GLOBALIZATION AND RELIGION
Jon D. Sherrill
Globalization has been the subject of countless books and articles over the past decade. It has also been a topic of debate and the cause of major demonstrations in Europe and North America. Critics of globalization have argued that the process has exploited people in developing countries, caused massive disruptions to their lives and produced few benefits in return. Those who support globalization point to the significant reductions in poverty achieved by countries which have embraced integration with the world economy such as China, Vietnam, India and Uganda. For such an extensively used term, there is not a precise, widely agreed upon definition. The meaning of globalization is broadening over time. This is due to the various cultural, political, economic, and religious connotations attached to the term.
For the article at hand, this author will define globalization as a process in which the world is increasingly defined by common activity. It refers to the extent to which wars, trade, culture, politics, economics, religion, as well as other aspects of life are becoming globally inter-related. People around the world are thinking differently about how they relate to those from other countries and cultures. People in business, culture, sport, as well as other activities are thinking and acting in a global world. At the core of globalization is interdependence. What takes place in one part of the world affects what happens elsewhere. These characteristics are having a great impact on religion worldwide. The remainder of this paper will attempt to point out some of the effects globalization is having on the religious setting worldwide with a particular emphasis on observations within the Republic of Tatarstan. It will be evident that globalization is impacting the religious atmosphere all over the world as well as in the Republic of Tatarstan.
Concerning the effects of globalization on religion, one author states:
When this vision of globalization is applied to religion, we can suggest that we will see steady change from the conventional form of religion linked intimately to the histories and cultures of respective nations and ethnic groups. Instead, the activities of individual religious groups will take on the increasing characteristic of free competition on global scale. Further, there is also the possibility of witnessing great transformations in the traditional structure of the historical religions.
This broad statement represents a number of specific characteristics stemming from the effects of globalization on religion. One characteristic is the ability to gain easy access to information regarding the teachings and activities of other religions. Even those without professional religious training can easily gain information of this kind making it easier to interact and form new religious movements without the necessity of being bound to a single tradition in one’s own society. One can merely adopt personally appealing elements from a variety of sources. Numerous examples include religions in America involving a Christian base with additional elements borrowed from Hinduism, Buddhism or other Eastern thought. One instance was the “People’s Temple,” led by Jim Jones, remembered most by the collective suicide in Guyana in 1978. It was reported that he was strongly influenced by Chinese Maoist thought.
Another characteristic is the elevation of overall intellectual level in regard to religion. According to Nobutaka, this means that the intellectual degree of the populace is raised, “promoting standardization and preventing a limited intellectual elite from monopolizing access to information.” He goes on to say:
Within this situation, religious information likewise cannot be monopolized by religious professionals. Every individual now has a chance to be a transmitter, receiver, and mediator of religious discourse. Here, one will see increasing numbers of individuals emerging from the popular background to become religious leaders, preaching a message not only simple enough to be accepted by other ordinary people, but delivered in such a way that those adherents can easily turn around and transmit the message to others.
Within this context, the authority and control which religious organizations have traditionally possessed will tend to be weakened and transformed. For example, the church for Christianity, the umma of Islam, or the shrine in various Eastern religions has been the basis of authority in their respective religions. In this context the church symbolizes the authority of the religion and the doctrines are based on sacred texts and traditions which the churches have maintained. Priests, Monks, and ministers have interpreted religious information to followers. The duty of the believer is to merely accept the situation and apply certain truths to his life. On the other hand, due to the effects of globalization, each individual, in response to his or her personal values and sensibilities, applies those elements which he finds most attractive and suitable from the mass of competing religions. This process robs the hierarchy of the respective religion of authority.
