Explain the relationship between globalization and religion and examine the impact of religion on politics and political economy

Published: 2023/07/06 Number of words: 2513

The term globalization is most commonly described as a process that steadily progresses over time, universally spreading over space, and visibly inevitable in its development (Haynes, Jeff, 1998). Globalization can also be described as a revolution, arguably one of the most profound revolutions the world has ever experienced but definitely the first true world revolution. What is important to ascertain however is that all revolutions by their very definition, disrupt the different traditions and customs of the people. In fact, it goes deeper than that as they can threaten a person’s safety security and overall identity (Haynes, Jeff, 1998).

Religion on the other hand can be described as a distinct belief and ongoing worship of a superhuman controlling power, most commonly in the form of a personal god (Juergensmeyer, Mark, 2008). Crucially to this paper there are many different religions throughout the world, some more volatile than others when tracing the effect of globalisation and its impact on politics and the economy. What is quite interesting is that when reading literature on what religion actually is it’s surprising difficult to come up with a generalised term. Scholars seem to have tried and failed over time to come up with a definition of what religion actually is, perhaps this underlines the added complexities around this particular subject.

When we discuss the relationship between the two there seems to be two common concepts that is consistent in the plethora of literature out there around the subject. Firstly, is the way in which globalisation is used as a battering ram to flatten out cultural differences and in doing so actually erodes all the unique local customs and beliefs (Herrington Luke, 2015). This process spreads a capitalist way of life which is one that is often at the polar opposite of all different types of religion (Herrington Luke, 2015).  Secondly, whilst this is occurring there is also a way whereby religion actually serves as the undetermined source of resistance to the globalisation surge and acts as a haven to the millions of people who oppose its ubiquitous yet subtle power (Jenkins, Phil , 2006).

Therefore, both these concepts underline the relationship of religion and globalisation to be antagonistic at best, and to this day is one of conflict and struggle. However, with this said, to underline the opposition that each have to one another is important, to see them as only foes perhaps misses the point as there are many different facets and complexities to the relationship (Khaled Mahjabeen, 2014). These complexities were present in the distant past and also in the present. To explain further, both religion and globalization have been known to be seen as partners in relation to historical change. Historically, religion of various manifestations has been a distinct carrier of globalizing tendencies throughout the world. To give an example, the history of Christianity can be understood in part as an extreme early effort to help build a global network of believers (Juergensmeyer, Mark, 2008).

It’s astonishing influence and growth as a world religion was a direct correlation between its own personal global ambition together with the expansion of many different political and economic regimes (Juergensmeyer, Mark, 2008). In this sense it is fair to say that it actually succeeded as a globalizing force long before globalisation was even invented. Moreover, it is not just Christianity that this link can be found, there are various publications to suggest that this pattern can be traced to Islam, Buddhism and other faiths (REF). The point being made here is that we think globalization is the pioneer in inflicting a certain way of thinking and doing on other cultures when arguably we can ironically trace religion as being that particular vehicle.

What is also important to establish is that we often paint the picture that globalisation is “big industry” formed by Western society that does nothing but ruin traditional concepts and values.  In reality the relationship is much more of a two-way process where many of the Eastern and Arabic countries embrace globalisation concepts and in turn grow and become more educated as a result of it (Kurth, Peter, 2017). What is does do however is cause change, sometimes in areas that have not seen change in a very long time, and this is where the resistance comes from for a minority of people or groups (Kurth, Peter, 2017).

It’s fair to say therefore than globalisation causes a form of secularization. This means as globalisation grows in size and stature that such growth actually eats always into the cultural and social significance of religion (Kurtz, Lester , 2006). The result of secularization means that the main role of religion has the potential to become restricted in its true form. This causes a problem in some religions because it can create societies which lack cultural authority and means religious organisation have very little social power (Kurtz, Lester , 2006). When we talk of religion it is often as a form of power that dominates over a person or country that is all conquering. Anything that is a danger to that is seen as an enemy of that institution, unfortunately the process of globalisation fits this charge.

In the past two decades at least, secularization has been massively accelerated and accentuated by the creation of globalization (Mandaville, Peter , 2009). It is no coincidence that globalisation is essentially led by the United States of America (USA), and the USA is where most of the religious conflict seems to be aimed at. The USA leads globalisation as it’s known as the sole superpower coupled by its high technological economy. The USA politically have consistently supported the revolution of globalization by systematically removing almost all barriers to its path in the form of free movement of goods, services and capital (Mandaville, Peter , 2009). This is important as it truly underlines the government’s political stance of how important it feels globalisation is to its growth of the economy. It is also important to know that it isn’t just it domestic markets that feel the full weight of political support, the global movement is also strenuously pushed through via international mechanisms such as the international monetary fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation. The point being made here is that the USA government will stop at nothing to achieve its economic goal of globalisation, which means religious opposition is not really seen as anything to worry about. Politically it knows it has the economic and military power to back up anything that gets in their way, and the main source of resistance to this comes in the form of religion.

