July 29, 2021

Globalization And The “Return Of Religion” – There Is None, Part 1 (Joshua Ramos)

The following is the first of a two-part series.

The concept of globalization began and runs in tandem with the emerging global culture of free market capitalism. The coinage and use of ‘globalization’ was at first a concept developed by Harvard economist Theodore Levitt during the 1970’s. Levitt developed the idea of the “globalization of markets”, arguing that there was a “standardization” of products or forced commonality of markets that was developing through what Daniel Boorstin called “The Republic of Technology”, in which the “supreme law…is convergence, the tendency for everything to become more like everything else” (92).

And it is technology that makes globalization the summit of modernization, for modernization according to the late sociologist Peter Berger “consists of the growth and diffusion of a set of institutions rooted in the transformation of the economy by means of technology” (15). With technological advance, the world as a whole homogenizes and standardizes in all of its ensuing features contained within the societal, political and cultural sectors.

And as of such, this includes religion and the religious. Globalization stands over and above secularization as the key indicator of religious transformation within contemporary society, as it encompasses the whole of which secularization consists of the part. Globalization is that which secularizes. Globalization is secularization.

Secularization can be briefly defined within three senses that interlock. The first is  that of Peter Berger, in which he defines it as “the process by which sectors of society and culture are removed from the domination of religious institutions and symbols”; the  second is that of sociologist Bryan Wilson, who defines it as the “decline of the social significance of religion”; and the third is that of sociologist Mark Chaves, who defines it as “the declining scope of religious authority” (749).

Taken as a whole, I use secularization within these three parameters: the extirpation of governing institutional religious symbols from all sectors within society, the decline of significance of religion within these sectors, and the loss of centralized religious authority. Globalization secularizes because globalization is itself the outcome of the logic of modernity and late capitalism.

And “modernization” as a concept has always been the core component to the classic secularization thesis. The secularization thesis is that the more a society modernizes, then the more the society will secularize, or simply put: more modernization equals less religion. The classic thesis of secularization has been disputed through what is known as the resurgence of religion, which raises various factors that suggest that the secularization thesis ought to be consigned to the dustbin of history.

Suffice to say now, Olivier Roy stands within the tradition of secularization theory, and argues that religion is in interminable decline within the West. For Roy, secularization stands triumphant. Globalization can be considered as a ‘package’ concept that contains within several variables that all converge and contribute to the production of secularization: democratization, neoliberalism, the “ecumenism of human rights”, advanced technology, mass immigration, and the spread of western values.

All of these variables contained within the ‘package’ concept of globalization converge within an output known as the global spiritual marketplace, which refers “to the plurality and variety of religious offers in culture” in which “new ‘competitors’ enter the marketplace where the individual can choose from whatever offer caters best to his/her religious needs.” Levitt’s notion of the convergence of globalized markets has served as the basis for conceptualizing religious expression through economic forms within the supply-demand consumer model of a globalized spiritual marketplace.

This analysis of global spiritual marketplace concurs  with Raschke, who writes that:

The global marketplace has made ‘culture’ a vast supermarket aisle of customized consumer items, a set of symbolic codes and accepted practices that eventuate from both competitive and often commercial efforts to ‘locate’ and domesticate a person or a group within the global emporium of ideologies and life options (3).

Religion has become one option among many, and the individual stands over and above the collective and tradition, enabled to choose among the options. This relation between the individual and the religious option at hand takes it paradigmatic symbol within the religious convert. The paradigm of the religious convert is one of Roy’s key notions in his Holy Ignorance. As Roy writes regarding his work, “Converts and the born-again are central to our study, since they epitomize the phenomenon of the deculturation of religion” (14).

Globalization also refers to the “compression of the world and intensification of consciousness of the world as a whole”, according to Roland Robertson (8). This compression of global consciousness is marked by the intensifying speed of rapid social transformations through ever increasing interdependence and interconnectivity by way of exponentially increasing communication technologies.

Economist Ellen Frost defines globalization as a “long term process of connection and transformation” that “sets in motion a living, expanding and highly uneven network of cross-border flows” that pertain to products, people and ideologies (27). The world has become a vast social network. Manuel Castells concluded in his trilogy The Information Age that, “the rise of the network society and the growing power of identity are the intertwined social processes that jointly define globalization, geopolitics, and social transformation in the early twentieth first century” (xvii).

