NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Not that long ago, many people relegated religion to the dustbin of history. In its millennial issue, The Economist magazine went so far as to write God's obituary. Apparently rumors of her demise were premature. A while ago, two Economist writers wrote a book about religion and politics in the United States, a phenomenon that perplexes many in Europe.

Now they've expanded their work to incorporate the global revival from Christians in Shanghai to Muslim televangelists in Cairo and the increasing importance of religion in politics, culture, conflict and in people's lives. John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge's new book is called "God Is Back," and they're here to tell us the good news about why, for example, many Chinese equate Christianity with modernism and prosperity.

Later in the program, the agony of so many high school seniors who find themselves on the waiting list of their top college. But first, "God is Back: How the Global Revival of Faith is Changing the World." If you've seen evidence of this worldwide religious revival, or not, call and tell us your story, 800-989-8255, email talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our Web site at npr.org. Just click on TALK OF THE NATION.

John Micklethwait is editor-in-chief of The Economist. Adrian Wooldridge is its Washington bureau chief and Lexington columnist. They both join us here in studio 3A. Nice to have you back on the program.

Mr. JOHN MICKLETHWAIT (Editor in Chief, The Economist): Thank you.

Mr. ADRIAN WOOLDRIDGE (Washington Bureau Chief and Lexington Columnist, The Economist): Thank you.

CONAN: And to resolve any doubts as to the size of this phenomenon, you suggest that within a very few years China will not only be the largest Christian nation in the world, but maybe the largest Muslim nation, too.

Mr. MICKLETHWAIT: I think it's well on the way to becoming the world's largest Christian country. And I went there, and you visit these house churches. And what's happened in a strange way is the Chinese government inadvertently has come with this brilliant way of expanding Christianity inside a country, which is to force, by rules, to force people that when a meeting reaches 25 people, you're not allowed to go any bigger than that.

Which actually forces each house church, once they get to 26, 27, they divide into two and they start again. And the numbers are not that clear, but it's up to around 100 million people already converted to Christianity. And that is more Christians, more people going to church every Sunday than there are members of the Communist Party in China.

CONAN: And that point that we mentioned just a moment ago, so many of them are, well, not necessarily the poor struggling...

Mr. MICKLETHWAIT: Very much not. I mean, there's a slight break. Out in the countryside you tend to get more Catholicism and slightly more, kind of, rural side to it. But in the cities, particularly the house church I went to, that had a stem cell scientist. It was run by a technologist from an American technology company I probably don't want to reveal. But - and the other people, there were professors, there were people who worked in banking. This was the new China.

There were BMWs outside. And they very much saw this particular brand of evangelical Christianity as the new modern thing. And, in fact, they thought it's essential to China's modernity.

CONAN: There is an interesting comparison or lesson that they draw from the sort of unbridled American capitalism - it needs to be tempered by Christianity.

Mr. MICKLETHWAIT: Very much so. And that actually causes a real problem for the Chinese regime, because on the one hand, they do see this perhaps as the glue which could bind their country together. Sometimes right from the very top you've heard people talk about it in that way. On the other hand, they're frightened by it. You talk to some in the regime and they point out that it was - they, well, rather, they think it was John Paul II who was almost singlehandedly responsible for the end of communism or the end of the Soviet Union. And they're worried about the effect on their own status.

CONAN: And Adrian Wooldridge, let me ask you about, well, among those afraid of it are Europeans who, of course, have had a very ugly history regarding religious wars.

Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: Absolutely. The Europeans saw their culture and their civilization torn apart during the Thirty Years' War by a religious dispute. And they basically said, we need to get religion as far out of politics as possible. So they created this principle in the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 that they said that whoever was king would determine the religion of his people.

So that was one thing that pushed religion out of politics. Then we saw the Enlightenment and people like Voltaire saying that religion is a disruptive force. It's something that leads to bloody riots and bloody wars. Again, he denounced religion in the name of reason. So what you saw in Europe was the progressive marginalization of religion and the progressive secularization of society. And you saw great European intellectuals such as Marx, such as Freud, such as Weber, such as Durkheim saying, yes, it's all right, because the more modern, the more sophisticated, the more advanced a country becomes, the less religious it will become. So the less we'll have these problems of religion -that wars of religion will just fratricide.

CONAN: And this, as it turns out, you suggest, is not a product of lack of religiosity, or lack of faith or lack of belief, but it's a product of a monopoly.

Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: I think that there's always a demand for the consolations of religion in the population in general. What happened in Europe was not a failure of demand, it was a failure of supply. Basically you had churches which had state monopolism, so people associated religion with the state power, which they didn't necessarily like. Also, the people who were providing this service didn't have any particular incentive to do it very well. There's a great statement by somebody about the Church of England. He was a skeptic, and he said, basically, I support the Church of England as a bulwark against the spread of religion.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: And I think that that's basically what's happened in Europe.

CONAN: And it's interesting, John Micklethwait, as you talk about the two most important documents to explain the spread of religion around the world, not just in China, but through Africa and other places, not just Christianity, but you focus on that a lot in the book- are "The Wealth of Nations," in other words, the more competition you have, the more likely religion is likely to prosper -and the Constitution of the United States.

Mr. MICKLETHWAIT: The Constitution is incredibly important. One of the things which really surprised us when we looked at this book is when you go back and look at early American history, it's not that religious. Yes, you have the Puritan fathers, but already, quite soon after that, a lot of less wholesome people started to come out here and the wonderful fact that...

CONAN: Wholesome and the Puritans didn't always go together, but...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MICKLETHWAIT: But "The Crucible," everyone associates that with Salem. You look at Salem in, I think it's 1683, 80 percent of households confessed to no religious denomination. So what was happening was America wasn't that religious and what happened is the Constitution, the First Amendment dividing church and state, set off this almighty competition. And the first people you really see grabbing hold of it are the Methodists, who basically convert about an eighth of the country in barely 50 years.

And they set the whole tone for it. With them pushing; Catholics then arrive; they begin to compete in a much more, sort of, active way than they did back in Europe. And that's been the way the American model has followed ever since. And now, what we see in this book, and we are describing this, we're not saying it's good, bad, indifferent, we're just telling you this phenomenon is there. That phenomenon is going around the world and it's making a difference to all sorts of countries.

CONAN: And if you've seen evidence of this religious explosion in your life or in your travels, give us a call. Tell us your story, 800-989-8255, email us talk@npr.org. And let's begin with John(ph). And John's with us from Tallahassee.

CONAN: Hello, John, you there? One more time, John, you there?

NANCY (Caller): I'm here.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

NANCY: I'm not John.

CONAN: You're not John. Who are you? I apologize.

NANCY: Nancy.

CONAN: Nancy, go ahead, Nancy.

NANCY: Well, I just have something to say. Religion, by word origin, means the right way. It's our human interpretation of the experience of the divine. I'm not talking about this religion or that religion, I'm talking about, as you call it, the religiosity that, to me, in my own life, and I hope in the lives of most people around the world, is the fundamental thing. Religion, as organized this or that, Catholicism and Protestantism and all different forms and variations is one thing.

CONAN: John. Excuse me, Nancy...

NANCY: Faith is another.

CONAN: Thank you very much.

Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: I think, well, that's really interesting, 'cause, actually, what you're seeing there, what Nancy's saying, effectively, is very much the American message - that religion is a personal, individual thing. And, again, going back to the house church in China, what you saw there was people coming in, there was no pastor. They gather together, and they sit, and they study the Bible and they pick and choose.

And I think that's always been the American way and it's probably becoming more so at the moment. Jefferson had that wonderful bit where he went through the Bible and cut out the bits he liked and got rid of the other bits.

CONAN: Got rid of the other bits he didn't.

Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: Got rid of the rest, yes.

CONAN: Much thinner book.

Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: And that's sort of the way in which American religion has kept on going. If you look at the number of people in America who change their religion, that one out of four people change from one to the other, and that, again, pluralism is really at the heart of the American success of religion.

CONAN: Now we found John, John in Tallahassee. We apologize for pushing the wrong button earlier.

JOHN (Caller): That's okay. Good afternoon.

CONAN: Afternoon.

Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: Good afternoon.

JOHN: I just wanted to comment, it was appropriate when he talked about one in four people changing their religion. I converted to Buddhism about five years ago, and here in Tallahassee. And when I did there was basically only one small group. And there would occasionally be a teacher coming through, a monk or a nun.

And now there's four groups, and this is not counting immigrants or Asians, mostly westerners who have converted, two different Tibetan schools, a Korean school of Zen and then there's another kind of ecumenical group.

And definitely without teachers, there's always a lot of discussion between people. Usually after meetings and meditation sessions there's always discussion.

