FRANK STASIO, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Frank Stasio in Washington, in for Neal Conan.
Today's TALK OF THE NATION is part of the Think Global public radio week of special coverage on globalization. In many ways, globalization is like the law of gravity: hard to describe, but you know it's there. How you view the forces of globalization, not to mention how you think we should respond to them, says a lot about your politics and the place in an increasingly small world that you occupy. Traditionally, we tend to think of globalization as an economic and political issue, but for many, navigating our interconnected world is a moral and even religious question.
As the pace of globalization quickens, people of faith seek spiritual guidance on issues concerning prosperity, justice and international conflict. At the same time, for many religious leaders, globalization is a unique opportunity to evangelize and to engage in interfaith dialogue.
Later in the program, the Kuwaiti parliament's historic decision to allow women to flex their political muscles for the first time. But first, a conversation about religion and globalization with leaders from Christianity, Islam and Judaism. And we want to hear from you. If you're a religious leader or a religious person, please tell us how globalization has had an impact on your beliefs and on your effect on your congregation and how you live them. And otherwise, if you want to, give us a call at (800) 989-8255, (800) 989-TALK, or send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'd love to hear from you.
To start off, we want to talk with Wanda Deifelt, a professor of religion at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and an ordained pastor of the Evangelical Church of Brazil. Ms. Deifelt joins us from member station WLSU in La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Welcome to the program.
Professor WANDA DEIFELT (Luther College): Well, thank you so much. It's a pleasure to be here.
STASIO: Now you have worked in Latin America, and there the idea of globalization is viewed far differently, I would guess, than the way we see it in the United States.
Prof. DEIFELT: Well, I am Brazilian and I have lived my whole life in Brazil. And, in fact, for us, globalization is a very mixed picture because on the one hand, globalization offers many advantages, instant communication and means of transportation, all the computer technology and that gives the impression that many--there are many possibilities.
But when you are in a developing country, like Brazil, we perceive that globalization also widens a social and economic gap that was created historically by colonialism and neocolonialism. And, in fact, Christianity in that sense has a lot to say because it has a reference, it has a direct reference, to the consequence of globalization and the work of Christians with the poor.
STASIO: Now you are a practitioner of something called liberation theology. Tell us a little bit about that.
Prof. DEIFELT: Liberation theology--actually, the word `liberation' was first coined by a US theologian by the name of James Cone from New York, and the same terminology was then used by other theologians in Latin America from the early '70s onwards until the most recent years in which, for instance, I, myself, would identify as a feminist liberation theologian.
STASIO: And so this is work that generally has to do with working with the poor and changing conditions for the poor in developing countries.
Prof. DEIFELT: Yeah. Because the way we perceive it, probably for the majority of Christians in the First World, whether United States, Canada or Europe, when we talk about religion, it has a very direct connection to one's personal faith and the way I live my beliefs individually, whereas in Latin America, Christian faith has to do with a more community oriented, with not only a system of beliefs but also a system of values. And I think it really goes back to the original teachings of Jesus himself, who wanted the world being and life in abundance for all human beings.
STASIO: So as a Christian, do you find yourself critical of the way globalization is playing out, particularly for developing countries? And is that a role that a Christian preacher should take?
Prof. DEIFELT: Oh, as I said in the beginning, it's a very mixed picture because it has advantages. On the one hand, if you see the statements of the majority of the International Monetary Fund would have about globalization, it's a very optimistic picture. When you are, in fact, in a country such as Brazil in which 1 percent of the population owns almost half of the farmland of the country, it's very difficult for you to perceive how is it that the current policies, in fact, help the common people, the common folks, the people who have to get up at 4 or 5:00 in the morning and work as sharecroppers and come back at the end of the day and they have made a living that would never make it according to the standards of the First World, the majority of the people who have to survive with less than one US dollar a day.
STASIO: Well, then as a Christian, do you see it as your responsibility to become active in politics?
Prof. DEIFELT: As a Lutheran, there are politics and economics and the life in society are perceived as gifts, as realms of Christian activity. And I participate in these realms as a Christian. And it's not only my privilege, but it's also my obligation to be a good citizen in the sense that I assure that life in abundance and dignity and human rights are not only a privilege of a minority but, in fact, are extended to the whole population.
