July 29, 2021

Globalization And The “Return Of Religion” – There Is None, Part 2 (Joshua Ramos)

The following is the second of a two-part series. The first can be found here.

Derrida also posits the opposite of media-friendly religion, that of the ‘Rushdie affair’, whereby Iranian novelist Salman Rushdie had a fatwa issued against him, calling for his assassination for his controversial novel The Satanic Verses. The fatwa was issued from the Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, which is often traced as the first transition towards globalized religious fundamentalism.

What Derrida was picking up on was that the same dynamics at play within this “planetary terrorism” were similar to those at play within the “global spectacularizing” of conservative Catholic revivalism. Religion is either cast in a hostile or a friendly light, and emerges in processes that can favor democratization as we see with John Paul II, or religion can opposes democratization, as we see with Khomeni.

And  at the core of this is what Derrida calls “digital culture”, “digital systems and virtually immediate panoptical visualization, ‘air space’, telecommunications satellites, information highways, concentration of capitalistic-mediatic power” in which “the cyberspatialized or cyberspaced wars of religion have no stakes other than the determination of the ‘world’, of ‘history’, of the ‘day’, and of the ‘present’” (24) The globalizing technological advance of the secularizing digital culture is at the heart of the return of religion.

Yet, as Carl Raschke writes, “the ‘return’ of religion is actually a resurgence, a violent reaction to the relativizing, historicizing, and ‘liberating’ effects of modernity” (35). Secularization, intent on pacifying religion, in turn created the reaction that it had intended to mitigate. Religion returned, or rather reacted, against the secularization which was itself the cause for the autonomous expansion of the religious. However, the kind of religion that expressed itself was that of fundamentalism.

The term “fundamentalism” emerged in the twentieth century United States referring to debates that took place within  protestant denominations, in particular the Baptists and Presbyterians, over the modernist  theology that was taking sway over them, with ‘the fundamentalists’ identifying themselves as the guardians of traditional orthodoxy. Overall, according to Martin Marty, “fundamentalism was a specific response to modern challenges; the word reaction best serves to describe the impulse and strategy of fundamentalists.”

Fundamentalism is not confined to any one particular religion or faith, any nation-state or particular western society, and cuts across all markers of gender, race and class. Fundamentalism as a modernist movement that uses a highly selective approach when it comes to translating the scriptures, without using interpretative apparatus of the complexities of tradition and culture. As Martin Marty and Scott Appleby point out,

The fact that fundamentalist movements’ middle management and rank and file frequently have educational and professional backgrounds in applied sciences, technical and bureaucratic fields helps explain why fundamentalists tend to read scriptures like engineering blueprints—as a prosaic set of instructions and specifications.(934)

The interpretation of the scripture of the fundamentalist is “reduced to a storehouse of raw materials to be ransacked as needed for building a political program. Few poets or cosmologists find their way into fundamentalists cadres” (Roy 5). The text is abstracted, and is able to be interpreted any way possible, falling into the hands of whomever wills through the passageway of technology and social media.

Olivier Roy points out that “Fundamentalism is the religious form that is most suited to globalization, because it accepts its own deculturation and makes it the instrument of its claim to universality.”69 The return of religion is better understood as the reaction of religion towards the globalizing force of secularization, and because of its reactionary nature, fundamentalism and globalization are joined at the hips. Peter Beyer and Lori Beaman argue that, “it is entirely arguable that the rise of globalization discussions—which in their early social scientific and business forms began roughly, and with various antecedents, in the very early 1980’s—coincided with the rise to prominence of religious movements tagged ‘fundamentalisms’”. (2)

Fundamentalism is therefore a symptom and key indicator of the technological advance and secularizing force of globalization. Globalization creates fundamentalism. The return of religion is therefore simply the reaction of religion.

There is No “Return of Religion”

In sum, globalization produces secularization, which deculturates religion. Globalization  also pluralizes, and pluralization creates secularization. Globalization also creates fundamentalism, which is a reaction to its counterpart of liberalization. Therefore, within the West, there is no return of religion. The “return of religion” model is constructed along the civilizational model of religion, which takes a Samuel Huntington’s approach of the “clash of civilizations”, whereby religion and culture and territory are inextricably linked.

But this is increasingly no longer the case, for globalization has disrupted all links. The effect of globalization is that there is no longer an intrinsic link between religion and culture. Religion is disembedded, and therefore made abstract and virtual. This separation and parting of ways is the basis of the apparent religious revival and of the public visibility of religion.  As Olivier Roy writes, the religious ‘comeback’ is merely an optical illusion; it would be more appropriate to speak of transformation. Religion is both more visible and frequently in decline. We are witnessing a reformulation of religion rather than a return to ancestral practices abandoned during the secularist hiatus.

