Nov 14, 2017 6:58 am

Q&A: A closer look at Orthodox Christians

Along with Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, Orthodox Christianity is one of the world’s three major Christian traditions. But unlike the other two large branches of Christianity, which have spread throughout the developing world, Orthodoxy remains largely confined to Europe.

Many majority-Orthodox countries, like Russia and Ukraine, were part of the former Soviet Union and, for most of the 20th century, were officially hostile to religion. In the more than 25 years since the collapse of the Soviet bloc, there has been an Orthodox revival in several of these countries. But many people who now identify as Orthodox Christians do not see religion as an important part of their lives, according to a new Pew Research Center report. And, particularly in former Soviet republics, many also report low levels of religious observance, such as church attendance or daily prayer.

Recently, we sat down with George Demacopolous, a professor of theology at Fordham University, to examine trends and issues in the Orthodox Christian world. Demacopolous is a noted expert on Orthodox Christian history and the author and editor of six books.

Russia is the world’s largest Orthodox country and the leader of its church is seen by many outside the country as the faith’s highest authority. Aside from its size, what, if anything, makes Russia and the Russian church special in the Orthodox world?

George Demacopolous, professor of theology, Fordham University
George Demacopolous, professor of theology, Fordham University

The Russian Orthodox Church has no theological claim to global leadership. Instead, the significance of the Moscow Patriarchate in the minds of Orthodox Christians is linked to the geopolitical significance of the Russian state. And it is especially linked to the way that the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has embraced Orthodox Christianity as the single most distinctive feature of Russia’s cultural heritage, which he believes extends beyond the borders of Russia itself.

Putin – and by extension the Russian Orthodox Church – are popular among many non-Russian Orthodox because he has increasingly positioned the Russian government as the lone political protector of Christians in the Middle East. Moreover, he and the patriarch of Moscow are increasingly contrasting the language of “traditional values” with the secular ideologies prevalent in Western Europe and the United States. Thus, many Orthodox Christians living outside of Russia see a powerful Russia with a resurgent Orthodox Church as a positive for global Orthodoxy.

The link between Russia’s political power and the perception of the Moscow Patriarchate’s global leadership are all the more apparent when we contrast it to the situation of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, who is the canonical leader of the Orthodox world but who suffers under constant harassment from the Turkish government and who has little real geopolitical authority.

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Topics: Christians and Christianity, Religious Affiliation

Nov 13, 2017 6:58 am

Americans generally positive about NAFTA, but most Republicans say it benefits Mexico more than U.S.

As Mexico prepares to host the fifth round of negotiations over the 23-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), most Americans (56%) say that the pact is good for the United States, while just a third (33%) say it is bad.

And while President Donald Trump has raised questions about the fairness of the agreement, relatively few say that Mexico (30%) or Canada (20%) benefit more from the agreement than the U.S. does, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted Oct. 25-30 among 1,504 adults.

Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say the trade pact is bad for the U.S. and that it has benefited Mexico, in particular, more than the U.S. In recent years, partisans have moved apart in their assessments of free trade agreements generally as Republicans have grown more negative in their views, and opinions about NAFTA today reflect this partisan dynamic.

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Topics: Mexico, Globalization and Trade, North America

Nov 10, 2017 11:30 am

The changing face of America’s veteran population

Gavin Kinney, left, and his brother Rigel hold up a sign at the New York City Veterans Day Parade on Nov. 11, 2015. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Gavin Kinney, left, and his brother Rigel hold up a sign at the New York City Veterans Day Parade on Nov. 11, 2015. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

There were around 20.4 million U.S. veterans in 2016, according to data from the Department of Veterans Affairs, representing less than 10% of the total U.S. adult population. As Americans observe Veterans Day, here are key facts about those who have served in the military and how this population is changing.

