Course

The course consisted of a weekly seminar session and discussion sections. In seminar sessions, students were expected actively to participate in discussions with instructors as well as with the invited resource persons. In addition, each week students met for discussion sections prior to the seminar session. Discussion sections were intended to help students process the assigned reading material.

Faith and Globalization lectures are available on iTunes here.

Session 1 Significance and Ambivalence of Faith
Session 2 Stakes in Faith and Globalization
Session 3 “State of Faiths” in the World Today
Session 4 Secularization, Religious Resurgence, and Multiple Modernities
Session 5 Role of Faiths within the Processes of Globalization
Session 6 Religion and the Dynamics of Economic Development
Session 7 Religious Persons Who are Publicly Engaged
Session 8 Faith and Violence
Session 9 Faith and Reconciliation
Session 10 Faith and Economic Activity
Session 11 Faith and Human Rights
Session 12 Public Role of Faith in Liberal Democracy
Session 13 Where do we go from here?

Session 1 : Significance and Ambivalence of Faith
This session seeks to inculcate in students an appreciation for the main issues to be addresses throughout the semester and to inform students of the logistical details pertaining to the course. Two case studies will be presented that illustrate the significance and ambivalence of religious faith on the contemporary global scene. The first case, that of the 9/11 attacks in America (seven years ago to the day), will provoke among students an investigation of both the role of faith in acts of public violence and the ambiguity with which such acts are judged partly based on one’s religious perspective. Concerning the role of faith, students will consider both the relative importance of religion in explaining violent acts as well as the nature of the function faith serves in such acts: rationalizer of non-religious aims, motivator of counter-conscionable acts that “test” one’s faith, organizational system for coordinating elaborate attacks, or other roles. The second case, that of [yet to be decided], will illustrate for students the positive pole of the ambivalence of faith: its capacity to inspire not just acts violence but also those of altruism. One goal of the discussion of these two cases is to introduce students to the kind of issues that will be addressed throughout the semester, helping them acquire a particular “lens” through which to view contemporary affairs. Finally, Volf will cover the logistical details of the course, explaining the aims of the course, organization of the syllabus, methods of evaluation, schedule of meetings, relations with the press, and PM Tony Blair’s role in the seminar.

Session 2: Stakes in Faith and Globalization
After motivating student interest during the last session by highlighting the significance and the roles of faith in the context of globalization, this session will provide the formal introduction to the two main themes of the course. PM Tony Blair will begin the class with an address that follows the main lines of his Westminster Cathedral speech, explaining why faith is a particularly prominent force within the processes of globalization and why faith ought to be engaged with more seriousness than many contemporaries are willing to grant. Illustrating the practical goals of the course, he will also sketch his views on the conditions and reasons that distinguish faith as a maleficent force and faith as a promoter of human flourishing. In the second portion of the session, Blair and Volf will invite student suggestions as they collectively develop heuristic or “working” definitions of the two central terms of the course. In reference to “faith,” they will address the importance of attending to particular faith traditions—“faiths” in the plural—rather than an abstract and universal “religion” to which no one confesses allegiance. In regard to “globalization,” they will characterize the worldwide dynamics of economic and political interdependence that contribute to the compression of space and contraction of time. This session, like the former one, seeks to orient students to the course topics and motivate their sustained attention to these themes.

Session 3: “State of Faiths” in the World Today
The questions raised in the first two sessions will help students become conscious of their need to strive for comprehension of the demographically extensive reach of religious faith and the publicly intensive engagement of people of faith. This session will address that intellectual need by presenting data that will serve as the empirical background for many of the subsequent sessions. The first part of the session will present statistical and cartographical data about religious affiliations that students will be invited to analyze for global patterns and dynamics. One teaching goal here is to help students appreciate how religious pluralism and “spirituality” movements often spread in tandem with the progress of globalization. The latter part of the session will invite students to attend to the case studies of the emergence of “engaged Buddhism” and the American “Religious Right” or another group in order to recognize the increasing intensity with which religion is being asserted in public domains. The session will conclude by reviewing sociological predictions for the future state of faiths across the globe, both in terms of numeric growth and involvement in public affairs. By the end of the session, students should be able to articulate the contemporary breadth of religious affiliation and depth of religious vitality.

Session 4: Secularization, Religious Resurgence, and Multiple Modernities
This session draws on the material presented in the prior session as possible counterevidence to the theory of secularization. After examining sociological studies of the global “resurgence” of religion, the class will reflect on why secularization has failed to take root across the world as well as on the functions that faith traditions play in the personal and public lives of people, functions that may partially account for the enduring vibrancy of religion in the contemporary world. To ground these broad and theoretical issues, the session will also examine how modernization proceeds in diverse ways depending upon the cultural landscapes in which it occurs. Students will consider the possible effects of increased knowledge, technology, and wealth on the character of faith convictions. Special attention will be given to Western Europe as an apparently anomalous case in need of explanation. The session will conclude by considering the future implications of the apparent permanence of religion as a vital cultural factor.

