How does globalization affect religion?

Religion and society

Claus Leggewie

To person

Dr. disc., born 1950; Professor of Political Science at the Justus Liebig University (JLU) Giessen and Director of the Center for Media and Interactivity there. JLU, Karl-Glöckner-Str. 21 E, 35394 Giessen.
Email: [email protected]

In many European societies there was extensive secularization, whereas in the USA numerous religious beliefs remained at a high level. There were "two secularizations".


450 years ago, the Augsburg Religious Peace put an end to the religious wars of the Reformation, and the Reichstag declared imperial peace for Catholics and Protestants. According to the peace formula ("cuius regio eius religio"), religious law lay with the imperial estates, not with the subjects. Those who were not prepared to accept the religion of the sovereign were allowed to emigrate; Catholics and Lutherans could only practice their faith side by side in free imperial cities. With this territorialization of religious beliefs, the modern formula of sovereignty was born, which prevailed a good century later in the Peace of Westphalia and remained decisive until the 20th century.

Globalization is the name given to the dynamic of delimitation associated with the development of the capitalist world market, which calls all territorial borders into question. It is not limited to economic and financial transactions, but also and even primarily affects cultural and religious currents. It is no coincidence that the word transnational was first applied to globally active corporations and the churches in the 1920s. Territorial boundaries were just as impossible to draw for religious thought and mission as the world market, but in the Old World - regardless of individual religious freedom and advancing secularization, the formal disentanglement of politics and religion - open and hidden forms of state churches remained.

Escaping these was the main drive of European emigrants who fled to America in the New World in order to finally enjoy complete religious freedom there. This is not only where the roots of American individualism and the "stateless society" of the United States lie, it was also the dividing line between two paths of secularization. The European path separated church and state only half-heartedly and left Christian religious communities their de facto monopoly of religious gathering and mobilization, at the end of which stand the extensive privatization of religion and ultimately the de-Christianization of Europe. The result can currently be seen in Germany: Rich dioceses are hanging on the umbilical cord of church taxes and other public alimentation, while the churches are emptying and there is a dramatic lack of young priests and believers.

America is quite different: the dividing wall between religion and politics was drawn higher, but the religious remained present in public space and in the "civil religion", the variance of creeds grew as did the number of believers. The result can also be seen here: American multi-religiosity has survived several waves of questions about faith, it permeates public life and shapes general morality - without any "state dough". Not only do Protestant creeds gain in importance overall, but also Catholics, Jews, Muslims and the entire "religious supermarket" (Malise Ruthven). This development refutes Max Weber's prediction that piety will be more moderate when the world is fully in the grip of capitalist modernity: "Today, rapid Europeanization is pushing back the ecclesiastical penetration of the whole of life, which was specific to genuine" Americanism ", everywhere", wrote the great sociologist of religion a hundred years ago, and he predicted that an organized, hierarchical church system would prevail against the horizontal-egalitarian sectarian system. Apparently the USA has taken a different path, a fragmented, porous religious landscape anchored in the local communities has remained. And this pattern now seems to be spreading globally, while Western Europe is treading a separate path.

In order to substantiate the thesis of the "two secularizations" and the Americanization of the religious world, one has to go back a little. As already indicated, the process of secularization that has been going on since the 18th century includes three elements: the separation of state and church (more generally: from religion and politics), secondly, the suppression of religious worldviews and symbols from public space, and thirdly, the decline popular piety. As high as the American constitutional fathers drew the dividing wall between each individual religion and the state sphere, American society was not infected by the European trend towards the profanation and de-Christianization of private and public life.

While secularization in a broad sense took place in many societies in Europe, the practice of numerous religious beliefs in the United States remained at a high level. The neutrality of the state does not necessarily mean the displacement of religion from the public sphere, nor does it mean that it is depoliticized. The citizens of the USA were religiously active for centuries, precisely because the US constitution ruled out the establishment of a church as a state church and a religion as a state religion from the outset. As a result, public life on the other side of the Atlantic could remain much more religiously shaped than in the Old World.