1Gulf War-era veterans now account for the largest share of all U.S. veterans, surpassing Vietnam-era veterans in 2016, according to Veterans Affairs’ 2016 population model estimates. As of last year, there were 6.8 million American veterans who served during the Vietnam era and 7.1 million who served in the Gulf War era, which spans from August 1990 through the present. (Some veterans served through both eras.) There were also around 771,000 World War II veterans and 1.6 million who served during the Korean conflict, the VA estimates. About three-quarters (77%) of veterans in 2016 served during wartime and 23% only served during peacetime.

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Topics: Military and Veterans

Nov 8, 2017 4:03 pm

Key takeaways about Orthodox Christians

A woman lights a prayer candle at an Orthodox church in Moscow. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
A woman lights a prayer candle at an Orthodox church in Moscow. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Orthodoxy is the third-largest branch of Christianity, after Catholicism and Protestantism. Today, there are approximately 260 million Orthodox Christians in the world, according to a new Pew Research Center report.

Orthodoxy, or Eastern Christianity, formally split from Roman Catholicism (known then as Western Christianity) in 1054 over a host of theological issues, high among them disputes over papal authority.

Here are key takeaways about Orthodox Christians, based on the report:

1Orthodox Christians have decreased as a share of the overall Christian population even as their numbers have more than doubled since 1910, when there were 125 million of them. This decrease in share is due to the fact that the worldwide populations of Catholics, Protestants and other Christians have collectively almost quadrupled over the last century (from 490 million in 1910 to 1.9 billion in 2010). Roughly one-in-eight Christians (12%) are now Orthodox, down from one-in-five (20%) in 1910.

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Topics: Christians and Christianity, Religious Affiliation, Religious Beliefs and Practices

Nov 8, 2017 10:01 am

Republicans, Democrats have starkly different views on transgender issues

The American public is fundamentally divided over whether it’s possible for someone to be a gender different from the sex they were assigned at birth, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. The survey comes amid debates over which public bathrooms transgender individuals should use, how they should be recognized on official documents and whether they should serve in the U.S. military.

Overall, roughly half of Americans (54%) say that whether someone is a man or a woman is determined by the sex they were assigned at birth, while 44% say someone can be a man or a woman even if that is different from the sex they were assigned at birth.

Perhaps not surprisingly, considering the widening partisan divide across a variety of issues, Democrats and Republicans have sharply different views on this question. While eight-in-ten Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say that whether someone is a man or a woman is determined by the sex they were assigned at birth, most Democrats and Democratic leaners (64%) take the opposite view and say a person’s gender can be different from the sex they were assigned at birth.

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Topics: Gender, Political Polarization, Social Values

Nov 8, 2017 7:00 am

More than 100,000 Haitian and Central American immigrants face decision on their status in the U.S.

People protest the possibility that the Trump administration may overturn Temporary Protected Status for Haitians in front of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office on May 13 in Miami. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
People protest the possibility that the Trump administration may overturn Temporary Protected Status for Haitians in front of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office on May 13 in Miami. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

More than 100,000 immigrants from Haiti and Honduras are expected to learn in the coming weeks whether they will be allowed to stay in the United States under temporary protection that was granted years ago because of natural disasters in their home countries. That protection expires next year.

These immigrants are among more than 320,000 from 10 nations who have time-limited permission to live and work in the U.S. under Temporary Protected Status (TPS) because of war, hurricanes, earthquakes or other catastrophes in their home countries that could make it dangerous for them to return. The largest number – 195,000 – is from El Salvador, according to U.S. Department of Homeland Security estimates.

Federal officials have not said whether they plan to extend Temporary Protected Status for Haiti and Honduras, which already have repeatedly been extended, but they have stated that TPS is meant to provide temporary rather than long-term relief. Nicaragua’s designation will now expire in January 2019, U.S. officials announced on Nov. 6. Officials from some nations where TPS will soon expire have asked for extensions, saying their countries have not fully recovered and that their immigrants contribute to the U.S. economy. Earlier this year, on May 21, TPS expired for immigrants from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

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Topics: Unauthorized Immigration, Global Migration and Demography, Foreign Affairs and Policy, Latin America, Donald Trump, Immigration

Nov 7, 2017 6:57 am

Russians see World War II, not 1917 revolution, as nation’s most important historical event

Before the fall of the Soviet Union, the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution was one of the most important holidays on the Russian calendar. Today, on the centennial of the revolution, just 8% of Russians believe this event was the most important of the past century. Instead, a plurality of the public (34%) sees World War II as Russia’s most important historical touchstone.