Session 5: Role of Faiths within the Processes of Globalization
This session will feature a panel of experts who will model for students a diversity of perspectives on those issues raised thus far in the course: the continued vitality, political significance, and ambiguity of faiths within the processes of globalization. Suggested speakers include José Casanova, Nicholas Kristof, Lamin Sanneh, Rick Warren, and [an Indian business leader]. Casanova will provide a social theorist’s outlook on what he calls the “deprivatization” of religion in recent history. Kristof, speaking as a representative of the international media, might discuss how religious activists serve as the “new internationalists.” Sanneh could offer an account of how emerging “world Christianity” is both connected to and distinct from globalization. Warren, a prominent evangelical pastor, might discuss the increasing involvement of American churches in international humanitarian projects. [Add blurb on Indian speaker.] The aim of this session is to help students synthesize the material covered in the first part of the course as the focus changes in future weeks to specific issues pertaining to faith and globalization.

Session 6: Religion and the Dynamics of Economic Development
This session begins a series of investigations of the role of faith in global affairs. In contrast to the microeconomic focus of week ten, this session addresses macroeconomic issues. First, students will reflect—in a manner not unlike that practiced by Weber–on various roles that faith can play in creating broad cultural conditions for economic development. Rather than seeking to establish tight chains of causality, the focus will be on general correlations between economic activity and the type of religious practice. Second, the issue will be concretized by attending to the Chinese context and the felt need there for introducing “Western” values that underpin and offer orientation to dynamic economic activity.

Session 7: Religious Persons Who are Publicly Engaged
This session examines the opportunities and challenges that confront publicly engaged religious persons who do not think that religion is merely a private affair. President Abdullah Gul will join Prime Minister Tony Blair in addressing the risks and benefits of bringing one’s faith to bear on issues while holding political office; the resolution of conflicts between one’s religious conviction and the consensus of constituents or political authorities; and the possibility of crafting ethical domestic and foreign policies guided by faith as an overarching interpretation of life. Both figures will reflect explicitly on the salutary as well as the destructive ways of bringing faith to public engagement. The aim of this session is for students to develop an informed and sympathetic appreciation for the difficulty and challenges faced by religious persons is public life.

Session 8: Faith and Violence
This session examines the destructive potential of religion. What are the conditions under which faith, among other factors, contributes to violence? Likewise, what are the possible ideological ties between faith and violence? Case studies of Buddhist violence in Sri Lanka [and Christian violence in Kosovo] will allow the class to experience the complexity of such conflicts and the difficulty of analyzing their specifically religious component. The session will conclude by inviting students to consider ways in which political and religious resources can be utilized to mitigate religious violence.

Session 9: Faith and Reconciliation
Following the prior session on religious violence, this session will further illustrate the ambivalence of religion by considering the possible contributions of faith traditions to reconciliation between persons and cultures—often in the very same contexts in which faith was also a major factor in fomenting conflict. Blair will describe the role of faith in mediating the Northern Ireland peace talks.

Session 10: Faith and Economic Activity
Returning to the theme of week six but now attending to the microeconomic level of the corporation, this session will focus student attention on the role of faith in the workplace. Two visiting business leaders [one from Herman Miller Co. and another from Asia] will address the challenges and benefits of developing a “faith-friendly” company. The main issues that students will be asked to address are the degree to which faith should be accommodated in the work environment and the ways in which faith can positively shape the decisions of a corporation. Students will be invited to consider how a company’s internal organization, product development, advertising, environmental policy, and distribution of profits could be shaped by faith convictions.

Session 11: Faith and Human Rights
This session will examine the manner in which faith traditions may offer theoretical justifications for human rights, motivate respect for these rights, or critique the use of the rights language in contemporary contexts. More so than other weeks, this session will involve historical and philosophical components. A review of the development of human rights discourse will illustrate to students the roles that faith traditions have or have not in fact played in this process. The subsequent discussion will allow students to defend or critique various philosophical positions concerning the necessity of religion for grounding human rights and the adequacy of secular justifications for such rights.

Session 12: Public Role of Faith in Liberal Democracy
Building on the former sessions about the vitality of faith traditions, their increasing public importance, and their roles in specific domains of life, this session will directly address the public role of religious faith within liberal democracy. The specific focus will be the manner in which liberal democracy can allow all the citizens of a religiously pluralistic state to live “as they see fit” without impinging on the rights of others. Bruce Ackerman, an advocate of the strict separation of faith and state, and Nicholas Wolterstorff, a supporter of government impartiality toward all overarching interpretations of life [and possibly an advocate of a non-liberal democratic position, like the one enshrined in the Indian constitution] will circulate position papers prior to the meeting. During the session, which will be witnessed by a live public audience, these speakers will then respond to each others’ written work and to questions from students. Following the brief debate, Blair will offer his own thoughts on the future of democracy across the globe and the proper public role of faith in democratic polities.

Session 13: Where do we go from here?
This session will allow students to review their learning from the prior weeks and will challenge them to specify how their knowledge and skills can be applied in concrete situations. The key question guiding the discussion will be: Given the ambivalences of religion addressed throughout the course, how might one act to mitigate the ill effects of faith and to promote faith’s salutary effects? Both Blair and students will share their future plans for utilizing faith to shape globalization.