STASIO: What happens if your view on that is at odds with the official government view?
Prof. DEIFELT: Well, I survived the military dictatorship in Brazil and I can tell you of many of my friends who, in fact, have been tortured and in other countries all over Latin America, many people who have disappeared, many people who were killed. And, in fact, that is very--it's a very part of our history as a country, in which a large number of people who dare to say something opposite were persecuted because of that.
That situation has changed dramatically in the past decade because we no longer live in a military dictatorship. Brazil has a very democratic government as it is. But the current government inherited, in fact, a gigantic foreign debt and the whole policy is very much--and that is one of the side effects of globalization is that it sweeps away regulations and it undermines local and national politics. So for instance, if a government wants to give priority to education, public health, the fact that this will bound to the international banking system pretty much undermines the local initiatives. And in many of the Latin American countries, pretty much 25 percent of the exports go only to pay the interest of our debt.
STASIO: We are talking today about the role of religion in globalization and in teaching about globalization and how those views differ around the world and within and among different denominations. Wanda Deifelt is one of my guests. She's a professor of religion at Luther College in Decorah, Idaho--Iowa, rather--forgive me.
And in recent years the prominence of evangelical Christians has grown, not only in the US but around the world. Some evangelicals say their global reach has implications for the direction and aims of their religion. Richard Cizik is vice president of governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals, joins us now from member station KUVO in Denver.
Thanks for being with me.
Reverend RICHARD CIZIK (Vice President of Governmental Affairs, National Association of Evangelicals): My pleasure, Frank.
STASIO: Richard, would you say that evangelicals' global presence now is a new development, relatively speaking?
Rev. CIZIK: Well, it's perceived as such. Nick Kristof of The New York Times a few years ago dubbed us as `the new internationalists.' But frankly, we first learned about globalization as Christians when Jesus himself said, `Go ye into all the world and be witnesses.' And, frankly, even before that, the Old Testament prophets all spoke of God's concern for the whole world. So it's not exactly quite the case where we are simply the new internationalists as a movement. Internationally, probably 100 years ago, Christianity became a non-Western religion.
Rev. CIZIK: But there are things that are new today.
Rev. CIZIK: It's true.
STASIO: Well, what are...
Rev. CIZIK: And...
STASIO: Well, let me ask you this, what are--when you talk about concerns, is it concerns for converting those around the world to Christianity, or do you see concerns within those countries that Christians can address?
Rev. CIZIK: Well, I think the stereotype of evangelicals is that we don't have a concern for the poor and for those that are displaced, those who are affected by environmental issues, environmental degradation, etc., by the distance between the rich and the poor. Actually, I think evangelicals are taking a new activist political engagement around the world in over 238 countries where Christians are now present. But I would say that--look, evangelicals are not going to consider liberation theology an answer. We consider it sort of an answer that you find if you root about in the old dust pin for blue prints from the past and find it a little bit odd that people still consider that the answer.
We happen to think, for example, that globalization--which is a movement of capital, goods, ideas, people--is actually positive in the long run for people and will be. Not everyone, for sure, right away, but in the long run, it will be. And I happen to liken globalization today in the 21st century to what Roman roads were to the church in the first century.
STASIO: All right. Well, we're going to go to the telephones now and we're going to take a call from Nancy, who's on the line from Louisville, Kentucky. Hello, Nancy.
NANCY (Caller): Hi.
STASIO: You have a question for us?
NANCY: Well, really more of a comment. You know, for me as a Christian, you know, certainly go to the Scriptures first and the question put to Jesus was, you know: `Who is my neighbor?' And I think when we talk about globalization, you know, it really becomes `Everybody is my neighbor.' I'm a United Methodist and John Wesley said, `The world is my parish.' So with, you know, the Internet and everything else, hop on a plane or people come here from all over the world, the whole world becomes really my neighbor. And...
STASIO: Well, Nancy, I want you to hold that thought...