CONAN: And Adrian, we don't necessarily think of Buddhists as evangelists, proselytizers, but nevertheless.

Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: Not necessarily, but I think what the caller was saying is very interesting because American religion has always had a very strong individualist element. It's about the individual seeking meaning in his life and being willing to break with his community or break with his parents' traditions in order to choose his own religion. And it's also been about variety. You've seen more religions, variety in the United States than anywhere else in the world.

Within the Christian tradition there's all sorts of incredible Quakers, Shakers, anybody you can think of. There's also, you know, Mormonism, this...

CONAN: Quintessentially American.

Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: Quintessentially American religion, and now you have Islam, you have Buddhism, you have religions imported from all around the world and people creating their own religions. Somebody once said that I - Sheila, I think she was called, and she said, I support the religion of Sheila.

And I think that is a very longstanding American thing, but it's becoming more the case now - that you're getting more diversity, more individualism, more people swapping, choosing, creating their own religion.

CONAN: One of the places you - and, John, thanks very much for the call. One of the places you write about in the book is in the Empire State Building, sort of there at the corner of Sodom and Gomorrah in New York City. And yet pointing out that this place that we think of as a bastion of secularity is in fact, well, one of the most religious cities in the world.

Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: There's a lot religion that goes on in New York under the surface. It's part of that market. And it's something which actually is going around the world. And it's certainly true that Islam is much less friendly to pluralism than Christianity is, and that is part of the structural difficulties we try and deal with in this book. But even...

CONAN: Modern Islam, not in the old days.

Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: Exactly.

CONAN: Anyway, we're going to be talking about some of the political implications of this recrudescence of religion as it explodes across the world, as it grows rapidly, as it revives itself right out of the dustbin of history.

If you've seen evidence of this in your travels, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Stay with us. We're talking with John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge of The Economist magazine about their new book, "God is Back: How the Global Revival of Faith is Changing the World." I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. We're talking about the implications of the rise of religion around the world. John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge of The Economist magazine have a new book out titled "God is Back: How the Global Revival of Faith is Changing the World."

And we want your evidence of this global revival. What have you seen in your own travels, your own life, 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our Web site, that's at npr.org, Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Here's an email from Mike in Boulder, Colorado. What have the authors seen with regard to the Chinese government's view of the potential of churches to lead the Chinese people in social movements and political participation. John?

Mr. MICKLETHWAIT: Well, you do see some evidence from the government. The government's made big speeches, you had Zhou making big - he sat there and said, actually, that he - there's a role for religion within what they see as the modern Chinese experience. (unintelligible), Hu Jintao, in particular, has made speeches where he has tried to bring religion into the pattern.

But it's a very difficult path for them because they're not sure which way to go because religion, on the one hand, is a kind of glue. It is something which could bring stuff together. They're actively encouraging Confucianism, but on the other hand, they're deeply worried, particularly about Christianity, about what it could do.

Once you have communities like that, that church I went to go see, is they start founding things like schools. They start doing organizational things. And some people already think the Christian church is the largest NGO in China. That's quite a difficult thing.

CONAN: You point out in the book, I think, many of the leaders of the Tiananmen Square uprising have since converted.

Mr. MICKLETHWAIT: Converted. Yes. And that, again, has caused problems.

CONAN: Now, let's see if we can get another caller on the line. And let's go to Jack. And Jack's with us from Aiken, South Carolina.

JACK (Caller): Hi, how are you doing?

CONAN: Very well, thanks.

JACK: Well, I'll tell you. People throughout the world are looking for something. They have no idea what they're looking for, but there is really one true religion. It doesn't make a difference whether it's Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal, Church of God or whatever. As long as they preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, that's the true religion, and that's what people are looking for - salvation. And they don't know how to get it until somebody comes out and really shows them the plan of salvation.

CONAN: Well...

JACK: Then they start - and this has had an explosion throughout the world.

CONAN: And we've talked about China, but the other examples you give in the book are South America, where the Pentecostal and Evangelical religions are forming quite a challenge to the Catholic Church.

Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: Latin America is a fascinating example...

JACK: Well, that's because people, they're taught the gospel of Jesus Christ.

CONAN: Jack, if you'd let Mr. Wooldridge talk for just a minute.

Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: Latin American is a fascinating example of this, and Pentecostalism is a fascinating example of this. There are about 500 million Pentecostalists in the world. The Pentecostalist version of Christianity is the world's fastest-growing faith, probably.

