Religion in a Globalised Age (completed)

The program was concluded in 2006.

About the project

"Religion in a Globalised Age - Transfers and Transformations, Integration and Resistance" (RIGA), is a research program established in autumn 2001 at the Faculty of Theology, University of Oslo. The Norwegian Research Council finances the program as part of a broad strategy to strengthen studies on globalisation within all the humanities and social sciences. RIGA is planned to last for a period of three years and the program involves seven researchers, mainly from the faculty. The main objective of the research programme is to contribute to the understanding of what impact religion(s) in general and Christianity in particular have on the global process(es) of transformation called ‘globalisation’ (or internationalisation / trans-nationalisation), and vice versa; what impact the globalisation processes have on particular religious worldviews and practices.


Program abstract

There has lately been an increased interest in religion and religious conditions in research on the worldwide processes of change alternatively labelled globalisation, internationalisation and transnationalisation. In international research there is a growing awareness of religions’ importance for understanding globalisation. But there is disagreement concerning what specific role religion has in connection with this.

The process of globalisation is visible in at least three fields: economy, politics and culture. In each of these fields there is a tension between forces which on the one hand lead to integration in globalisation and on the other resist it. The concept of ’integration’ refers to religious processes which promote and follow from the ongoing transnationalisation or globalisation. The concept of ’resistance’ covers the opposite movement, that is, the explicit or implicit criticism of and mobilisation against the same global processes of change, or certain aspects of these.

This two-sided development in the different areas of globalisation is evident. The one, increasingly interwined world economy creates greater social differences and even social polarisation. This triggers protest movements and popular / political mobilisation which, to a constantly higher degree, are transnational. The weakening of political tools for governance locally and globally happens simultaneously with the development of political organs for cooperation regionally and globally. We experience a simultaneity of cultural heterogenisation, homogenisation and hybridisation (transcultural transformation). This unevenness corresponds to the way in which religions seem to influence globalisation. Their work is both pro-systemic and anti-systemic in relation to the global processes of change at the same time.

It is this dynamic and dialectic connection between globalisation and religion which is worthy of closer examination. Globalisation calls forth a renewed self-reflection. Cultural, religious and social differences become visible at the same time as one experiences direct or indirect pressure towards increased homogenisation and ’free’ competition. This creates a field of tension where the value of religious belonging as identity forming becomes more important and is rapidly changing. It might be of particular interest to focus upon what happens at the margins of globalisation. Relevant questions could be: What criticism of the mechanisms of exclusion in globalisation is being expressed in reflection, religious interpretations of life and common strategies for survival in the different groups affected by exclusion? To what extent is this criticism based in alternative visions of community and fellowship?

These perspectives make it relevant to operate inside the framework of the specific religious tradition closest to us, to capture the changes in self-understanding and the new drafts to an interpretation and construction of the world given here. Christianity has as a Western religion with universalistic pretentions contributed in linking globalisation with "Westernisation". In this way Christianity has been an integrative force in relation to globalisation. At the same time - and exactly as a result of this process - Christianity’s centre has moved South, to the poor part of the world, where Christian interpretation in many places has contributed to the resistance to the Western civilisation project. The upsurge of liberation theologies and contextual theological methodology are relevant in this regard, and will be of importance to the RIGA-project. Hence Christianity’s importance for integration as well as for resistance to the processes of globalisations becomes visible.

No ideas, theological or otherwise, can be transported as "pure essence". They can never be copied in their totality from one people to another. They will always have to be unfolded and made relevant in explicitly local contexts, and will therefore unavoidably change. Because of this it may be useful to investigate closer the connection between Christianity’s transfer and its transformations in order to get a deeper understanding of the role of religions in the ’free flux and constant change of globalisation, not least in encounter with other religious traditions.