STASIO: ...because that's what we're going to come back on when we return to this discussion about globalization and how it shapes the world's religions. Especially want to hear from religious leaders in our audience. How do you talk about the forces of globalization with your congregation? Are the ideas of liberation theology outmoded or not? We are taking your calls at (800) 989-TALK. You can send us an e-mail at email@example.com.
I'm Frank Stasio. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News, part of Think Global, public radio's week of special coverage.
(Soundbite of music)
STASIO: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Frank Stasio in Washington.
We're talking about globalization through the lens of religion today. How do religious communities address the issues of our interconnected world and how does globalization change the aim and practice of religion? You're invited to join the discussion by calling (800) 989-TALK, or sending us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With me from member station KUVO in Denver is Reverend Richard Cizik, a vice president of governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals, and Wanda Deifelt is a professor of religion at Luther College in Decorah. And Nancy's on the line from Louisville who had a question before we were so rudely interrupted by the break.
And, Nancy, if you could just, you know, sort of repeat your question for us and we can get a response. Thanks, Nancy.
NANCY: Well, I was really beginning to comment that my church has brought in, over the years, three different refugees after the Second World War, Germans--well, German ethnics out of Yugoslavia, and then Hmongs after the Vietnam War and then more recently Bosnians. And then we--I've actually worked with missionaries in different parts of the world. Currently, we have missionaries in Ukraine. I guess now sitting here listening to you talk, I'm wondering if it's really necessary to set this up as an either/or. I think actually I'm thinking that it's probably, you know, `God works in mysterious and wonderful ways, why can't we all just do it all?'
STASIO: All right. Well...
NANCY: Do we need to have an either/or between these two positions?
STASIO: Well, let's get a response.
NANCY: But I'll get off the line and think about that.
STASIO: OK. Thank you, Nancy. Well, Wanda, let me start with you because Richard seemed to suggest that liberation theology was an outmoded idea. So that's sort of out the window from his point of view. Why do you think it's still relevant?
Prof. DEIFELT: Well, thank you. First of all, thank you also, Nancy. I really think your comments are very appropriate. As a theologian, I'm not very much into fashion and I don't care very much if a theology is outmoded or not. For me, what, in fact, is important is what are the values that we are standing for. And we have to say that around the world, poverty is growing, and if we were to take Christ's message so seriously as we, in fact, should, then I would consider that the way that a country that perceived itself as a Christian country, or where the majority of the people, in fact, are Christians, should have a totally different outlook. And I think it has very concrete consequences.
Going back to what Nancy was saying is--yeah, I don't think it's an either/or. We have learned a lot from the evangelical perspective and we are really appreciative of what the evangelical movements have done, especially I would say in the betterment, the complete betterment of human lives, and I think that's something to be learned. And I wouldn't just reject different theological opinion just because that's not my own. I think we can learn much more from appreciating what other people are doing, in fact, in very concrete manners to improve life conditions. When you have worked, as I did, in the past 40 years in a country that is so affected by poverty, in which you have people living on the streets and in which violence just goes rampant, I think you look for answers, and Christianity can offer such answers.
But the answer does not come in a theology of prosperity in saying, `Well, God will reward you if you just give the correct contributions to my church.' It has to do with a sense of community and of fostering a sense of solidarity among people. And it doesn't matter if people are Christians or if they are Muslims or if they are Buddhists or Jewish; it matters that we can all affirm our common humanity, and I think liberation feminist theology does that very well.
STASIO: Richard Cizik.
Rev. CIZIK: Well, my response would be that liberation theology, with its lack of emphasis on the role of the individual, ultimately ends up failing the individual. And it's--yes, it really is evangelism that remains primary in the evangelical mind for the following reason. Look, we understand there need to be macrostructural and microstructural ways to reach out to people in poverty, absolutely. But why evangelism first and foremost? Why? Because economic programs can teach you methods, but evangelism ultimately--and Wanda may even agree with me--will unleash the meaning, I would hope, and the motivation to use those methods conscientiously. In other words, religious faith, Christian faith, has been shown by studies, you see, to empower people, to give them honesty, the work ethic, the thrift, the openness to strangers that ultimately empowers them. And by studies confirmed by Gallup, World Bank and others, in place such as Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, the spread of evangelical Christianity, with its emphasis on the individual, is tied to economic growth. That's our argument. We think it goes all the way back to Max Weber's "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism."