This updates a classic initial question of political theory: How do you regulate religious pluralism, now worldwide - and who should be responsible for it? Basically, one can again distinguish two lines of argument, one political-state and one market-based. The first describes a line of thought from Thomas Hobbes to Max Weber and Carl Schmitt and claims the sole responsibility of political regulators, i.e. the state monopoly of power on the basis of the territorial authority, in order to bring about peaceful coexistence of rival religious communities (with their always exclusive and contradicting truth claims) constituted state.

The second relies on peaceful competition within the framework of a cultural pluralism guaranteed by this very competition. The regulator of possible conflicts is not the Hobbesian state and the cohabitation it has created, but the market and the calculus of benefits of the individuals made on it. In the USA personal piety is completely compatible with the usages of the free capitalist market economy, religious communities often act like capitalist corporations. Economic success is considered, not only in the branches of Protestantism, as the best proof that God has chosen and is worthy of eternal life.

The religious structure, which was trimmed for competition at an early stage, accommodated this: sects and denominations can neither in principle nor in practice dispose of their believers, they must always court them. Believers are addressed as autonomous and stubborn individuals who reach their confession of their own conscience, even if in the end they do not stray far from their biographical roots and social milieus. For all its diversity, virtually all American believers (and unlike the Vatican, most US Catholics) agree on the affirmation of the capitalist market. If believers are thus addressed as consumers or customers, there is consequently a mission everywhere, which of course cannot proceed with compulsion, but must appear "persuasive" - ​​like sales representatives who offer a product for sale. Simple conversions and flourishing syncretism are part of this open religiosity.

Based on this experience, a successor of Max Weber, Peter L. Berger, who emigrated to the USA, advised the European churches to transform it into a McJesus, Inc., a kind of "demand diakonia". That would mean: Religions do not convince as more or less established state and regional churches, but through the commitment that is generated every day and the situational power of persuasion of the faith communities. In world society, religious communities can no longer proclaim self-evident truths in their respective cultural contexts; they are in competition with other truth claims, in the economic sense of the word. On the one hand, inherited religious collective identities are undermined by individual choice and practice of religion; on the other hand, globalization allows the reconstruction and revival of particular, special religious we-feelings, which can now draw from a wider range of options.

In addition to esoteric currents, the evangelical currents, which have caught up with and overtaken the more bureaucratized "mainline Protestantism" in the USA and are spreading strongly in Central America, West Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia, benefit most from this at the moment. They form a bastion of Christian fundamentalism in the USA itself, and various signs suggest that, under pressure from the religious right, the USA is abandoning the pluralistic path. On the one hand, the social and educational policy favored by President George W. Bush pushes the boundaries of the American constitution, in that "faith-based initiatives" take over teaching and welfare and thereby openly make religious propaganda. On the other hand, there are quite a few "Christian Zionists" in Bush's electorate and entourage who denounce religious peace by promoting the open, crusade-like confrontation with Islam and the conversion of the Jews and generally subjecting foreign policy to the goal of re-Christianization. Fundamentalist Protestantism has fallen into the wake of an extremist heresy whose tendency to manipulate and politicize not only worries agnostics but must also worry believers of all denominations. Similar to Islamic fundamentalism, religion is misused for pro-reactionary goals.

In the old world, various patterns of the relationship between state and church are pronounced, which can be described with the real types "state church", "columnar" and "secularism". State church systems officialize and privilege a certain denomination, whose dignitaries enter into a more or less open symbiosis with state authorities, as in the former Eastern Roman societies of Orthodox Christianity, but also in Great Britain, to a lesser extent. While (in the extreme case only one) religion plays a role in public space, secular republics have declared religion completely a private matter and erected a high dividing wall between state and church institutions. If the relationship between religion and politics, as in France and Turkey, is characterized by a far-reaching defensive and supervisory function of the state, concordance democracies such as the Netherlands arrange the religious groups next to one another in a columnar manner, whereby religious communities grant a high degree of autonomy and initiative and they, along with other ideological groups, represent the largely state-free space of civil society.

