Institutional Adjustment to Globalization to Increase Religious Tolerance

This article examines formal and informal institutional arrangements that either encourage or discourage religious intolerance in response to rapid social and economic change. The initial premise, described in the first part of the article, is based on the work of Gordon Allport, which shows that those who identify themselves as most “religious” tend to be among the most and least tolerant; the former being the “devout” while the latter are “institutional.” The second part of the article examines the economic and social factors underlying the historical relationship, documented by Karen Armstrong, between major social change and the rise of intolerant fundamentalist religious movements. The last section of the article describes three specific ways in which institutional adjustments can reduce intolerance: (1) develop economic policy adjustments to increase household and community resilience; (2) develop institutional arrangements that create incentives for individuals to bargain with one another, rather than engage in zero-sum games; and (3) examine comparative community level studies that offer clues to building resilience and overcoming intolerance.

The Banyan Tree Spirits: Using Photography to Commune with the Natural World

Symbolizing immortality and diversity, banyans are the national spiritual trees of India and Indonesia. We photographed apparent human figures embedded in banyans that served as evidence for questions concerning the origins of religion in archaic peoples and the use of art as a means of personal spiritual development. Two primary questions guided this inquiry. First, did the appearance of human forms in the banyans serve archaic peoples as a source of spirituality and religious belief? In this study, the photographs were treated as “sacred objects” for exploring possible phenomena and states of consciousness through which archaic peoples may have developed religious beliefs. Second, how can art be used to commune with nature for personal spiritual development? This study involved our suspension of disbelief in the supernatural, aesthetic criticism of each photograph, and provisional identification of the categories of spirits they might represent, including fertility and procreation, death, wisdom, and mythological animals. We compared our understanding of the identity of these deities with Hindu beliefs about the banyan, notably their depiction of gods as embedded in the trees, just as our photographs portrayed. We developed a relationship with the spirits that gave rise to spontaneous dialogues that were enlightening and stimulated our spiritual self-development. Our research motivated us to support and sustain the life of banyan trees and the protection of nature in general.

The Religion Singularity: A Demographic Crisis Destabilizing and Transforming Institutional Christianity

The purpose of this article is to trace the emergence of a worldwide church demographic crisis that the author calls the “Religion Singularity,” and to project its impact on the future of institutional Christianity. For nineteen centuries, Christianity experienced strong and steady growth in the total numbers of Christians, worship centers, and denominations worldwide. Since then growth in the number of Christians has continued largely unchanged. But growth in the number of denominations and worship centers turned sharply upward in recent decades, substantially exceeding the growth rate of the total Christian population. This differential is driving a concurrent decline in the size of those institutions to unsustainable levels by the end of the century. The author suggests that denominations are unlikely to survive this severe downsizing. Meanwhile, given their smaller size and more organic structure, worship centers are more likely to survive the religion singularity than their larger counterparts, but only if they are willing to become vision-guided and experimental.