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Stefan Waanders {*}

Globalization and Religion

Challenge for Politics and Church. An Introduction


From the periodical of the Catholic Academy Bavaria 'zur debatte', 1/2008, P. 1f.
webmaster's own, not authorized translation


Why a Dutchman was asked to introduce this part of the conference can be the cause for questions. Some people think the identity of the Dutchmen was a mixture of merchant and (Protestant) pastor. Whether this makes Dutchmen particularly competent to deal with the topic of globalization and religion remains to be seen. Anyway, it belongs to Dutch history that god-fearing, Bible reading captains were quite active merchants and transported vast quantities of merchandise over the world, even slaves - today not only the Catholic social teaching makes clear to us that in this case "goods" is not the right word.

We think about globalization and religion in a European context. Europe means among other things awareness of a wide variety of languages. We experience it also today in this conference: a Dutchman speaks German on Italian soil, while he cannot entirely do without some English words. We are not surprised at it but think it all right, for there is no standard language in Europe. It belongs to Europe's awareness that each language with its grammar covers the world with an order of its own. We are aware that there are different ways of putting in order the "scattered, often darkened and confused reality of life" {1}. Already that helps not to see one's own way to tackle the problems as the only possible one, and it could also promote the capability for dialogue.

In a readable contribution Stefan Zamagni has named as the great challenge of the 21st century: "to find a new balance between market and society, which is capable to free the creative energy of private enterprise without suffering an erosion of the social base of society." {2}



On that occasion he pointed out that only a functioning "civil society" - based on organizations such as churches, independent universities or trade unions - enables the market to function - also economically {3}.



The former Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Ruud Lubbers, was aware of the difficulty to define globalization. It is not just about a phenomenon but about the interpretation of a social process. He regards technological innovations (especially by telecommunications and transport), economic internationalization and a dominant neo-liberal ideology as most important impulses {4}.

The world becomes more and more linked with each other, inextricably linked. In a way we become aware of only late. That has to do with trade: production, exchange of goods, in the meantime worldwide and in a way that goes beyond local constraint. It is as if economic power had got an extra-territorial status. The multinational corporations have understood that, and organize their economic power outside the control of the nation-state.

But by now not only goods are exchanged but also people of different cultures travel along the trade routes, not only on holidays. At first only individuals spontaneously travelled, later also deliberately organized, in masses, in order to be able e.g. to fill free jobs in times of economic boom. At that time they were called guest workers. Then the guests stayed, the families followed and now they are citizens of European countries. On top of that there are countless refugees.

A month ago it became known that at present Amsterdam is the number one among the multi-cultural cities in the world - if I remember rightly 171 nationalities were registered. Maybe there are cities with even more nationalities, but perhaps the office for registration of residents in Amsterdam is simply better. Anyway, together with these people also their religions immigrate and enrich or frighten the national religion - or the local atheism. From that for Europe a new and unique situation results.

To get that clear in one's mind, I'll tell a brief story of the Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski from his Africa book "Heban". He travels with a missionary by car through Cameroon. At one of the many police road-blocks the missionary puts his head out of the window and calls: "Diocese Bertoua.

Then Kapuscinski remarks, "That worked immediately, magically worked. Something that is connected with religion, with supernatural forces, the world of rituals and of the spirit, with something you cannot see or grasp but that is nevertheless there - more real than all the visible and palpable things - and brings immediately about a reaction, a response of awe, attention, respect, and also something like fear. It is about the question of the nature of existence. The Africans' thinking is deeply religious. Do you believe in God? I always expect this question because it is so often asked. I knew that the one who asked me that question was then carefully watching me and noticed every twitch of my face. And I felt that the manner in which I replied would be decisive for our relationships, at least for the asker's attitude towards me. And when I said, 'Yes, I believe' I saw in his facial expression that it solved the tension and uncertainty and how much I was fraternized with him by my answer, how it broke down the barrier of skin colour, position and age. Africans like to feel connected with others on that higher spiritual level; a contact that often can hardly be expressed and defined by words but the importance of which is spontaneously and instinctively understood by everybody. Hence when the missionary stopped and told the policemen, 'Diocese Bertoua', there was no need for them to see our papers, did not search the car, did not want money, but smiled and waved: You can go on." {5}

This brief encounter of Kapuscinski is cause for a small meditation on religion. It tells that the religious attitude is common - and I think that is not only limited to Africa. But these considerations let also suppose that those religious people cannot imagine that there are also people who do not believe in God at all.

And now we turn to Europe, this "small peninsula at the Giant Asia," as Romano Guardini has said. Europe, during the first thousand years decisively shaped by Christianity, has since the Middle Ages carried out an emancipation by which various parts freed themselves from the surveillance of the Church and the Christian faith: economy, politics and science. A society developed in which religion was gradually ousted from public life and assigned to privacy. I say that so casually - all that is, of course, complex and more differentiated. But for me it is about the fact that a significant number of people, for whom religion is no longer of importance and who admit they are non-believers, belong to Europe's present history. Globalization has brought together religious people from all over the world and non-believers on this "small peninsula" and they face each other - partly completely bewildered. This is a unique situation in Europe. In Europe meet: believers, atheists and immigrants from all over the world, most of them associated with a religion. How does that work?

