Religion and Globalization

Religion and Globalization

In this article, we shall discuss the topic of religion and globalization. Given the rise of interconnectedness, individuals have the ability to learn more about other cultures and other religions in the international system. This increased globalization through communication (and access to information) poses a serious of questions and conversational discussion points about the the role of religion in the international system, as well as how people are approaching religion. In this article, we will discuss the impact of globalization on religion, and how people might be working within this globalized world to learn about religions, to communicate with others of a similar (or different faith), or, in some cases, how they are working to spread their own religious beliefs. Related to this, we will also discuss the issue of proselytization.

How has Globalization Impacted Religion?

There are are many ways in which globalization has affected issues related to religion. For example, with the increasing ease to travel long distances, people are able to travel to religious sites; these pilgrimages are often very important for different religious traditions. Cities such as Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem, the Vatican, Varanasi, Prayaga, Haridwar, etc… continue to be visited by millions of people each year. What used to be virtually impossible for many (namely, the ability to travel thousands of miles) has now been become much easier.

Along with this, historical inventions such as the printing press, and more recent developments (such as the Internet) have made it easier to read and learn about different religious traditions. Furthermore, translations of works are becoming more prevalent, which allows a person access to a text that otherwise may have been out of their reach (due to language barriers).

The Religion Market

Oliver Roy has written a chapter on what he calls “The Religion Market.” In it, he discusses this marketplace for religions in the world. He argues that because of increased globalization, this “has led to a global religion market.” He builds on this by arguing that many people in the world have a want for some sort of religion or spirituality. But, what is different is that whereas in the past the people may have had little knowledge about a variety of religious traditions, world views, etc…, today, “people who have spiritual needs to be fulfilled and…find themselves confronted with a choice of products that are varied and accessible, wherever they may be in the world, or almost. Globalization has opened up a market once controlled by one or several mainstream groups” (217).

While states (and oppressive leaders) continue to try to control religion, what people in their society see, and sometimes, what they can see, nonetheless, according to Roy, “[t]he political constraint, which demands that subjects share the religion of the sovereign (cues regio emus relgio) has either disappeared or has become devoid of meaning as a result of the development of virtual spaces) (Internet, satellite television)” (217).

In addition, the “products” or religions are able to be accessed without that previous knowledge of the culture that the religion came out of. To Roy, the religion “market” is one in which is there is a circulation of products (that religion). This can be in the form of migration, cases of being isolated within a particular area (that might lead to new religious traditions), or access to the information online–which can lead to the adopting of various religious beliefs or practices. In addition, he also argues that there is a movement by some to export religions. This could be finding new communities in which to practice ones faith, or new areas that might take interest in this work or religion. In addition, religions are becoming less defined by geographical areas. There continues to be new places to worship, which might be different than decades past. Lastly, Roy argus that a de-ethnicization of religion is occurring. Many different ethnic groups are adopting similar religions, which is shifting the idea that one religion is tied to one ethnic group. There is also a movement away from religion being defined within one said culture, which is leading to further evolution of this faith.

And because of this, Roy argues that there is a freedom that individuals have to choose a religion, or not choose a particular religion, and that the we we look at religion is quite different in this new globalized era.

Religion and Proselytization

One of the questions that is highly debated within the framework of religion and globalization is this issue of the “promotion  of the [religious] product.” One of the questions raised is whether this promotion, or what in some cases be viewed as proselytization, is in accord with human rights, or whether it goes against ones right. There have been many debates on this issue. Some that think about proselytization may view it as a right of the freedom of religion. One has a right to speak about their faith, and to try to get others to accept these beliefs, as long as the receiver of the message has a right to accept, or a right to deny said message. For some, the right to practice one’s religion might also mean the right to spread one’s faith.

However, a number of other scholars have taken issue with the idea of proselytization in religion. For them, they view an increase in technology and communication as potentially leading to additional conflicts over these said issues. In addition, scholars point out that advocates of this action tend to belief that it is fine to proselytize if the group who is hearing the message is then able to dismiss the message. If they have the ability to do so, then it is not a problem. In addition, it is this argument of “right,” that one has a human right to share their faith if they so choose (An-Naim). However, some scholars have argued that “Proselytization is hardly ever simply and exclusively about the communication of a religious message, to be accepted or rejected on its own terms” (5). Rather, it is often the case that proselytizing faith “has always been as much about material interests and power relations as it has been about spiritual insights and moral values” (6). And because of this feeling or belief, those who are being proselytized to might feel that there is “a challenge to the individual and collective self-identity of target groups–a threat to their political independence and material well-being” (6).

For some scholars (such as Makau Mutua), he equates proselytization to “cultural genocide.” For him, the relationship direction of proselytization stems from “imperial religions” who go into territories and take from them what is their cultural makeup. Taking the case of attempts at religious conversions in Africa, for him, these faiths have “robbed Africans of essential elements of their humanity” (652). Related to this, another critique of proselytization as we often see it in the world is the fact that it tends to be done by two particular religious traditions, namely Christianity and Islam (An-Naim; Mutua). Yet, instead of the actors (within these faith traditions) respecting individuals’ and religious groups’ “right to be left alone” (652), the opposite is happening. Furthermore, what is also happening is that these traditions are not attempting to enter some fair and equal marketplace where ideas can be exchanged with an open-mindedness of all participants. Rather, in the case of Christianity and Islam, there is a belief by many within these religious traditions that they are “racially superior” to groups outside of their faith. One can see a long history of actions motivated by such beliefs (many periods of imperialism and colonialism where the colonizer saw an “obligation” in their mind of giving this message to the “other”).

There continue to be questions of how one can allow for the exchange of ideas in a way that is fair and not tied to politics or to resources. For An-Naim, he believes in a need for a “level playing field” in which there also exists mediation by other actors to not only help with this exchange, but who can also protect the target groups. In addition, there is a need to learn about the concerns that these groups have. For others such as Mutua, it is essential to not have the relationship go one way, but rather, that in true cultural exchange, there should be a “cross-breeding of cultures”. Furthermore, it is also essential that the human right of self-determination (a key group right) is protected.

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