Latin America, which was traditionally a Catholic country, had, really, a Catholic Church had a monopoly of Christian religion there, is now seeing Pentecostalism, and Protestantism and Evangelism rising very, very rapidly.

For example, I went to Guatemala City. It's now a majority Protestant country, and you see everywhere, on every street corner, you see these tiny, street-corner churches, but you also see these gigantic mega-churches, very much on the American model, preaching a Pentecostal style of religion. I went to one called Big Brother, Mega Frata(ph), which you approach along something called Burger King Drive.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: And in that church you see a very emotional sort of religion. You see people speaking in tongues. You see people possessed by the Holy Spirit. But if you go into the bookshop there, there are management tomes, self-help tomes, books on business, how to run your company, how to get rich.

And you see this very peculiar combination of a very emotional thing, which a lot of secular people find themselves very uncomfortable with, with people trying to get ahead, becoming, you know, more disciplined, more industrious, giving up drinking, giving up gambling, becoming much more useful citizens.

CONAN: Getting religion, as we used to say.

Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: Getting religion, but modernization can go along with a very emotional spiritual religion. A lot of secularists see these things as incompatible, but they're very compatible in Latin America.

CONAN: Well, let's go to Larry. Larry calling from Boston.

LARRY (Caller): Yeah, thank you for taking my call. I was thinking that the first time I really saw an influence, a great influence of Evangelical religion, it seemed to me, as far as modern times go, was that the beginning of the Carter administration, where there was a tremendous sort of like confluence of this born-again sort of culture.

There was a lot of music, Christian rock, stuff like that. I myself am Jewish, and I am really bothered. It really - I'm disturbed by the fact that religion is becoming so important in, not only in secular life - pardon me, not only in personal life, but also in the body politic, the way it seems to be taking over, many times, the political debate, especially during presidential elections.

CONAN: A couple of points that Larry raises, one of which is the importance of the 1970s. You write a lot about that in your book.

Mr. MICKLETHWAIT: I think absolutely right. I think 1970s, you look back in retrospect and people didn't really notice this until maybe the 1990s or maybe much more recently. You look back to the 1970s, you mentioned Jimmy Carter, you also had the founding of the Moral Majority here, but look around the world. You had the emergence of Hindu parties in India. You had the emergence of a Polish, rather militant pope. You had the overfall of the shah in Iran.

You could argue again, look at the Middle East, which you obliquely referred to. You see there much more kind of religiousization, if I can use that word, of both the Israeli and the Palestinian sides.

LARRY: I wanted to add another thing. I lived in Israel for three years, and if you want to see the problem of something like the rabbinate taking over every - taking over birth, death, marriage; non-Jews cannot marry Jews in Israel; there's no such thing as a secular marriage there. You've got to leave the country. You've got to go to Cyprus if you have a Jewish and a non-Jewish couple that wants to get married.

And that's - this is what really troubles me. I mean, worse than having the Ten Commandments in wherever that was, in a city hall somewhere in the Midwest, I am really concerned. I'm really concerned. And even Barack Obama, who I was very strongly in favor of and actually volunteered for, even his religiosity, to a certain extent, troubles me.

CONAN: And that's another point, Adrian Wooldridge, that in this country it's very difficult to get elected to office, much less president of the United States, without wearing religion on your sleeve.

Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: Oh, I think anybody who wants to be president still has to do that. And I understand that a lot of Americans are very nervous about the power of the new right and very nervous about the fact that religion can become too involved in politics. We are very nervous about that, as well. In this book we try not to make value judgments, as much as possible.

We're trying to describe something that's going on. But nevertheless, we understand that what's going on can have very good consequences. Religion inspires some of the most saintly and extraordinary acts of sacrifice one has ever seen, but we also have a whole section on wars of religion. It inspires things that are very worrying.

We have a section on culture wars. It divides cultures around very non-negotiable issues. And one of the things that we've found in this book is that in order to solve these problems that are created by religion, you also need religion. If religion is part of the problem, it's also part of the solution.

And we talk about two things. First of all, the importance of having religion involved in wars of conflict, religious leaders involved in trying to solve those wars. And secondly, the importance of the First Amendment in separating political power from religious power, church from state so that you can have a relatively - not a relatively - a neutral public square so that people aren't too disturbed.