We will analyse selected examples of the transfer or relocation of Christian beliefs and faith communities in the context of globalisation, including their encounters with other religious traditions, and the transformations that these religious interpretations undergo as a result of this. The particular focus of these analyses will be Christianity’s potential for critical mobilisation against and resistance to globalisation, and its capacity as a resource for integration into these global processes, in the tension between its local rootedness (contextuality, particularlism) and its transnational, global outreach and scope (universalism / holism). The programme is both empirical-analytical, in that it analyses and compares different sides of the interaction between religion and globalisation through particular case studies, and propositional-normative, in that it sets forth, on the basis of these studies, possible (re)interpretations of Christian faith and religious worldviews in the face of globalisation, while assessing the globalisation processes in light of these religious traditions.

Case studies

Latin American liberation theology’s critique of globalisation as market fundamentalism, social polarisation/exclusion and cultural homogenisation. This project will analyse and assess the critical reflection on neo-liberalism and market economy that has been presented by leading Latin American liberation theologians (i.a. Assmann, Hinkelammert, Richard, Tamez, Mo Sung) during the 80’s and 90’s, particularly related to the Ecumenical Research Institute (DEI) in San José, Costa Rica. It will also study two of the most significant popular protest movements in present day Latin America, namely the largely indigenous and clearly anti-neoliberalist Zapatista movement in Chiapas, Mexico, and the Movement of Landless people “Movimento Sem Terra” in Brazil. The study will focus on the relationship between these movements and ecclesial reflection and praxis inspired by liberation theology, in order to address the more general question of liberation theology as an expression of religious response to globalisation. Responsible for this project is Associate Professor, Dr. theol. Sturla J. Stålsett, in co-operation with Professor Berge Furre (MST).

The post-pentecostal movement in Brazil.
Pentecostal growth in the Third World is a major religious pheonomenon in the globalised world. Pentecostalism originated in the North, but it is now, as a result of its expansion in the South, ‘returning’ to the North in the form of mission from Pentecostal Churches in the South. One prominent example of this new and surprising direction in the ‘transfer’ of Christian faith expressions is the Igreja do Reino do Deus in Brazil. This church is clearly making use of the possibilities and structures related to the globalisation of communication and information. It is also to a large extent enhancing and promoting neo-liberal politics and unrestricted market economy, so that it can be seen as an example of religions’ potential for integration in the globalisation process. At the same time, its worldview and fundamental beliefs bear fundamentalistic traits, which are clearly particularlistic. This may point to the ambigous function of religion in globalisation. Responsible for this project Professor Berge Furre, partly in co-operation with Brazilian researchers.

The East in the West - between integration and resistance
A study of an early phase of Buddhist-Christian encounter.

The aim of this project is to analyse an early phase of the religious transformations stimulated by the encounter between Buddhism and Christianity, with Norway and China as local foci. An interesting phase in the transformation process is related to the Norwegian missionary and researcher Karl Ludvig Reichelt (1877-1952). His dialogical missionary project among Chinese Buddhists served as a meeting point between traditions in transformation, particularly in the first half of the twentieth century. Most Reichelt-studies have dealt with the Scandinavian context, and only to a limited extent examined his work in the Chinese context, which for him was decisive. His concern for dialogue and integration had a theological basis, but there is ample evidence that his thinking were influenced in decisive ways by Buddhism and esoteric traditions, both locally and internationally. A thorough study of the Chinese context, with Reichelt as a focus, will throw light upon a process of change that became manifest in China as well as in Norway/Scandinavia. At the same time it will uncover some of the international network which also influenced this process. In concrete terms the study will reveal new aspects of Reichelt as an agent of change/transformation: in his role as observer and communicator (of knowledge), as agent in a mutual transformation process, and as a model for theological attitudes. The study will also include a critical evaluation of the limitations of Reichelt’s work. Professor Notto Thelle is responsible for the project.