A specific example of this characteristic can be seen in the lives of university students in the city of Kazan. One young Tatar man will say, “I am a Muslim.” Yet, he adopts various beliefs from pagan religions or new age philosophies. Another young woman will say, “I am Christian,” but adopts various non Christian ideologies and practices. In both cases, these students do not attend the mosque or the church more than once or twice a year. They have accepted the tradition of their parents, but have no real knowledge of their religious beliefs. Added to this, what beliefs they do espouse are not in accordance with orthodox doctrine from their respective religions. They have taken ideas from various religious expressions that fit their life situation. This is only one case among many that show globalization has affected the intellectual level of the populace in regard to religion.
Considering the cases of the students above, their actions at least prove that a gap between the authoritative religious institution and the individual believer exists. This leads to another characteristic of globalization and its effects on religion. The gap between lay person and clergy is growing larger. This point stems from the previous characteristic. It is only natural that when authority is diminished (for whatever reason) the gap between priest, imam, minister, etc., and believer/follower will increase. It is no longer the exception to find ordinary people who possess a deeper understanding on any particular religion than their respective leaders. This is mainly due to the current information age and availability of what seems like an unending number of sources available on any and every topic under the sun. This tends to diminish the distinction between specialists and the lay population, which is carried over into the realm of religion.
Another characteristic of globalization and its effects on religion is a society’s link to traditional religion is weakened. As elements from foreign culture and religion enter another particular society through globalization, traditional religion becomes weaker, especially with the younger generation. For example, traditional religious observances surrounding New Year celebrations have diminished while those centered on Christmas, Easter, Halloween, or St. Valentine’s day have increased. This author has seen this first hand during the last four years in Tatarstan. Each year the above holidays are becoming more popular.
Another observation this author has observed in the Tatarstan and the Russian Federation in general is the fact that people are becoming more religious. Within Tatarstan alone, mosques and churches are being built at an alarming rate. Numerous Protestant groups, including Presbyterian, Baptist, Lutheran, Pentecostal, as well as others are growing larger. Even the Roman Catholics have a plot of land and concrete plans for a church building in Kazan. Globalization of religion has certainly played an important role in this process.
In a paper such as this, it is impossible to cover at length the numerous effects of globalization on religion. The subject is extremely broad with numerous possibilities for further study. The effects of globalization on religion outlined in this paper include: 1) The ability to gain easy access to information regarding the teachings and activities of other religions; 2) The elevation of overall intellectual level in regard to religion; 3) The increasing gap between lay person and clergy; 4) The weakening of society’s link to traditional religion; and 5) The increasing religiosity of the population as a whole. These characteristics and the observations accompanying them are few in number. Nevertheless, they show that the process of globalization and its effects on religion are happening in The Republic of Tatarstan, Russian Federation, and all over the world. It will be interesting to observe this process in the times ahead.
1. David C. Lewis. After Atheism: Religion and Ethnicity in Russia and Central Asia. Richmond: Curzon, 2000.
2. Inoue Nobutaka. "The Information Age and The Globalization of Religion" Institute for Japanese Culture and Classics, Kokugakuin University, 1997. http://www2.kokugakuin.ac.jp/ijcc/wp/global/06inoue2.html. (accessed October 8, 2004).
3. Woodhead, Linda. Religions in the Modern World. Edited by Paul Fletcher Linda Woodhead, Hiroko Kawanami, and David Smith. London: Routledge, 2002.
4. "Discussion on Globalization And Religion." Christian Research Association, October, 2001. http://www.cra.org.au/pages/00000061.cgi/ (accessed October 6, 2004).
5. World Bank and Oxford University Press. "Globalization, Growth, And Poverty: Building An Inclusive World Economy" World Bank and Oxford University Press, 2002. http://www1.worldbank.org/economicpolicy/globalization/documents/AssessingGlobalizationP1.pdf (accessed October 7, 2004).
1 Generally speaking, the economic factors involved in globalization tend to be the main point of discussion in the majority of sources this author has read.