CONAN: In fact, one of the things you argue in the book is that the Bush administration, rather than plumping for democracy as a solution to some of the political problems that arose in the Middle East, would've been much better off arguing for religious pluralism as a solution to its problems.

Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: I think they fixated on the question of democracy. They didn't understand that the Sunni-Shia division was a fundamental and important division. And they didn't understand the importance of involving the leaders of these different communities in the peace process.

CONAN: And that, in fact, the entire diplomatic apparatus, not just in the United States, but indeed, of Western Europe, is set up almost outside of secularism. Madeleine Albright is quoted.

Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: There's a wonderful quote from Madeleine Albright where she describes, I think it's a cabinet meeting or certainly one in the State Department at the end of the 20th century where she's - they're describing the Northern Ireland peace process. And somebody turns to her and says, isn't it incredible? We're still discussing a religious conflict at the end of the 20th century.

And problem with that was just a year or so before 9/11 and before this vast array of things. And there's one, I think it's a very good survey, I think, of all the main four foreign relations journals in America, which I think over a period of about 15 years, only had, I think, less than 10 articles which dealt with religion. Yet it's this problem bubbling away underneath.

CONAN: And Henry Kissinger's great thesis, you say, never mentions the word God.

Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: A wonderful book on diplomacy, 900 pages, and yet it doesn't mention religion, which I think now, to be fair to Kissinger, you go and talk to Kissinger, he now is very, very aware of that as a problem.

CONAN: But Adrian, the other problems with the Bush administration, people saying, coming to realize yes, religion is very important, but I think it was the head of the counterterrorism unit at the FBI then identified Iran as a Sunni nation.

Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: Absolutely. CQ magazine did a survey of leading intelligence experts, leading senators, leading congressmen to see what they knew about Islam, what they knew about Sunnis and Shias. And the answer, basically to summarize it very briefly, was zero.

CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. This is Andrew. Andrew, with us from Jacksonville in North Carolina.

ANDREW (Caller): Yeah. Thank you so much for having me on the show, longtime listener, first-time caller. I'm a United States Marine. I've had the pleasure of traveling all over the world, whether it's southeast, southwest Asia, Africa.

And the thing that I would say has changed the most is the ability to have individual conversations about faith, about religion. Fifteen years ago, if I walked into another country, you know, we're told, don't talk about Christianity, don't talk about, you know, your religion.

And now, regardless of what country I've gone to, I found that we've been able to bring faith out of this individual isolated area and really bring it into a, hey, I don't have to be afraid that I'm - I have a faith and that I have a belief, and I'd like to know what you believe in and have a discussion about that.

CONAN: It has become legitimized, hasn't it, Adrian - excuse me, John?

Mr. MICKLETHWAIT: Yes, I think it has. And I think that's the interesting thing from the point of view of peacemaking, as Adrian alluded to you, you have to bring it in. And again, I think the Northern Ireland thing is a great example. That was a debate, that was a battle that went on for centuries.

It only began to be solved once Blair and Major began to bring in the people from both sides. Once you had vicars and priests standing and condemning atrocities, whether it's from Catholics or Protestants, it was only then together it worked.

And actually, it's a very obvious comparison between that and, say, what's happening in the Middle East where, no matter what either Israel or Palestinians do to each other, you very, very seldom see a rabbi and an imam beside each other saying, this is unacceptable.

ANDREW: And it's actually very interesting because back here in United States, I found that people are a little bit more hesitant once in a while to have a conversation about faith.

Yet, when I was in Africa and Kenya, you bring up, you know, Christianity or Muslim, and they've got every impulse to talk to you about what they believe. They want to know what you believe. And it's just amazing.

And I think that as that increases here in the U.S., we'll see that it'll be brought more and more to the forefront, not as a - an adversary of politics, but as something that is simply a discussion about what we believe.

Mr. MICKLETHWAIT: The paradox is that America has the best system for solving it in some ways, the separation of church and state, but it also has this difficulty about trying to take it out into the outside world.

CONAN: Andrew, thanks very much.

ANDREW: Thank you.

CONAN: Appreciate it.

Our guests, again, are John Micklethwait, who you just heard, and Adrian Wooldridge, both of the Economist magazine. And their new book is "God Is Back: How The Global Revival of Faith is Changing The World."

And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And Africa, you gave as another example, both of the explosive nature of the growth of Christianity, in that case, and Islam in different parts of Africa. And, well, this could be a problem.

