According to Kurtz (6), globalization of social life refers to the innumerable ways through which our global society has been integrated into one small village in the sense that anything that happens in one part of the world could potentially have a large effect or influence on other parts of the world regardless of time or space. In particular, the author is emphatic on the impact of religion on social life and how the major religious affiliations in the world have been incorporated into so many portions of society that it may seem impossible to distinguish who is who. For instance, in an increasingly globalized world, and countries such as the U.S., Muslims, and Christians have started to mingle as one social fabric disregarding their religious differences instead of many social similarities.
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Moreover, in defining the meaning of “globalization of social life”, Kurtz explains that we are no longer limited to thinking of the global village in terms of politics and economics, even though the initial application of the term globalization did speak of the impact brought about by unfair trade practices and the interference by “western powers”. Rather, the social life, including religion, has also been globalized to the extent that people in various countries are not only living and affected by their own cultures, political and economic systems but they are also influenced by what happens in other parts of the world (Wuthnow & Offutt 435).
Also, Kurtz observes that cultural diffusion has taken a toll in many societies noting that historically, culture evolved more slowly. It is vital to note that most cultures have been diffused to incorporate foreign values that are considered to be desirable (Yang & Ebaugh 278). On the same note, the diffusion of various cultures has also necessitated the adoption and general acceptance of values associated with numerous cultures, a phenomenon best referred to as multiculturalism. Indeed, one dominant social area that has been duly affected by multiculturalism is religion. The latter has been found to play an integral role in shaping what may be referred to as the new world order, aggravated by continuous rife among religious functions. In his analysis, Kurtz offers some insight into how various religious groups have maintained a hostile profile between and among each other as we see in the “conflict” between Islam and Christianity. Also, the social stratification brought about by in-fights among the same religious affiliations as well. A case example of this would be the dispute that has long existed between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. In other words, religion itself has undergone the process of secularization through globalization and interactions with other religions; such that the occurrences among religious groups cannot be attributed to anything Godly. A critical example is when the United States under Bush Administration, invaded Iraq in 2003, asking God to help them fight terrorism that was perceived to be emanating from the Middle East and worsened by activities of Islamic insurgents in Iraq. President Bush justified the war on the basis that Saddam Hussein, the then Iraqi President, was harboring weapons of mass destruction (Smith & Faris 128).
As part of comparing and contrasting the sociological metaphors expounded by Kurtz, it is pertinent to note modern-day religion has undergone a series of transformations that cannot be analyzed in answering this question alone. No wonder, the author attempts to share his in-depth understanding and interpretation of how religion has been globalized by a myriad of events ranging from socio-political to economic life.
To begin with, the author underscores how constructing a sacred canopy has been used to shield religious technocrats, especially when doing wrong things. As mentioned earlier, the 2003 invasion of Iraq rooted in the name of God is a classic example. This was a time when many nations long perceived to be ‘religious and God-fearing’ took sides and supported a war that was largely illegal owing to innumerable human sufferings that came along with it. Similarly, the author is also emphatic on religious marketplaces to imply the extent to which modern religion has been converted into a booming enterprise that attracts all as if it were a marketplace (Wuthnow & Offutt 437). The only apparent difference between constructing a sacred canopy and a religious marketplace is that while the former is used as protective gear in the pretext of strict religious beliefs, the latter is an elaborate way of building yet another capitalistic world under the confines of religion. However, both metaphors depict a new world order that has evolved as a result of social globalization.
On the other hand, elective affinities attempt to describe religious affiliations that may not be purely categorized as either pure or impure. As it is with modern-day religion, it is profound to note that most faithful do not necessarily develop an affinity towards particular religions based on truly defending a particular faith. On the contrary, there are usually certain ‘strings attached’ relative to the anticipated benefit. For instance, the caring and protective nature of Islam as a religion to its faithful may just as well be the reason why some individuals may opt to be affiliated with Islamic beliefs and practices. Though extreme, another example could include the fact that Islam permits polygamy to some extent while the same is strictly prohibited by Christianity may as well be an attracting factor for some people to join Islam.
Having discussed the three religious metaphors, it is evident that modern religious practices across various religions cannot elude this damning reality. Indeed, deep reflections on the practices of most religions today depict what the author has expounded. Judging from the myriad of social struggles that are associated with and/or contributed by religion in modern society, it is not surprising to see why religion has become such an integral part of society as a whole. Also, religion has been the source or has been used as a tool to fuel more conflict around the globe. This can be seen in the Middle East crisis, religious conflicts in India, and religious suspicions and disagreements in Northern Ireland. Though many may argue that the root of these conflicts is not religious, it reveals, nonetheless, that unless the society and the global village recognize the ever-evolving role of religion in a global world, they might be on the verge of being torn down by our faith, beliefs, and practices enshrined in religion (Smith & Faris 133).
