religion in a global context

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  • Created on: 08-11-18 15:14

religious fundementalism 1

religious fundamentalism 

in a global context, the issue of religious fundamentalism has emerged as a major area of media and political concern in recent decades, noteably in relation to international Islamist terrorism. However, the term has been applied to toher religions. 

The characteristics of fundamentalism:

  •  F's appeal to tradition and often look back to a supposed 'golden age' in the past.
  • They seek to return to the basics of their faith. But fundamental religion is very different from traditional religion. 
  • It arises only where traditional beliefs are threatened or challenged by modern society and especially by the impact of an increasingly globalising economy. 
  • the threat can come from outside e.g. through capaitalist gloablisation, military invasion. Or it can come from within e.g. when parts of societyadopt new secular ideas such as liberal attitudes to sexulaity and gender. 


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Sociologists have identified a number ofkey features of fundamentalism: 

  • An authorative scared text - For Christian fundamentalists every word of the Bible is literally true, its truths are valid for all eternity, and it contains the answers to all life's important questions. The text is inerrant (without error) and not open to questionning. Thus for example, Christian fundamentalism requires belief in the Virgin birth of Christ, his divinity and bodily resurrection, all of which are described in the Bible. Only those who accept these as histoical facts are true Chritians. Fundamentalists are itolerant of others views and refuse to engage in rational arguement. However Aldridge notes, no text speaks for itself; it has to be interpreted, so in reality what fundamentalists hold to be true is not the text itself but their interpretation of it. 
  • An 'us and them' mortality - Fundamentalists seperate themselves from the rest of the world and  refuse to compromise. Davie puts it, they seek to establish islands of certainity against what they see as social and cultural chaos. 
  • Agressive reactions - They aim to draw attention to the threat of their beliefs, and their reactions are therefore aggressive and intended to shock, intimidate and cause harm. Authoritive leaders such as leaders who interpret sacred text are important in giving giving directions to the reactions.
  • Use of modern technology - Although they oppose modern culture, which they see as corrupted by secularism, liberalism, materialism and promiscuity, they are keen to use modern technology to achieve their aims - from computers and the internet to televangelism and military weaponary. 
  • Patriarchy - Hawley notesthat fundamentalists favour a world in which control over a women's sexuality, reproductive powers, and their social and economic roles, is fixed for all time by divine decree. 
  • Prophecy - Christian fundamentalists proclaim the relevance of biblical prophecies to modern events. They believe that the 'last days' will soon be upon us, when the faithful dead will be resurrected. 
  • Conspiracy theories - They are often attracted to conspiracy theories; the idea that powerful, hidden evil forces are in control of human destiny. 
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fundamentalism and modernity 

As Davie argues, fundamentalism occurs where those who hold traditional orthodox beliefs and values are threatened by modernity and feel the need to defend themselves against it. In this sense 'fundamentalists are themselves products of modernity, in so far as they are born out of clash between modernity and traditional cultures'. 

similarly Giddens argues that fundamentalism is a product of and reaction to globalisation, which undermines traditional social norms concerning the nuclear family, gender and sexuality e.g. banning abortions, homosexuality and sex outside of marriage. In today's 'late modern' society, individuals are constantly faced with choice, uncertainity and risk. The attraction of fundamentalism and its rigid, dogmatic beliefs is the certainity that it promises in an uncertain world. It is a retreat into faith-based answers and away from the risks and uncertainities of a globalising world. Giddens identifies fundamentalists versions of major religions, including Islam, Christianity and Hinduism. 

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Giddens contrasts fundamentalism with cosmopolitanism = a way of thinking that embraces modernity and is in keeping with today's globalising world. 

cosmopolitan is tolerant of the views of others and open to new ideas, constantly reflecting on and modifying beliefs in the light of new information. It requires poeple to justify their views by the use of rational arguments and evidence rather than by appealing to sacred texts. One's lifestyle is seen as a personal choice rather than something prescribed by an external religious or other authority. Cosmopolitan religion and spirituality emphasises on the pursuit of personal meaning rather than submission to authority.  