Post-colonial theology and ethno-hermeneutics as a challenge to Norwegian and Sami ‘neo-Christianity’.
This project aims at investigating how globalisation processes cause Christianity to change by focusing on how new post-colonial theological trends are developed in (indigenous) Africa and the USA and thus transported from the south to the north. In Norway it challenges and influences both Norwegian feminist theologians and Sami forms of neo-Christianity. A notable influence is a new understanding of how "sacred places" and the symbols of "creation" may be radically contextualized and thereby renewed by interpreting and incorportating already existing ethnic symbols and forms of ritualisation as expressions of a local "old testament". An important aim of the project is therefore to uncover and analyse the ethno-hermeutics developed by some feminist, indigeous theologians in Africa and the USA in their attempts to make Christianity more local, plural and meaningful to "their people". Another aim is to document how these theological trends are influencing women theologians at "Emmaus" in Oslo and sami theologians at "Snåsa" in Trøndelag in the way in which they conduct ritual. Senior researcher dr. theol. Jone Salomonsen is responsible for the project.

World arts and religion in the margin
- Local, global, and transcultural processes in Sápmi and other places

In this project the focus is upon the relation between religion and the visual arts in the contexts of globalisation, localisation and transculturation. It aims at interpreting the creative process of visual artists in Sápmi in the 20th century who are preserving and transforming old and inventing new traditions, meanings and values as regarding their subarctic ecological and cultural context. The interpretation takes art objects in context as a point of departure, and it investigates how global processes influence individual, local and regional artistic work and how this influences the flows of translocal and intercultural communication. The global process will be studied in the regional context especially with regard to the artistic expression of the views of nature, the images of God, religion, ethnic identity and the understandings of art. The relationship between the global and the local, the modern and the traditional can be observed in a geographically and thematically limited area. The project will also include comparative studies of the primary and other material from three regions where indigenous arts play a significant role: Greenland, Australia and Peru. Interactions between religion and visual arts with regard to the issue of de- and re-spatializiation processes will be given main priority as well as the ecological embeddedness of visual culture. Professor Sigurd Bergmann is responsible for the project.

Religious education, communal identity and national politics A comparative study of models of religious education in selected Muslim countries
This project investigates different models for religious education in school and the underlying understanding of moral, religious and national community. Focus will be set upon selected Middle Eastern / Muslim countries such as Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt and Indonesia (different examples of offering Islamic and Christian education as alternative options in school, and recent discussions on models for joint moral/civic education). The research project will investigate the underlying understanding of community in different models for moral, religious and civic education, and discuss such questions as:

  • How do prevailing models in school reflect dominant trends in the understanding of national identity and the power relation between different religious groups in national politics?
  • Is religious education seen as integral to the formation of a national identity, or only as an opportunity for the strengthening of confessional identity in school?
  • Is learning about the religiously other and training in ethical and interreligious dialogue seen as an important aim of religious and civic education?
  • Are international and globalisation-related challenges ("global ethics") within the scope of the curriculum?
  • How do prevailing models and current discussions relate to the communitarian/universalist debate in contemporary ethics?

Senior researcher, dr. theol. Oddbjørn Leirvik is responsible for the project.

Reconciliation as integration and resistance to reconciliation.
This project focuses upon the church’s contribution on the one hand to conflicts and to its contribution to peace and reconciliation on the other. The project will be a study of one selected example where the church has had a central function in re-establishing fellowship after several decades of divisions and injustices. After the fall of the Berlin Wall the German Lutheran churches came to play an important role in dealing with the past and how to integrate the oppressed and the oppressors in the earlier DDR. Some of this work is collected in a small periodical serie called "Zwie Gespräch" published on intitiative of the churches in Berlin in the period 1991-1995. Here the communication is breached between former STASI-collaborators and those who had been under surveillance. The project will analyse the contributions in the light of theological thinking on reconciliation and reparation. Both the integrating forces and the disintegrating forces in the reconciliation process will be examined. The conditions and framework established for putting conflicts on the agenda itself, will also be studied. Professor Kjetil Hafstad is responsible for the project.

Published Mar. 5, 2010 5:20 PM - Last modified Dec. 8, 2020 2:19 PM