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The socio-economic status of the United States population today is one that exhibits multiple levels of identity. Regarding this, three key factors are worth considering. These are religion, class, and race. About religion, the United States population is very polarized. Ranging from the various “smaller” religions or denominations to the more major religions such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Judaism, race and socioeconomic status seem to play an integral role in shaping leadership, affiliations, associations as well as commitment. Although Christianity is shared across various races, it is evident that certain denominations are frequented by specific races. In other words, there are white-dominated Christian denominations while the blacks seem to dominate other Christian denominations. Except for a few isolated cases, the scenario is similar across American society. On the same note, the class system based on economic well-being is also evident. For example, affluent neighborhoods are scarcely resided by those in low strata in society. Consider even the education system; students attending schools in a rich part of a city are obviously at an advantage when compared to students attending a poor rural school in terms of their level of education and a correlation can be made between the level of education and religious affiliations and where one stands on a political spectrum (Kurtz 280). The conservative-moderate-to-liberal distinctions in American society today represent a vivid reflection of what happens in the core of the society. Religious denominations in the U.S. are conspicuously divided along with three levels; some prescribe to remain intact and not transform their beliefs or cultures, there are technocrat liberals who are willing to embrace new ideas while there are those who do not stand aloof on either extreme since they are partly permissive to both liberals and democrats.
One of the worst impacts of modernity in the development of religion is violence. As clearly noted, modernity has ushered in a new era where religious beliefs and practices have been secularized. For example, Islam has been associated with violent attacks on property, and people believed to be opposing that faith (Yang & Ebaugh 275). For example, Iraqi-Christians and Egyptian-Christians can be discriminated against simply for walking around with a cross around their neck. Also, many Arab-Christians are fearful of worshiping in churches openly lest they are attacked. While we acknowledge that Islam, just like other world religions, preach peace, many feel that their religion is being threatened by modernity, sometimes associated with the West or Christianity, and a small number of Muslims feel obliged to defend their faith and religious beliefs. This has led to the growth of extremist movements such as Al Qaeda that are out to cause terror in the name of religion. Worse still, the development of weapons of mass destruction by some countries has also made the situation worse. Hence, as Kurtz notes, religion can contribute positively or negatively to society depending on how modernity has been embraced.
Secondly, structural differentiation is yet another area through which religion has been impacted by modernity (Yang & Ebaugh 282). For example, there are emerging differences between various religious groupings that may profess similar faiths, yet their structures in terms of leadership, belief patterns, and practices are utterly different. One of the major contributing factors to structural differences is the wave of secular democracy carved from politics that has infiltrated into the places of worship. The overall faithful of one particular religion is no longer thinking or acting the same way. Social issues of homosexuality, abortion rights, and woman clergy have become an integral part of religious groups around the world and their ability to maintain their cohesiveness (Ebaugh & Chafetz 603). The well-known political issues have found their way among the faithful leading to numerous split-ups and the formation of new denominations. A leading example is within the Christian Churches which have split over the centuries due to disagreements. Internal leadership and wrangles and differentiation in interpreting the scripture led to the emergence of Protestantism. The remaining mother church was not spared either. As such, Christianity as a major world religion has gone through the peaks and troughs of transformations as new phases of modernism creates even further splits (Kurtz 273). As a direct impact of modernism on religion, the latter has faced serious revolts from its circles. Again, the Islamic extremist movement is an example of this. The principles of the extremist movement are rooted in the defense of Islam in totality against modernity or the “West”. The development of nuclear weapons and other Weapons of Mass destruction is indeed a wake-up call to the world leaders that the very weapons, technology, and knowledge may at one time, turn against the very humanity that brought it into existence.
In an interesting twist of events, the period between 2003 and 2005 was laced with a new set of justifications. Foreign terrorists were believed to be the key insurgents in the 9/11 attacks. The Jihadist movement attached to Islam was accused of having launched the 2003 terror attacks against U.S occupation. Although this movement was not directly linked with Saddam Hussein, the Bush administration emphasized that it originated from neighboring countries to Iraq such as the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Syria. The fact they were both neighbors to Iraq was enough grounds to say that the jihadist movement might have as well spread to Iraq. For instance, the Sunni insurgency that was being led by Musab Al Zarqawi was believed by the U.S to be a major threat to peace and security. No wonder, he was later assassinated by the US.
