Esposito to assess globalization’s impact on Islam



Religion is like rock ‘n’ roll, said John Esposito — it’s here to stay.

Esposito, professor of religion and international affairs and of Islamic studies at Georgetown University, will analyze the role of religion in globalization today, and the positive and negative sides of religion’s connection to travel, immigration, communication and globalization.  There was a time not too long ago that people thought of religion as mainly a private affair, he said, but in recent years has taken a larger role globally.

“Religion also plays a remarkable role in terms of the public square, both in politics and society in many parts of the world,” Esposito said.

He will examine these issues in the context of the globalization of Islam, a “truly global” religion that is one of the fastest-growing in the world, in a lecture titled “Islam, Globalization, and the Public Square” at 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy.

“It, along with Christianity, are the two great world religions; that is, they not only are world religions, they also interact and interface in more countries than the other religious traditions do,” Esposito said.

Week Eight’s Interfaith Lecture theme is “The Global Religious Public Square.”

Esposito began studying Islam in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, a time in which the religion was virtually invisible to most Americans and many Europeans. As globalization has impacted Islam, it is necessary to address questions such as Islam’s vitality today and how that is expressed; the impact of Islam in recent history; Islam’s and other religions’ roles in violence and conflict; and how Islam plays out in modern politics.

“In the ‘50s, ‘60s and into the ‘70s, people would talk, for example, in the U.S., it was Protestant, Catholic and Jew,” Esposito said. “And then what we saw in the ‘70s and ‘80s was there was a turning east, as it were. And what that really means is that, around the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, you had a real impact — you still do today — of secularism on religion.”

The 1970s and ‘80s in the United States brought Eastern spiritual leaders, as well as the beginning of teaching religion as an academic study in colleges and universities rather than in seminaries and monasteries. Additionally, politics and society saw an emergence of religion — in keeping with the Iranian Revolution — and just as religion was playing a more public role in the Middle East, so too was the Christian right’s role in politics increasing.

“It’s a kind of movement that has taken place, and it takes place for different reasons in different areas of the world,” Esposito said. “Overall, what we see is a kind of cycle in modern times in terms of interest in religion. Religion does address the most basic of human questions.”

Globalization has brought with it an increased engagement with religion, Esposito said, and in many ways people grapple with new religions the same way they do with immigrants; it is both a positive and negative phenomenon. Religion has both a transcendent side that can enable people to be better, as well as a dark side historically, Esposito said.

“You can explain the role of religion in specific countries … but that basic human drive and yearning can also be seen as something that historically has been inherent in human nature — or at least in a good deal of human nature,” he said.