Religion in a global context

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Hinduism and Consumerism

Globalisation (the interconnectedness of ideas through media and interenet) has created a huge and prosperous, scientifically educated urban middle class in India. These are the people predicted to be the first to abandon religion in favour of a secular world view.

 However, Meera Nanda (2008) argues that infact Indians are becoming more religious. Only 5% said their religiosity had declined in the last five years as oppose to 30% who claimed to have become more religious.

She also believes their increasing religiosity is a result of their ambivalence about their newfound wealth.In addition to this modern Hinduism legitimates the postition of the middle class and allows them to adjust to globalised consumer capitalism.

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Capitalism In East Asia

In recent decades East Asian Tiger economied such as South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan have successfully industrialised and become significant players in the global economy. China too has become a major global industrial power.

The success of capitalism in Asia has drawn links from sociologists between religion and capitalism, similar to the role Calvinism played in developing Capitalism in 16th-17th cetury Europe.

He sees chinese entrepeneurs as being hard working, self disciplined and commitmed to self improvement. This is similar to the protestant ethic that leads to economic productivity and the raising of capital.

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Pentecostalism in Latin America

Peter Berger (2003) argues that Pentecostalism in Latin America acts as an encourager for capitalism today in the same way Calvinism did in 16th and 17th century Europe as it encourages people to embrace an ascetic (self denying) way of life.

Berger agrees with Weber that something like Protestantism is necessary to promote economic developement. However he does underline that religious ideas alone are not enough to produce economic developement, natural resources are also needed.

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Pentecostalism: global and local

Christianity has globalised itself by expanding out of Europe into both South America and Africa. David Lehman (2002) distinguishes between two phases of this expansion.

  • Christianity accompanied colonisation and was often forcibly imposed on indigenous populations
  • It then spread through growing popularity below. 80 million pentecostalists in Brazil alone.

Pentecostalism is increasingly popular due to its flexible belief system. It embraces local religious ideas wherever it goes and this makes it an attractive option to new followers. It also uses global media and road shows to spread its message.

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Fundamentalism and Cosmopolitanism

According to Anthony Giddens (1990,1991,1999) fundamentalists are traditionalists who seek to return to the basics of their faith. Fundamentalists believe theirs is the only true view of the world and therefore are intolerant of outsiders. 

Giddens contrasts fundamentalism with cosmopolitanism which is a way of thinking that embraces modernity and is in keeping with today's globalising world. With postmodernism ones life is seen as a personal choice rather than as something prescribed by another external authority.

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Responses to Postmodernity

In a similar argument to that of Giddens, Zygmunt Bauman (1992) sees fundamentalism as a response to living in postmodernity. The uncertainties the freedom of modern life brings leads many attracted to fundamentalism's certain and safe claims of absolute truth.

Beckford (2003) however criticises both Giddens and Bauman's work on several grounds:

  • They ignore hybrid movements 
  • Giddens lumps all types of fundamentalism together, thus ignoring all other types.
  • The are fixated on fundamentalism and therefore ignoring other developments such as the impact of globalisation on Catholicism. 
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Monotheism and Fundamentalism

Steve Bruce (2007) sees fundamentalism as a religions defence mechanism to ideas undermining their faith. He does however feel fundamentalism only exists in monotheistic religions, that being religion with only one almighty god, for example Judaism, Islam or Christianity. This is because monotheistic religions have sacred texts such as the Qur'an or the Bible which are believed to be the word of god and lay down specific rules for believers to follow. This does not tie in with the postmodern world of freedom of choice and flexibility over beliefs. 

Bruce also has the idea of the two fundamentalisms, that is the different triggers which can cause it. He sees either changes taking place within their own society or changes being enthrust upon their society from the outside being the two main reasons for fundamentalism. 

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Cultural Defence

Steve Bruce (2002) sees one function of religion in today's world as that of cultural defence. This is where religion serves to unite a community against an external threat. An example of this was seen in Poland:

From 1945 to 1989 Poland was under communist rule which was imposed from the outside by the Soviet Union. During this time the Catholic Church was suppressed. However, for many the Church remained a form of Polish identity and although not openly challenging the communist regime it was a popular rallying point for opposition to the Soviet Union and communism. 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 in communism. The church thereafter gained a public role and has had a significant influence on Polish politics since the 1980's. 

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Religion and the 'clash of civilisations'

Samuel Huntington sees religious problems as harder to solve than political ones as they are more deeply rooted in culture and history. He sees religion as both creating social cohesion and also conflict within civilisations. He sees this as being particularly true in today's globalised world for three reasons:

  • With the fall of communism political differences between nations have become less important as a source of identity.
  • Globalisation has made nation states less significant as a source of identity.
  • Globalisation makes contact between civilisations easier and more frequent, increasing the likelihood of old conflicts re-emerging. 


Jackson (2006) sees Huntington's work as an example of 'orientalism', a western ideology that stereotypes Eastern nations and people (especially Muslims) as untrustworthy.

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this is really detailed




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