Future of Religion
Redefining Community: Religion of the Future
More dramatically, the internet has democratized religious authority and flattened the lines of transmission whereby power is disseminated among religious communities. Take Islam, for example. Twenty years ago if a Muslim living in Malaysia needed spiritual advice about some legal matter, he would simply go to his local mosque and ask his imam who, if he were qualified, would issue a fatwa -- an authoritative juristic opinion -- that the young Muslim could either accept or reject as he saw fit. Today, if that Muslim were unhappy with his imam's interpretation, he could simply log on to fatwa-online.com, or efatwa.com, or askanimam.com, or any of the dozens of electronic databases from which he could consult tens of thousands of religious scholars on any issue of concern until he finally finds an authority -- and a community -- that shares his values and ideals.
Simply put, what is true of the internet -- that it is becoming increasingly fractured and personalized -- is also becoming true of religion. Without territorial borders to constrain the meaning and composition of community, religion has become more and more personalized, while religious communities have fractured into smaller and smaller "micro-communities," each bound together by a set of post-materialist values that cannot be contained within any geographic boundaries.
Hence, when I say that people are becoming more religious, it bears keeping in mind that what we mean by "religion" is itself changing. But this should not come as a surprise. All religions are intricately bound to a specific place and time. Religion, like society in general, is in a constant state of evolution, constantly adapting to the social, political, and technological changes taking place in the world. It is only when religion stops evolving and adapting that it ceases to exist as a significant factor in human societies. And that seems like a very distant prospect indeed.
Reza Aslan, Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside, is also an author, speaker, and the contributing editor at the Daily Beast. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities, and the Pacific Council on International Policy. Aslan's publications include No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam and How to Win a Cosmic War (published in paperback as Beyond Fundamentalism: Confronting Religious Extremism in a Globalized Age), and he is the editor of an upcoming anthology from Norton titled Tablet & Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East. Visit his site at http://www.rezaaslan.com/index.html.