Responses to postmodernity - In a similar argument, Bauman sees fundamentalism as a response to living in postmodernity. postmodern society brings freedom choice, uncertainity and a heightened awareness of risk, undermining the old certainties about how we live that were grounded in tradition. In this situation, while some embrace the new freedom, others are attracted to fundamentalism by its claim of absolute truth and certainity.

Similary, Castells distinguishes between 2 responses to postmodernity: 

  • Resistance idenitity - a defensive reaction of those who feel threatened and retreat into fundamentalist communities 
  • project idenitity - the response of those who are forawrd-looking and engage with social movements such as feminism. 
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Beckford criticises Giddens, Bauman and Castells on several grounds: 

  • They distinguish too sharply between cosmopolitanism and fundamentalism, ignoring 'hybrid' movements.
  • They are 'fixated on fundamentalism', ignoring other important developments - how globalisation is also affecting non-fundamentalist religions such as Catholicism 
  • Giddens lumps togetehr all types of fundamentalism together, ignoring important differences between them 
  • Giddens' description of fundamentalism as a defensive reaction to modernity ignores the facts that reinventing tradition is also a modern. 'reflexive' activity. 

Haynes argues that we should not focus narrowly on the idea that Islamic fundamentalism is reaction against gloablisation. 

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Monotheism and fundamentalism 

Like Giddens, Bruce sees the main cause of fundamentalism as the perception of religious traditionalists that today's gloablising world threatens their beliefs. 

However, Bruce regards fundamentalism as being confined to monotheistic religions - that is, those believing in a single almighty God - such as Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Polytheistic religions that believe in the existence of many gods, such as Hinduism, are unlikely to produce fundamentalism. 

In Bruce's view, this is because monotheistic religions are based on a notion of God's will as revealed through a single authorative sacred text e.g. Qur'an. This is believed to contain the actual word of God and it lays down specific rules for believers to follow. By contrast, polytheistic religions lack a single all-powerful deity and a single authorative text, so there is much morescope for different interpretations and none has an over-riding claim to legitimacy or absoluet truth e.g. Hinduism has been described as being more like a collection of religions than just one. 

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Two fundamentalisms 

In Bruce's view, while all fundamentalists share the same characteristics such as belief in the literal truth of the sacred text, differerent fundamental movements may have different origins. In particular, some are triggered by changes within their own society, while others are a response to changes being thurst upon a society from the outside. Bruce illustrates this distinction with the examples of Christian and Islamic fundamentalisms;

  • In the west - fundamentalism is most often a reaction to change taking place within a society, especially the trend towards diversity. example - New Christian Right have developed an opposition to family diversity, gender equality and abortion. Its aim is to reassert 'true' religion and restore it to a public role where it can shape the laws and morals of wider society
  • In the third world - fundamentalism is usually a reaction to changes being thrust upon a society from outside, as in the case of the Islamic revolution in Iran. It is triggered by modernisation and globalisation, in which 'Western' values are imposed by foreign capitalism or by local elites supported by the West. Here, fundamentalism involves resistance to the state's attempts to sideline it and confine it to the private sphere 
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secular fundamentalism 

all before stuff = F to be a religious response to modernity and globalisation. 

However, Davie argues that recent decades have seen the emergence of secular forms of fundamentalism. She links this to changes in the nature of modern society. She distinguishes between 2 phases of modernity: 

  • The first phase gave rise to religious fundamentalism - this phase started from the philosophical movement known as the Enlightenment in the 18th C - 1960's. Enlightenment philosphy held an optimistic secular belief in the certainity of progress based on the power of science and human reason to improve the world. This period dominated European thought and helped to secularise all areas of social life, attacking and undermining religious certainities. Religious fundamentalism is one reaction to this secularisation process. 
  • The second phase is giving rise to secular fundamentalism - from the 1970's the optimism of the Enlightenment project has itself come under attack. This is the result of a growing mood of pessimism and uncertainity. This mood is the product of the insecurity caused by changes such as gloabalisation etc. This has led to a loss of faith in the major secular Enlightenment ideologies such as liberalism and rationalism and marxism whose claims to truth in progress have been undermined.