As a common feature of the different regulatory patterns, it can be stated that in the constitutions as well as in the constitutional reality of Western democracies, positive and negative religious freedom are fundamentally guaranteed (with the aspects of freedom of religion, worship and association), which, regardless of the historical hegemony of Christian religious communities, members of non-Christian communities Always includes confessions in principle. The states and their representatives can no longer determine what a religion is and what should not count as such, even if in Germany a religious privilege can be granted through the approval of associations and the granting of non-profit status can be refused under tax law.

Religious freedom includes the collective exercise of religion in groups and communities, but there are considerable problems with implementation, which affects the (in German terminology) "special violent relationships" of families, schools and the world of work. The institutionalization of religious practices in Europe is based on the model of organized "churches", both habitually and legally, and thus complicates the integration of those believers who (do not want to) belong to such an organization, but who are nevertheless collectively active and based on the factual and symbolic presence of their religion in the public space exist - a religion which, in the case of Islam, also denies a strict separation of religious and political concerns. "Islam is definitely not a church, and" Islam does not exist in the same way as "Christianity" or the actually existing Catholic and Protestant churches are in umbrella organizations, socio-political institutions and ecumenical associations as cooperation partners for state politics and public policy Represent concerns. And "the Islams" are, in keeping with their character as a comprehensive cultural regulation, often (although not necessarily) explicitly political movements even without aggressive politicization in radical Islamism.

That is why Muslims are considered troublemakers everywhere. Adaptation and transplantation problems are an almost inevitable consequence of the dissolution of boundaries; With the cultural opening, the detachment of self-declared leading cultures from their geographical-territorial substrate is progressing once again, which shakes national state-church systems as well as a regional identity construct of the "Christian Occident" type. The inclusion of Muslims appears to be more possible on the "American" route than in the quasi-state churches in Europe.

The postulate of an umma (Islamic world community) and its realization in the form of various diaspora communities in western immigration societies show that religious transnationalization cannot be identical with westernization and secularization according to the European model. The increase in the number of Muslims in Europe, primarily due to migration, has had an unexpected effect on both sides: a kind of Americanization of the religious structure. "More America" ​​in this context means not only the presence of the Church of Scientology, which is highly controversial as a church (and observed in Germany by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution) and other syncretistic religious groups, but also the stronger presence of Islam in public space. One of these was accompanied by the "Americanization of Islam" (Yazbeck Haddad) in the USA, which does not mean the particularly spectacular and aggressive appearance of the "Nation of Islam", but rather the silent and, until September 11, 2001, hardly noticeable Taken insertion of millions of Islamic immigrants into the horizontal religious structure. And even the "Nation of Islam" in all its forms is more "American" than the core areas of Islam, where this splinter group is either ignored or classified as heretical. It is precisely in the diversity of occurrences that Americanization proves to be horizontal integration, in which denominations that are far apart from each other in theological and liturgical terms are more closely related than with co-religionists outside the USA. Because of this self-evident pluralism and patriotism, the problem of loyalty has not yet arisen, and active participation of Muslims in interreligious dialogues and in political-religious coalitions (including those of the religious right) has been possible, although it remains to be seen how this relates on the Arab Muslims in the future.

For Muslims outside of the core Islamic regions, this means that this monotheistic book religion is exposed to a structural "polytheism" under conditions of global communication and must fit into the diverse range of subjective, identitarian and esoteric religiosity of experience that is now also available in Latin America, beyond organized churchism and theology, Africa and Europe are flourishing. For the European and especially German religious landscape, this would mean the following: - a stricter separation of state and church while at the same time the more unabashed presence of many religions in public space; - the erosion of religious oligopolies in favor of a horizontal coexistence of religious communities, more sect-like than church-like in structure; - more popular piety and thus an intensified practice of religions with simultaneous subjectification and individualization of religious practice.

The incorporation of non-Christian religious communities, including increasingly others than Islam, tends to re-regulate the relationship between religion and politics in Germany and the European Union. The incorporation of Islam in Europe can benefit from this, and at the same time it creates considerable irritation for both Muslims and non-Muslims. This leaves the foundations of a "European Islam" that recognizes secularization and pluralism unstable, but cultural globalization is not a one-way street for any religious community.