Religious Nationalism Research Paper Starter

Religious Nationalism

(Research Starters)

Religious nationalism can be viewed as a situation in which religion is used as a tool or veil to justify nationalistic attitudes and actions. In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, religious nationalism has been on the rise across the globe and is increasingly associated with religious terrorism. The relationship between religion and nationalism is a complex one and not yet well understood. The rise in religious nationalism can be attributed to many factors. One theory on the relationship between religion and nationalism examines the clash between the effects of increasing globalization and the McWorld mentality. Another approach is to view religious nationalism as a religious reaction against secular governments and politics that do not represent the underlying morality of large groups within a society. As long as these conditions continue, it is likely that incidents of religious nationalism and religious terrorism will also continue. Research is needed to better understand the antecedents of these trends and to determine more legitimate ways for meeting the needs of society.

Keywords Belief System; Culture; Fundamentalism; Globalization; Ideology; Nationalism; Postmodernism; Religion; Religious Nationalism; Religious Pluralism; Sect; Society; Terrorism; Worldview

Sociology of Religion: Religious Nationalism



Once an historical novelty, globalization (the business practice of extending an organization's sales, ownership, or production to new markets in other countries) is now commonplace. The dress on the rack in the local department store may have been manufactured in Taiwan, and the "Japanese" automobile driven to work may have been manufactured in Kentucky. However, globalization has an effect on not only tangible goods but services as well. The technician answering the phone on the American software help line, for example, may be sitting at a desk in India. There are many reasons for this trend. Particularly in a time of economic difficulties, some organizations attempt to expand their income by expanding their business markets and customer bases. Other organizations find themselves needing to stay competitive in a global economy by having work performed as economically as possible, resulting in the outsourcing or offshoring of tasks that can be performed more economically in other countries. It has been estimated that in the decade between 2000 and 2010, approximately 2.4 million corporate jobs previously done in the United States were moved offshore. As a result of this trend, individuals and corporations alike need to be able to interact and work well with others in societies and cultures that can seem as strange and exotic as the native tongues of their competitors and contractors. Increasing numbers of businesses are finding that if they are to survive, they need to be able to compete not only in the local or national marketplace but within the global marketplace as well.

The concept of globalization may seem better applied in the world of business than in social science. However, globalization has many sociological implications for how people interact with each other and even how one defines society. People and cultures that were mere mentions in dusty books a century ago can now be seen on our television screens thanks to travel channels and the nightly news, and the actions of these once-distant cultures can affect us in very real ways. Barber, for example, posits that many of the intercultural clashes seen in the headlines today are a result of globalization (1992).


Nationalism is the collective attitude of the members of a culture or society that arises from their identification with their nation. In this sense, "nation" is usually defined in terms of ethnicity or culture. Nationalistic feelings typically imply that members believe that their primary allegiance is to the nation and can often lead to a belief in national superiority. When such feelings are further compounded by a pervasive religious belief system and concomitant worldview that differs from that of another culture or nation, conflict can erupt. The resulting religious nationalism can be defined as nationalism in which religion is used as a tool or veil to justify nationalistic attitudes and actions. Religious nationalism typically occurs in societies that do not have a high degree of religious pluralism or in which religion is closely associated with the national culture. Religious nationalism typically contrasts specific, privileged artifacts, habits, morals, or ideologies of a contemporary society with those of the past or of other regions, religions, nations, or cultures.

Reasons for Religion-Nationalism Relationship

In general, two explanations are proffered to explain the relationship between religion and nationalism. The first of these theories assumes that there are definite causal connections between the two factors. Adherents of this view believe that nationalism and national ideologies are used by religions as a means to an end, specifically the establishment of their own value system within the society. This theory is flawed, however, to the extent that the beliefs of theologians are not absolutely reflected in the beliefs of a religion's adherents. Many adherents, in fact, are typically content to live with one foot in a secular society and the other in religion. Further, with the exception of cults that typically have a single charismatic leader, religions are generally far from homogeneous. Take, for example, the Christian religion within the United States. Arguably, with the exception of certain core values by which individuals are operationally defined to be members of this group, the belief systems of adherents run the gamut from liberal, nearly secular views on the extreme left to ultraconservative, fundamentalist views on the extreme right. Views on such politically charged issues as abortion, gay rights, the death penalty, and torture vary widely within this heterogeneous group as well.

The other general explanation for the relationship between religion and nationalism states that there is no substantial link between these two factors. Although religious symbolism and rhetoric can be misused in the advancement of political and nationalistic causes, the relationship is superficial and accidental. However, this explanation (or non-explanation) fails to analyze the underlying factors leading to the occurrence of religious nationalism.

Barber's McWorld

For many Americans, the concept of religious nationalism did not become a reality until the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Even before then, Barber maintained that such social conflict was bound to erupt due to the vastly different ideologies of high-tech, secular Western culture, which he refers to as McWorld, and the religious nationalism of some other countries that do not hold to this ideology (1992). According to Barber, the McWorld dynamic comprises "four imperatives . . . : a market imperative, a resource imperative, an information-technology imperative, and an ecological imperative" (par. 4). This combination of factors has helped Western society overcome nationalism to a great extent in favor of a more global worldview, as was predicted by Marxism. Globalization and its market imperative have also reinforced the desire for international peace and stability in order to promote a more efficient global economy. In addition, the resource imperative involves the need for societies to be self-sufficient and independent of other societies. Given the historical background of the United States, with its founding in a land of seemingly unlimited resources, the move from independence to interdependence on other countries within the global marketplace has been a difficult one. This is further complicated by the information-technology imperative, or the fact that business, banking, and commerce today are dependent on the flow of information and facilitated by new technologies. Through information technology, business can now be conducted around the world 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As science...

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