As the world bids goodbye to this millennium’s second decade, what will the next 10 years hold?
Religion News Service put that question to an intellectually and spiritually diverse range of scholars, leaders, activists and experts, asking them to reflect on the past decade and use it as a springboard to conceive the biggest themes likely to materialize in the 2020s.
Here are excerpts from some of the most thought-provoking predictions:
Khyati Joshi, Professor of Education at Fairleigh Dickinson University: “A reckoning for religious minorities in the U.S. and India” Joshi foresees the growth of nationalism and religion in two of the world’s largest democracies—the United States and India. In her view, relatively recent religious minorities in America have become a powerful force adept at advocating for their interests at a time when sections of the white Christian population are increasingly worried that the country is losing its identity.
“I’m keeping an eye on these growing bonds of nationalism and religion in America, as well as in India,” says Joshi. “In both large, officially secular democracies, a rising tide of thought and official action links national identity with the majority religion.” While in America, national identity is being equated with Christianity, in India, the majority Hindu faith has become a focal point for nationalism.
Luke Goodrich, attorney at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty: “SCOTUS will rule during an era of unprecedented religious freedom conflicts” Goodrich anticipates a greater role for the U.S. Supreme Court in helping resolve thorny conflicts over religious freedom and issues of sexuality. The nation’s highest court “will recognize that our country is deeply divided on matters of religion and sexuality,” he says. “And it will hold that the government doesn’t get to pick one side of that divide and punish everyone who disagrees, but must instead protect the equality and dignity of both sides of the debate.”
Ryan Burge, assistant professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University: “Interested in the rise of the nones? Keep an eye on the year 2029” Burge expects “nones”—Americans without any religious affiliation—to build on their numerical gains over the past decade to become larger than any religious group by 2029, even if the rate of their growth is slower than that of denominational groups. Over the next decade, evangelical Christians and Catholics—two of the largest religious groups in the country—will each constitute about 22 percent of the U.S. population. Mainstream Protestants, meanwhile, will suffer major demographic losses. “Today, they make up about 10 percent of Americans, but in 2030 that will be cut to just under 5 percent,” Burge predicts. “That result is stunning, considering that this group made up 30 percent of the population in 1976.”
Simran Jeet Singh, Henry R. Luce Fellow for Religion and International Affairs at New York University’s Center for Religion and Media: “Fighting against the new normal of religious and ethnic nationalism” Singh warns of the perils of religious and ethnic nationalism around the world. He sees several troubling issues, such as the Trump administration’s prohibiting the entry into the United States of Muslims from certain Muslim-majority nations. Other areas of concern include the banning of religious symbols, such as the headscarves worn by Muslim women, in France and Canada. Finally, a law in November 2019 in India allowing members of six minority faiths from neighboring Muslim-majority countries to become Indian citizens, but denying the same right to Muslim immigrants, poses a threat to Indian democracy.
“Each of these represents the troubling trend of backlash against the freedom of religion in what are ostensibly democracies, driven by nationalist sentiment,” says Singh, adding that the coming decade will be a crucial test of the resilience of global society. “Do we continue down the road of exclusivism, ethno-centrism and dehumanization?” he asks. “Or can we reverse this trend and move back toward our values of inclusivity, human rights and justice for all?”
Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association: “A future of religious neutralism” Speckhardt sees a continuing trend toward secular-oriented religious neutrality. More and more people consider themselves humanists, as opposed to being members of religious denominations, and young people who have abandoned religion are unlikely to return to them, according to Speckhardt. “But this need not be viewed by many of the faithful as something to fear, for it will usher in an establishment of religiously neutral secularism that will drive respect for people of all faiths and philosophies.”
The Rev. Tom Reese, Jesuit priest and senior analyst at Religion News Service: “Pope Francis shifts church priorities” Rev. Reese predicts greater commitment and cooperation among the religious toward environmental and other issues. He believes people of faith have been inspired by the example of Pope Francis, who has helped focus global attention on the plight of refugees and the poor while expressing the Catholic Church’s unprecedented concern over climate change. “In the next decade, we will see more believers committed to protecting the planet and slowing global warming,” Reese says. “More interreligious cooperation will take place at the same time that interreligious conflicts increase.”
Patrick Horn, member of the Religion Communicators Council Board of Governors: “Rise in ‘alternative spirituality’” Horn expects an upsurge in “alternative spirituality” and opportunities for social justice to emerge from the interfaith movement and groups such as the United Religions Initiative that is active in more than 110 countries and has over 20 million participants. That membership, says Horn, is expected to reach 100 million people in the not too distant future. “There is a coordinated effort among diverse religious groups to mitigate climate change impacts,” he says, “especially through partnerships such as the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative.”
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