Chapter 23

Religion and Globalization

PETER BEYER

THE CATEGORIES OF GLOBALIZATION AND RELIGION

Any discussion of the relation of globalization and religion must begin with a look at what these words actually mean. Like so many key orienting concepts in human discourse, they carry a variety of meanings in today’s world. This variation, in turn, points to their status as categories of contestation, as ideas that matter because we use them not only to make sense of our world, but also to struggle for power. In seeking to understand what the two have to do with one another, one can begin by noting that globalization is a very new word, but it refers to developments that in many senses have been going on for a very long time; whereas religion is a very old word in many languages,1 but it has in comparatively recent times acquired important new meanings that have everything to do with what we now call globalization. The central aim of this chapter is to show how this newer sense of religion has been and still is a significant aspect of globalization; the contestation around globalization and religion is symptomatic of how they are related.

It was only in the early to mid-1980s that scholars in the social sciences started using the neologism, globalization (see Levitt 1983; Robertson and Chirico 1985). The first sociologist to do so consistently was Roland Robertson (Robertson 1992; Robertson and Lechner 1985), even though the idea of a globally extended social system to which it primarily ...

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