Religions Attitude to Globalism

Mehdi Sanaei

Report by Mehdi Sanaei, Head of department, Tehran University, Director, Centre for Iran & Eurasian studies, made at the Conference "Movement of Spiritual Concord in Kazakhstan" and published at World Forum of Spiritual Culture on June 12, 2012

Globalization is a kind of conceptualization for the trend of developments the world has witnessed since mid-twentieth century and in which the role of states and nation as well as the domestic laws are diminished and instead the role of international law and trends are beefed up. This conceptualization of the current international developments, called globalization, which has been accelerated over the past two decades has drawn the attention of a number of thinkers and scholars who have forwarded various theories in this regard.

This trend has influenced the domestic politics, local economies and indigenous cultures. An arena which has been influenced by globalization is the intersection of divine religions with globalization. The present article is an attempt to study the relationship between globalization and religions and consequently the relations of globalization with the interfaith dialogue.

The main question of the present article is: What is the relation of interfaith dialogue with the divine religions, particularly Islam, in the era of globalization?

As an introduction, in the first place the subject of globalization should be discussed. The concept is rather new. For the first time in 1961 an authentic dictionary, the Webster, gave some definitions about globalism or globalization, but the application of this concept was limited until the end of the twentieth century.

Globalization is normally used in three arenas: Some times it refers to economic globalization with an international open market and international economic structures. The main manifestation of the economic globalization is seen in the World Trade Organization (WTO) whose rules and regulations encroach upon national, local economies. The second arena is the globalization of information revolution which has already taken place as a result of which and due to the application of information technology and Internet, the distances have shrunk and the world has been converted into a global village. The third arena is cultural globalization as a result of which a global culture with common outlooks, values, and ideals has been created, manifesting itself in the form of common art, music and clothes. This common culture in many areas has gone beyond the national cultures as well as the religions. Scholars have diverse viewpoints about globalization. Some of them consider it a process; that is, the process of globalization has already been planned by the Westerners, particularly the United States, to dominate the world, but has had an upward trend during the recent decades. Others maintain that globalization is a process which has taken shape with the passage of time. They refer to the globalization of capital in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and consider the present process the continuation of the previous trends. Still, others consider it a process and a project at the same time, arguing that we have to pay attention to both its advantages and disadvantages. On the basis of this viewpoint, globalism is a process, while globalization is a project.

Making a distinction between globalizations and globalism would facilitate the analysis of current developments. In globalism, it is the willingness, determination and wish of the nations which is relevant. It is a trend that is accepted by the nations who adjust themselves with it. But in globalization there is a kind of force and intimidation. It is the very same project which has faced the opposition of the nations in many countries of the world – in many cases massive demonstrations have been stages against it.

As a matter of fact, it is not really easy to make a clear-cut distinction between the globalization and globalism. Relying on modern tools, this trend is rapidly expanding worldwide.

With regard to the interaction of the religions with globalism, one cannot talk of outright opposition of the religions with globalism. In fact, theoretically globalism is not in contravention with religion. On the other hand attention should be paid to the fact that inclination towards globalism has somehow been envisaged in almost all the divine religion. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all have been trying to establish a global government and a united ummah (state).

The establishment of a global society and culture has been among the objectives and missions of these religions, indicating that the establishment of a global society or a global village is not theoretically rejected by these religions.

Islam has pointed to globalism in its teachings and the Shias too believe in the formation of a global government by Mahdi (May Allah Expedite His Reappearance).

Interestingly, some of the Quranic teachings indicate that the borders, differences, and nations do not have originality in the Islamic international law. On the basis of this notion, the peoples of the world originally constituted a united ummah and society and will ultimately move towards this direction again. The Quran states: “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other…” (49: 13)

Another Quranic verse states: “And We wished to be gracious to those who were being depressed in the land, to make them leaders and make them heirs.” (28: 5)

Still another Quranic verse states: “God has promised, to those among you who believe and work righteous deeds, that He will, of a surety, grant them in the land, inheritance (of power), as He granted it to those before them; that He will establish in authority their religions – the one which He has chosen for them; and that He will change (their state) after the fear in which (they lived), to one of security and peace …” (24: 55)

Also another Quranic verse states: “Before this We wrote in the Psalms, after the Message (given to Moses): ‘My servants, the righteous, shall inherit the earth.’” (21: 105)

These verses indicate that Islam believes in a global society and God will ultimately delegate the global government to his righteous bondman. Interestingly, the Quran refers to the believers and righteous servants of God in general; it does not merely mention the Muslims. Hence, belief in the Unity of God and commitment to do righteous deed is the foundation of the divine global government. The last Quranic verse mentioned above indicates that this has been part of the mission of all the divine prophets, including Moses and David. The late Tabarsi, an exegete of the Quran, maintains that the word Psalms here refers to the divine book in general.