As a result, these secular ideologies are themselves struggling for survival, just like traditional religion. As Davie puts it, they are 'past their sell by date'. And as with religion when it came under attack, some supporters of secular ideologies have also been attracted to fundamentalism.  

In Western Europe, percieved religious challenges to liberal secular fundamentalist reaction. for example - France banned pupils from wearing religious symbols in school. They also stopped serving pork meat alternatives in school meals, on the grounds that religion must be kept out of the secular public sphere. This discriminates against Muslims and Jews who do not eat pork.

Ansell sees such trends as a form of cultural racism that uses the apparently liberal language of universal equality and social integration, while denying racist aims. In reality, however, it is about preserving cultural idenitity and 'our' way of life, and it legitimates the exclusion of religious and cultural minorities. 

In conclusion, Davie argues that both religious and secular movements can become fundamentalist as a result of the greater uncertainities of life in the late modern or postmodern world, in which reasserting truth and certinity is increasingly attractive. As a result, competing fundamentalism have become a normal feature of today's society. 

Similarly, Hervieu-Leger sees fundamentalism as a form of 'recreated memories' in late modern socieities that have suffered 'cultural amnesia' and forgotton their historic religious traditions. 

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The 'clash of civilisations'

In recent years, religion has been at the centre of a number of gloabl conflicts. these include the 9/11 terrorist attacks by fundamentalist Islamists in the US. In the view of American neo-conservative Huntington such conflicts have intensified since the collapse of communism in 1989 and are symptoms  of a 'clash of civilisations'. However, for Huntington, the problem is not Islamic fundamentalism, it is Islam itself. 

Huntington identifies 7 civilisations: Western, Islamic, Latin American, Confucian  (china), Japenese, Hindu and Slavic-Orthodox. Most civilisations are larger than a single nation. Each has a common cultural background and history, and is closely idenitified with one of the worlds great religion. 

In today's world, religious differences between civilisations are a major source of conflict. This is because globalisation has made a nation-state less significant as a source if idenitiy, creating s gap that religion has filled. At the same time, globalisation increases the contacts between civilisations, increasing the likelihood of conflict. 

In Huntingtonsview, reliigous differneces are creating a set of hostile 'us and them' relationships, with increased competition between civilisations for economic and military power, for example in the Middle East. He sees religious differnces as harder to resolve than political ones because they are deeply rooted in culture and history. 

Huntington sees history as a struggle of 'progress against babarism'. He believes the West is under threat, especially from Islam, and urges the West to reassert its identity as a liberal-democratic Christian civilisation, 

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Jackson sees Huntington's work as an example of orientalism = a western ideology that stereotypes Eastern nations and people as untrustworthy, inferior or fanatical 'others'  and serves to justify exploitation and human rights abuses by the West. 

Casanova argues that Huntington ignores important religious divisions  within the 'civilisations' he idenitifies 

Horrie and Chippindale see the 'clash of civilisations' as a grossly misleading neo-conservative ideology that portrays the whole of Islam as an enemy. In reality, only a tiny minority of the world's 1.5 billion Muslims are remotely interested in a 'holy war' against the West. 

Similarly, Armstrong argues that hostility towards the West does not stem from fundamentalist Islam, but is a reaction to Western foreign policy in the Middle East. The West has propped up oppressive regimes and continues to support Israel despite its aggressive treatment of Palestians.

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The real clash of civilisations 

Huntington's work suggests that the Muslim world holds fundamentally different, anti-democratic values from those of the West. However, evidence indicates that this is not the case. 

Using data from the Worlf Values Survey, Inglehart and Norris conclude that the issue that divides the West from the  Muslim world is not democracy but gender and sexuality. They find that support for democracy is similarly high in both the West and Muslim worlf, but there are big differences in attidues to abortion, gender equality and gay rights. While Western attitudes have become more liberal, in the Muslim world they remian traditional. Inglehart and Norris comment that in the last decade, democracy has become the poltitical ideology to gain global appeal, but there is no global agreement about self-expression values, such as tolerance of diversity, gender equality anf freedom of speech. 

