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Forms of Christian life today

17 April 2015

David Martin reads studies from various different contexts


Christianity in the Modern World: Changes and controversies

Giselle Vincent and Elijah Obinna, editors

Ashgate £60


Church Times Bookshop £54

A GREAT deal is owed by anyone interested in the serious analysis of religion to Ashgate, and especially to Sarah Lloyd, the guiding inspiration of a remarkable publishing list. The present book is part of an innovative series, although its title arouses expectations of a global survey, when we are actually presented with quite limited, if broadly indicative, empirical studies.

It is true that Jayeel Serrano Cornelio's chapter might have been part of a global survey. It concerns the prevalence of the "Golden Rule" among young Roman Catholics in the Philippines in the context of majority practice, and of a Church that is ethically conservative and politically critical, and much influenced by Charismatic movements. This situation is replicated in global Catholicism.

Cornelio's chapter might be paired with an analysis by Stefania Palmisano of new forms of monasticism in Piedmont. These emphasise a more personal appropriation of norms, enhance the part played by oblates, and permit the sexes to live together.

Wider issues also underlie Kinga Povedák's study of religious "beat" music in Hungary as part of the opposition to communism, though it was regarded with considerable suspicion by the hierarchy. Globally, RC worship leans towards popular music at the expense of qualitative criteria. Pål Repstad contributes an important inquiry into what has been the relatively pious area of Sørlandet in South-Eastern Norway to test the Woodhead/Heelas thesis about the contrast between a self-controlling Christianity and self-realisation in "the holistic milieu". The Free Churches were more conservative than the State Church, but there were gentle shifts inside Christianity towards more relaxed attitudes, and there was no holistic milieu to speak of.

One could claim that wider issues underlie a study by Berket Loul, John Willott, and Simon Robinson of the support given by faith communities to asylum-seekers in Britain as they responded creatively to dislocation and "super-diversity". The study by Elijah Obinna of "reverse mission" conducted by the Nigerian Redeemed Church of God in secular Edinburgh might be another: as usual, reverse mission turned out to be negligible.

Dodeye Uduak Williams contributes another study with a Nigerian background, focusing on the way old Yakurr rites both flourish and lose their original liminal and transformative meanings when performed under a Christian aegis.

That leaves studies with a quite different provenance. Tom Hutchings discusses the pros and cons of digital religion in "The Dis/Embodied Church: Worship, New Media and the Body", and Sarah-Jane Page analyses data on the attitudes of young Christians to sex in the UK. It seems that young Christians can be sharply distinguished from others of their age by their ethical caution, but that they share with them an attachment to stable marriage.

The Revd Dr David Martin is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the London School of Eonomics.

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