The above argument indicates that globalism and the establishment of a global society has been among the objectives of the prophets, but at the same time the targeted society of the prophets is a religious society in which divine values, spirituality, religious canons, justice and equity will be sovereign.

It seems that with regard to interaction between religion and globalization, one should make some distinctions between the layers of the process of globalism and project of globalization. As far as globalism refers to modernism and reflects the philosophical principles of the modernist era, its relations with religion can be discussed from various angles. In elaboration of the principles of globalism, if we come across the principles of modernism, that is, humanism, rationalism, liberalism, and democracy, we have reached the point where the conflict between tradition and modernity from the outlook of religion begins. Hence we cannot make general statements about it.

The issues of tradition and modernity have been among the hot topics of discussions in the recent centuries, particularly by the Muslim thinkers who have expressed diverse opinions about modernity and modernism. What is certain is that majority of the Muslim thinkers have not stood against modernity and maintain that it is compatible with Islam. However, modernism, as a package, has not been acknowledged by them. The Muslim thinkers search for the roots of most of the objectives of modernism in religion and wherever there is a contradiction between religious values and modernism, they forego the latter.

The same mentality exists among the followers of other religions as well, leading to the formation of modernist, fundamentalist and moderate currents among the followers of other religions in their interaction with modernism.

Another layer of globalism – probably better to be called globalization – which is in the form of a project is a kind of culture-building and export of culture to other parts of the world, which is carried out in the form cultural invasion. The theoreticians of globalization argue that in order to forward the process of globalization, in the first place a universal public culture should be created – a universal culture with its attractions which paves the way for other elements of globalization and introduction of new economic, political, social and military models.

This layer of globalization enjoys some civilizational aspects as well and indeed is a part of the project of the New World Order in which instead of reliance on rationalism emphasis is laid on negligence of civilizations, religions and cultures.

This layer of globalization leaves the reins of the cultures of the nations in the ruthless hands of capitalism with modern technology. Naturally the divine religions resist this aspect of globalization. In fact the global opposition to globalization is directed to this aspect of globalization.

It seems that Fukuyama and Huntington are the two theoreticians whose ideas focus on the said aspect of globalization which has steered the protests of the nations, cultures and religions.

Based on what has been said above, we may infer that globalization is not a simple concept, rather it is a very complicated one with various angles. Therefore one cannot talk of absolute opposition or agreement of the religions with this concept.

Contrary to what prima facie seems to happen, during the globalization era, the role of religions does not diminish, rather, attention to religions is increased in other forms. On the other hand, the process of globalization provides the religions with numerous facilities to carry out their propagation. Fortunately the representatives of various religions and their scholars have utilized the vast economic means and information technology to spread their divine mission and propagate their religious principles.

At the same time the process of globalization has underlined the necessity and increased the possibility of interfaith dialogue and cooperation among the religions. New technologies have provided more means for visits and exchange of views among the leaders and followers of the divine religions. The number of religious sessions held during the past few decades is not at all comparable with that held earlier.

Besides the spread of the culture of tolerance, which is based on religious culture, understanding among the religions is now more possible and the grounds have been prepared for the religious scholars to discuss the commonalities and differences among themselves.

Hence, in my opinion, during the globalization era, besides dialogue about theological (apologetic) issues, which existed in the past as well, two new arenas are now open to dialogue and cooperation among the leaders of divine religions. These two areas are the common concern of all the divine religions. The first arena is the issue of tradition and modernity or religion and modernism. All the religions are somehow entangled with the issue of modernity – a trend which over the past few centuries has questioned the domain of sovereignty of religion and forced the believers to revise the religious concepts. We also said that none of the divine religions has taken an absolute stance vis-à-vis modernity rather they have been trying to study its compatibility of incompatibility with religion. The divine religions can share their experiences and exchange their findings and solutions in this regard. This can be materialized in the form of interfaith dialogue.