This notion of the reformulation of religion through secularization gets at the center of what Roy argues throughout his Holy Ignorance. Religion is transformed, and no longer consists of ‘a return to ancestral practices’, that is, the inculturated and civilizational institutional forms of traditional religion. Religion has not returned in the same shape and  form as it once was before the long eclipse of the Enlightenment – a territorialized and culturally embedded historical unit of cohesive social expression — but it has rather reformulated into a de-territorialized universal of individual religiosities that gather together in ‘faith communities’.

The return of religion, or rather the reaction of religion, is due to the process of globalization, and its apparent return is instead a symptom of thoroughgoing Westernization and secularization. The religious revival is itself a production and play of secularization at work, or as Roy puts it, “Secularism engenders religion” (26).

Furthermore, regarding the increase of secularization, from a purely demographic perspective, secularization found its largest growth in the twentieth century. As religious demographers Todd Johnson and Brian Grim observe in their analysis of the religiously unaffiliated and secular cohorts that, “In 1910 the world was home to very few atheists and agnostics. By 2010, they numbered in the hundreds of millions and represented 11.8% of the human population.”

The 20th century was in fact the premier hallmark and expansive growth of unbelief, notwithstanding the rise of political religion since the 1970’s. Despite the necessary correction of the once prevalent and triumphalist classical secularization theory, this macro-narrative of the contemporary “resurgence of religion” is problematized by its tendency of proclaiming the obverse of a global sacralization or re-enchantment. To correct the pendulum that swung too far into the universal inevitability of secularization, we cannot overestimate in the other direction of a grand religious revival of a sacralization.

There is additional evidence of the sociological data on the “return of religion” that suggests, according to Jose Casanova, that secularization has gained a stronghold within the West as opposed to religious revitalization. As Casanova writes,

…there is little evidence of any significant religious revival among the population of Western European societies, except among immigrant groups….Actually, the rate of secularization in many European societies may have reached a point of no return. (84)

For Casanova, who borrows Daniele Hervieu-Leger’s term of religion as “a chain of memory,” argues that this chain of memory appears broken almost without repair and large generations of young Europeans are growing up without any personal relationship with or even knowledge of the Christian religious tradition. Not only the Christian churches, but most importantly families have lost their role in the process of religious socialization. (84)

Europe is not at yet at a point to speak of the post-secular, and because of such, it is premature to speak of the return of religion. It is here at this point where Olivier Roy and Jose Casanova concur, insofar as the upcoming European generations, those born into deculturated religion, are born into the generation of Holy Ignorance, that of secularized societies that have severed the “chain of memory”, the religious traditions that created inculturated, civilizational religion which provided a fortification of religious identity that was able to be transmitted to the next generations within an organic, fluid manner. Holy Ignorance means ignorance of religious tradition, which is the disruption of religion as a “chain of memory”.

After deculturation there are a series of intended and unintended consequences, such as the obliteration of the middle ground within debates regarding religion and the public square, or the loss of the social cohesion and expression of religion, such as exemplified within the pure religion of fundamentalism or the pure religion of liberalized spiritualities. Secularization defines and separates what is “religion” from what is “culture”, creating a widening divide between believer and non-believer, and thereby arresting and preventing “inculturation” of religion.

The result of separating religion from  its traditional link to a particular cultural embedding is the creation of a “pure religion”, where “religion is forced to be religion and nothing else”. Purity, the idea of a pure religion, of a pure faith, of a pure past corroded by the profane present, of a pure future that lies ahead, is the new form of religion and religiosity. One must purify oneself from the sins of the world as with the fundamentalist, just as one must purify oneself from the shackles of religious dogma as with ‘the spiritual but not religious’.

Roy writes that “contemporary conversions look for the ‘purely religious’ and entail the constitution of ‘faith communities’ that, even when they do not sever their ties with the surrounding society, insist on being purely religious” (176). Purity of religion is one of the characteristics markers of the contemporary experience of the individual searching for his preferential option of faith within globalized spiritual marketplace of religiosities.

What deculturated religion shows is that the secularizing forces that are at work within the liberalized religious communities are the same forces that are creating the kinds of religiosity experienced and expressed with the conservative religious communities. The public visibility of religion consists of the fact that the alternative expressions of religion is a symptom of secularization, insofar as it manifests the de- institutionalization of religion and the decline of religious authority through the individualization of religious beliefs.

