Islam and Globalization, Looking into the future of religion and civilization

Islam and Globalization, Looking into the future of religion and civilization

The relationship between Islam and globalization has been open to much interpretation and acrimonious debate. At the crux of the current debate is the idea that Islam is somehow opposed to the process of globalization. In order to develop a more comprehensive and accurate understanding of the so-called Islam-globalization debate, it is critical to distinguish between the process of globalization in its original sense and such relatively more contemporary processes, like Westernization, that are masked as globalization and yet are fundamentally different.

Globalization is one of the mega-trends of the present day. It’s not easy to define the term ‘globalization’ as we mostly use it to describe economic, political as well as cultural processes and their effects. Globalization is like a huge catchment area where different, separate rivers of cultures form one stream. In the contemporary world, many local cultures or economies do interweave, penetrate or adopt one another; however, there appear lines separating all what is within the main stream of global globalization, from what’s out of this stream.

Globalization is a process of integration, and, at the same time, standing out against it. It’s a plane, on which are revealed local attempts of discovering true social and cultural ties, which constitute people’s response to globalization, and thus, an attempt of finding a safe shelter in this turbulent and incoherent world. Globalization is understood as crossing the borders and even their disappearance. Usually, this is associated with the flow of goods or services; however, it is also connected with the flow of intangible assets – norms, values and patterns of behaviours. This means that previous contacts are intensifying and in consequence of that, new cultural ties are constantly formed. Despite this, the process of exchanging the models of culture, values and behaviours does not proceed symmetrically.

What is more, globalization is the main driving force behind social, economic and political transformations which shape the new world order. Such transformations do not, however, lead to creation of a global society of some kind; on the contrary, globalization creates new stratifications.

The hierarchy of cultures had a considerable influence on the processes of globalization. Peripheral values had a chance to penetrate into the international circulation, if they were first legitimatised by cultures with long tradition of spiritual and moral leadership and symbolic authority over others. At present, the relations between the central culture and peripheral cultures have been replaced by another hierarchy: global culture and local cultures. Local cultures are connected both with a nation and regional and religious group identity whereas globalization, which changes the hierarchy of relations, is often perceived as standardization, subordination to the global or universal culture.

Samuel P. Huntington recognizes the following items as the elements capable of creating the universal culture:

Firstly, fundamental values, which can be common for all societies, for instance, recognizing murder as very bad, basic concepts of good and evil, universal morality. Secondly, elements common to civilized societies, such as cities, literacy, etc., which distinguish them from primitive communities. Thirdly, the beliefs, values and doctrines accepted currently by many people from the circle of the Western culture and by some people belonging to other circles of culture. Huntington labels this as ‘Davos culture’. It is proved that this culture brought many values into the world heritage, which can be perceived as universal, and sometimes also as global ones.

All over the world, revival and animation of great religious systems, especially of Islam which became a factor of social and political significance, are being observed. Despite the visions of the new world order, functioning on the basis of secular values, modern states, international economy and general technological progress, religion came back to a global discussion, thanks to the theses about a rift or even a clash between large groups of people. For instance, Samuel P. Huntington says that the main axis of the conflict between civilizations will run between the Western and Islamic civilizations.

Indeed, the process of revival and revitalization of Islam started in the early 1970s. One of the effects of this renaissance is cultural revival, which assumes a form of resistance against the universal or global order, through contrasting it with own, different values based on Islam. Religious revival movements constitute a strong counterweight for the cultural domination of the West as their main assumptions are fundamentally different from the assumptions and goals of globalization.

On the one hand, an escape from, and marginalization of, the religion are connected with the process of globalization. The religion has been pushed aside to the private sphere, which, in case of Islam, is against its basic guidelines. Fear of many communities, caused by the unification pressure of the global culture, provides religion, especially its traditionalistic and fundamental forms, with the power to fulfil one of its social roles: expressing and strengthening the feelings of identity with a group. On the other hand, there appear statements about “de-privatization” and “re-politization” of religion: religions come back from the private sphere to public and political life. There appear new forms of “religious nationalism” with religion becoming a tool of political and national interests.

Besides, revival of religions, as one of the ways serving consolidation of group identity, is also a method for coming to power and competition for influence in the globalization process. That is because religion, by its nature, aims at influencing the entire society. And although the processes of secularization pushed religion from many fields of social life, they were not able to replace moralistic functions of religion. Traditional religious systems have the ethical tools at their disposal, thanks to which an individual is able to determine his/her place in the changing reality.

However, attachment to a religious tradition can produce the attitudes of dissonance and unfitness to requirements of the culture of the global world. Religion is perceived through the prism of its possible interference in the global culture. The presence of systems of beliefs in the public sphere is generally identified with backwardness perceived as inability to introduce issues like tolerance, pluralism, gender equality or the rights of individuals, to the public discussion.

So, what is the place of the great systems of beliefs in the “global village” and what are possible scenarios of mutual relations of spiritual traditions, which can exert an influence on the global society? The first scenario assumes rivalry between religious systems for the global leadership in the sphere of values. This exclusivism can lead to tensions and intolerance in relations between the followers of individual religions who, trying to defend their own identity, will close in their own religion and culture. This may cause further development of movements of fundamental nature.

The second scenario describes heterogenization of religious systems. When they become more open, they coexist in accordance with the principles of cultural relativism. The religious pluralism assumes functioning many truths and ethical systems. And the third, most optimistic scenario, called inclusivism, says about creation of the global ethical system. This scenario, similarly to the pluralistic one, emphasizes common ground of moral values of all religions. Thanks to the values existing in each religion, it will be possible to create a citizen of the world, who will be open to otherness and tolerant as well. Only thanks to inclusivism, development of the global society will be possible.

At the whole simplification carried by inclusivism, most religions still share certain convictions, which can jointly create global governance. This is, first of all, the ethos of solidarity, which puts emphasis on the common origin of all people. It stresses their dignity and the need of cooperation for the good of mankind. Besides, religions are able to regulate many aspects of the global reality. This can affect the global economy or politics in the fight against development disproportions or can influence the processes of democratization. In turn, the identity generated by religion also does not have to be perceived only negatively. Religious identity can preserve all those values that are common to all people, irrespective of belief or nationality.

Globalization means a diffusion of civilizations, which takes place thanks to the technical progress, mass media and world economy. Globalization produces new forms of domination, westernization and, under the cover of universality of this culture, there takes place hegemony of a specific lifestyle and values. On the one hand, globalization may be treated as homogenization, that is, unification of behaviour models and standards of societies, with domination of the global culture or imperialism of a single culture; while, on the other, it may be treated as hybridization, which consists in assimilation into local cultures of only certain, common elements, which correspond to requirements of local cultures. This process takes place in both directions, leading to cosmopolitization of culture and creation of new quality based on the core of common beliefs and values.

Globalization provides a basis for relations between people originating from different cultures, but in this process, it assigns a superior position to certain cultures and a marginal position to other cultures.

In order to freely use the benefits of globalization and global culture, people should be aware of their own culture. They should protect their culture, take care of preservation of their heritage in order to prevent occurrence of cultural dissonances. The question is whether Islamic societies can form bridges between the historical heritage and the needs of the contemporary world, connected with inevitable pressures from globalization. Islam has always displayed strong adaptation capabilities, because it is not a uniform and homogenous culture. There are many fractions, many traditions of local nature, which were absorbed by the religion, but do not have any theological grounds. At present, progressive Muslim circles assume that certain elements of Western culture can be transplanted into the Islamic ground, if they’re convergent with Islamic culture.

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