The growth of religious and ethnic diversity as a consequence of porous, global labour markets and population flows, the emergence of flexible citizenship, and the partial erosion of state sovereignty, legal pluralism and multiculturalism, the spread of fundamentalism, and the growth of popular religious movements are important and characteristic aspects of globalisation. In the Asian context, there are distinct arenas of social and political struggle between religious groups in Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines that create conditions for significant civil conflict. This conference which will be held on 22-24 March 2006 in Singapore will examine how states and societies manage the social and political complexity of globalisation, religious diversity and cultural pluralism, and hence respond to diasporic cultures, conflicting religious identities, cultures and communities. The conference will consider such issues as emerging religious conflicts related to fundamentalism, the evolution of citizenship and human rights, the creation of nation-state identities and the sources of both religious tolerance and violence.
The idea of multiculturalism and its contemporary crisis is in many respects a uniquely western and modern issue. It can be argued that historically societies were religiously and culturally diverse, but not necessarily conflictual. The Ottoman Empire and Islamic Spain are the classical illustrations, and most Asian societies were, as a result of population movements, inter-continental trade and missionary activity, social mosaics. In modern societies by contrast religious conflict – ‘the clash of civilizations’ - appears to be increasingly the dominant idiom of politic, or at least of political discourse.
Religious revivalism and fundamentalism are often closely associated with modern Islam, and yet the same or similar processes are characteristic of Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism and other ‘world religions’. In part these religious movements are associated with the collapse of communism, educational revival, globalisation, fundamentalism, and a communications revolution. While global travel and communication have produced transnational religious communities, the global labour market also creates a world of diasporic, fragmented and localised communities, partially held together by modern communication technologies and global religious networks. The new media paradoxically make possible the integration of dispersed religious communities, and constitute a challenge to traditional religious teaching, training and recruitment. Traditional principles and institutions of religious authority are paradoxically being democratised, fragmented and localised in a global communication system.
These social changes raise very fundamental questions about how diasporic religious communities survive in largely secular societies, and especially in societies that are characterised by religious diversity. Although the clash of civilizations thesis may be unduly pessimistic, there is a general sense either that multiculturalism is failing or it has failed. The principal questions facing religious leaders are (1) whether it is possible to live with social diversity without compromising orthodox belief and practice; (2) whether religious law can exist alongside secular law, and thereby accept legal pluralism; (3) whether to accept the so-called Westphalian model in which religion is a personal practice of individuals in their private lives outside the public sphere of civil society; and (4) whether it is possible to retain the loyalty of the next generation in a context of international terrorism.
Some sociologists and philosophers have recently argued that only a revival of cosmopolitan values (respect for other civilizations, care for minority cultures, and ironic distance from one’s own values, patriotism not nationalism, and promotion of republican values) can provide a moral alternative to fundamentalism and xenophobia. These philosophical debates are largely secular, and hence the question arises as to whether religious traditions can be cosmopolitan and tolerant in multicultural society without loss of content.
The conference will consider theoretical discussions of religion and globalization, and empirical cases studies (both historical and contemporary) of globalization, politics and religion. We welcome papers on conceptual issues in the sociology of religion, historical studies of the growth of religions in Asia, analysis of political conflicts in world religions, studies of the process of globalisation, and case studies of particular societies and religious movements.
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