Religion in a Global context

Religious fundamentalism

The view of fundamentalism reflects on the past ‘golden age’ of society and seek a return to the basics of faith. Religious fundamentalism arises when traditional beliefs are threatened by modern society.

Characteristics of Fundamentalism

  • An authoritative sacred text: a text that gives objective truth and portrays the rules in which followers should follow. Aldridge (2013) notes that no text should be taken seriously, only by its interpretations can we gage its meaning.
  • An ‘us and them’ mentality: fundamentalist separate themselves from the rest of the world. Davie (2013) notes that they seek to establish islands of certainty against what they see as social and cultural chaos.
  • Aggressive reaction: fundamentalist movements aim to draw attention to the threat of their beliefs and values, they do this by active in an aggressive manner intended to shock, intimidate or cause harm
  • Use of modern technology: while they oppose modern culture, technology is often used to achieve their aims
  • Patriarchy: Hawley (1994) notes that fundamentalists favour a world in which women’s sexualities and choices are controlled.
  • Prophecy: they believe that the ‘last days’ will soon be upon us, in which the sinners will be taken to heaven and the sacred will rise from the dead and be taken to heaven
  • Conspiracy theories: they’re often attracted to the idea that powerful, hidden, evil forces and organisations are in control of human destiny

Fundamentalism and modernity

  • Davie (2013) argues that fundamentalism occurs when the traditional beliefs and values are threatened by modernity, they feel a need to defend themselves.
  • Giddens (1999) argues that it’s a product of globalisation, in today’s modern society we experience a lot of uncertainty therefore fundamentalism acts as a faith-based retreat from the uncertainties of the globalising world.


  • Cosmopolitanism is a way of thinking that embraces modernity and globalisation, it’s tolerant of the new ideas and beliefs of the population. Ones lifestyle is seen as a personal choice rather than something prescribed by an external force (similar to pilgrims from the New Age)
  • Bauman (1992) sees postmodernity as a response to living in postmodernity, which brings freedom as well as uncertainty and a heightened awareness of risk. In this view many are attracted to the freedom of postmodernity however others still retreat to the safety of fundamentalism. Castells (2011) distinguishes between the two responses to post modernity: Resistance identity (those who feel threatened and retreat to fundamentalism) and project identity (those who engage in social movements, feminism and environmentalism)
  • Giddens ignores the differences between fundamentalisms
  • They distinguish too sharply between cosmopolitanism and fundamentalism, forgetting about ‘hybrid’ movements
  • They’re ‘fixated on fundamentalism’ ignoring how globalisation is also affecting such other religions as Catholicism

Monotheism and fundamentalism

  • Bruce (2008) sees the main cause of fundamentalism as the perception of religious traditionalists that today’s globalising world threatens their beliefs. He however believes that it is confined to monotheistic religions due to how they’re based off of the notion of one God and one sacred text in which their ideas and beliefs are based off
  • While all fundamentalist movements believe in the same basis of the literal truth in sacred texts, there can be differences in some due to different origins: in the West fundamentalism is seen as change taken place within a society e.g. diversity and secular choice of modernity, in the Third World however they believe that fundamentalism is a reaction to changes being thrust upon it from outside e.g. western views imposed by foreign capitalism.

Secular fundamentalism

  • Davie (2013) argues that recent decades have seen the emergence of secular forms of fundamentalism, due to changes in the modern society. These changes are distinguished in phases:
  • The first phase gave rise to religious fundamentalism: At the time of enlightenment, where philosophy held an optimistic secular view introduced the power of science and human reason to improve the world. It dominated all of European thought and helped to secularise all areas of social life attacking and undermining religious certainties. Religious fundamentalism was a reaction to this secularisation process.
  • The second phase is giving rise to secular fundamentalism: The optimism had since been under attack by the views of postmodernity (since 1970s), this resulted in a growing mood of pessimism and uncertainty due to such events as global warming, the fall of communism and globalisation. This led to the loss in faith in such secular ideologies as liberalism and rationalism, therefore these ideologies were struggling for survival along with the traditional religions. The supporters of these ideologies were, in turn, then attracted to fundamentalism.
  • Overall, Davies argues that both religious and secular fundamentalism can arise due to greater uncertainties in the late modern and post-modern society, in which reasserting truth and certainty is increasingly attractive. As a result, competing fundamentalisms have become a normal feature of today’s society.

