Religiosity in the Age of Globalization

Sturla Stålsett launches a new book that addresses how religion interacts with and against globalization.

What is the role of religiosity in a globalized world? How does religion relate to experiences of increased vulnerability? Are some types of religiosity better equipped than others to meet these experiences?
These are questions that professor Sturla Stålsett writes about in his new book «Religion in troubling times. Globalization, religiosity and vulnerability».
–​ Globalization is still one of the most important terms in our time, and it contains some of the most central lines of conflict and traits of development that we are facing. I am interested in the role of religion and religiosity concerning these tensions and controversies, Stålsett says, who describes the project as ambitious but necessary.

–​ This is important for us who in different ways are linked to the religious field, and for politicians and social scientists. We have to seek to better understand the dynamics between religion and globalization.

This book addresses how religion interacts with and against globalization. How it on the one hand contributes to violence and extremism and increases the conflicts, and on the other hand is a resource to peace and peace building, and managing conflict.

The value of vulnerability
Globalization has led to increased mutual dependence between people and countries, and increased inequality between groups. According to Stålsett this mutual dependence is also expressed through multiple and more intense experiences of vulnerability. Therefore he makes this vulnerability the basis for an analysis of the role of religiosity in globalization. 

– I believe we have to recognize the value of vulnerability in ethics and politics. It is a resource when engaging with the contrast and negative manifestations of globalization. Because it is only through my own vulnerability, and recognition of it, that I can be made aware of your vulnerability. Vulnerability has a fundamental value. It constitutes the human condition, and enables us to act ethical. This is not commonly recognized, though. Instead it often is described as a problem we have to get ride of.

The importance of religiosity
The entire progress of modernity can be seen as a battle against or an escape from the consequences of vulnerability, says Stålsett. Confronting the tendency, he suggests to explore what can make us think differently about vulnerability.

– Research has shown that the significance of religiosity seems to be more prevalent where there is an increased experience of vulnerability. I try to focus on what different types of religiosity mean to people when experiencing this vulnerability.

Stålsett mainly focuses on different types of religiosity across the religions, and have divided his analysis in three categories: fundamentalism, charismatic religiosity, ecumenical religiosity. The last includes the national churches in different denominations, liberation theological movements, and interreligious movements. 

– While religious fundamentalists seem to fear and even despise vulnerability, the charismatic movements often take peoples` vulnerability as their point of departure, offering a religiosity which overcomes these challenges with help from religious recourses, such as promises of healing or the experience of community and mutual strength. 

Varying appeal and involvement
Stålsett points out that he himself is rotted in the last category, the ecumenical, which is often highly critical of economic globalization, understood as increased focus on wealth that creates social inequalities and environmental damage. 

– This third category is a large group, which I argue represents a type of religiosity that offers resources to acknowledge and recognize the religious and ethical value of vulnerability. Because of this, it is capable of meeting some of the basic challenges individuals and society face with globalization.

At the same time he states this category seems to have more challenges with appeal and mobilization, than the two other categories.

– In a competitive society fundamentalists apparently draw attention and following by their clear and absolute message. And yet to many it is obviously also so extreme that it loses its appeal. 

Charismatic religiosity is more integrative and does, in Stålsett`s interpretation, in many ways side with basic tendencies in global society towards commercialization and competition.

– Many of the groups and leaders involved in charismatic religiosity are good at adapting to and taking advantage of the economical system. This types of religiosity has a large appeal, especially in the societies where people need religiosity to cope with troubling everyday life. But it does not in my view provide resources for critical resistance to powers that create the ethical crisis of globalization.