Globalization has brought new religious forms. While many have commented on the resurgence of religious fundamentalisms in different parts of the world, some other interesting phenomena have been left off the radar. For example, Confucianism has been revitalized through TV and popular books in China. Even though the Confucian tradition may not be considered a “religion” according to Western nomenclature, it is a form of life philosophy. During the Maoist era, Confucianism was purged as feudalistic and reactionary. But today, it is popularized almost like a form of spirituality, something akin to Chicken Soup for the Soul, to ease stress and competition of modern life.
Religion cannot be studied separate from the larger forces of political economy, cultural changes, and impacts of globalization. Religion has sometimes been constructed as a separate sphere of life concerned largely with the private realm in Western academia and media. Such a notion of religion is based largely on the European experience, especially since the Enlightenment. Christianity is often used as a model or a blueprint to study other religious traditions. Sadly, many commentators in the American mass media still uphold such biases, which will not foster mutual respect and dialogue. It is critical to develop a transnational and transcultural approach to the study of religion to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
Kwok Pui-lan is the William F. Cole Professor of Christian Theology and Spirituality at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She is the author of Postcolonial Imagination and Feminist Theology, Introducing Asian Feminist Theology, and Discovering the Bible in the Non-Biblical World, and editor of a four-volume reference work Women and Christianity and Hope Abundant: Third World and Indigenous Women’s Theology.