Insights from the dashboard: Leadership and traditions
Both leadership and traditions are regular trending topics on the EARS dashboard. This article will show you how our dashboard can generate new insights into the connection between these two subjects.
Leadership is a recurring theme in the media when it comes to articles about religion and society. In fact, 949 article summaries added to the EARS dashboard between January and July 2021 concerned this topic. This accounts for 41% of all articles, indicating the importance of (religious) leadership in the media.
Not only did this topic occur in 41% of all article summaries on the dashboard; it also showed significant overlap with the theme of traditions. During the same period, 547 article summaries were added on this topic, equivalent to 24% of the total. Of these articles, 188 considered both leadership and traditions.
Let’s take a look at the recent developments around these two issues in Europe.
Getting together to celebrate religious rites and rituals is a major tradition that was disrupted in the past year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Several religious leaders have spoken out about this and many have had to organise celebrations and events in new ways. For example, the Church of Scotland held its annual General Assembly online due to the pandemic, and the Greek Orthodox Church proposed to hold Easter celebrations outside. Religious leaders were not the only leaders expressing their opinions on the changes to religious celebrations. For instance, Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev asked worshippers to celebrate their rites and pray from home.
At times when COVID-19 infections seemed to slow down, religious leaders expressed their wish to return to traditional celebrations. To illustrate, in June 2021, the bishop of the Spanish city of Cordoba, Demetrio Fernandez, said he hopes to “reach a total normality, that we can hug and kiss without fear.” Several national leaders share this wish, with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis aiming to allow the presence of faithful in their buildings for celebrations during Easter, and the US Embassy in Albania sharing the hope that the New Year will lead to the defeat of the virus, on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr.
Women in leadership
Another area in which traditions were broken recently is the issue of women in leadership. In February 2021, Catholic theologian Beate Gilles was elected as the general secretary of the German Bishops’ Conference, making her the first woman to be elected in the top leadership of a Catholic episcopal conference.
Similarly, Nathalie Becquart was appointed undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops, now being the first woman with the right to vote in the Catholic Episcopal Synod. This development follows Pope Francis’s earlier statements on aiming to provide more space for women in the Catholic Church.  Francis also passed a resolution allowing women to formally read prayers, serve at the altar, and receive communion during religious services.
The increasing role of women in religious leadership is not limited to the Catholic faith. In January 2021, Zara Mohammed won the presidency of the Muslim Council of Britain, the largest umbrella organisation of mosques in the United Kingdom. She hopes to inspire other women to step forward and take on leadership roles, and thereby breaking traditions.
Like the developments in female leadership, the topic of same-sex marriage has also led to discussions and statements by religious leadership. In March 2021, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith imposed a ban on blessing same-sex couples. However, breaking with this traditional viewpoint, hundreds of German priests blessed same-sex couples in May under the motto ‘love wins’. Despite criticism by the assembly of bishops, the initiative was set to continue for several days.
Over 230 theology professors from Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and the Netherlands also questioned the ban on blessing same-sex unions. Protesting the traditional stance, they argued this ban discriminates against homosexual people and their life plans.
However, the Vatican did break with tradition in other areas. Pope Francis recently made groundbreaking changes to church regulations, imposing a ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards paedophilia crimes. In addition, he established that cardinals and bishops can now also be tried by the Ordinary Court of the Vatican, composed of lay judges. This change marks a shift away from tradition, as they used to be judged only by other cardinals or the pope himself.
Leadership in traditions
Therefore,in the first 7 months of 2021, we have seen several religious and national leaders breaking with tradition. For instance, the Vatican made major changes to church regulations, and in various religions, women were appointed to leadership positions for the first time. Nevertheless, some traditions remain extremely important to leaders, although discussions are increasing. The ban on blessing same-sex unions is a strong example, as hundreds of priests and professors strongly opposed the Vatican’s attachment to tradition.
The EARS dashboard allows you to gain insight into a large number of topics, including leadership and traditions. It is a free tool that enables you to make similar connections as described above, and to find out about new relationships between interesting subjects across Europe. Please visit the dashboard to learn more.