Reading and Faith in a Global Community

By Gallagher, Susan VanZanten | Christianity and Literature, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

Reading and Faith in a Global Community


Gallagher, Susan VanZanten, Christianity and Literature


In the 1960s only a few obscure American and French social scientists were talking about globalization. Today it has become one of those buzz words that everyone uses but few define. Somehow it is connected to the Internet and to the World Trade Organization; to the ubiquity of McDonalds and MTV; to transnational corporations, the fall of communism, and the spread of democracy. But globalization is also becoming of increasing concern for literary scholars. As Giles Gunn notes in his introduction to a recent special issue of PMLA called "Globalizing Literary Studies": "The challenge for students of the humanities ... is not to decide whether globalization deserves to be taken seriously but how best to engage it critically" (21). For those of us who study literature in all of its manifold and intricate relationships to Christianity, globalization provides new opportunities as well as poses crucial questions for the future of our work. To consider these implications, I will briefly summarize current theories about globalization, highlight some of the issues that have been raised in the globalization of literary studies, call attention to some striking but often overlooked demographic trends, and, finally, reflect on the task of the literary scholar within this context.

In general terms, globalization refers to the fact that the world is becoming increasingly interrelated, so that what happens in one part of the world impacts and has consequences for individuals or communities in another part of the world. One definition from a group of sociologists states, "Globalization [is] the widening, deepening and speeding up of worldwide interconnectedness in all aspects of contemporary social life, from the cultural to the criminal, the financial to the spiritual" (Held et al. 2). While the fact of this increasing worldwide interconnectedness is generally acknowledged, globalization theory as a whole is still rife with disagreements over the causes, connotations, and consequences of such connectedness. The overview provided by Held and his colleagues identifies three broad schools of thought: the skeptics, the hyperglobalizers, and the transformationalists. The skeptics argue that globalization is merely a rhetorical myth concealing the reality that the international economy is increasingly dominated by the three regional blocs of Europe, the Asia-Pacific, and North America. The nation-state is becoming ever more powerful, and the "deeply rooted patterns of inequality and hierarchy in the world economy" have changed only marginally. The skeptics conclude, "Such inequality ... contributes to the advance of both fundamentalism and aggressive nationalism such that rather than the emergence of a global civilization ... the world is fragmenting into civilizational blocs and cultural and ethnic enclaves" (Held et al. 6).

In contrast, the hyperglobalizers believe that we are entering "a new epoch of human history" in which traditional nation-states will become irrelevant: "The global diffusion and hybridization of cultures are interpreted as evidence of a radically new world order, an order which prefigures the demise of the nation-state" (Held et al. 4). Neo-liberals view this process optimistically as another stage of the spread of Enlightenment values, such as democracy and freedom, while radical, or neo-Marxist, hyperglobalists more pessimistically see globalization as the crass "Americanization" of the entire world or "the triumph of an oppressive global capitalism" (Held et al. 4). Both liberals and Marxists alike, however, tend to see these globalization processes from a western perspective, as aspects of European culture and/or economics gradually permeate the world. Finally, the transformationalists agree with the hyperglobalists that globalization is a historically unprecedented, powerful driving force in today's world. But how globalization is transforming the world remains uncertain since it is "an essentially contingent historical process . …

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