STASIO: Well, you know, Paul Tillich, the theologian Paul Tillich, said that to be a true Christian, you must be a socialist. And what he meant by that--he was talking about that in terms of community, suggesting that to be a Christian is to be first dependent on God. And so one cannot be an individual; one has to, you know, rely on God and then understand the value of the community. How would you respond to that, to Tillich's observation?
Prof. DEIFELT: Are you posing the question to me?
Rev. CIZIK: Well...
STASIO: No, to Richard Cizik. He was just emphasizing the individual, and I'm saying that Christianity has seemed to...
Rev. CIZIK: Well, we believe--oh, absolutely. Absolutely. The faith of a community of people that together confront the world, absolutely--and together are able to overcome the greatest of obstacles. Oh, I believe that it is a communal faith. It's not simply an individual faith. You can't be a Christian in isolation. No man is an island; that's true.
In today's globalized world, moreover, what we as evangelicals know is that our actions here send signals ultimately--politically, economically, socially--to the furthest most reaches of the world. And, therefore, the examples we set in terms of lifestyle, the political choices we make, absolutely, on issues of the environment, the poor, those send signals to the smallest villages around the world. That's why, frankly, we're dubbed the new internationalists, because we understand that.
But see, we happen to disagree with the liberationists because we happen to believe that there's a spiritual revolution that is ultimately the most important and it's going to change people. And globalization is simply a means by which that spiritual revolution is now occurring in places unheard of just a few years ago.
STASIO: Wanda Deifelt, how about that? How about the argument that there's not enough spirituality, not enough emphasis on spirituality, when we take on political causes?
Prof. DEIFELT: I really appreciate your quote. Paul Tillich, I think, comes very handy here. He says that faith is being grasped by an ultimate concern and that ultimate concern is God. So, in fact, when we act, we feel that it is Christ acting through us. And when we help our neighbor--going back to Nancy's comment, loving one's neighbor--we, in fact, encounter Christ in the other person.
I'm not sure to which reading Mr. Cizik is referring to, because some of the strongest books on spirituality that I have read in my life have come precisely from liberation theologians because you see, when people are in prison, when people are being tortured, when people are being starved to death, they pray. They have a very strong spiritual life, as well.
And if you go to any country in Latin America--for instance, in one of my trips to El Salvador, a country that is devastated by social, economic and other terrible things that have happened, and if you see the power that exists when people come together to talk about their daily lives and we do Bible studies and we sing and we praise, I don't think it would be fair saying that there is no spirituality. I don't see that dichotomy. Honestly, I do not see that dichotomy...
Prof. DEIFELT: ...and I think it's a coherent way of living one's Christian life.
STASIO: (800) 989-TALK is the number to call. Heath is on the line from San Antonio. Hello, Heath.
HEATH (Caller): Hi. I really appreciate listening to the topic today. I promised your screener I'd be very brief. I wanted to know how Richard can be so cavalier about the negative aspects of globalization when it seems to me that it's nothing more than the spread of capitalism and this Western ideal of products and services. It's, you know, absent any form of spirituality except, you know, worshipping money. And the negative aspect of globalization as they relate to the poor around the world when so many live on less than a dollar a day, so many people, you know, have to scrape for everything that they get and don't have the access to all of these wonderful things that Richard thinks comes from globalization.
STASIO: Well, let's get a response. Thank you, Heath.
Rev. CIZIK: Well, Thomas Friedman argues in his book, you know, `The Earth is flat.' Look, the poorest of the poor are now made accessible to the advantages of the West simply by a computer, simply by a laptop. In other words, it enables them to use the skills and abilities they have and compete without moving to the United States. I'm not suggesting that globalization is the answer, by no means. I believe the answer is Christ. I believe that it's in--you know, in faith that's personal that is then carried out socially. Frankly, Wanda's description of Christian faith, apart from, you know, a reference to liberation theology, is what evangelicalism is about. So I...
