Religion in a global context

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  • Created on: 02-06-19 18:12

Religious fundamentalism

The characteristics of fundamentalism:

An authoritative sacred text For Christian fundamentalists, every word of the Bible is literally true and eternally valid, with the answers to all life's important questions. They see biblical prophecies being fulfilled in today's world. Fundamentalists are intolerant of all other views and refuse to engage in rational argument. 

An 'us and them' mentality Fundamentalists separate themselves from the rest of the world and refuse to compromise with it. They seek to establish islands of certainty against social and cultural chaos. 

Aggressive reaction to the threat to their beliefs and values.

Use of modern technology to achieve their aims, e.g. the internet, televangelism and modern weaponry.

Patriarchy Fundamentalists seek to control women's sexuality, reproductive powers, and social and economic roles.

Conspiracy theories Fundamentalists often believe that powerful, hidden, evil forces are in control of human destiny. 

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Religious fundamentalism

Fundamentalism and modernity:

Although fundamentalists appeal to tradition, fundamentalism is different from traditional religion. It arises only where those who hold traditional beliefs and values feel threatened by modernity.

Davie thus argues that 'fundamentalists are themselves the product of modernity'. The threat may come from outside, e.g. globalisation, or from within, e.g. from liberal attitudes to gender.

  • Cosmopolitanism Giddens sees fundamentalism as a reaction to modernity, which undermines traditional norms, e.g. about gender and sexuality. He contrasts it with cosmopolitanism - a way of thinking that embraces modernity, is tolerant, open and constantly reflects on and modifies beliefs ('relflexive' thinking)
  • Cosmopolitanism sees lifestyle as a personal choice, not something dictated by an external religious authority. It emphasises the pursuit of personal meaning and self-improvement rather than submission to authority. 
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Religious fundamentalism

Criticisms of Giddens:

  • He is 'fixated on fundamentalism', ignoring other ways that globalisation and modernity affect religion.
  • He lumps all types of fundamentalism together, ignoring differences. 
  • He claims fundamentalism is a reaction against modernity. But 'reinventing tradition', as fundamentalists do, is itself a modern, reflexive activity. 
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Religious fundamentalism

Monotheism and fundamentalism:

Bruce sees the main cause of fundamentalism as the perception by religious traditionalists that globalisation threatens their beliefs and lifestyle. This leads them to develop rigid rules about belief and behaviour.

However, Bruce regards fundamentalism as being confined to monotheistic religions (Judaism, Islam, Christianity). Polytheistic religions (e.g. Hinduism) that believe in many gods are unlikely to produce fundamentalism.

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Religious fundamentalism

Two fundamentalisms:

Bruce argues that while fundamentalists share the same characteristics such as belief in the literal truth of the sacred text, different fundamentalist movements have different origins.

  • In the West, fundamentalism is usually a reaction to change within society, e.g. trends towards diversity and choice. So the New Christian Right in America has developed in opposition to family diversity, sexual 'permissiveness', gender equality and secular education. 
  • In the third world, fundamentalism is usually a reaction to changes being thrust on a society from outside, e.g. 'Western' values imposed by foreign capitalism. Here, fundamentalism involves resistance to the state's attempts to reduce the social influence of religion. 
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Religious fundamentalism

Secular fundamentalism:

Davie argues we are seeing the rise of secular fundamentalism as a result of changes in the nature of modern society. She distinguishes between two phases of modernity:

The first phase ran from the time of the 18th century Enlightenement to the 1960s.

  • The 'Enlightenment project' held an optimistic belief in the certainty of progress based on science and human reason.
  • This helped to secularise all areas of social life, undermining religious certainties. Religious fundamentalism was one reaction to this secularisation process.

The second phase is giving rise to secular fundamentalism.

  • Since the 1970s, there has been a growing mood of pessimism, uncertainty and insecurity caused by changes such as globalisation.
  • At the same time, postmodernism emerged, arguing that secular Enlightenment ideologies such as liberalism and Marxism were simply meta-narratives whose belief in progress was unfounded. 
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Religious fundamentalism

As a result, these secular ideolgies have come under attack and in reaction some people have been attracted to anti-religious fundamentalism, e.g. France has made it illegal to wear the veil in public. 

Ansell sees such trends as a form of cultural racism that uses the seemingly 'liberal' language of equality and integration. But in reality, it is about legitimating the exclusion of religious or cultural minorities. 

Davie argues that both religious and secular movements can become fundamentalist due to the greater uncertainties of the postmodern world, where reasserting truth and certainty is increasingly attractive. 

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The 'clash of civilisations'

Religion has been at the centre of a number of recent global conflicts, e.g. the '9/11' Islamist attacks in the USA. 