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Cultural defence

Bruce sees one function of religion in todays world as cultural defence. This is where religion serves to unite a community against an external threat. In such situations, religion has special significance for its followers because it symbolises the group or society's collective identity. Defending the community against a threat often gives a prominent role in politics.

examples of religion as cultural defence from the late 20th C are Poland & Iran. They illustrate how religion can be used in defence of national idenitity in the face of political domination by an external power. In Poland, the external power was Soviet communism, while in Iran, it was Western culture and capitalism. In both cases, therefore, the role of religion has to be understood in a transnational context. 

Poland - 1945-1989, Poland was under communist rule, imposed from outside by the Soviet Union. During, the Catholic Church was suppressed, but for many it continued to embody Polish national identity. The Church served as a rallying point for opposition to the Soviet Union and the Polish communist party. in particular, it lent its active support to the Solidarity free trade union movement in the 1980s that did much to bring about the fall of communism. Thereafter, the Church regained a public role and has had significant influence on Polish politics since. 

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Iran - Western capitalist powers and oil compamies had long had influence in Iran, including involvement in the illegal overthrow of a democratic Gov in the 1950s to install a pro-Western regime headed by the Shah of Iran. during the 60's and 70's, his successor embarked on a policy of modernisation and Westernisation. This included banning the veil and replacing the Muslim calender. Meanwhile, modernisation was widening the gap between rich and poor, while protest eas ruthlessly suppressed. 

Change was imposed rapidly and from above,causing great suffering. Under these conditions, Islam became the focus of resistance to the Shah's regime, led by clerics. The revolution of 1979 brouht the creation of the Islamic Republic, in which clerics held state power and were able to impose Islamic sharia law. 

However, Haynes argues that the Iranian revolution was not typical of the Middle East, in that it was led by religious leaders. In countries such as Saudi Arabia, the religious leadership is closely tied to the local elite, who in turn are tied to Western imperialism. A such, local religious leaders are opposed by local fundamnetalists, who regard them as enemies of Islam 

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Religion and development

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 the case of the Protestant ethic. More recently, sociologists have examined  what role religion may play in development in today's gloabising world. 

God and globalisation in India 

Globalisation has brought rapid economic growth and has seen India become a more important player on the world political stage. It has alos brought rising prosperity to some. Nanda's book examines the role of Hinduism, the religion of 85% of the populationm in legitimating both the rise of a new Hindu 'ultra-nationalisation' and the prosperity of the Indian MC. 

Hinduism and consumerism - Globalisation has created a huge and prosperous scientifically educated, urban MC in India, working in IT ect closely tied into the glabal economy. These are precisely the people whom secularisaiton theory predicts will be the first to abandon religion in favour of a secular worldview. 

Yet as Nanda observes, a vast majority of this class continue to believe in the supernatural . A survey found that  Indians are becoming more religious. Only 5% said their religiosity had declined in last 5 years, while 30%said they were becoming more religious. The survery alos found that 'urban educated idians 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. Nanda notes that it is becoming fashionable to be religious. 

Another feature of this MC religiosity is that they are attracted to what were once low-status village gods 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 MCs 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 thei religiosity is a defensive reaction to modernisation and Westernisation. On the contary, the Indian MCs are optimistic about the opportunities that globalisation brings them. Instead, she argues their increasing religiosity is the result of their ambivalence about their newfound wealth. 

This ambivalence stems from a tension between the traditional Hindu belief in renounciation of materaialism and worldly desires , and the new prosperity of the MCs. This is resolved for them by the modern holy men and tele-gurus to whom they turn, who preach the message that desire is not bad, but rather a manifestation of divinity that motivates people to do things. Similarly,  they dispense business-friendly versions of Hinduism and take the edge off guilt by teaching that MC consumerism can be 'spirituality balanced' by paying for the performance of appropriate and often extravagent rituals - which also serve as a way of displaying one's wealth. Modern versions of Hinduism therefore legitimate the position of the MC and allow them to allow them to adjust to gloabised consumer capitalism. 

