Topic 5: Religion in a global context

Learning objectives

What you are studying in this topic:

  • understand some of the different ways in whuch religon interacts with is global context
  • understand the rold of religon in economic development in a globalising world
  • understand and be able to evaluate explanations of the nature of religious fundamentalism
  • understand and be able to evaluate explanations of the role of religon in international conflict
1 of 15

Religious fundamentalism

  • Fundamentalism arises in media and political concerns in relation to international Islamist terrorism.
  • In the modern world, traditonal beliefs and values are challanged because society has adopted new secular ideas therefore not following traditional values and norms or religion
  • There are several features of fundamentalism
    • an authoritative sacred text - is where all the answers about life come from and fundamentalists believe the literal truth in the sacred text therefore its not open for questioning. E.G. for christian fundamentalists every word of the bible is literally true as it holds certaim answers for certain questions such as the afterlife
    • An 'us and them' mentality - they seperate themselves from the rest of the world
    • agressive reaction - draw attention to the threat to their beliefs and values and their reactions are therefore aggressive and intended to shock, intimitdate and harm others
    • use of modern technology - they use to achieve their aims
    • patriarchy - favour a world in which controls over women's sexuality, reproductive powers and their social/economic roles
    • prophecy - relevence of biblical prophecies to contempory events. They believe that the last days will soon be upon us, when the dead will be resurrected and transported...
2 of 15

Religious fundamentalism heaven with the living.

  • conspiracy theories - attracted to conspiracy theories which is the idea that powerful, hidden, eveil forces and organisations are in control of human destiny
3 of 15

Religious fundamentalism

Fundamentalism and modernity

  • according to Davie, fundamentalists are a product of modernity because traditonal beliefs and values are threatened by modernity and feel the need to defend themselves against it
  • according to Giddens, late modern society encourage fundamentalism because late modern society is a product of globalisation which undermines traditional social norms and values, such as abortion, homosexuality and sex outside of marriage


  • cosmopolitanism is a way of thinking that embraces modernity and is in keeping with today's globalising world
  • cosmopolitan religions and spirituality emphasise to be tolerant of other views of others and open to new ideas which enables them to adapt their beliefs
  • according to Bauman, postmodern society leads some people to fundamentalism because its a response to living in postmodernity, freedom of choice, uncertainity and a heightened awareness of risk to society's traditional norms and values
4 of 15

Religious fundamentalism

  • Castells identifies two responses to postmodernity:
    • resistance identity - a defensive reaction as those who feel threatened and retreat into fundamentalist communities
    • project identity - the response of those who are forward-looking and engage with social movements such as feminism and environmentalism


  • there are four critcisms of Giddens, Bauman and Castells:
    • they distinguish too sharply between cosmopolitianism and fundamentalism and ignore the hybrid movements
    • fixated on fundamentalism - ignoring other developments how globalisation is also effecting non-fundamentalist religions such as Catholicism
    • ignoring differences between different fundamentalism
    • ignorning the fact that reinventing tradition is also a modern 'reflexive' activity
5 of 15

Religious fundamentalism

Monotheism and fundamentalism

  • monotheism is the belief in one God only
  • according to Bruce, fundamentalism is confined to monotheism religions this is because their authoritive sacred texts which outlines the word of God and lays down specific rules for followers to follow
  • Bruce's two fundamentalism:
    • in the west - E.G. New Christian Right reasserted true religion and restore it to a public role where it can shape laws and morals of wider society
    • in the third world - triggered by modernisation and globalisation - resistence to the states attempts to sideline religion and confine it to the private sphere
6 of 15

Religious fundamentalism

Secular fundamentalism

  • Davie identifies two phases of modernity which may give rise to different forms of  fundamentalism
    • the first phase - religious  fundamentalism = a movement known as the Enlightment which help a secular belief in the certainty of progress based on the power of science and human reason to improve the world. This enlightment project dominated European thought and helped to secularise all areas of social life, attacking and undermining religious certainties. Religious fundamentalism is one reaction to this secularisation process
    • the second phase -  secular fundamentalism = the englightment project came under attack and this is the result of a growing mood of uncertainty. This mood is the product of insecurity caused by globalistion which concerns about the environment and the collapse of communism lead to the loss in faith
  • these secular ideologies are struggling for survival just like religion because they are past their sell by date according to Davie
  • secular  fundamentalism is people who reject religion as a result of uncertainties of life in the late modern and postmodern society
7 of 15

Religious fundamentalism

Secular fundamentalism

  • some types of secular fundamentalism can be seen as a form or cultural racism as come countries such as France which percieved religious challanges to liberal secular values have provoked a secular fundamentalist which can be seen as racism. France stopped serving alternatives to pork which discriminates against the Muslim and Jewish community who don't eat pork. They stopped serving pork in schools.
8 of 15

