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Globalization and Religion

Globalization and Religion
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  David Daniel Vidal-Irizarry SOCI012 TA: Jane Abell Essay   One or more of the three largest religious communities in the world (Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam) have followers in every modern nation-state. How is their spread related to the process of globalization? How can we explain their continuing vitality and spread over such a long period? Could they have been engines of globalization? Or have they inhibited or retarded it? Religion is often seen as one of the main combatants, or opponents, of the movement for a globalized and interconnected world. While globalization ultimately leads to the blurring of cultural lines, through a non-religious, free market belief, religion supposedly does the opposite: It is a uniting force when it wants to be, but is often seen as exclusivist and not necessarily welcoming to those who don’t adhere to it. However,  perhaps ironically, one of the main proponents for the spread of religion, in particular the three largest religious communities, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam, has precisely  been globalization and the factors behind it. It can thus be said that religion is in a way  both a proponent and an opponent of globalization. Globalization is also having an impact on religion itself, however. Many branches of these religions adapt new globalized capitalistic worldviews, encouraging the ideas of markets and democracy. This could lead to believe that while religion will continue to be a very important unifying  source in our world for a long time, it could very possibly morph itself to adhere to modern day ideals. Organized monotheistic religion has been around for over a thousand years. Its  place in society is deeply rooted, and while there is a movement towards secularism, for many people, religion is a vital part of daily life. While all religions started off in isolated groups, word of mouth and migratory fluxes led to rapid expansion. By the 16 th  Century, Christians in particular led a mass evangelization throughout Africa and South America, leading to a rapid growth in extremely devoted believers. Similar proceedings can attempt to explain the spread of religions throughout the last century as well. Advances in mass travel such as air and maritime, which have become cheaper and more accessible, have lead to religion taking on a global reach of sorts. With these massive migratory fluxes, these religions manage to reach people they could have never attained before. For example, the country with the largest Muslim contingent today is Indonesia, despite the fact that the island has no particular ties to the beginning of Islam in Central Asia and  North Africa. The advancement in technology, what we call the “Information Age” (  Nobutaka) has also been a great contributor to this rapid spread. With social media and the Internet, anything can be shared in a matter of seconds, and barring censorship,  people have access to information from all around the world. This allows not only information but also ideas to spread, and can be seen as a certain form of “new evangeli zation” of sorts.     Despite the fact that many feel that religious fundamentals can be a hindrance to the globalization, religion still remains an important part of every day life for many. This is for two reasons: Religion is deeply engrained in popular culture and even every day  political life, and religion is also changing, more specifically decentralizing, which leads to the modification of religious ideals and practices. The American Constitution, for example, preaches the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, traditional Christian values. This, however, does not imply that the United States follow strictly Christian values, although much of the political system is engrained in the pious school of thought. It can also be taken to an extreme, such as the idea of Islamization. “One of the most important developments in the world during recent decades has been the renewed vitality of Islam. The movement began in the srcinal Islamic heartland of west Asia and North Africa, but it has quickly spread in all directions, reaching countries such as Indonesia, Afghanistan, and Senegal, as well as numerous cities in Europe and the Americas.”(  Kerpat p.196  ) Islamization in particular is seen as a movement to detach from globalization, as globalization promotes typically western values and a Euro-American school of thought (  Al Banna p. 196) . Examples of this could be the 1979 Iranian revolution, which promotes Shariah law and the strict implementation of strict Shiite Muslim principles. Muslim ideology is generally seen in the Western world as a deterrent to the current globalized system, and traditionally Islamist states contribute little to the global markets and mass information waves that we have today. It can thus be said that while religion in itself might not necessarily represent a nuisance to the process of globalization, fanaticism or fundamentalism might.   As well as growing however, religion is changing as well. In Islamic countries such as Morocco and Pakistan, for example, the movements for women’s rights, and more specifically the right to choice, have grown increasingly in the past 30 years, despite attempts by radicals to regress back to the strict interpretation of the Koran. In many countries nowadays, practices like the use of the veil, or female circumcision are rapidly becoming a thing of the past, or at least a choice. These movements can be directly linked to the process of globalization, as they are a result of a new found self- consciousness, and a desire to assert one’s individuality (  Haeri pp. 182-189 ). Not surprisingly, these cries for increased individuality start out in large urban centers, where access to outside information tends to be much higher and diversity is much more  present. Religions have also learned to adapt and even accept globalizing ideals, with small groups breaking off and creating sections that promote the ideals of democracy and free markets. A good example of th is is the Pentecostals. “Pentecostal culture is created, from the bottom up, as it were, by millions of the “culturally despised” who walked out from established churches to join independent, locally administered churches, usually led  by authoritative male  pastors” (Lechner-Boli pp173-174). Pentecostalism is not an organized group with a centralized power, and grew organically in different regions of the world, such as the United States, Latin America, and West Africa. What unites the Pentecostals is not a figurehead, a precise ideal, or ritual; it is a group of ideas, and a  broad way of thinking. Pentecostalism “incorporates much of contemporary world culture. Centered as it is on personal concerns, it celebrates the individual. Though fundamentalist in some of its beliefs, it also represents the breaking free of individuals from ascriptive bonds, a kind of “expressive revolution”” (Lechner-Boli pp173-174). In  this case, religion could almost be seen as a proponent, a force behind globalization. Also, in cases of people who move to places where their religion is not necessarily the dominating force, changes must be made. This is particularly valid for Muslims in the West. These decisions are not always conscious, however, and can lead to a certain  backlash. T o a certain extent, the “Westernization” of Islam and Islamic countries has lead to an increase in fundamentalists or extremists, although these represent a small minority of the total population (Roy p.19).  In general, large monotheistic religions have gradually been gaining in common ground by adhering to new ideals of democracy, trade, and equality. In conclusion, while in many cases religion can be seen as something that can hinder the expansion of world markets and democracy, key factors behind globalization, this perception can no longer continue to be held as necessarily true. Religion has remained such a powerful force in large part because of its ability to change, and to adapt to the needs of the current generation. New sects such as Pentecostalism, or moderate Islam, can preach globalized ideals, and there is a difference to be made between religious devotion and fanaticism or extremism. This puts religion in a difficult spot vis-à-vis globalization: It can be a proponent or an opponent at the same time. One thing however, is for sure: Religion will keep on changing to best satisfy the needs of the faithful, and increased mobility will lead to more diversity, as well as a spread of religion throughout the globe
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