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Hindu ultra-nationalism 

Nanda also examines the role of Hinduism in legitimating a triumphalist version of Idian nationalism. For example, the Pew Gloabal Attitude Survery found that 93% of Indians agreed that their culture is superior to others. Nanda notes that India's success in the gloabal market is increasingly attributed to the superiority of 'Hindu values', a view constantly promoted by the media and politicians, along with the idea that Hinduism is the essence of Indian culture and identity. 

In this Hindu ultra-nationalism, the worship of Hindu gods, has become the same as worshipping the nation of India, and Hinduism has become a civil religion. However, as Nanda points out, this is creating a widening gulf between Hindus and non-Hindu minorities. 

Hinduism has also penetrated public life, so that the supposedly secular state is increasingly influenced by religion. For example, 'Hindu sciences' such as astrology are being taught as anacademic subject and used to predict natural disasters. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Defence is sponsoring development of weapons with magical powers mentioned in the ancient Hindu texts, and the Health Ministry is investing in development and sale of cow urone as a cure for ailments from AIDS to TB.

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capitalism in East Asia 

In recent decades, 'East Asian tiger economies' such as South Korea, Taiwan, have industrialised and become significant players in the global economy. China is now a major global industrial power. 

For example, Redding describes the spirit of capitalism among Chinese entrepreneurs in the tiger economies. He sees their 'post-Confucian' values encouraging hard work, discipline and self improvement. The effect of this value system is similar to that of the Protestant ethic, in that it leads to economic productivity and the accumulation of capital. 

Pentacostalism in Latin America 

Berger argues that Pentecostalism in Latin America acts as a 'functional equivelant' to Webers Protestant ethic. That is, it encourages the devlopement of capitalism today in the same way a s Calvinism did in the 16th & 17th C Europe. Latin American Pentecostalists embrace a work ethic and lifestyle simialr to Calvinsim and demands an asceitic way of life that emphasises personal discipline, hard work. Thus it encourages members to prosper and become upwardly  . Berger concludes that Pentecostalism has a strong affinity with modern capitalism. 

Berger agrees with Weber that an ethic like Protestanism is necessary to promote economic developement and raise a society out of poverty. This process can be led by an active minority with an ethic of this-worldy asceticism,such as the Pentecostalists. Thus in Chile and southern Brazil, there is now a growing and prosperous Pentecostalist MC leading capitalist development. 

However, Berger underlines Weber's point that religious ideas alone are not enough to produce economic development - natiral resources are also needed. For example, while Pentecostalism has grown in northern Brazil, the region lacks resources and remains backward. By contrast the south, which is developing rapidly, has both a work ethic and the necessary resources. 

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Pentecostalism: gloabl and local 

In the last 5 centuries, Christainity has globalised itself by expanding out of Europe, first into South America and then Africa. Lehmann distinguishes between 2 phases in this expansion: 

  • first phase - Christianity accompanied colonisation and was imposed on the indigenous populations by conquest, often forcibly supressing local religions 
  • Second phase - over the last century or so, it has spread because it gained a popular following from below. 

Lehmann attributes the success of Pentecostalism as a gloabl religion in part to its ability to incorporate local beliefs. Although it preaches a similar message worldwide, it uses imagery and symbolism drawn from local cultures and beliefs, especially spirit possession cults. Pentecostalists attack such cults as the work of the devil, but their ministers conduct exorcisms to rid people of evil spirits. By doing so, Pentecostalism validates local traditional beliefs, while at the same time claiming to give believers access to a greater power, that of the Christain Holy Spirit. 

In this way, Pentecostalism creates new local religious forms, rather than simply replacing existing local beliefs with an imported one, as the first phase of the Christianisation had done. In Africa, this had led to the 'Africanisation' of Christainity rather than a total disappearance of indigenous religions. As a result of this ability to adapt to local customs and establish a local identity for itself, Pentecostalism shows considerable local diversity in different parts of the world. 

Pentecostalism has also been successful in developing countries because it is abke ti appeal to the poor who make up the majority of the population, and because it uses gloabl media to spread its message. 

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