Religious fundamentalism

The clash of civilisations

  • Huntington's 7 civilsations include - Western, Islamic, Latin America, Confucian (China), Japanese, Hindu and Slaric - orthodox (Russia and Eastern Europe) each have a common cultural background and history, and is closely identified with one of the world's great religions
  • globalisation has increased conflict between religions because it has made nation states less significant as a source of identity, creating a gap that religion has filled
  • Huntington points out that religious conflicts are harder to resolve than political ones because they are deeply rooted in culture and history in which people do not want to let go
  • religious differences between civilisations are a source of conflicts. This is because of globalisation
  • religious differences are creating a set of hostile 'us and them' relationships, with increased competition between civilisations for economic and military power
  • Huntington believes the west is under great threat from Islam
9 of 15

Religious fundamentalism

Evaluation of Huntington's clash of civilisations

  • Jackson says he stereotypes Eastern nations and people as untrustworthy especially Muslims
  • Harrie suggests that he portrays Islam as the enemy which is misleading
  • Armstrong point out that hostility towards the West does not stem from fundamentalist Islam, but is a reaction to Western policy, where the west has proposed oppressive regimes and continues to support Israel despite its aggressive treatment of Palestinians
10 of 15

Cultural defence

  • cultural defence is when a religion serve to unite a community against an external force this because religion sybolises a groups or societies collective identity
  • religion may be used to defend national identity:
    • in Poland - they was under a communist rule which was the Soviet Union. During this time the Catholic Church was suppressed. The church served as a popular rallying point for opposition to the Soviet Union and the Polish communist party.
    • in Iran - western capitalist powers and oil companies overthrow a democratic government to install pro-Western regime headed by the Shah or Iran. His successor embarked on a policy of modernisation by banning the veil and replacing the Muslim calander. However, modernisation was widening the gap between the rich and poor. Islam became the focus for resistence to the Shah's regime. The revolution of 1979 brought the creation of the Islamic Republic, in which clerics held state power and were able to impose Islamic Sharia law
11 of 15

Religion and development

  • for secularisation theory, modernisation undermines religion
  • the importance of science and technology in economic development are seen as destroying belief
  • religion may contribute to development as Weber argued in the case of the Protestant ethic

God and globalisation in India

  • globalisation has brought rapid economic growth and prosperity in India
  • Nanda says prosperity in India has led to an increase in religiousity because it has increases interest in religion and its becoming fashionable to be religious
  • Hinduism has changed in response to the increased wealth of many Indian's because modern holy men now preach that being wealthy or desire its not a bad thing but rather a manifestation of diveristy that motivates people to do things
  • Hinduism is seen as a civil religion in India because their values are viewed constantly promoted by the media and politians, along with the idea that Hinduism is the essense of Indian culture and identity
  • the problems that the state has caused between Hindu's and non-Hindu's is that its widening the gap between them which is creating greater inequality
12 of 15

Religion and development

God and globalisation in India

  • globalisation has led to a new middle-class in India
  • another feature of middle-class religiousity is that they are attracted to low status village gods and goddesses worshipped by the poor this is because these gods are seen as being more responsive to people's needs than the traditional Hindu great gods
  • Nanda examines what motivates the middle-class to continue to be religious this is because their increasing religiousity is the result of their ambivalence (uncertainty) about their newfound wealth
  • modern versions of Hinduism legitmate the position of the middle-class and allow them to adjust to globalised consumer capitalism
  • holy men dispense business-friendly versions of Hinduism and take the edge off guilt by teaching that middle-class consumerism can be spiritually balanced by paying for the performance of appropriate rituals
13 of 15

Religion and development

Capitalism in East Asia

  • Redding outlines some similarities between post-Confunian values and the Calvinists values that encouraged capitalism in Europe, those are: encouraging hard work, self-discipline, frugality (economical with money and food) and commitment to education and self-improvement
  • the effect of this value system is similar to the Protestant ethic, in that it leads to economic productivity and the accumulation of capitalism
14 of 15

Religion and development

Pentecostalism in Latin America

  • Berger says that Pentecostal beliefs are similar to Weber's Protestant Ethic because it encouraged the development of capitalism today in the same way as Calvinism which embraced work ethic and lifestyle
  • successful development relies on more than just Pentecostal beliefs as natural resources are also needed, whilst Pentecostalism has grown in northern Brazil, the region lacks resources and remains backward whereas in southern Brazil they have work ethic and resources
  • Pentecostalism embraces both global and local elements as it preaches a similar message worldwide but it uses imagery and symbolism drawn from local cultures and beliefs
  • Lehmann says the success of Pentecostalism is due to the ability to incorperate local beliefs
  • the ability to adapt to local customs and establish a local identity for itself, Pentecostalism shows local diversity in different parts of the world because they create new religious forms rather than replacing existing local beliefs with an important one
15 of 15





Similar Sociology resources:

See all Sociology resources »See all Religion and beliefs resources »