Unaffiliated Does Not Mean Irreligious

A recent study by the Pew Research Center noted a sizable increase in the number of Americans identifying themselves as “religiously unaffiliated,” a group dubbed the “Nones.” Looking carefully at the available data, Peter Berger notes that the Nones are a very diverse group, not at all congruent with the secular or irreligious; 68 percent of them say they believe in a deity, and 18 percent consider themselves religious. Berger comments:

One [solution] would be to differentiate the “Nones” from the “Buts”—that is, from those who will say something like “I am Catholic, but . . . ,” this preamble then being followed by a list of items where the respondent cannot accept the teachings or the actions of his church. There are very many such people in most religious communities today. They fit into the first of two categories based on the work of the distinguished British sociologist Grace Davie—“belonging without believing”—that is individuals who do not disaffiliate from their religious community, thus cannot be called “Nones,” but do stay in with a degree of dissent or inner distance. The other category, “believing without belonging,” does fit the description of “Nones”—they form the very large group of unorganized practitioners of Asian meditation techniques or informal charismatic gatherings, and of course individuals who construct their religious idiosyncrasies all by themselves. . . .

What we have here is a religious landscape that is highly diverse, colorful, and volatile. It is the result of the combination of pluralism (the coexistence of different religions, worldviews, and value systems in the same society) and religious freedom (where the state refrains from imposing or re-imposing religious or ideological uniformity). . . . [W]e don’t live in a secular age, but in a pluralist age.

Read more at American Interest

More about: American Religion, Demography, Pluralism, Religion & Holidays, Secularization


Leaked Emails Point to an Iranian Influence Operation That Reaches into the U.S. Government

Sept. 27 2023

As the negotiations leading up to the 2015 nuclear deal began in earnest, Tehran launched a major effort to cultivate support abroad for its positions, according to a report by Jay Solomon:

In the spring of 2014, senior Iranian Foreign Ministry officials initiated a quiet effort to bolster Tehran’s image and positions on global security issues—particularly its nuclear program—by building ties with a network of influential overseas academics and researchers. They called it the Iran Experts Initiative. The scope and scale of the IEI project has emerged in a large cache of Iranian government correspondence and emails.

The officials, working under the moderate President Hassan Rouhani, congratulated themselves on the impact of the initiative: at least three of the people on the Foreign Ministry’s list were, or became, top aides to Robert Malley, the Biden administration’s special envoy on Iran, who was placed on leave this June following the suspension of his security clearance.

In March of that year, writes Solomon, one of these officials reported that “he had gained support for the IEI from two young academics—Ariane Tabatabai and Dina Esfandiary—following a meeting with them in Prague.” And here the story becomes particularly worrisome:

Tabatabai currently serves in the Pentagon as the chief of staff for the assistant secretary of defense for special operations, a position that requires a U.S. government security clearance. She previously served as a diplomat on Malley’s Iran nuclear negotiating team after the Biden administration took office in 2021. Esfandiary is a senior advisor on the Middle East and North Africa at the International Crisis Group, a think tank that Malley headed from 2018 to 2021.

Tabatabai . . . on at least two occasions checked in with Iran’s Foreign Ministry before attending policy events, according to the emails. She wrote to Mostafa Zahrani, [an Iranian scholar in close contact with the Foreign Ministry and involved in the IEI], in Farsi on June 27, 2014, to say she’d met Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal—a former ambassador to the U.S.—who expressed interest in working together and invited her to Saudi Arabia. She also said she’d been invited to attend a workshop on Iran’s nuclear program at Ben-Gurion University in Israel. . . .

Elissa Jobson, Crisis Group’s chief of advocacy, said the IEI was an “informal platform” that gave researchers from different organizations an opportunity to meet with IPIS and Iranian officials, and that it was supported financially by European institutions and one European government. She declined to name them.

Read more at Semafor

More about: Iran nuclear deal, U.S. Foreign policy