Religion in the Future Global Civilization: Globalization Is Intensifying Religious Conflicts. What Will Happen in the Years Ahead?

By McFaul, Thomas R. | The Futurist, September-October 2006 | Go to article overview

Religion in the Future Global Civilization: Globalization Is Intensifying Religious Conflicts. What Will Happen in the Years Ahead?


McFaul, Thomas R., The Futurist


The center of any civilization is its culture, and the core of culture is religion. More than any other factor, religion infuses a culture with a perception of reality in the broadest sense of the term by offering explanations for the origins of the universe and giving meaning to history as well as humanity's place in it. Religion defines the nature of good and evil and creates reward and punishment images of life after death.

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No single religion dominates among the 6.5 billion people who currently inhabit the Earth. At present, the global population is partitioned into an array of cultures that sprang from multiple religious roots. Despite the hundreds of religions that exist around the world, nearly 75% of the planet's population follow only five of the most influential religions in terms of global impact: Christianity (2.1 billion), Islam (1.3 billion), Hinduism (900 million), Buddhism (360-376 million), and Judaism (14-20 million). Christianity and Islam are found in more regions than all other religions. Together they encompass more than half of the world's population. Add Hinduism, and two out of every three persons on Earth belong to only three huge faith traditions. Clearly, religion is one of the major driving forces of the future.

This means that the globalization process powered by technological, economic, and political forces has to travel through and take root in the diverse cultures of the world. Since religion lies at the heart of culture, this suggests that the fragmented world of diverse religions, which remained latent but reemerged at the end of the Cold War, will produce a fragmented global village throughout the twenty-first century unless the world's religious communities can find a way to move beyond their historical antagonisms. How might this be done?

Seeking Common Ground Among Diverse Worldviews

Two major families of religion dominate the global village. The first consists of the traditions that originated in and spread throughout Asia, and the second involves those that sprang from the Middle East.

The two largest and most influential Asian religions are Hinduism and Buddhism, although Jainism has left its mark despite its small size. The Asian religions or religious philosophies of Confucianism and Taoism have declined in China since the Communist revolution of the late 1940s. But determining the number of people who adhere to these religions is no easy task. According to the research group Adherents, approximately 394 million people practice what is often referred to as "traditional Chinese religion," which includes Taoism and Confucianism. Taoism, however, can be practiced as either a religion or a philosophy. Confucianism, too, is less a religion than a code of ethical and moral conduct that contains religious elements, such as ancestor worship. Shintoism, an indigenous Japanese religion based on the deification of nature, declined greatly after World War II.

The three most significant Middle Eastern religions are Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, which are called the Abrahamic faiths because they trace their origins to Abraham.

The impact of these two families of religion in bringing either greater peace and justice or hatred and hostility into the global village will depend on the extent to which they stress either their similarities or their differences. All the world religions espouse both a worldview and a code of morality. All religions embody dissimilarities that decrease the possibility of finding common ground for cooperation, as well as similarities that increase it.

Dissimilarities exist both within and between the Asian and Abrahamic religions. At the worldview level, the Asian religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism share the common themes of enlightenment, karma, reincarnation, and duty. At the same time, they interpret these themes differently. Hinduism and Sikhism are pantheistic because they see the universe as God's body. …

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