The Limits of a Global Economy ; Spiritual Leaders Say One Giant Marketplace Must Not Trample the Values of Other Cultures

Article excerpt

As antiglobalization protesters scuffle with police wherever the major powers' financial or political leaders gather, representatives of the world's faiths are speaking with a quieter, yet equally intense concern.

"The American view of globalization is people all over the world ... adapting an American consumerist lifestyle. We must recognize this is not true globalization," says David Frawley, a Hindu scholar. "To the degree that globalization emphasizes consumerism and the creating and satisfying of desires, it is out of alignment with Hindu beliefs, which are about taming desires."

Recognizing the impact of religious thought on how people react in the world, award-winning journalist Ira Rifkin set out to explore why those "who come from a religious background seem so agitated by the way globalization is working itself out."

In a recent interview, the former national correspondent for Religion News Service discussed the import of his findings, published in a thought-provoking new book, "Spiritual Perspectives on Globalization: Making Sense of Economic and Cultural Upheaval" (Skylight Paths). A lucid introduction to the values and ethics of eight major faiths, the book highlights both positive and negative impacts of globalization and the diversity of views within the traditions.

"We are living in the country that is the prime winner so far, so perhaps it seems more of a success [to Americans] than it really is," Mr. Rifkin says.

To many from both East and West, globalization is not only failing to fulfill its economic promises but is also undermining cultural identities that have supplied meaning and purpose for generations. Frawley and others see its inherently secular and materialistic values as the fundamental issue.

Conflict also exists between short- and long-term perspectives. "The main concern of religion is what is best for the individual and society over the long term," Rifkin explains. "Globalization is short-term oriented - how to maximize profits today, create political stability today, raise standards of living today."

Religious groups have benefited along with others from its positive aspects - such as facilitating the spread of faith. Rifkin talks with young Indian high-tech workers who moved to the US for well-paying jobs; searching for an anchor in a foreign culture, they found deep meaning in their Hindu faith, which had been little more to them than cultural wallpaper back in India.

Those of the Bahai faith, which sees the world as a reflection of God's unity, embrace globalization as part of God's plan, but see a need for more justice in economic and financial decisionmaking.

Indeed, for all faiths that come out of the Abrahamic tradition, Rifkin says, the most basic concern is justice. "Those traditions conceptualize God as being a just God, and we as individuals must lead a just life," he says. …