When people of different cultural and religious (or non-religious) origins meet each other mutual understanding is no matter of course. It may even increase the uncertainty that is anyway caused by globalization. For the time being fundamentalism will be a side effect of globalization, but it is - and I want to emphasize this - not a monopoly of just one religion. Each religion has its temptation to fundamentalism. One should realistically reckon with this possibility. So far the negative possibilities.

But there is also another possibility. In 1961 Romano Guardini has written a foreword for a small volume of prayers of the world. There he says:

    And now something strange happens. Not only the Christian denominations, not just Christianity and Judaism, biblical faith and Islam, but also Christianity and real, from history and experience growing paganism look at each other with new eyes. In spite of all the differences they feel connected by something of which they have until now not become aware as a connecting force: by faith in a general sense, as attitude of people who know about God and the divine reality - by what the Church Fathers called 'Logos spermatikos', the eternal power of truth working in germ in all forms of human existence.
    Thus it was a thought that genuinely sprang from the 'spirit of the hour': to look for testimonies of such faith through the different times and areas of religious experience; to be precise, for such testimonies in which the heart of this faith is talking, namely prayers. In them something becomes apparent that links separate beings: the connection of praying people of which they so far have not yet been aware {6}.

This quotation from Guardini lets expect a positive assessment of the meeting of religions. For this too a Guardini quotation, often quoted and attributed to Cardinal Newman: "Genuine faith is not violent but able to take a load of doubts." {7}

But is this positive assessment of meeting correct or is reality more complex? Or does the quotation indicate a possibility which has not yet been sufficiently tried?

Globalization is also a challenge of politics, because the nation-state, bound to a specific territory, is less and less able to cope with new problems - if we think of problems such as environmental pollution, crime, terrorism, poverty. A new creativity is required, which Ruud Lubbers calls "new governance". It does not replace the government of the nation-states but is an addition: international dynamics of states, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and multinational corporations. In other words, it is the international version of a "civil society", without which the global market will not work. It should however be ensured that humanity does not go to the dogs. Is there also, as the Bishop of Rotterdam and current President of COMECE, Adrian van Luyn called it, a humane globalization {8}? With it he appeals to a responsibility for a globalization of solidarity and spirituality {9}.

Let us now turn to Europe. We content ourselves with only two countries. That is we do not examine all nations, races and languages, but we limit ourselves to that privileged part which is named "western civilisation". Moreover, the two states which are under question are members of the G 8, i.e. economic superpowers. Let us be aware of this restriction. But now let us listen to the concrete experiences in Germany and France in terms of globalization and religion.



{1} Romano Guardini, Rainer Maria Rilkes Deutung des Daseins. Eine Interpretation der Duineser Elegien, Kösel Verlag Munchen 1953, S. 421.

{2} Stefano Zamagni, "Positional competition and jobless growth: the role of civil economy, in: Donald Loose, Stefan Waanders (eds.), Work and Human Dignity in the context of Globalisation. International expert-seminar on the occasion of 100 year Radboudstichting, uitgeverij Damon Budel (Netherlands), 2007, S. 74."

{3} Ibidem, 78.

{4} Ruud Lubbers, "Primary Globalisation, secondary Globalisation and the sustainable Development Paradigm - opposing forces in the 21th Century" in: Wil Derkse, Jan van der Lans, Stefan Waanders (eds.) In Quest of Humanity in a Globalising World. Dutch Contributions to the Jubilee of Universities in Rome 2000. uitgeverij Damon Budel (Netherlands), 2000, S. 15-36.

{5} Ryszard Kapuscinski, Ebbenhout, uitgeverij De Arbeiderspers, Amsterdam 2005, S. 248-250 (Übersetzung Stefan Waanders). In Deutsch erschienen als Afrikanisches Fieber.

{6} Heinz Robert Schlette (hrg.), Alter Gott höre! Gebete der Welt, Piper Verlag München 1961, S.5-6.

{7} "Gedanken über das Verhältnis von Christentum und Kultur" in: Romano Guardini, Unterscheidung des Christlichen. Gesammelte Studien 1923-1963, Matthias-Grünewald Verlag, Mainz 1963, S. 171.

{8} Bishop Adrian van Luyn sdb, " a major step in humanising the world" in: Donald Loose, Stefan Waanders (eds.), Work and Human Dignity in the context of Globalisation. International expert-seminar on the occasion of 100 year Radboudstichting, uitgeverij Damon Vught (Netherlands) 2007, S. 196.

{9} Ibidem, 197.



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