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Articles in Religion

The Uncertain Role of Religion in Indonesia’s 2014 Presidential Election

By Martin W. Lewis | December 10, 2014 | 7 Comments

The on-line maps that I have found of Indonesia’s 2014 presidential election are not very helpful. That of the Wikipedia is particularly poor. To begin with, it merely shows which candidate received a majority of votes in each province, with no information provided on the margin of victory. But the returns actually varied quite significantly across the country, with the …

Sexualized Dangdut Performances in Indonesia and Resulting Controversies

By Martin W. Lewis | December 9, 2014 | 5 Comments

As the most recent GeoCurrents post explained, heavy-metal music has been of some political importance in Indonesia, with the country’s new president, Joko Widodo, being a major fan. Although cultural tension between “metalheads” and conservative Muslim organization is an on-going issue, overt clashes have been relatively rare and restrained. Religious groups in Indonesia have, however succeeded in shutting down musical …

Michael Izady’s Amazingly Detailed Map of Ethnicity in Syria (and the Syrian Armenians)

By Martin W. Lewis | October 26, 2014 | 6 Comments

Most maps that show the distribution of ethnic groups within particular countries are relatively simple, depicting a few discrete populations within large, contiguous blocks of territory. The distinguishing characteristics of such groups are rarely specified. A good example of such a useful yet overly simplified map is the Washington Post’s portrayal of Syria posted here. This map reduces the complex …

The Extraordinary Cultural Cartography of Michael Izady, Part I

By Martin W. Lewis | October 23, 2014 | 3 Comments

To understand the political situation of the Middle East today, it is necessary to examine the geographical relationships pertaining to political borders, the distributions of religious and linguistic groups, and the patterning of oil and gas deposits. Of particular significance is the fact that many of the largest fossil fuel deposits are found in areas that are not primarily inhabited …

GeoCurrents Editorial: The Genocide of the Yezidis Begins, and the United States is Complicit

By Martin W. Lewis | August 7, 2014 | 90 Comments

(Note: GeoCurrents is still technically on summer vacation, allowing me time to catch up with other obligations that I have neglected. My recent essays on eco-modernism, written for the Breakthrough Institute, can be found here and here. I am interrupting this GeoCurrents hiatus, however, to address a highly disturbing and significant development. This post also violates the GeoCurrents policy on …

Religion, Caste, and Electoral Geography in the Indian State of Kerala

By Martin W. Lewis | May 29, 2014 | 2 Comments

As mentioned in a previous GeoCurrents post, India’s southwestern state of Kerala, noted for its high levels of social development, exhibited markedly different patterns in the 2014 election from most other parts of the country. In Kerala, parties on the far left did quite well, as did the center-left Indian National Congress, whereas the center-right BJP performed quite poorly, as …

Wikipedia, the Difficulties of Mapping World Religions, and a Most Bizarre Map

By Martin W. Lewis | May 6, 2014 | 31 Comments

In teaching the global geography of religion this term, I have again been disappointed by the quality of relevant maps that are readily available on-line. Making a map of this sort is admittedly a challenge. Many areas contain multiple faiths, and a few religions—Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism, Shinto—even allow their own adherents to follow other religions simultaneously. Degrees of religiosity and …

Mapping Religion in the Unfortunate Atlas of Islamic Republic of Pakistan

By Martin W. Lewis | May 3, 2014 | 26 Comments

Mapping world religions is a challenging project, as will be discussed in a forthcoming GeoCurrents post. Although I have been disappointed by most global religion maps, nothing compares to the maps found, yet again, in the Atlas of Islamic Republic of Pakistan (2012, Rawalpindi, Survey of Pakistan Press). These depictions are so amusingly odd and awful that they merit extended …

The Sochi Olympics and the Circassians: A Media Failure?

By Martin W. Lewis | February 7, 2014 | 33 Comments

When lecturing on the Caucasus last fall, I asked my Stanford students if any of them had ever heard of the Circassians. Out of a class of roughly 100 students, two raised their hands. I then told that class that the Circassians had once been an extremely well known if often misunderstood ethnic group, and I predicted that by February …

Robin Wright’s Audacious Remapping of the Middle East

By Martin W. Lewis | October 1, 2013 | 42 Comments

I was taken aback this past Sunday (September 29) by Robin Wright’s colorful map of a politically re-divided Middle East in the New York Times, which illustrated her article “Imagining a Remapped Middle East.” The map, entitled “How 5 Could Become 14,” shows a hypothetical future division of Libya, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia into 14 potential new countries …

Controversies over Ethnicity, Affirmative Action, and Economic Development in Malaysia

By Martin W. Lewis | September 20, 2013 | 2 Comments

Few issues are more controversial in Malaysia than the country’s National Development Policy, particularly its extensive “affirmative action” provisions that provide economic and social advantages for the majority (61%) indigenous population (“Bumiputeras”) at the expense of the Chinese and Indian communities. Dating back to the early 1970s, this policy has resulted in significant economic gains for the Malay community, but …

Explaining the Rapid Rise of the Xenophobic Right in Contemporary Europe

By James Mayfield | July 22, 2013 | 258 Comments
Copyright James Mayfield

The last three decades have witnessed a remarkable rise in xenophobic, deeply conservative, and even extreme right-wing parties across much of Europe. Whereas thirty years ago most xenophobic parties failed to even pass the 5% minimum voter threshold that is typically required to enter government, they now constitute as much as ~28% of the parliament in countries like Austria, and arguably have reached the ~70% level in Hungary. Hoping to understand these surprising changes in the European political climate, this post will briefly analyze the characteristics of the xenophobic right as of 2013, underscore the diversity of xenophobic parties, and try to explain some of the patterns encountered when the far-right takes hold, as well as their exceptions.

Religious Change and Tension in Ethiopia

By Martin W. Lewis | June 21, 2013 | 9 Comments

Ethiopia is currently undergoing a religious transformation that could be of major significance for the rapidly growing country of 91 million people. For centuries the territory that now constitutes the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia was divided between an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian core (with a Jewish minority), a Sunni Muslim zone in the east, and an animist/indigenous-faith area in the …

Mapping Evangelical Christian Missionary Efforts

By Martin W. Lewis | March 13, 2013 | 2 Comments

It is difficult to find maps depicting religious adherence in areas outside of the historical boundaries of the major universalizing faiths, such as much of sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania. Many such places, however, are characterized today by profound religious change, as missionaries seek converts and as syncretic forms of worship emerge. Some proselytizing organizations, however, maintain intricate maps of their …

A Global Decline in Religiosity?

By Martin W. Lewis | August 22, 2012 | 27 Comments

New global poll on religion and atheism by WIN-Gallup International has been receiving some attention. The poll, which covered 57 countries containing a solid majority of the world’s population, shows a clear decline in religiosity between 2005 and 2011. Globally, the number of adults claiming to be religious* evidently declined by 9 percent, with the number of atheists increasing by …

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