The insurgency that was fast infiltrating in Iraqi capital could not be conclusively established. Even if that was possible, it could equally be close to impossible to ascertain whether these insurgents were responsible for acts of terrorism, especially on the international platform. Some critics of the Bush administration argued that the U.S acts of terror were home-grown and that targeting the Middle East block was an exercise in futility. Further, critics have reiterated that the U.S foreign policy on security matters and other jurisdictions is the major reason why violence has escalated over the years. The long-term impression and eventual reality behind the creation of the European Union was the privilege to set an agenda and influence global policies including trade. Consequently, the poor countries have been on the receiving end swallowing the bitter policies prescribed by the IMF and World Bank in the pretext of reducing poverty levels. These are economic impacts that cannot be overlooked even as modernity continues to bite its creator.
As Kurtz explains, cultural pluralism is one of the acts of social globalization that has accelerated some of the challenges posed by modernism. The succinct description of cultural pluralism is a scenario whereby unique cultural identities are embraced by minority groups within a society (Yang & Rose 284). Despite the minority nature of such societies, the rest of the cultures tend to accept this uniqueness. A typical example of cultural pluralism is found in Lebanon. Even though this country is relatively small in size with an area slightly less than 11,000 square kilometers, there are a total of eighteen religions co-existing peacefully.
Both extreme social diversity and social unity is applicable here. The fact that various religious religions laced with unique cultural beliefs can exist rather harmoniously or in conflict only aggravates the impact of modernity in the contemporary world (Yang & Rose 284). moreover, the presence of a variety of styles at places of worship is a clear representation of how modernity has found its place in the 21st century. Nonetheless, the worst part is experienced when this cultural pluralism leads to greater social diversity through societal conflicts in the quest for supremacy and recognition.
The nature of scientific criticism being explored by Kurtz is that which touches on the social aspect of human life. It is imperative to note that social globalization has circumnavigated around religion bearing in mind that the latter has immensely contributed towards shaping the type of modernity being experienced in the world today.
By definition, scientific criticism attached to social life would be described as a methodology that seeks to offers an in-depth analysis of the cultural environment or setting of a given textual material. In achieving this form of criticism, the ancient evidence is analyzed using rhetoric and clues that may indeed spark some real debate (Kurtz 276). On a similar tone, textual criticism also follows the same path. However, scientific criticism tends to be more detailed since the critic ignores or underrates the contribution of modern interpreters. According to these scientific critics, contemporary interpreters should first understand the context in which the texts were written before making comments against them. The author’s world should first be comprehended. Such criticisms have worsened the impact of modernism on religion because there are myriad interpretations especially on religious circles that have contaminated original textual meanings. Although different viewpoints have been accommodated as advances being made towards modernism, the devastating impact on social diversity cannot be overemphasized. For instance, the evident split in Christianity and other major world religions have been spiced by social scientific, and textual criticism of original documents (Ebaugh, Helen & Chafetz 590). Following these events, the postmodernism era is expected to undergo even further division and even unity in religious beliefs and practices.
In terms of religion, cultural pluralism has weakened societal integration by creating several religious groupings that are merely seeking selfish interests (Ebaugh & Chafetz 589). It is important to note that many of these religious groups do not criticize modernity in regards to technological advancements. Many of these groups who criticize modernity do so through the internet. Even as religious pluralism continues to envisage itself as a growing reality with no good intention at all, textual criticism and democratic revolutions will persist in modern society so long as religion continues to showcase it’s globalized and transformed nature (Kurtz 4).
Finally, the debate on migrant religion purports that the modern U.S society may not be fully recognizing the emerging religions that are brought by immigrants. Needless to say, the Conservative-moderate-liberal nature of American society is perceived to be a controlling factor in lighting up the path for the immigrant religions. The very fabric has also been dictating American politics since time immemorial.
Ebaugh, Helen R. & Chafetz, Janet Saltzman. Agents for Cultural Reproduction and Structural Change: The Ironic Role of Women in Immigrant Religious Institutions. Social Forces, 78(1999): 585-613.
Kurtz, R. Lester. Gods in the global village: the world’s religions in sociological perspective, London: Sage Publications, 2007.
Smith, Christian & Faris, Robert. The Socio-economic inequality in the American religious system: An update and assessment. Journal for the scientific study of religion, 44(2005): 125-138.
Wuthnow, Robert & Offutt, Stephen. Transnational religious connections. Sociology of religion, 69(2008): 434-446.
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Yang, Fenggang & Ebaugh Helen R. Transformations in New Immigrant Religions and Their Global Implications. American Sociological Review, 66(2001): 269-288.