Faith is a global commodity

Mujibur Rehman | Updated: Aug 31 2008, 07:04am hrs

The discourse on globalisation is enriched by scholars examining its impact on different aspects of culture and society during the past two decades. As part of this discourse, this book breaks new ground by choosing to reflect on what globalisation has done to various religions. It examines all the major religions like Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and Buddhism that have arrived in the modern world like Christians of Later Day Saints.

The major global religions have been seeking to globalise by spreading their messages long before the emergence of modern conventional forms of globalisation, rooted in the Bretten-Wood System in the post-World War II era. Overall the analysis here emphasises non-economic aspects of globalisation. A major part is devoted to the analysis of major religions, their evolution and the impact owing to globalisation, but most of these narratives are historical in nature. It also devotes considerable space to analysing the transformation of religion during the post-modern era, and to each religions engagement with modernity.

The chapter on Christianity examines how fundamentalism and modernism have emerged as two different forms of responses in recent times. While fundamentalism views Christianity as an unchanging embodiment of eternal truth, modernism views Christianity as an historical community whose growth and transformation are inspired by Gods original and continuing revelation. While both share a common scripture with stories of Gods action in time, for modernists this means admitting historical change in the development of scriptures and of church doctrine, whereas for fundamentalists this means Gods actions can never depart from the models acknowledged by pre-modern Christianity, which embody eternal and unchanging truth. What globalisation has done is that it has created diverse spaces in social, political and historical circumstances.

Owing to Israel-Palestine conflict, Judaism has remained a polemical religion in global politics today. The discussion on Judaism, however, refrains from entering contested terrains, instead explaining how Jews all over the world grapple with the secular and the sacred, the diverse ways of Jewish life that religion can either reject or accommodate. One of the issues that remains part of the ongoing debate is how Jewish life should take shape in Israel. The ultra-Orthodox, who reject the secular, view religion as being about the sacred and the eternal. All modern and post-modern/ post-holocaust religious forms of Judaism, by contrast, view the holy and the secular as complementary. Whether secular or religious, Jews are still deeply shaped by the stories of Israel. What sort of strategies they employ to deal with the Other in the future will determine the global image as well as the internal character of Judaism as religion.

At this point of world history, Islam draws a great deal of curiosity from non Muslims for a variety of political and cultural reasons. Its alleged linkage with terrorism, the new appeal of jihad and its abuse by some of the Muslim followers, raises new concern about the future of Islam, its relationship with other faiths. Islam in the contemporary world, as through out much of history, continues to be a religion of dynamic change. In contrast to Judaism and Christianity, Muslims due to centuries of European colonial dominance and rule, have had only a few decades to accomplish what the West experienced as a result of centuries of religious and political revolution and reform, a process that included the Enlightenment, Reformation, Counter-Reformation, and the French and American Revolutions. But the relationship of Islam with modernity has taken a new direction with Jihadis using the modern ways of communication to spread terror and justify it as Islamic. At the same time, it prefers to glorify pre-modern forms life as sacred and ideal. At the heart of this contradiction lies the difficult future that Islam is likely to face unless a charismatic leader brings requisite reform and changes its face as a peace loving faith which is what it is.

Hinduism and Buddhism are two other religions which have entered into Western awareness strongly, but interest in these religions is selective, mainly centred on Yoga and meditation. Considering that Hinduism is not an evangelical religion like Christianity or Islam, the main factor that is determining the global spread of Hinduism is the growing numbers of non-resident Indians or the Indian diaspora. But some discussions on Iskcon or the Arya Samajis would have shed useful light on the changes in global Hinduism. Likewise, the gobal migration of Asian Buddhists is going to impact the fate of Buddhism as well.

One wonders whether Buddhists revivalists could offer compelling interpretations of Dharma, as Buddhists find themselves drawn into the global markets of multinational capitalism, its doctrine of individualism and idealisation of consumerism. All in all, the book is a major contribution in the area of comparative religion and certainly advances our understanding of the impact of globalisation in the arena of culture.

The reviewer teaches at Jamia Milia University