Manuel Castells observes that we are now in the “Age of Networks”, and as of such the religious are aligning, connecting and developing their sacred communities along this technological and electronic web of nodes and lines of communication—what can be called the internetization of the religious and religiosity. Olivier Roy shows in his Globalized Islam how Islamic religious communities through the virtual space of the Internet are creating a globalized ummah.

In this sense, globalization both fragments and coheres, fragmenting social cohesion into identities of religiosity, and at the same time cohering identities of religiosity into communities that align alongside their own reconstructed values, norms and theological beliefs. We are therefore post-Durkheimian, insofar as religion no longer coheres collectively and is no longer organically embedded within society.

Furthermore, shifting forms of human population run in conjunction with shifting forms of knowledge mediated through the globalized technology of social media, which adds up to a hyper-acceleration of societal transformation. Philosopher Paul Virilio explains this rapid, hyper-acceleration of societal change through his concept of dromology, which means the logic of speed. Speed “exerts a number of transformative effects upon human culture” and is “the decisive factor in human technological evolution” (69).

The logic and rate of speed in these technologies increases the rate and possibilities of the dissemination of information and the dissemination of people within immigration, shaping social realities and therefore religiosity faster than they are able to be inculturated within political territories. Dromology makes religious inculturation impossible, and at the same time enhances deculturation.

Both the ‘public space’ and the ‘public sphere’ are reconstructed within the social imaginary as a globalized virtual space where traditional boundaries of space, time and borders are melted into amorphous and nebulous configurations. What this creates is a vast and uncontrollable rapid spread of ideas and information in which social networks emerge and respond in real time, thereby creating various global civil societies and transnational communities that are adapted by both the religious and secular alike.

With the exponential increase of information circulated and immigration imported into Western societies, pluralization is now the political question of our global democratic age; globalization is pluralization. This ‘globalization’ of people and ideas circulates varieties of religious beliefs, practices and communities, and therefore increases religious diversity and plurality –such as seen in expressive religious individualism in the West – as well as a sense of transnational solidarity with religious communities, such as seen with the Islamic ummah and global civil society.

Greater religiously diverse societies contain a cacophonous variety of religious bodies committed towards a position within a political spectrum consisting of liberal, moderate or fundamentalist values. Forced to intersect side by side, these religious bodies and faith communities form competition and conflict within a global religious market. Because of  such, Peter Berger has argued to replace the thesis that ‘modernization equals secularization’ with thesis that ‘modernization equals pluralization’. In other words, that the theory of secularization should be replaced with the theory of pluralization.54

Although Berger is right in assessing the pluralizing condition of Western societies, as we shall soon see, pluralization itself is a condition and agent of secularization. Pluralization increases the opportunity for disaffiliation. Pluralization relativizes through the spread of religious options, which thereby casts reflexive doubt within the subject as towards his/her religious convictions. Religious diversity does not stimulate greater religious participation, but rather secularization and disaffiliation. Globalization pluralizes, and pluralization secularizes.

To compact matters further, pluralization has two meanings. The first is that within the collective level, through the measurement of the proliferation of religious bodies within societies. The second is that which operates within the individual level, through the multiplicities of identities. The cultural effect of hybridization allows for the porous and liminal identity of both/and, while pluralization also brings about the possibility for ‘multiple religious belonging’, ‘double belonging’, or ‘hyphenated religious identity’.56

Therefore, hybridization of religious identity, due to the disjunctured and fractured process of globalization, challenges the traditional form of binary, taxonomic classification, and creates a radical, thorough going pluralization on both the individual and the collective level. Pluralization of identity is unbounded.

Furthermore, globalization as a societal process driven by technology runs together with globalism as the dominating symbolic imaginary and ideology of the West. Globalism in conjunction with globalization enhances secularization. Globalism resides in at least two spheres, the political and the economic. The political sphere consists of the modern project of pluralism that is maintained and advanced through democratization.