STASIO: Well, I...
Rev. CIZIK: ...think she wants her cake and eat it, too.
STASIO: No. But I would...
Rev. CIZIK: No, I just don't think that capitalism is the problem. I don't think that capital--which those within liberationism believe is evil, is the secular Satan, is the devil, you know, and money is the root of all evil--is the answer. No, I don't believe that it's really globalization that is responsible for oppression, for wars, substandard wages and environmental degradation. No, I think that's the argument, though, that's made by the demonstrators against the WTO in Seattle in 1999 and elsewhere today. It's come back in new books, "Empire," articulated by a Duke University professor and an Italian writer. Look--`empire' referring to capitalism. And in the book, this is what they suggest in a neo-Marxist critique that it's the West, it's America that is the problem; we are the evil ones. And I don't buy that.
STASIO: All right. Well, Richard, I want to thank you very much for joining us. Richard Cizik is vice president of governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals. Wanda Deifelt is a professor of religion at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. And I want to thank you both for joining us.
Rev. CIZIK: Thank you, Frank.
Prof. DEIFELT: Thank you so much.
STASIO: Christianity is not the only faith that has an impact on globalization and has been affected by globalization. The phenomenon has also caused leaders of Islam and Judaism to rethink their role in the world. First, an Islamic perspective. Tariq Ramadan is the Islamic scholar and he is a scholar based in Switzerland, author of the book, "Western Muslims and the Future of Islam." He joins us by phone from the city of Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Welcome to the program.
Mr. TARIQ RAMADAN (Author, "Western Muslims and the Future of Islam"): Hello. How are you? Thank you for your invitation.
STASIO: Certainly. Tariq, tell us: Many have described Islamic fundamentalist movements as in opposition to Western society, in opposition to modernization. Is--how would you describe Islam vis-a-vis globalization?
Mr. RAMADAN: First, about the people who are, you know--you call the fundamentalists are the more literalist from among the Muslims. In fact, considering that globalization is the other name for Westernization, and in that way they are resisting Westernization and they are doing it by any means possible. This is, of course, not my perception of the reality. Globalization is a fact, and I don't think that we are for or against globalization. What we can be and what I think as believers or religious people we have to ask ourself which kind of globalization do we want. Is it the globalization saying that economy has a primacy and the people are serving economy, or are we trying to make it the other way around, which means that we want an economy serving the people and being more just and promoting justice? This is the point.
STASIO: You know, that reflects what sounds like a political point of view. What of that is rooted in Islam?
Mr. RAMADAN: Yes, of course it's rooted in Islam. You know, all--but it's not only rooted in Islam; all the religious messages are promoting justice, the dignity of human beings, and the first right is to eat, it's to be able to be free, and you cannot worship God if you are a slave or you don't have your freedom and you cannot eat. At one point, we have also to ask ourself in which way the ethical messages of our religions are pushing us to take a stand, which is not only political; it's a question of human dignity. So at one point, when we say, you know, spirituality is on a personal level, it's a question of consistency. You cannot be with God on Friday or Saturday or Sunday, and forget about all the ethical messages during the week.
STASIO: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
I'm Frank Stasio, sitting in for Neal Conan. Today we're talking about globalization and religion. My guest at the moment is Tariq Ramadan. He's an Islamic scholar based in Switzerland, author of the book "Western Muslims and the Future of Islam." And you can join us by calling 989--that's (800) 989-TALK, or send us an e-mail at email@example.com.
Tariq, is the globalization in the post-9/11 world causing a tear in the Islamic world, in the Islamic faith--those who see modernization, as you said, or globalization as Westernization and others who would take what we would consider a more moderate approach?