There is a confluence, in that reflexive modernity is characterized by an individualization that privatizes the absolute sovereignty of the individual’s choice, preferences and value judgments, while globalization publicizes religion by removing it from any necessary connection from the spatial limitations of territorial region, making it freely available to all. The nexus between individualization and deterritorialization creates a global religious market, which leads to either secularization or fundamentalism.

Sociologist Ulrich Beck indicates that “the door that opens here swings in two opposite directions: a fundamentalist anti-modernity on the one hand, post-modern religious diversity” (133). Modernity is therefore a wheel that spins both ways and in two different directions. The atheist and the fundamentalist both alike reject religious authority, and secularization can be expressly understood as the decline of religious authority.

“Contemporary believers put far more stress on faith, on spiritual experience, on individual and personal rediscovery of religion, than on legacy, culture, transmission, authority, and theology”, according to Roy.79 And such rejections of religious authority can be seen within the two global trends of modern religion that are crucially shaping Western society and politics in the 21st century, that of the “Nones” (or “Spiritual but not  Religious”) and that of radical jihadist terrorists groups such as ISIS.

The ‘Nones’ reject all forms of institutional religion, and as they are usually agnostic rather than atheist, and   spiritual rather than religious, they singularly express the definition of secularization as the rejection of religious authority. But the same can be said about ISIS, which on one account they can be defined as thoroughly modern since they are fundamentalist reactionaries, and on another account they are liberalized since they resist all appropriate Islamic institutions of definition and appropriation. Religious identity is no longer founded and confined to the official channels of appropriate theological institutionalized centers of authority, but rather religious identity rather self-determined by the subject and agent themselves.

ISIS is Islamic because they say they are, and their motives are theological because they admit and confess that they are theological based on their hermeneutic of the text, which rejects traditional Islamic interpretations of the Koran in favor of interpretations that finds their genealogy with Sayid Qutb, and in the end their hermeneutic finds its ultimate locus within the individual himself. As Roy puts it, “the self is the truth; faith, not religion is the truth”80

Globalization is not a singular process but rather is best described as a set of tensions, paradoxes, contradictions, conflicts and unintended consequence that carry across the multiple secularities and modernities of various nations and geographical regions. For instance, the global economy of merging transnational corporations is often in tension with the politics of nation-states defined along territorial lines, and the culture of commodification inherent within this free flow of market capitalism is often in conflict with the values, habits and lifestyles of local indigenous identities. The outcome of fractured globalization and secularization is that religion first “deculturates” and then begins to de-territorialize, whereby the religious markers or symbols separates itself from its original cultural, political and historical context and free flows through the dissemination of ideas via technology and the global migrations of people. German sociologist Ulrich Beck has pointed out that globalizations renders the simultaneous presence and availability of all (world) religions and cultural and spiritual symbolic worlds, from the ‘most primitive’ to the ‘most modern’, separated for the most part from their temporal and spatial context, and open to every conceivable appropriation and misappropriation throughout the world, including terrorist ones (28).Deculturation is decontextualization. Raschke writes that

religion ‘returns’ only because it is ‘rhizomic’, it is a constant pressure beneath  the surface of the deep; its double sourcing becomes the double sentencing of what Deleuze understands as ‘territorialized’ self identity and ‘de-territorialized’—mobile or ‘nomadic’—signifiers that are in ‘flight’ toward unchartered destinations in the history of thought. De-territorialization is what Derrida characterizes as ‘de-racination’. The modern era of ‘Enlightenment’ constitutes a progressive detteritoritorialization of the existential ‘situation’ of faith… (4)

What is emerging is the rhizomic spread of the simulacra and icon of images, messages, through communicative technologies that spread deculturated religion. Religion therefore “deculturates” and is “formatted” into an autonomous site that engenders the semiotic production of religious markers that are capable of global expansion within either a liner, disjointed or paradoxical exportation.

With this interpretation being accessible and wide open, this creates a further chasm, as religion can be interpreted either in a benign sense as we see with the Nones, or in a fundamentalist sense, as we see with groups such as ISIS. What begins to emerge are extremes, polarities, and bifurcated opposites.

Globalization creates dualities just as much as it homogenizes. What happens is that we have the obliteration of the moderation within public debate. Political scientist Eric Kaufmann observes, in the West “moderate religion is in decline, caught between a Syclla of secularism and a Charybdis of fundamentalism. What we see is a final reckoning between religion and the Enlightenment, with individuals forced to choose between the two.”83 Deculturation is the obliteration of nominal, inculturated, and moderate religion. Religion and culture have parted ways.

Joshua Ramos is Senior Projects Editor for The New Polis.

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