These political conditions of liberal democracy and freedom of religion substantiates a religious atmosphere of pluralism. What sociologist of religion Daniel Hervieu Leger calls the “ecumenism of human rights” is cast within the political structures of the legal options for the freedom of religion (7). This universal standard is crystallized in the Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes the freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19 and Article 20 also support religious freedom by proposing and supporting “freedom of opinion and expression” as well as “freedom of association”. This “ecumenism of human rights” formats or standardizes religion into the concept of the so- called “world religions”, thereby putting these world religions inadvertently into an ontological, homogenized plane of sameness without difference.

Religions are essentialized. Every religion is just as valid, is as the same, and is as equal as the other. The message conveyed is that all religions are one. The presumption of this this notion that all religions are one traces its origins to construction of the concept of religion with the advance of European colonialism, and was given a further modernized epistemological grounding with the philosopher John Hicks, whose model of religion consisted of the metaphor the singular mountain that has various paths.

And within the economic realm, globalism also takes on the economic form of what Peter Berger terms “Davos culture”, which consists of Westernized human development wedded together with neoliberal capitalism that serves as the infrastructure of the global monetary basis (23-29). The output of the economic realm is the spread of post- material values within post-industrial societies that engender a lifestyle of self-realization and expressive individualism. Globalism, running in conjunction with globalization, perpetually secularizes societies and creates the disjunction of deculturated religion.

Therefore, in our global, liberal democratic, pluralized, secular age, we are left with the over-arching societal condition whereby we have thriving religious bodies with competing theo-political norms set alongside and up against thriving non-religious bodies with their own particular set of secular norms. The unintended consequence of secularization is that by creating an autonomous sphere for religion, a road was paved for the 21st century resurgence and revitalization of religion.

Globalization is the Condition for the Return of Religion

The rise of the transnational influence of religion is due to the modernization within technologies of communication and media, as well as the various processes inherit within globalization, namely demography and democratization (See Monica Duffy Toft, Daniel Philpott, and Timothy Shah, God’s Century).61

Though these factors of hyper- rate global communication and universal expansion of democratic values were first thought to pose critical challenges to the growth and social cohesion of the religious communities, the response of the religious to globalization was largely accommodating toward these processes and thus the religious effectively became assimilated, whether through their participation in global civil society as a force for peace within the ‘ecumenism’ of human rights, or in the reaction of anti-globalism religious networks who paradoxically use modern communicative technologies as a countervailing platform and vehicle for terrorism and violence.

Usual indications of the rise of the religion start with the observation of the rise of political Islam throughout the Middle East and North Africa, beginning with the significance of the rise of the Khomeni regime.

In addition to the rise of political Islam, there is the world wide spread of evangelicalism through Protestant missionary movements, the mass migration of immigrants that have brought strong religious communities straight into the heart of secularized cosmopolitan cities of Western Europe, the rise of the Moral Majority and the Christian Republican conservatism within the United States, the spread of cults (Jim Jones, David Koresh, Heavens Gate), the birth of New Age spiritualities, and New Religious Movements (Scientology, Jehovah’s Witness, Mormons) within Western Europe. What ties these movements all together is the secularizing force of globalization.

We must also first recognize that the ‘the return of religion’ was a nomenclature coined by Jacques Derrida in his work Acts of Faith, a return that he linked with the rise of globalization, or as Derrida puts it, ‘globalatinization’. As Derrida explains,religion today allies itself with tele-technoscience, to which it reacts with all its forces. It is on the one hand, globalization; it produces, weds, exploits, the capital and knowledge of tele-mediaziation; neither the trips and global spectacularizing of the Pope, nor the interstate dimensions of the “Rushdie affair,” nor planetary terrorism would otherwise be possible, at this rhythm—and we could multiply such indications ad infinitum. (1-16)

Derrida observes that ‘tele-technoscience’, by which he means the technology of communications and the mediascape, has created and globalized the visibility of religion to the public square. Derrida’s reference to Pope John Paul II—who was the world’s first rock-star celebrity Pope, and who had played a decisive political role in the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe—runs in agreement with Olivier Roy’s observation that “John Paul II’s papacy embodied religion’s media-friendly modernity” (3).

Joshua Ramos is Senior Projects Editor for The New Polis.

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