The ‘clash of civilisations’

  • Religion has been the centre of a number of global conflicts, e.g. 9/11. Huntington believes that these attacks aren’t due to fundamentalism (aggressive reactions) but the nations themselves
  • Huntington identifies seven civilisations: Wester, Islamic, Latin American, Confucian (China), Japanese, Hindu, and Slavic-Orthodox (Russia and eastern Europe). Each of these nations are closely identified with a great religion, this means that there will always be fundamentalism within them as they attempt to defend it from secularisation
  • Religious differences are a major source of conflict, this is due to globalisation has made nations less significant as a source of identity, creating a gap that religion has filled. Also, globalisation increases the contacts between civilisation, increasing the likelihood of conflict
  • Religious differences also create the fundamentalist characteristic of an ‘us and them’ relationship with increased competition between civilisations for economic and military power, religious conflicts are harder to resolve than political ones due to how religious beliefs are deep rooted in culture and history.
  • Jackson (2006) sees Huntington’s work as orientalism, this is a western ideology that stereotypes Eastern nations and people as untrustworthy
  • Casanova (2005) argues that Huntington ignores important religious divisions within the ‘civilisations’
  • Horrie and Chippindale (2007) see this theory as a grossly misleading neo-conservative ideology that portrays the whole of Islam as an enemy when only the minority fight in religious fuelled wars.

Cultural defence

  • Bruce (2002) sees one function of religion as cultural defence, religion can unite a community against external threats, often due how religion can symbolise the union itself between people
  • 2 examples of cultural defence are between Poland and Iran, they portray how religion can be used as defence against the external powers of political domination:


  • From 1945-1989, Poland was under rule from the Soviet Union. The catholic church (as it embodied the Polish identity) acted as a popular rallying point for the opposition of the Soviet Union. It lent its support to the Solidarity free trade union which eventually helped to bring the fall of communism


  • Western capitalist powers and oil companies had long influence in Iran, including the illegal involvement of overthrowing the democratic government. This rule included banning the veil and replacing the Muslim calendar, as well as widening the gap between rich and poor. The revolution of 1979 (influenced by Islam) brought the introduction of the Islam Republic, in which clerics held state power and were able to impose the Sharia law.

Religion and development

 God and globalisation in India

  • Globalisation has brought rapid economic growth and has seen India become a more important player on the world political stage. Meera Nanda’s book examine the role of Hinduism (a religion that accounts for 85% of the populations beliefs), in legitimating both the rise of a new Hindu ‘ultra-nationalism’ and the prosperity of the Indian middle class
  • Globalisation has created a scientifically educated, urban middle class in India, these are the people that secularisation predicts will be the first to abandon religion forever. However, Nanda observes that the majority of this class continues to believe in the supernatural. Additionally, a rise in religious tourism within India portrays how there has also been increased interest in religion (becoming fashionable?). Middle-class religiosity also contains an attraction to lower-class gods as they’re more responsive to people’s needs than traditional Hindu Gods.
  • Nanda examines what motivates the middle-class to believe in miracles and supernatural beings, she rejects poverty and existential security as an explanation as well as the idea that their religiosity is a defensive reaction to modernisation and Westernisation. She argues that increasing religiosity is the result of their ambivalence about their newfound wealth. It stems from a tension between traditional Hindu beliefs and the new prosperity of the middle-classes. This is resolved by the modern holy men who preach how desire isn’t bad, also they dispense a business-friendly version of Hinduism to become spiritually balanced. Modern versions of Hinduism therefore legitimates the position of the middle-class and allow them to adjust to globalised consumer capitalism.
  • Nanda (2003) also examines the role of Hinduism in legitimating a triumphalist version of Indian nationalism (supporting the view of a superior religion), she notes that India’s success in the global market is increasingly attributed to the superiority of ‘Hindu values’. In this Hindu ultra-nationalism, Hinduism has become a civil religion (unifies society) and the worship of gods mirrors the worshipping of the Hindu nation. This creates a widening gulf between Hindus and non-Hindu minorities. Hinduism has also penetrated and is influencing the secular views of public life.

Capitalism in East Asia

  • In recent decades, ‘East Asian tiger economies’ (e.g. South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan) have industrialised and become significant players in the global economy. The success of capitalism in East Asia has led some sociologists to believe that religion has played a role similar to one Calvinism played in the development of capitalism.

Pentecostalism in Latin America

  • Berger (2003), argues that Pentecostalism in Latin America acts as a ‘functional equivalent’ to Weber’s Protestant ethic, it encourages the development of capitalism today in the same way as Calvinism did. Latin American Pentecostalists embrace the work ethic and lifestyle similar to that of Calvinists, it demands an ascetic way of life (self-discipline). It encourages members to prosper and become upwardly mobile, concluding that Pentecostalism has an affinity with modern capitalism.
  • Berger agrees that a lifestyle like Protestants are necessary when promoting economic development and raise a society out of poverty, this process can be led by an active minority with a this-worldly asceticism. However, he adds that religious ideas alone are not enough, natural resources are also needed.

Lehmann (2002) attribute the success of Pentecostalism as a global religion in part due to its ability to incorporate local beliefs, while it preaches a known worldwide message it uses symbols and imagery from local cultures. Pentecostalism therefore validates local, traditional beliefs, while at the same time claiming to give believers access to a greater power (of the holy spirit).