Religion as a global context

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TOPIC 5 ­ Religion in a global context
For secularisation theory, modernisation undermines religion. The importance of science and technology in
economic development, and the rational worldview on which they depend, are seen as destroying belief in the
supernatural. On the other hand, religion may contribute to development, as WEBER argued in case of the
Protestant ethic. More recently, sociologists have examined what role religion may play in development in today's
globalising world.
Globalisation has brought rapid economic growth and has seen India become a more important player on the
world political stage. It has also brought rising prosperity to some ­ notably India's new middle class. Meera
NANDA's (2008) book, God and Globalization, examines the role of Hinduism, the religion of 85% of the
population, in legitimating both the rise of a new Hindu `ultranationalism' and the prosperity of the Indian middle
Globalisation has created a huge and prosperous, scientifically educated, urban middle class in India, working in
IT, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology sectors closely tied into the global economy. These are precisely the
people whom secularisation theory predicts will be the first to abandon religion favour of a secular worldview.
Yet, as NANDA observes, a vast majority of this class continue to believe in the supernatural. A survey by the
Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (2007) found that Indians are becoming more religious. ONLY 5%
said their religiosity had declined in the last five years, while 30% said they had become more religious. The
survey also found that `urban educated Indians are more religious than their rural and illiterate counterparts'.
Increased interest in religion has also been reflected in a dramatic growth of religious tourism, such as visits to
shrines and temples. NANDA notes that it is becoming fashionable to be religious and to be seen to be so.
Another feature of this middle ­class religiosity is that they are attracted to what were once lowstatus village gods
and goddesses worshipped by the poor. This is because these deities are seen as being more responsive to
people's needs than the traditional Hindu `great gods'.
NANDA examines what motivates the sophisticated, urban middle classes to continue to believe in miracles and
supernatural beings. She rejects poverty and existential insecurity as an explanation, because they are not poor.
She also rejects the idea that their religiosity is a defensive reaction to modernisation and Westernisation. On the
contrary, the Indian middle classes are optimistic about the opportunities that globalisation brings them. Instead,
NANDA argues, their increasing religiosity is the result of their ambivalence about their newfound wealth.
The ambivalence stems from a tension between the traditional Hindu belief in renunciation of materialism and
worldly desires, and the new prosperity of the middle classes. This is resolved for them by the modern holy men
and telegurus to whom they turn, who preach the message that desire is not bad, but rather the manifestation of
divinity that motivates people to do things. Similarly, they dispense businessfriendly versions of Hinduism and
take the edge off guilty by teaching that middleclass consumerism can be `spiritually balanced' by paying for the
performance of appropriate and often extravagant rituals ­ which also serve as a way of displaying one's wealth.
Modern versions of Hinduism therefore legitimate the position of the middle class and allow them adjust to
globalised consumer capitalism.

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TOPIC 5 ­ Religion in a global context
NANDA also examines the role of Hinduism in legitimating a triumphant version of Indian nationalism. For
example, the Pew Global Attitude Survey found that 93% of Indians ­ more than any other country ­ agreed with the
statement that, `'Our people are not perfect, but our culture is superior to others'.…read more

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In this way, it encourages its members to prosper and become upwardly mobile. BERGER concludes that
Pentecostalism has a strong affinity with modern capitalism.…read more


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