English articles > THE DYNAMICS OF RELIGION IN THE AGE OF GLOBALIZATION
THE DYNAMICS OF RELIGION IN THE AGE OF GLOBALIZATION: LESSONS FROM INDONESIA, PHILIPPINES, AND JAPAN
Paper prepared for the First Workshop of Asian Public Intellectuals on the theme “The Asian Face of Globalization: Reconstructing Identities, Institutions and Resources,” Shangri-La Hotel, Cebu City, Cebu, Philippines.
PHRA PAISAL VISALO
The disruption of traditional communities, the economic marginalization and political repression of peoples, and the offensive thrust of secularism, all of which are modern phenomena, contributes to the revival of religion in the age of globalization. This paper notes three new forms of religious revival around the world, and particularly in three Asian countries – Indonesia, the Philippines and Japan: the rise of fundamentalism, the explosion of new religions, and the growth of “consumer religion”. These religious phenomena indicate that spirituality is part of human’s nature that needs to be fulfilled. But to be relevant to the modern world, religious reforms are necessary to limit the devastative effects of consumerism and help strengthen civil society. Spiritually enriched religions and civil society need to cooperate in order to redirect globalization for the benefit of humankind, instead of serving corporate interest. Globalization from the grassroots needs to be developed to check globalization from boardrooms
Globalization is one of the strongest forces that have profound and wide effect around the world. It does not only have deep impact on economy, but also on various aspects of life and society, including religion. In one hand, the globalization of humanist values, i.e. human rights, equality, democracy, feminism, has enriched religion and civil society. In the other hand, global network of telecommunications and transportation enables many religions to spread around the world, making their visions and core values easily accessible. Globalization also enables religious groups and civil societies around the world to connect and cooperate as a global force in challenging greedy corporate capitalism. On the other hand, however, globalization plays important role in making many religions more materialistic or become obsolete.
This paper is an attempt to explore the interface between religion and globalization in three Asian countries- Indonesia, the Philippines and Japan. It also tries to find out the impact of globalization on religion and the religious responses to globalization in other parts of the world. This will enable us to have deeper understanding about the potential of religion and how to make it more relevant to the world in the age of globalization.
Summary of Findings
Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah are the largest mass-based organizations in the country that identify themselves with Islam. Both claimed to have dozens of million supporters. Both not only promote Islam beliefs, but also actively involved in social welfare, education, health care, business, and politics. Since one of my research topics is the relationship of Islam and globalization, I would like to find how NU and Muhammadiyah respond to this phenomenon. I started with the question of its response to modernity.
For many outsiders, Islam seems to be against or incompatible with modernity and its core values, i.e. democracy, human rights, feminism, liberalism, pluralism, and capitalism. Contrary to the general belief, I found that Islam in Indonesia not only get along, but also absorb or is influenced by modernity. One of the good examples is NU.
NU is usually regarded as “traditionalist” Islamic organization. It was established in 1926 with the aim to defend “traditionalism” and orthodox Islam from the attack by the growing modernist movement. The traditional Islam that NU defends is the one that gives authority and leadership to traditional scholar or kiai. Kiai in this traditional Islam are in privileged position since they are the only ones capable of interpreting Islamic law. In preserving orthodoxy, NU has established the boarding schools or pesantren where future kiai study under senior religious scholars and spiritual leaders. The traditional curriculum, strict discipline and traditional lifestyle in almost 200,000 pesantren all over the country is another reason for NU’s reputation as traditionalist Islamic organization.
Despite its mission as defender of tradition against modernity, NU has embraced or absorbed many modern values. It has, for instance, tolerance or liberal attitude toward other spiritual traditions, including indigenous ones. NU, and its former leader, ex-president Abdurrahman Wahid, are the strong advocates for pluralism in Indonesia where Muslim and non-Muslims coexist peacefully. It also adjusts itself to the political, economic and social change of the country. Apart from supporting democracy since Suharto era, NU has adapted itself in accordance with economic development. One of its initiatives during the past 10 years is creating small-scale projects in the fields of banking, agro-industry, co-operatives to ensure that its membership benefit from the country’s rapid economic growth. In the field of education, NU has reformed pesantran by adding secular subjects to the traditional religious curriculum.
Interestingly, anti-modern Islamic groups, instead of growing from traditionalist’s background like NU’s, are those who graduated from modern university or have background in modern education. Many informants that I have interviewed said that many fundamentalists or extreme Muslims were graduated from such secular universities as Universitas Gadjah Mada or Institut Teknologi Bandung. An NU member in Yogyakarta told me that it is very rare that students from pesentran (traditional religious schools) or Islamic universities (IAIN) would join fundamentalist groups. According to them, those who have a comprehensive and proper understanding of Islam would not turn to fundamentalism. Only those who have partial knowledge of Islam would be drawn to fundamentalism. That is why fundamentalism appeals to the graduates from secular faculties in secular institutes.
This explanation can be applied to members of Muhammadiyah which is the second largest Islam organization in Indonesia. Muhammadiyah has repututation as “modern” Islamic organization. Being modernist, Muhammadiyah was against traditionalists from the beginning of its establishment in 1912. It was because of the attack from modernist organization like Muhammadiyah that NU was established to defend traditionalism. Muhammadiyah has modern education as its base. While NU is famous for its pesantran, Muhammadiyah has been recognized for its effort in modern high schools, colleges and universities. According to NU members, Muhammadiyah is less tolerant toward other spiritual traditions. In its attempt to establish “pure” Islam in Indonesia, local tradition is rejected. Any practice which mixes local tradition with Islam, though acceptable to NU, is criticized and disregarded by Muhammadiyah. With its narrow mind dues to partial knowledge of Islam derived from modern institutes, according to NU members, Muhammadiyah members are easily drawn to fundamentalism.
In short, Islamic fundamentalism and radicalism in Indonesia are the products of modernity. Modern education has contributed a lot to the growth of these factions of Islam. An Islamic scholar from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences told me that secular universities were the centers of Muslim radicals. The campaign for Muslim women’s veil in Indonesia started 20 years ago in these universities. Until then, women donned the veils or scarfs only when they went to pesantran or religious schools. After the campaign initiated by radical students in secular universities, women started to wear the veil in public on every occasion, even when go shopping or seeing movies. This radical movement also successfully demanded the university administrators to provide places for worship in the campuses. It was not long for this movement to spread beyond the campuses. The places for worship now can virtually be found in every public places and offices.
The rise of Islam in Indonesia indicates that modernity and Islam can coexist. The rise of modernity does not always mean the decline of religion as anticipated by secularization theory. Contrary to general belief, modernity can contribute to the growth of religion or religious movements. NU is the example of traditional religious organizations that have expanded their activities and increased their influences by employing modern strategies and operations.
From its attitude toward modernity, it is logical to say that traditional Islam organizations like NU are not against globalization. With its policy to support economic development of the country in connection with global market economy, NU has embraced economic globalization as part of reality. As for Muhammadiya, its response to economic globalization seems to be the same as NU. Both traditional and modernist Islam organizations, however, are not happy with cultural globalization, which is identified with Westernization and consumerism. This sentimentality is also shared by fundamentalist groups like Laskar Jihad. Globalization, however, has positive cultural effects in making Islamic world closer and has more confidence in itself. Wearing the veil or Islamic dress is no longer regarded as inferior to western dress.
Regarding Islamic dress and its relationship to globalization, a point needs to be mentioned here. The veil is now popular and is even sought by highly educated women and those in hi-society circle. In Indonesia expensive veils designed by prominent artists, which is influenced by fashion designers in New York or Paris, can be found in luxurious department stores and has become the symbol of high social status. In other word, expensive veils and Islamic dress have been transformed into commodities for consumption by middle class, in similar fashion as branded names. This is undoubtedly the effect of consumerism which is conveyed through globalization. The role of consumerism in defining and transforming religions will be further discussed later.
The impressive role of the Catholic Church in People Power I has inspired a lot of people, especially intellectuals and political activists, to abandon Marxism or leftist movement and embrace Christianity instead. Various groups inspired by Christianity were formed to do social work among the poor in cities and rural areas. Faith and prayer are regarded as integral part of the struggle for justice and welfare of people.
Amid the preparation for People Power celebration in many university campuses, I had witnessed one of the largest religious gatherings in Manila. Every Saturday night hundred thousands of people from various parts of the country would come to meet and listen to the sermon of a man named Mike Velarde. These people is just a small faction of a large religious movement, the El Shaddai, which claims many millions members all over the country. (It once claimed a constituency of 8 to 10 million members worldwide.) This huge gathering is not interested at all in People Power. They come to pray and receive blessing from Brother Mike. Besides preaching by Brother Mike, many followers are invited to share their stories about the power of God that works in their lives through spiritual, emotional and physical healing. Members of the El Shaddai believe that any miracle is possible through the power of the Holy Spirit within every believer in Christ. The gathering which lasts 5-6 hours ends with the practice of tithing. This practice is an attraction in the movement. It’s believed to be a tool of “economic empowerment” that would bring fortune and material prosperity to the believers. This practice is encouraged by Brother Mike who always mentioned in his sermons how his financial problems were solved when he began to tithe.
Though this movement regards itself as a part of the Catholic Church, it has its own structure and practice separate from the church. It has parish-based local chapters, as well as non-parish based communities or prayer groups. More than 1,000 chapters and groups are places where the followers do weekly mass, healing rallies and prayer meeting. The fact that this movement can draw millions of people from the ordinary parish church and practice indicates that the former is more attractive and appealing to the people. In other word, the established church fails to meet their need. A Catholic scholar told me that the church has lost touch with people. Its conventional style sermons are very formal, rigid in its dogma, and focuses on only the spiritual dimension, while ignoring physical and material need of people. Such style of sermon does not appeal much to the poor. But in the El Shaddai gathering members are entertained by music and show-biz-oriented sermon which place emphasis on financial problems of the members. This explains the popularity of the El Shaddai among the poor and people from lower middle class. It is people of this sector that constitute the major constituency of the El Shaddai.
The El Shaddai is just one of many new religious movements which have grown side by side with the established Catholic Church. Despite the church’s unique position in public affair, its position as the sole authority on religious or spiritual life of the Filipino is in decline. A lot of people turn to other religious movements, many of which are charismatic ones, not only for hope and relieve from hardship in life as do members of the El Shaddai, but also for the alternative source of meaning of life or guidelines for living in the changing world. The Filipino society is now under undergoing dramatic change. The rapid economic change through market-driven economic development not only creates wider gap between the rich and poor, and thus supplying a lot of members to movement like the El Shaddai, but also escalates the process of social stratification and increased diversity. Globalization, as shown below, has played important role in creating fertile conditions for such economic, social, and cultural change. In the increasing diversified society, it is difficult for any established church to maintain its sole authority on religious matter as before. The emergence of new religious movements is therefore the apparent reality of the Philippines.
The pervasive consumerism which is part of cultural globalization also has effect on religion. Under the influence of consumerism, material prosperity and quick fortune become the goal of life. With this attitude, people expect religion to make them rich and prosperous. Religious groups that promises quick prosperity, therefore, attracts huge amount of people and tends to grow quickly. This is one of the main reasons that groups preaching “prosperity theology”, like the El Shaddai, draws million of followers in less than 10 years. Philippines is not unique in this regard, since we can find a lot of newly emergent movements preaching prosperity theology in other countries as well. It is safe to say that prosperity theology is now the global phenomenon.
Japan has proved that Buddhism can survive in the highly developed country. It tells us that even in prosperous and technological advanced society people still needs religion, however ritualistic or other-worldly it is. In fact, it gets along with such society very well. Buddhist funeral has become the big industry involving huge amount of money on which several business sectors depend. Funeral itself becomes business in which priests sells religious services. Even ranks of posthumous Buddhist names for the dead are rated according to the amount of money offered by the relatives. In other word, funeral Buddhism is well twinned with capitalist economy.
The secularized traditional Japanese Buddhism and its decline in public influence seem to confirm the secularization theory. That is only half of the picture, however.
Another half is the rise and diffusion of new Buddhism which is the part of new religious movements in Japan. Religious passion of the Japanese has not dried yet. It just flows through the new outlets. Since World War II, new religions “sprouted one after another, like bamboo shoots after rain”, as someone observed (Kazahara, 2001). Many new Buddhist movements have developed into mass-based organizations. Among them are Soka Gakkai and Rissho Koseikai. Both organizations not only try to make Buddhism integrated into daily life of their members, but also participate in public affairs in their own way. Both are engaged in peace and humanitarian activities, domestically and internationally, though Soka Gakkai extends its agenda into politics through its unofficial arm, the Komeito party.
These new religious organizations have gained a lot of followers during the rapid modernizing process in Japan. The heavily modernized Japan after World War II has seen the decline of agricultural sector and the migration of people to cities. It was not long for these people to experience alienation and economic hardships in the modern urban culture. They longed for traditional values and communal relationship which were eroded in the big cities. It was a new religious organization like Soka Gakkai that met these needs and grew very quickly from a tiny band of followers in 1951 to 8 million in 1980. According Prof.Hashizume, a prominent sociologist of Tokyo Institute of Technology, Soka Gakkai’s members are mostly lower middle class who migrated from rural areas to cities and had economic problems, as well as a sense of alienation. Soka Gakkai not only provides them with places and relationship where they can feel the sense of community, but also gives them the hope to relieve their economic burden. Soka Gakkai is an example of new Buddhist organizations that, rather than focus on the ancestor worship and next life, are concerned about this life and worldly achievements. Such worldly oriented is undoubtedly one of the influences of modernity on religion in Japan and other countries as well.
Soka Gakkai is also an example of how globalization has effects on religion. Despite the fact that the vast majority of its member are Japanese, its regards itself as an international movement. Internationalism is stressed by virtually every branch of Soka Gakkai. During the past few decades, it has extended its branches to all parts of the world. In 1992 it claimed that there were about 1.26 million believers in about 120 branches worldwide. In other words, the religious beliefs of Soka Gakkai have been increasingly globalized, at least among its members around the world. This is also true of the El Shaddai, which has spread from the Philippines to different parts of the world, and claims to have 8-10 million members worldwide. Globalization is the process that not only brings the center to the periphery, but also brings the periphery to the centre. Through this process, many religious organizations in Asia become internationalized within a few decades.
Many religious organizations in Japan, though not become internationalized in terms of membership or structure, are internationalists in terms of concern. Many of there organizations are concerned about the suffering of people in other countries , i.e. Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Nepal, and those in Africa. Some organized humanitarian projects in these countries while the others give financial and technical aid through local groups. These organizations are either run by members of religious establishments, like AYUS and Shanti whose members are mostly priests from Jodoshu and Sotoshu Buddhism respectively, or by new religious movement, like Niwano Peace Foundation which is an official arm of Rissho Koseikai.
A new trend of spirituality or religious passion, however, is going to be developed in Japan. Until 1995, new religions and cults have experienced the constant growth.
The sprout of new religious groups lead to the phenomenon dubbed as “the rush hour of gods”. But after the Aum Shin Rikyo incident which involved a lot of casualties by a doomsday cult, Japanese public become suspicious of the new religions and cults. New religious organizations especially the most recent ones, suffer the standstill. People are reluctant to join those groups. Religious passion, which previously flows through new religious organizations, starts to find the new expression. For the youth, spirituality is increasingly personalized or more individualistic. More and more people prefer to have their spiritual passion manifested in personal lifestyle. Collective spiritual quest, as practiced by older generations, is going to be replaced by individual endeavor. According to Prof. Nakazawa of Chuo University, religious passion of Japanese younger generation is now expressed through internet communication. Another outlet of their religious passion is through the new novels or literature. Recent novels by Yoshimoto Banana and Randy Taguchi, which have the air of mysticism and occultism, are cited as examples of this phenomenon. Their popularity is earned by the fact that they activate spiritual curiosity and meet the spiritual need of young people. They are now longing for mysticism and cultural root that appeal to the heart. But they also want freedom to explore and pursue the spiritual quest on their own, rather than follow anybody or be restricted by any organizational rule.
Apart from Aum Shin Rikyo incident, individualism which is a dominant value in the age of globalization is one of the major factors leading to the change of spiritual quest. New liberalism in economy, the free market ideology, and consumerism are all globalized values that worship individualism. Living in the age of globalization is almost impossible to escape the influence of individualism on various aspects of life, including religion and spirituality. During the past 200 years, Japan has witnessed the constant shift in religiosity, from Buddhism, to new religions, and individual spirituality. It’s waiting to be seen how the individual spirituality of Japanese people will be fully developed. What is certain is that globalization does not mean the end of spiritual passion of Japanese people. The most that globalization, and modernization, can do is to change the expression or the form of spiritual passion. The rest is beyond the power of this global process.
The Revival of Religion
Factors contributing to the revival of religion mentioned below are related closely with modernization and reinforced by globalization:
1. The disruption of traditional communities.
2. Economic marginalization and political repression.
In the Arab world where freedom is restricted and few pathways are allowed for dissents, the mosques turn into places to discuss politics. (Zakaria, 2001). Islam has become the powerful ideology in challenging the corrupt governments whereas the Islamic organizations are the only outlet for the opposition. The more repression from government and foreign forces, the more popular are the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and Hizbullah. Their popularity, however, is earned not only through their active involvement in dissenting politics, but also through their social services, medical assistance and temporary housing provided to the poor.
3. The offensive thrust of secularism and liberalism.
The widespread practice of sexual permissiveness and pro-abortion acts, the court ruling that religion be confined to private life, and that prayer be disallowed in U.S. public schools, for example, are among reasons that convince a lot of Christians that their religion is being destroyed. This is also true of Muslim who experienced the secular offensive in such countries as Turkey, Egypt and Iran. In Iran, for example, women were forbidden by the Shah to wear the veil. In Egypt, Islam was regarded by Nasser as the cause of nations’ ill and has to be subordinated to the secular state. Fearing that Islam was about to be eliminated, many Muslim began to fight for the survival of their religion. Thus, the rise of the Islam fundamentalist movement, as did the Christian counterpart in the US who felt that “only a dark and turbulent sea of despair stretches endlessly ahead…unless we fight” (Armstrong, 2000).
4. Mental stress and spiritual problem.
Buddhism is popular in the west mainly because of its meditation technique that can relieve stress and restore internal balance. Prayer to god and Allah is also increasingly practiced especially by people who feel insecure with the uncontrollable and unpredictable fluctuations, in business and personal life, in the globalized world.
Religious Phenomena in the age of Globalization
1. The Rise of Religious Fundamentalism
Although religious fundamentalism originated before the age of globalization, it has developed into a powerful force in this era. Its expansion is undoubtedly the consequence of globalization. Globalization contributes to the growth of fundamentalist movements mainly in 3 ways:
1.1 The pervasiveness of secularism and liberalism
1.2 The spread of conspiracy theory
1.3 The loss of certainty and control over life
2. The Explosion of New Religions
According to the World Christian Encyclopedia, there are 9,900 distinct religions and 2 or 3 new religions created every day. Some study estimated that there are more than 10,000 new religions. In Japan estimated number of new religions varies from 800 to a few thousands (Wilson, 1999). This does not include the new groups or denominations that separate from the established ones. Including the former would multiply the numbers 3 or 4 times, since in Christianity alone new denominations or churches independent of the main branches are already up to 33,000.
The explosion of new religions undoubtedly reflects the failure of conventional religious institutes in responding to the need of people. Rapid changes of society escalated by globalization make it difficult for established institutes to adjust themselves. Most of them still cling to obsolete traditions and world view, while a lot are plagued with scandals and corruptions. Thus pave the way for new religions or new denominations which make quick adjust to grow and draw more followers. A key to success of the new religions and new churches in Africa, for example, is their abilities to help people survive in all the ways they need, including finding a mate (Lester, 2002)
It should be noted the needs that new religions have met are not only spiritual, but also social, and economic or material. Although some do not give material assistance, they do give hope to followers that the economic burden will be relieved by the act of god. The El Shaddai and the Winner’s Church are the clear examples of the successful new religious groups in the developing country. In developed country like the US, one of the fast-growing churches is the “megachurch” which provides the space for family gathering, facilities for sport and entertainment. It also arrange meetings for people to help each other, thus creates the sense of community which is lost in the modern cities (Trueheart, 1996).
3. The Growth of Religion for Consumerism
Consumerism is a powerful world-view which has deep effects on the attitude and way of living of people around the world. Through consumer attitude, virtually everything is transformed into commodity for sale. Health, education, culture, happiness, relationship, identity are all for sale or believed to be accessible in the market. With money, everything can be bought for consumption. Prosperity or material acquisition becomes the goal of life.
This attitude has influenced people’s approach to religion. Religion is expected to give blessings for prosperity, rather than a refuge for inner peace. Even among those who desire the latter, money is regarded as the means for spiritual fulfillment. Spiritual experience is something that can be realized, not by practice or making effort, but by buying, through “donation”. It’s unsurprising that a lot of religious groups adjust themselves to this consumer mentality by becoming “consumer religion”, or religion that promises material success by selling religious services. Thus it’s no wonder why religions both new and conventional exist and sprout in a highly consumerized country as Japan, where sacred objects are popular and a funeral service can cost you one million dollars or more.
Following are some characteristics of consumer religion:
However technological progress we are, we couldn’t escape from our spirituality. Spiritual drive always plays a role in our life, consciously or unconsciously. Although our effort may look “secular”, it is always driven by spiritual yearnings.
Desire for immortality, salvation, self-fulfillment, being real and grounded, etc. are all spiritual yearnings that is behind our struggle, individually and collectively.
Even science and technological progress in the west, as David Noble suggests, has its true inspiration in the quest for transcendence and salvation (Noble, 1997). David Loy, from a Buddhist perspective, points out that the growth of nation states, corporate capitalism, and mechanistic science was driven by the collective attempt to resolve spiritual lack, which was once taken care by pre-reformation Catholic Church. He concludes that “the history of the West is not a story of gradual secularization, for we can never escape the burden of our lack and the need to transcend it” (Loy, 2002).
To acknowledge and understand our spiritual need is the key to a good life. To ignore or reject it is to let it drives us unconsciously and perversely. Such ignorance also leads us to the worship of quasi-religions which promise secular redemption. Consumerism is now the most powerful quasi-religion whose growth is driven by unacknowledged spiritual hunger. The real problem of such quasi-religion as consumerism is that it can give us temporary comfort, but leave us in endless hunger. On top of that, endless crave stimulated by it leads to the social disintegration and environmental destruction in global scale.
The need for religious reform
Spiritually enriched religions and religious organizations not only provide an inspiring and healthy alternative to consumer religion but also to consumerism as religion. Rather than the outcome of spiritual vacuum, the pervasion of consumerism is the consequence of spiritual hunger. To people who are spiritually fulfilled, consumerism has no appeal at all. Religion that can meet spiritual need is therefore the powerful force to check the growth of consumerism and limit its destructive effects. For civil society to survive the pervasive invasion of consumerism, it needs to cooperate with spiritually enriched religions, and support religious reform. For civil society to avoid being overwhelmed by consumerism, it has to be spiritually informed. To struggle against consumerism without inner peace or spiritual immunity is to risk being consumed by consumerism in one hand or being burnt out in the other hand.
Catering to material and social needs
Increased poverty and inequality in almost every country demands the care of religion. It also gives the chance for religion to play positive role in the society and, consequently, the chance to grow and be more relevant.
Globalization from the grassroots
Globalization, though reversible, is a reality that is difficult to avoid. To be against globalization at all cost may push one to the other extreme, i.e. religious fundamentalists. Fundamentalism is not a healthy response to globalization. It is grown out of fear and full of rage that easily leads to violence. Although fighting for survival of their religion, fundamentalist movements frequently act in contrary to their religious values, i.e. compassion and tolerance. Fundamentalism also creates division in society, through its narrow and rigid distinctions between “we” and “others”.
Rather than go against globalization at all cost, we should redirect
it for the benefit of humanity, instead of serving global corporate interest.
Instead of allowing globalization from the “CEO boardrooms” to exploit
the world, globalization from the “grassroots” needs to be developed to
stop the destruction and restore the balance in nature and harmony in
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