Mr. RAMADAN: I think that it's really important for the people listening to us to understand that Islam is not a ...(unintelligible) reality, and you have Muslims and we have ...(unintelligible); it's as complex as the Christian realities. And what we heard right now was exactly this, that we have literalists and we have binary visions of reality--people saying that what is coming from the West, globalization's coming from West, everything is bad about it and we need to promote a resistance of the Muslim or the Islamic world. I really think that this is wrong; this is the wrong way to speak about it. And that--from after September the 11th, we are all living in a state of fear, and when we are under this pressure of our fears, we don't think enough. We are reacting emotionally, and the other become the threat. I really think that we have to come to common values and to come to the fundamentals of our religions, promoting these values and this message of justice. And at that point, we can work with the Christians, we can work with the Jews, we can work with the Buddhists and come to say, `OK, what could be our contribution to the world today?' When we know that this morning when we woke up until tonight when we are going to sleep, 100,000 people are going to die out of diseconomic order. It's a responsibility, and all of us--we know that God doesn't like what we are doing with this world.
STASIO: You talked about this atmosphere of fear that makes it more difficult to think. It also has a way of crystallizing thought. Do you see that there are greater opportunities now to have the kind of dialogue you just described?
Mr. RAMADAN: I don't know, to tell you the truth. For the last--you know, after September 11 I have been attending and participating in many, many dialogues and I really think that it's a global state of fear, and the only way today, because the people are--don't feel secure, is to work at the local level. I really think that we need now at the local level everywhere, in the States, in the Islamic world, in Europe, we need spaces of mutual trust, so at the local level we need people now to understand that the global challenges pushes us to be locally committed towards this mutual trust and to try to promote our common universal values. I don't see anything coming at the global level; I really think that this will be the challenges we are facing at the local level.
STASIO: Tariq, stay with us. We're going to take a little break now, and when we come back we'll continue our discussion on globalization and religion, then talk about Kuwait--an historic move there. The parliament today gave women the right to vote.
I'm Frank Stasio. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News, part of Think Global, public radio's week of special coverage.
STASIO: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Frank Stasio in Washington.
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Tomorrow, foster care is meant to be an emergency measure, a stopover for at-risk children on their way to permanent homes. But too often, that system breaks down. Tomorrow the show will take a look at the rough road between foster care and adoption.
Today we're talking about the globalization of religion, and how our increasingly global world is being shaped by faith. The conversation you can join at (800) 989-TALK, (800) 989-8255. E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org. My guest this hour is Tariq Ramadan, an Islamic scholar based in Switzerland.
And before the break, Tariq, you were talking about the idea that what's going to happen has to happen locally, that you don't see anything happening on the global level. Do you see any of that taking place? Is there--are people becoming more aware of the need to be conscious of what globalization is and its impact?
Mr. RAMADAN: Yes. I think that of course we have to repeat and to repeat again and to make the people aware of the state of fear, that they don't trust the Muslims, and the Muslims, to tell you the truth, when you visit the Islamic world, you can feel that they don't trust the West. You know, I'm here in Sarajevo speaking with people after all this story, and their recent history; they don't trust the people and they don't know how to trust anymore Western Europe. So at one point, it's--they are working at the local level, and this is--you know, when I was visiting the States or many European countries and even, you know, in North Africa, in Africa, the people are trying and very, very committed people from Christian, Jewish, Muslim and atheist at the same time, and Muslims working together trying at the local level. It will be a very long process because we are facing very deep challenges and very deep, deep, deep misunderstanding.
STASIO: (800) 989-TALK, the number to call if you want to join the conversation. Hugo is on the line from Livingston, New Jersey. Hello, Hugo.
HUGO (Caller): Hi. How are you? Thank you for taking my call.
HUGO: Yeah, the question is for the Muslim gentleman, if he could perhaps comment on the connection--the Muslim critique, if you will, of capitalism, and I mean American capitalism with Christian, particularly Christian evangelical values, because they seem to make very strange bedfellows, but at the same time, myself, coming from South America, when you talk about it, particularly fundamentalist Protestant evangelical movement, there's always a connection with American capitalism. So I'll take my comment off the air.
STASIO: Thanks, Hugo.