2 This information comes from a series of World Banking Papers. The purpose of this series is to define globalization and then assess three leading questions about globalization by looking at the evidence from a large number of countries. The questions are: 1) Is globalization increasing world poverty?; 2) Is it worsening world inequality, perhaps by destroying jobs and lowering wages among the poor and unskilled?; and 3) Is it causing deterioration in environmental standards? These papers concentrate on the international trade dimension of globalization. The World Bank Group, "Globalization, Growth, And Poverty: Building an Inclusive World Economy," World Bank And Oxford University Press, 2002, http://www1.worldbank.org/economicpolicy/globalization/documents/AssessingGlobalizationP1.pdf (accessed October 7, 2004).
4 "Discussion On Globalization And Religion," Christian Research Association, October, 2001, http://www.cra.org.au/pages/00000061.cgi/ (accessed October 6, 2004).
5 This is a general statement. This author is not only referring to globalization and how nation-states relate to one another (ex. Russian Federation, United States of America, of Republic of China), but also how smaller ethnic groups located within certain nation-states relate to the world. These peoples are also affected by globalization, only adding to the complexity of the term. The Tatarstan Republic located within the Russian Federation is a good example of the complexities surrounding this aspect of globalization.
7 The characteristics mentioned in this article are not exhaustive, but represent only some of the main issues seen by this author.
8 Religion in this context is used in a broad sense, including all religions.
9 Tatarstan (meaning Republic of Tatarstan) will be used in the remainder of this paper.
10 Being an outsider, this author feels very inadequate to address such issues in Tatarstan. This is due to a lack of expertise on the insights of persons of particular religious faiths in Tatarstan. Therefore, the characteristics that follow will be broad and general in nature, lacking many specifics.
11 Inoue Nobutaka, "The Information Age And The Globalization Of Religion,” Institute for Japanese Culture and Classics, Kokugakuin University 1997,
http://www2.kokugakuin.ac.jp/ijcc/wp/global/06inoue2.html. (accessed October 8, 2004). This article is especially good for connecting the current “information age” with the concept of globalization.
12 These characteristics are not prioritized due to the order in which they come.
13 Nobutaka. It should be noted that this characteristic and those that follow are linked to the concept of syncretism, which is the attempt (usually with inconsistencies) to unify or reconcile differing schools of thought. This process is entirely natural within societies where multiple religious traditions coexist.
14 Nobutaka. This author does not suggest Chinese Maosist thought necessarily influences people to such evil. This is an extreme case.
17 This is a general statement. Christianity in this context refers to Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestantism. Islam encompasses both Sunni and Shiite traditions as well as those which have stemmed from them.
18 This author has spoken with numerous students to gather this information.
19 This phenomenon has always existed in religious persons. The effects of globalization only add a new dimension to the existing reality.
20 This term is used in the true sense of the word to denote that which is true and basic to a certain religion or tradition (that which has always been accepted).
21 The religious situation in Tatarstan and Russia in general is an interesting case for further study due to the complexities and changes in the religious atmosphere after the changes in 1991. Tatarstan is especially interesting in respect to the Tatar people who have been traditionally Muslim.
22 Again, this author realizes the generality of this statement. In other cases, the opposite can be proved. Nevertheless, this has been the case with the majority.
24 In the Russian Federation or the Tatarstan Republic, New Years Celebrations have not necessarily been linked to religion. In Japan, for example, religious meanings are attached to the event.
25 In Tatarstan these events are not necessarily being celebrated as religious events. They are more like secular events or festivals without the religious meanings attached to them in other parts of the world.
26 Others include Seventh Day Adventist, Jehova's Witnesses, Mormons, as well as various religious traditions from different ethnic groups.
27 It is the author’s opinion that people in the Russian Federation (before globalization) have always been religious, even if they called themselves “atheist.” At the least, people believed in some form of spiritual or supernatural dimension in life and lacked the religious vocabulary to describe such beliefs. This is a completely different topic for research. See David C. Lewis, After Atheism: Religion and Ethnicity in Russia and Central Asia (Richmond: Curzon, 2000), Introuduction.
28 This author was limited by good sources in English. Most of the research was conducted through the internet.