After World War II, 20% of Russians rank the dissolution of the USSR as the single most significant event of the past 100 years. Just one-in-ten cite the country’s 1998 financial crisis. However, a quarter of the public volunteers that all four of the events tested were equally important historical developments for their nation.  Read More

Topics: Russia, Wars and International Conflicts

Nov 6, 2017 6:59 am

Dissatisfaction was widespread in Spain even before Catalan secession vote

People gather at Placa Sant Jaume in Barcelona, Spain, to celebrate after Catalonia's parliament declares an independent Catalan republic on Oct. 27. (Pau Barrena/AFP/Getty Images)
People gather at Placa Sant Jaume in Barcelona, Spain, to celebrate after Catalonia’s parliament declares an independent Catalan republic on Oct. 27. (Pau Barrena/AFP/Getty Images)

Catalonia’s recent secession attempts come at a difficult time for Spain. Across the country, people distrust the national government and feel dissatisfied with the way democracy is working in their nation. And Catalans are even more negative on these issues than those living in other regions of Spain, according to a new analysis of data from a Pew Research Center survey conducted in March and April.

An overwhelming majority of the Spanish public (81%) does not trust the national government to do the right thing for their country. In Catalonia, this figure reaches 91%, including 53% who say they do not trust Madrid at all. In other regions of Spain, 79% lack trust in their government and only about four-in-ten express absolutely no trust.  Read More

Topics: World Economies, International Governments and Institutions, Europe

Nov 3, 2017 11:00 am

Asian countries on Trump’s trip have largely positive views of U.S. but disagree on policy

President Donald Trump embarks on a five-country tour of Asia this week with plans to address North Korea’s nuclear program, economic relations and other issues important to the region and the United States. Over 12 days, Trump will travel to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines. While majorities in the region hold favorable views of the U.S., most disapprove of several of Trump’s signature policies, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in the spring.

Here are key findings related to Trump’s trip to Asia:

1Asian nations are divided when it comes to having confidence in Trump. Globally, a median of just 22% say they are confident Trump will do the right thing when it comes to international affairs. But of all 37 countries the Center surveyed, Trump’s greatest support comes from the Philippines, where 69% say they have confidence in him. A majority of people in Vietnam (58%) also express confidence in Trump. The shares are much smaller in Japan (24%) and South Korea (17%). In these two countries, confidence in the U.S. president is down dramatically from the end of the Obama administration. South Korea, for example, has seen a 71-percentage-point drop in confidence in the U.S. president since 2015.  Read More

Topics: Foreign Affairs and Policy, Asia and the Pacific, Donald Trump

Nov 3, 2017 7:00 am

Many Central and Eastern Europeans see link between religion and national identity

Atheist regimes dominated much of Central and Eastern Europe until the fall of the Iron Curtain and collapse of the Soviet Union between 1989 and 1991. Today, however, many of the governments in the region have an official state religion or an unofficial preferred faith.

In such countries, people are more likely to see religion and national identity as entwined, compared with citizens of neighboring Central and Eastern European states that lack official or favored faiths, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis.

Residents of states with official or favored religions also are more likely to support government subsidies and a public policy role for their country’s predominant church.

Of the 18 countries the Center recently surveyed in the region, two (Armenia and Greece) have an official state religion. Nine others, including Russia and Poland, unofficially “prefer” a religion, bestowing disproportionate benefits on a particular religious group, although they do not officially recognize it.  Read More

Topics: Eastern Europe, Religious Affiliation, Religious Beliefs and Practices, Europe, National and Cultural Identity