The conflict between tradition and modernism has been one of the major concerns of the Muslim thinkers over the past two decades. In Iran too such religious (Muslim) reformists as Seyed Jamal ul Din Assadabadi, Morteza Motahari, Mahdi Bazargan, Ali Shariati, Seyed Mahmoud Taleqani, and others have endeavored in this regard and wrote a number of books and articles on this topic. Imam Khomeini is probably the greatest contemporary Muslim reformist who offered a solution to the conflict between tradition and modernism in the form of a religious government model and materialized it in the form of the Islamic Republic of Iran in which manifestations of religion and modernism intermingle. Without any doubt, the experiences of the Muslim scholars and ulema are very useful for each other.

Another arena for interfaith dialogue for cooperation during the globalization era is interaction about reaction to that aspect of the trend of globalization which is in the form of a project, aggressively invading the religious cultures and values of other nations. The divine religions through coordinating their policies can put a brake on the pace of the adverse influence of the process of globalization on religious cultures and values. One of the most urgent steps to be taken under the present international conditions is probably interaction among the leaders of various religions. In fact, when it comes to the confrontation with the modern innovations of the world, there are two approaches: One group of scholars and religious leaders have pinned absolute hopes on modernity and globalization and overlook the role of religion in establishment of peace and international understanding. The second group are the radical ones who from a religious standpoint express all-out opposition to this trend altogether and push the society towards violence. The violence and terrorism of the past few years and also the unilateral, self-style confrontation of the United States with this phenomenon both have unfortunately been coated with a religious color.

The silence of true leaders of religions paves the way for unilateral, radical actions and ideas. Hence, it seems that at this stage it is necessary to return to religion and revive its role in establishment of international peace and global understanding. Only dialogue can block the way to unbridled, unabashed globalization on the one hand and religious radicalism on the other.

Unfortunately, globalization and modernity are spreading in a manner today that reminds us of the second principle of thermodynamics. On the basis of this principle a closed system that is fed by itself, will inevitably destroy and annihilate itself. This principle is confirmed by all active systems around us.

Regretfully, the modern secular society to a great extent reminds us of a closed system. By relying on a positivistic approach, this system has pinned all its hopes on scientific methods to solve all the problems of mankind. How can we really leave the fate of man to this system, which may stop functioning any time? Under the circumstances when drug and liquor addiction has permeated the world, at a time when the youngsters of the developed world open fire at their classmates in the daylight, at a time when the rate of divorce has touched the figure of 80 percent in the developed world and the foundation of the institution of family is crumbling, and when the United States and Russia, two important countries of the world, have each more than two million prisoners, we need dialogue among religious leaders more than any other time.

It seems that a major chunk of these problems stem from the fact that the modern secular societies are void of spirituality. The modern society must realize that without spirituality and religion it is not possible to achieve such sacred objectives as freedom, peace and justice.

Unfortunately, the very fact that the modern society has given up spirituality, has caused the primary objectives to sink into the oblivion.

In today’s world, about 40 countries in 25 regions of the world are engaged in conflict or are crisis-ridden; about 174 million under-five children in the developing world face malnutrition; 230 million children are retarded and there are 25,000 annual cases of murder in the United States, the standard-bearer of modernity.

Under the circumstances when some of the advocates of modernity blame religion for international conflicts and the terrorists, frustrated by the unleashed globalization, resort to the arm, the religious leaders can help restore international peace and security as well as understanding and peaceful coexistence through spread of tolerance which exists in the religious teachings. Hence inter-religious and intra-religious cooperation are the dire needs of the day.

These dialogues will on the one hand help bring about transparency about the relations between religions and globalization and on the other underline the role of religion in the establishment of peace, prevention of tension, and solution of conflicts in the world.

Published at: http://astanaforum.kz/en/movement-of-spiritual-concord-in-kazakhstan/conference-2011/conference-materials/433-report-made-by-mehdi-sanaei-iran-the-member-of-the-iran-parliament-the-committee-of-external-politics-honorable-member-of-the-russian-writers-union-the-member-of-the-kazakhstan-social-science-academy