Saturday, August 1, 2009

Religion and Globalization

Peter Berger, a sociologist, has written what is a really insightful article on the challenge and change that globalization brings to religion.

In the article, Berger begins to show how he and other scholars have had to modify their theoretical paradigm, which argued that as society becomes more modern, then religion will decrease and decline. Berger has argued that the evidence is not so. He declares that if that particular theory was to be held true, then one could not consider the United States of America modern.

Religion in modernity has lead to, a new conflict in society - the conflict between the cultural elite and the religious populace. In Berger's words,
"in many countries including the United States, this intelligentsia or cultural elite is very much in conflict with the religious populace."

Berger also goes on to suggest that globalization has had an impact on religious identity. He argues that what globalization has done is to make societies more plural in religious identity, especially where the legal framework permits the peaceful coexistence of religions.

Peaceful coexistence and interfaith dialogue has had the following impact:
  • People have more religious choices

  • Religion and churches are now seen as voluntary organisations or associations competing for volunteers or members in the market for religion.

  • people are blending religious elements and beliefs to form their own identity

I found this quote very interesting, as it reflects too my own journey and struggle. Berger states that:

"increasingly you find individuals who put together their own particular religious profile. You find this very much in North America and in Western Europe. You find it elsewhere as well. Robert Wuthnow, who I think is one of the best sociologists of religion in the United States, has used the term ‘patchwork religion’: People put together different elements of their own tradition and other traditions and say, ‘Well, I’m Catholic, but...’ The ‘but’ is very important and there are many things included there.

For example, the belief in reincarnation. An enormous number of people in Europe and America believe in reincarnation, which is not exactly Christian doctrine. So that’s part of ‘I’m Catholic, but I believe I’ve been here many times before’ or something like that. Danielle Hervieu-L├ęger, a French sociologist of religion uses the term ‘bricolage’, which means tinkering. It’s like a Lego, you create your own little version of whatever it is you want to call yourself."

In addition, Berger also suggests that because of the variety of religous choices, people are no longer taking their religoius truth for granted, but are leaving themselves open to discover alternative truth or other truth. Berger states:

"actually our language says this very well. For example, one might say, ‘I happen to be Catholic’ – an extremely interesting phrase. Or a more sort of Californian: ‘I’m into Buddhism.’ Which, of course, suggests that tomorrow I might be out of Buddhism, and in fact chances are that I will; I’ll discover something else."

However, Berger also maintains that globalization has made it difficult for the State or any other religoius institution to control religion or the religious choices of the populace. He argues that even totalitarian states are having difficulties.

Harvard Reference Citation:

Berger, Peter L. (2006). "Religion in a globalizing world." World Association for Christian Communication. available at: (Accessed 1 August 2009).

No comments: