By the time the Halle Faculty Seminar assembled in December 2001,
its chosen topic had taken on a sudden urgency. Titled Religion
and Global Civil Society, the seminarplanned well before
Sept. 11has brought together Emory faculty for an interdisciplinary
exploration of religions role in globalization. It is a role
that is now vividly understood to include fanaticism and terror.
The seminar is an initiative of the Halle Institute for Global
Learning. According to Halle Distinguished Professor Tom Remington,
this years participants are looking at religion as it functions
both constructively and destructively.
Faiths are cross-national forces in that they create commonalities
of doctrines and values for believers in many different countries,
said Remington, the seminars director during its first four
years. We are interested in the degree to which religion is
a force in building a global civil society versus the degree to
which religion forms new boundaries, tyrannies and hatreds.
In an effort to advance this years seminar and produce a
published volume, Remington, then-Provost Rebecca Chopp and interim
Director of the Halle Institute Tom Arthur decided to invite a distinguished
visiting scholar to lead it.
Several faculty recommendations led them to Mark Juergensmeyer,
professor of sociology and director of global and international
studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Juergensmeyer
is the author of several books on global religion and politics,
including his most recent, Terror in the Mind of God: The Global
Rise of Religious Violence.
According to Juergensmeyer, the complex relationship between religion
and globalization can be thought about in several ways. Traditional
religious communities are ambivalent about the cultural dimension
of globalization, he said. In some cases they despise
it. Groups such as Christian militias and the al-Qaeda network violently
rage against what they regard as a new world order promoted by U.S.
In other cases, Juergensmeyer said, religious communities are more
cautiously critical and actually participate in global society by
learning to adapt to the multicultural environment of large urban
centers such as New York, London or Atlanta.
Yet another aspect of global religion, he said, are
the shared values and spiritual sensitivities that emerge in pluralistic
societies and in the virtual communities formed through the Internet
and other forms of electronic communication.
The seminar is exploring globalization and its weakening of national
boundaries by shedding disciplinary ones; this years offering
includes faculty from the schools of law and theology, as well as
the departments of sociology, political science, psychology and
Each participant works on an individual research project. Frank
Lechner, associate professor of sociology, is examining religious
rejections of globalization. What is the significance of these
religious activities and voices? Lechner asked. To what
extent do they make a difference?
On a more local scale, project partners Elizabeth Bounds, associate
professor of Christian ethics, and Bobbi Patterson, senior lecturer
in religion, are interested in the many refugee families now living
in the Atlanta suburbs of Clarkston and Avondale. They will be studying
the effects of displacement on the religious traditions of these
families, who have fled conflicts in countries such as Vietnam,
Somalia, Bosnia and Sudan.
What has brought us around the table in this seminar are
the effects of religion on the globalizing process, Patterson
said, particularly since religious traditions are often at
the root of conflicts but at the same time can hold out some potential
value systems that make for possible understanding and possible
action for the common good.
As an example of the latter, Bounds and Patterson will follow the
opening of a charter elementary school in Avondale that will serve
the refugee population. The school was created in large part due
to the support of religious communities in Atlanta.
What this seminar shows, Bounds said, is that
the old academic divisions between national work and foreign work
arent going to hold up anymore.
The Halle seminar will culminate in an international conference
to be held at Emory next fall. Past seminar papers are available
online at www.emory.edu/OIA/Halle.