses an almost encyclopedic knowledge of religion in America and the world. In fact, one of his best known works is his, "The Encyclopedia of American Religions." In this talk, he explores the growth of atheism around the world and in the United States.

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