This latest Global Plus column comes from the journalist with the closest, ongoing access to Pope Francis: Sergio Rubin. This noted Argentine journalist collaborated on a book-length biography with Jorge Bergoglio, who now is known around the world as Francis. In this column, Rubin shares his insights into Francis’s attempts to revive and renew the worldwide church.
Who are the nonreligious? Depending on how they are counted, the nonreligious today may be considered the world’s third largest ‘religion,’ trailing only Christianity and Islam. They exercise an increasingly influential voice on issues from the immigration crisis in Europe to secular-religious tensions in Asia Pacific. Now a developing body of research is shedding critical light on the diversity and complexity of this group in an age when the makeup and balance of religious and nonreligious populations, along with their shared history, matters in ways both small and large.
Across the world, billions of worshippers this weekend will be going to mosques, temples, churches and other places of worship hearing messages declaring that the choices they make in this life can affect their eternal destiny. How each of them, and secular individuals, face the great existential question of the meaning of life in the face of mortality can make a major difference in areas from mental health to preventing terrorism and promoting more generous, compassionate societies less likely to experience civil strife, new research shows.
China finds itself in the midst of a religious revival that is reshaping the global religious landscape in profound ways in the Third Millennium of the Christian era. From confounding expectations that sometime this century Islam may become the world’s largest religion to challenging Western theories of economic growth leading to the obsolescence of faith, China is in the midst of a great awakening that is transforming what once appeared to be the most secular nation on Earth to the leading edge of Christian expansion in the 21st century.
The global refugee crisis represents a potential transformational moment in world history. Nations from Africa to Asia to Europe to North America with troubled pasts of ethnic conflict and of putting political and economic self-interest above humanitarian needs have an opportunity to write new chapters in their national stories. Religion is playing and will play a critical role.
Religious fashion matters. It matters to individuals who view wearing head scarves, kippas and turbans as a positive expression of faith, and it matters to societies increasingly setting restrictions on religious attire in response to concerns ranging from security to the belief that increasing diversity represents a threat to the essential character of their nations. So how, in the face of intense political and social pressures, can nations balance issues of religious freedom, tolerance and national identity? A developing body of research sheds some light on the debate.
The transition to more religiously and ethnically diverse societies is rarely a smooth one. An economic downturn and heightened security fears have made it particularly challenging for countries throughout Europe. Amid the turmoil, many governments have forgone efforts at social integration in favor of legislation restricting religious freedom. But research indicates such efforts only increase conflict.[