Global Religion in the 21st Century

Finding different religions’ places in an interconnected world.

  • Winter Kremlin
    As the world continues to become more connected, how do our faiths collide?
    Photo by Fotolia/kichigin19
  • God in the Tumult of the Global Square
    In “God in the Tumult of the Global Square,” by Mark Juergensmeyer, Dinah Griego and John Soboslai, religious observers express the hopes and fears about new forms of religions around the world.
    Cover courtesy University of California Press

  • Winter Kremlin
  • God in the Tumult of the Global Square

How is religion changing in the twenty-first century? In God in the Tumult of the Global Square (University of California Press, 2015), by Mark Juergensmeyer, Dinah Griego and John Soboslai shows how religion has leapt, in some contradictory ways, onto the world stage. While many religious leaders and activists respond to this change in different ways, Jeurgensmeyer, Griego and Soboslai explore the directions global religion is headed. This excerpt, which describes the purpose of religion in different societies and their responses to change, is from Chapter 3, “Religion Resists and Soothes.”

In Moscow, it took an hour in congested traffic to get from our hotel to Lomonosov Moscow State University—just blocks away—where a gathering of scholars and religious officials had come together to discuss the profound changes that had occurred in Russia’s religious society since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. It wasn’t just the traffic that symbolized the remarkable changes in Russian society in recent decades. Along with aggressive modern capitalism has emerged a renewed Russian nationalism. At the heart of it is religion, so it was appropriate that our gathering included representatives of Russia’s leading religious communities.

Perhaps the most imposing figure in the group was Father Mikhail Zakharov, an archpriest in the Russian Orthodox Church, who wore a long beard, flowing black robes surmounted by a silver cross, and the elegant cylindrical black hat that is characteristic of Orthodox dress. He is a scholar in addition to being a cleric, a member of an institute for the study of religion and society, and was pursuing advanced scientific research in physics. But even more interesting was the fact that he had formerly been a member of the Communist Party. He had come to accept Marxism, he explained, because of his love of philosophy, and this same interest propelled him in the direction of theology and a leadership role in the church. When he left the party, he said, it was like “going through purgatory.” But now, he affirmed, the church had been reaccepted into Russian society and was playing a major role in its social and cultural reconstruction.

This was exactly the point that interested us. Just how, we asked him, was the church playing this role, and how did it fit into post-Soviet Russian sensibilities?

Father Mikhail explained that the church had been closely associated with the monarchy and with Russian nationalism throughout history, so it was natural for the church to have a close relationship to power in the post-Soviet era. But, we wondered, doesn’t this create a sense of marginalization among Muslims, Jews, Protestant and Catholic Christians, and others who are a part of a society in Russia, which—as in the rest of the world—is increasingly becoming multicultural?

“No, under no circumstances,” Father Mikhail said, in a booming baritone. He went on to explain that in the history of Russia, there had been Muslim communities side by side with Russian Orthodox ones—the Tatar, for instance—and that relations were always congenial. He went on to insist that “there had never been any significant controversies” between the religious communities, and that, quite the opposite, the influence of the Orthodox leadership helped to make the official policies more tolerant by making them more sensitive to religious issues.

2/12/2016 11:01:31 AM

Another way people are changing religious beliefs is they are simplifying. In the US, and probably other parts of the world, many people are described in studies as "nones" meaning they do not belong to any of the "revealed" religions. The vast majority of these people still believe in The Supreme Intelligence/God but have freed themselves from the religious dogma and doctrines of the various "revealed" religions. They seem to embrace the motto of Deism: God gave us reason, not religion. Progress! Bob Johnson

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