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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Democracy is on the march. So is God.

"Democracy is giving the world's peoples their voice, and they want to talk about God," write Timothy Samuel Shah and Monica Duffy Toft in Foreign Policy. So much for the secularization thesis:

If people are wealthier, more educated, and enjoy greater political freedom, one might assume they would also have become more secular. They haven't. In fact, the period in which economic and political modernization has been most intense — the last 30 to 40 years — has witnessed a jump in religious vitality around the world. The world's largest religions have expanded at a rate that exceeds global population growth. Consider the two largest Christian faiths, Catholicism and Protestantism, and the two largest non-Christian religions, Islam and Hinduism. According to the World Christian Encyclopedia, a greater proportion of the world's population adhered to these religious systems in 2000 than a century earlier. At the beginning of the 20th century, a bare majority of the world's people, precisely 50 percent, were Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, or Hindu. At the beginning of the 21st century, nearly 64 percent belonged to these four religious groupings, and the proportion may be close to 70 percent by 2025. The World Values Survey, which covers 85 percent of the world's population, confirms religion's growing vitality. According to scholars Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris, "the world as a whole now has more people with traditional religious views than ever before — and they constitute a growing proportion of the world's population."

The challenge for liberal movements, of course, is to look for ways to promote and strengthen liberalism — human rights and pluralism especially — in religious as well as secular societies. That's going to be a bigger challenge with every passing year. Shah and Toft don't offer prescriptions for secularists, liberals, or democrats — but they do describe the ways conservative religious movements around the world are quickly adapting:

Far from stamping out religion, modernization has spawned a new generation of savvy and technologically adept religious movements, including Evangelical Protestantism in America, "Hindutva" in India, Salafist and Wahhabi Islam in the Middle East, Pentecostalism in Africa and Latin America, and Opus Dei and the charismatic movement in the Catholic Church. The most dynamic religiosity today is not so much "old-time religion" as it is radical, modern, and conservative. Today's religious upsurge is less a return of religious orthodoxy than an explosion of "neo-orthodoxies."

A common denominator of these neo-orthodoxies is the deployment of sophisticated and politically capable organizations. These modern organizations effectively marshal specialized institutions as well as the latest technologies to recruit new members, strengthen connections with old ones, deliver social services, and press their agenda in the public sphere. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad, founded in 1964, "saffronized" large swaths of India through its religious and social activism and laid the groundwork for the Bharatiya Janata Party's electoral successes in the 1990s. Similar groups in the Islamic world include the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jordan, Hamas in the Palestinian territories, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Nahdlatul Ulama in Indonesia. In Brazil, Pentecostals have organized their own legislative caucus, representing 10 percent of congresspeople. Religious communities are also developing remarkable transnational capabilities, appealing to foreign governments and international bodies deemed sympathetic to their cause.

Just in case you were looking for some international perspective on religious politics.

("Why God is winning," Timothy Samuel Shah and Monica Duffy Toft, Foreign Policy July/August 2006, reg req'd)

Copyright © 2006 by Philocrites | Posted 19 July 2006 at 5:55 PM

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