Mr. MICKLETHWAIT: It is. If you go - I went to Nigeria. And you go there and you see basically this titanic struggle between, on the one hand, evangelical Christianity surging northwards, often driven by American collection plate model money. And on the other hand, you have Islamic fundamentalism, often driven by Saudi money, surging downwards. And the two are meeting. And there's a frontline, very obviously.

And people just tend to forget when they think about these debates around the world, these arguments about religion. In Nigeria, 20, 30,000 people have been killed over the last two decades for this.

And in our book, we try to describe as honestly as possible this phenomenon. Religion - God is back, and there are many good things about that. But there are also a lot of bad ones where faiths collide. But what you cannot do is you cannot run away from examining those.

CONAN: Here's an e-mail from Joel in Tallahassee. Would your guests comment on the lead article and cover of this week's Newsweek that is concerned with the loss of religious affiliation in the United States. Adrian?

Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: Yes. The article is about the decline and fall of Christianity in the United States, of the notion of the United States as a specifically Christian country. I think it's an interesting and subtle argument. I don't entirely agree with it, but I respect it.

It has two essential points. One is that the number of self-identified Christians is going down. The number of self-identified atheists is going up. So, in 1990, 86 percent of the population would say that they were Christian. Today, it's about 76 percent.

The second part of the argument is that the religious right is losing a lot of wars, most recently in...

CONAN: Vermont, yes.

Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: ...Vermont and Iowa. I have two answers to that. The one is that 76 percent is still a pretty big number compared with Europe. The other is, if you look at these numbers, these opinion polls more carefully, what you're not seeing is so much decline as polarization. People who were pretty unreligious in the past are now more willing to describe themselves as atheists.

But the polls also show that - an upsurge in the number of people who described themselves as born again, or conservative Christians, or Pentecostals. So you're seeing polarization; more atheists, but also more evangelicals or more enthusiastic Protestants, more enthusiastic Catholics.

The other thing is that, although I do think that the religious right has lost a number of battles, I don't see religion disappearing from politics. I think what's happened is that religion for awhile was monopolized by one party, the Republicans, and by one narrow set of issues, abortion and gay marriage.

What I see is the Democrats, specifically in the form of Barack Obama, much more willing to talk about religious issues, much more willing to use the language of morality. And I see religious people talking about a much wider range of issues: the environment, social justice, global development.

CONAN: And let's turn to that alternate model of the world, the idea that modernity and secularity are combined in Europe. Is this going to be the odd man out?

Mr. MICKLETHWAIT: Europe is the most difficult one. There's two arguments about Europe. The first is, is God coming back into politics? And there, I think, the answer is unquestioningly yes. You can see that partly because of so many Islamic Eur--

CONAN: Just a few years ago we heard, we don't do God. Politicians don't do God.

Mr. MICKLETHWAIT: That's changed. The man who said that - let that be said - was Tony Blair. Tony Blair now heads up a big politics and faith organization. That's what he's fixated on. Nicolas Sarkozy has written books about religion. Gordon Brown is the son of a, you know, minister, and deeply interested by it.

At the very top level there is a massive reintroduction of religion into European politics. You're seeing - largely - partly because of so many Muslims are moving into it.

You're seeing debates about Sharia. You're seeing debates about head scarves. You're seeing the whole issue about where the Turkish have come in. It's all over the place, as well as the arguments about biotechnology and cloning.

So within politics, there's no doubt at all that religion has come back. It's like the aunt from the attic. It's come back into the main room of European politics, even though a lot of people don't like it there.

The more difficult question is, how much is it actually changing in terms of personal faith. And there is no doubt, to some extent, you know, some numbers are still going down. But what we - close to the edges you can see quite a lot. Two million Britons have gone through something called the Alpha Course, which is sort of a British version of "The Purpose Driven Life," if you want.

Beyond that, you'll also see a lot of people going for different hotter religions, look at Pentecostalism, look at the number of people, adult confirmations and things like that. So there is a change, I think.

CONAN: John Micklethwait, editor-in-chief of the Economist, and Adrian Wooldridge, its Washington bureau chief. If you'd like to read about religious revivals from Turkey to China, to right here at home in the U.S., go to our Web site to see an excerpt from their book "God Is Back." Thank you both very much.

Mr. MICKLETHWAIT: Thank you very much.

Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: Thank you very much.

CONAN: Coming up, it's the season when your college kids may knock you over on the way to the mailbox. But what happens when they're on the waiting list? Stay with us.

It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.