  • Huntington, an American neo-conservative, claims these conflicts have intensified since the collapse of communism in 1989 and are symptoms of a wider 'clash of civilisations'. 
  • He identifies 7 civilisations: Western, Latin American, Confucian (China), Japanese, Islamic, Hindu and Slavic-Orthodox.
  • Each civilisation has a common cultural background and is closely identified with one of the world's great religions.
  • Since the fall of communism, religious differences have become a major source of identity. Globalisation also makes nation-states less important as a source of identity and makes contact between civilisations easier, increasing the likelihood of old conflicts re-emerging. 
  • Religious differences are creating a new set of hostile 'us and them' relationships, with increased competition between civilisations for economic and military power.

Huntington sees history as a struggle of 'progress against barbarism' and predicts growing conflict between 'the West and the rest'.

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The 'clash of civilisations'

The real clash of civilisations?

  • World Values Survey data indicates that the issue dividing the West from the Muslim world is not democracy but sexuality. Support for democracy is high in both the West and the Muslim world, but there are great differences in attitudes to divorce, abortion, gender equality and gay rights. 
  • While Western attitudes have become more liberal, in the Muslim world they remain traditional.
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Cultural defence

Bruce sees one function of religion as cultural defence - religion unites a community against an external threat and this often gives it a prominent role in politics. Religion has special significance for its followers because it symbolises the group or society's collective identity.

Poland From 1945 to 1989, Poland was under communist rule imposed from outside by the Soviety Union. Although the Catholic Church did not always challenge the communist regime openly, it served as a popular rallying point for opposition, e.g. actively supporting the Solidarity free trade union movement that contributed to the fall of communism. 

Iran Western capitalist powers and oil companies had long had influence in Iran, installing a pro-Western regime headed by the Shah. During the 1960s and 70s, his successor embarked on a policy of rapid modernisation and Westernisation. Islam became the focus for resistance to change and to the Shah. The 1979 revolution brought the creation of the Islamic Republic, in which clergy held state power and were able to impose Islamic Shari'a law.

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Religion and development

  • According to secularisation theory, development undermines religion: modern science and technology destroy belief in the supernatural. 
  • However, religion may also contribute to development, e.g. Weber's claim that the Protestant ethic helped bring about modern capitalism.
  • More recently, sociologists have examined the role religion plays in development in today's globalising world. 

God and globalisation in India:

Globalisation has brought rapid economic growth in India and rising prosperity to a new middle class. Nanda examines the role of Hinduism, the religion of 85% of the population, in legitimating the rise of a new Hindu 'ultra-nationalism' and the prosperity of the Indian middle class. 

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Religion and development

Hinduism and consumerism:

According to secularisation theory, the prosperous, scientifically educated, urban middle class are precisely the people who will be the first to adopt a secular worldview. Yet surveys show that Indians are becoming more religious and that urban, educated Indians are more religious than rural, less literate Indians. 

Nanda argues that this increasing religiosity is the result of the middle class's ambivalence about their newfound wealth, stemming from a tension between their new prosperity and the traditional Hindu belief in renouncing materialism.

  • This is resolved by the modern holy men and tele-gurus who preach the message that desire is not bad, but a manifestation of divinity that motivates people to do things. 
  • These business-friendly versions of Hinduism legitimate the position of the middle-class and allow them to adjust to globalised consumer capitalism. 
  • Hinduism also legitimates a triumphalist version of Indian nationalism. Politicians and the media constantly promote the view that India's success in the global market is due to the superiority of 'Hindu values'. 
  • Hinduism has also penetrated public life and the supposedly secular state; e.g. 'Hindu sciences' such as astrology are being taught as academic subjects in public universities and being used supposedly to predict natural disasters. 
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Pentecostalism in Latin America

Berger argues that Pentecostalism in Latin America acts as a 'functional equivalent' to Weber's Protestant ethic, encouraging the development of capitalism in the same way as Calvinism did in 16th century Europe. 

  • Like Calvinism, Pentecostalism demands an ascetic (self-denying) way of life emphasising personal discipline and hard work. This encourages its members to prosper and become upwardly mobile. 
  • For Berger, something like Protestantism is necessary to promote economic development and raise a society out of poverty. This can be led by an active minority with an ethic of this-worldly asceticism, such as the Pentecostalists. 
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Pentecostalism in Latin America

Pentecostalism: global and local

  • In the last five centuries, Christianity has globalised itself by expanding into South America and Africa. Lehmann suggests the first phase of this was through colonisation, with Christianity being imposed on the indigenous populations by conquest. 
  • In the second phase, over the last century, it has spread because it has gained a popular following from below, mainly through Pentecostalist and similar charismatic movements.
  • Pentecostalism creates new local religious forms, incorporating existing local beliefs (e.g. spirit possession), rather than replacing them with ones imposed from outside.
  • In Africa, this has led to the ' Africanisation' of Christianity rather than the total disappearance of indigenous religions. 
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