So, having discussed the relation between globalization and religion, it’s now important to move on and discuss what specific impact religion has upon politics and the whole political economy. If we were to ask anyone to tackle this question then examples of the Islamic world would be at the forefront of most people’s mind. This is due to the extreme nature of the clashes between Islam and the Western world, in particular the September 11th attack on New York and the 2005 attack on London, which are prime examples of where acts, brought on by religious beliefs, have been so severe in their actions that it has helped shaped the entire political landscape of most of the western world.

Importantly however this isn’t just a current phenomenon, there are all sorts of examples littered through history where religious acts have shaped political agenda however to link back to globalisation for a moment, the cause and effect has meant the world has essentially got smaller and atrocities like these have become all the more easier to carry out and on a larger scale thus bringing in to the forefront of the political agenda. For example, the result of September 11th changed America’s political stance considerably and engaged a public “war on terror” (Khaled Mahjabeen, 2014)

It is not just domestically where this is occurring. There is also significant attention being paid to Islamic movements in other countries that have carried out violence in pursuit of political goals. An example of this would be HAMAS within the territories of Palestine and also Hezbollah in Lebanon (Khaled Mahjabeen, 2014).

What this paper certainly doesn’t want to portray is that religion and violence is the only way in which it interacts with politics. It has to be given the most attention as there is so much of it at the current time however there are other much less dramatic ways in which religion acts as an influence over the political economy. For example, millions of Catholics from all around the globe recognise that the spiritual authority of the Pope in matters that relate to church policy (Kurtz, Lester , 2006). Moreover, it is now increasing popular to see many different religious groups congregating in certain paces around the world to build a new base of massive support, like the upsurge being currently experienced in Pentecostal Christianity conversions in Africa (Kurth, Peter, 2017). On the face of it this doesn’t seem to be linked politically but of course it is as all religion has some form of political agenda, and a sudden influx of similarly minded people suddenly calling a place a home has the potential to influence political decision over time. Governments in some part understand their actions and policies need to fit in with the voters of their country, otherwise the party will be not be voted in at the next election time. Religion plays a massive part in this process.

Following on from this is the Christian Evangelical movement in the USA which has been huge factor in the political success of the Republican Party in recent times. To use the USA as an example is pertinent as it represents quite an anomaly where church and state are formally separated from one another. However, religion still features extremely heavily in the political discourse. The varied opinions on people in America in terms of gun laws, abortion rules and sexuality are so extreme depending on which particular part of the USA you are in. The point being made here is that governments know there have to appease all its population somehow by making sure all facets of the population in all areas of the USA feel there are being heard. This is a clear case of where religion acts as a political tool to influence laws and policies of government. For example, same sex marriages would attract the political vote from the upstate New York districts however the deep South districts would be turned away from the party, therefore the government therefore needs to appease voters in the South to get hopefully get them back onside. This turns out as being a big game, in fact it is, but it hopefully underlines how religion can play a part in how governments set out the political landscape.

In conclusion it can be said that humans are becoming more and more closely connected around the world and globalisation plays a large part of that. However, to put it in its simplest forms, people are different depending on which part of the world you go to, the main difference of people is the religion that they follow. What this means is that in certain facets, globalisation has embedded a certain amount of tension which has often led to mass misunderstanding which in turn results in violence. Part of the problem is that globalisation has given people access to a different way of acting, thinking or living in ways that were never really an option before. This means the element of control that a country had over its people has been breached.

It’s fair to state that Globalization has promoted the new emergence of religious movements that combine both aspects of faith traditions while also addressing concerns that relate to environmentalism and social justice. Some of these groups are going a step further and trying to challenge the whole political process, such as the Falung Gong movement situated in China (Juergensmeyer, Mark, 2008).

The question in which the paper attempts to address is to explain the relationship and impact of both religion and globalisation have with one another. It can be stated the relationship is an extremely complex one, and one that will continue to shape the next fifty years in terms of its political involvement and influence. On drawing a conclusion to the paper it’s important to consider the following points. One, the recognition of the enormous diversity within world’s religions and the unique dangers of treating them as monuments is something that is so important regarding a political standpoint. Secondly distinguishing that religion is present in any given political decision shouldn’t mean that that situation should be read exclusively in terms of religion.

In summation, we state that religion has quite an unbalanced, strange impact on politics that varies from country to country, often depending on the volatility of that country. Politically, governments want to appease and respect the religious beliefs of their population for obvious reasons however, in part to globalisation, as well as free movement, countries are now a mix of all different colours, creeds and religious beliefs. It becomes impossible for governments in a political sense to make its policies agreeable to everyone on a domestic front let alone internationally. What we have touched on earlier is that this has caused extreme friction, which has quickly escalated to violence and now the political comeback is often one of fighting fire with fire.

Religion has made politics heavier handed by almost backing most of the western world governments into a corner in terms of its strategy to combat the growing religious unrest in certain parts of the world. Religion has caused governments to arguably be at its most fractious of all time due to the split ideology within governments concerning the strategy to handle the unrest. This situation sees no real sense of letting up any time soon, as stated above, will continue to shape the political landscape for the short to mid-term future.


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