Mr. RAMADAN: Yes. I think that once again, this kind of caricature and coming from the Muslim world and it seems I'm confusing between, you know, American capitalism and this is Christianity or Christian evangelism--I really think that this is something that we have to explain. This is part of the--you know, the West is not Christendom. The West is not the Christian faith. The West is not Christianity; it's much more complex than that. So our role, for example, as Western Muslims is to explain that, that we have many Christians being very critical towards, again, of policy or economy having as a consequence so many people dying, starving. And I really think that we should understand that from within the American system, we are people asking for a more ethical economy, more ethics in economy, more ethics in the way we are dealing with the southern countries, and this is really important not to put all the Muslims in the same basket and not all the Christians in the same basket or in the same picture.
STASIO: And we also want to include the Jewish perspective at this point. We turn to Rabbi David Rosen, adviser to the chief rabbinate of Israel and other interreligious affairs. He's on the phone now from Iasi, Romania.
Thank you for joining us.
Rabbi DAVID ROSEN (Rabbinical Adviser): A pleasure. Nice to be with you.
STASIO: Compared to Christianity and Islam, the population of Jews around the world is relatively small. To what extent does that make Jewish concerns about globalization different from other faiths--or does it?
Rabbi ROSEN: Well, I'm not sure that it necessarily makes them inherently different. I think these concerns have much more to do with socioeconomic and cultural factors than necessarily with particular religious factors. But of course, it is interesting to note that Jews are probably the most--the longest and most globalized of peoples in human history, having survived the ravages of history to the degree that they have had in so many different parts of the world and still maintain their identity. So you have an interesting paradigm of how a community can still maintain a certain collective cohesion despite the ravages of globalization, if you like, looking back in historic terms.
STASIO: Of course, in that case it was a forced exile in many cases, a diaspora that was not always welcome, somewhat different than the globalization that's occurring today where capital is moving where it wants, apparently.
Rabbi ROSEN: Well, in some respects, yes; but in other respects, I would say that part of the fears of globalization which are, I think, what Tariq Ramadan has also been referring to, are the fears of alienation on the part of different communities in relation to what they perceive as more powerful communities and more powerful forces. And in that sense, there actually is a paradigm; it is a historic paradigm of how can you preserve your cultural particularity and the needs of your own particular community in the face of more powerful forces that you may perceive as being hostile to your interests.
STASIO: From the spiritual perspective, from the point of view of the Torah, how does the Jewish faith perceive what's happening now in globalization and its response to the changes?
Rabbi ROSEN: Well, I think to talk of any faith with the definite article is probably presumptuous, and you know the famous witticism `If you have two Jews, you have three opinions,' and certainly therefore nobody can speak with any definitive authority of `the' Jewish perspective.
But I think that if you ask what values do you have within your Jewish sources, that can perhaps serve as creative guidelines in terms of the dilemmas that globalization poses. I would say that there are two very central values in the Torah, in the Hebrew Bible. The one is the dignity of the individual and the other is the concept of covenants, that, if you like, God values the nature of collective identities and that God works through the collective identities, and thus, finding a creative balance between the collective and the individual is the real challenge that we face with globalization. So we have to be constantly aware of preserving the dignity of the individual, all individuals regardless of race, color, creed or sex, and that this must be a guiding value in all our behavior and in all our policies, and yet at the same time have responsibility for collective group identities, for their own collective values, for relationships within those communities, and try to preserve these at the same time where very often it's a difficult and even conflicting challenge to be able to do so.
STASIO: Well, the question is are there any trends now in the way globalization is taking place, particularly economic changes, that challenge those principles?
Rabbi ROSEN: Well, certainly there are. I mean, the--to be able I think--the freer a market is, if you like, the less constraints there are in terms of free-market activity, the more temptations and the easier the slippery slope to disregarding one's moral responsibilities, both with regards to individuals and towards collective groups. On the other hand, placing constraints is very often tantamount to denial of freedoms, so again, we have this balancing act being able to preserve these different areas, these different dimensions.
I might add that I would say what's really an obvious comment from a Jewish perspective is that today the forces of open society that we might identify with globalization are, of course, causing a great deal of attrition in terms of the maintenance of Jewish identity. Paradoxically, there was no problem for preserving Jewish identity when we lived in a hostile world. In certain respects, it's the benefits and opportunities of globalization that open borders and that basically in many Western societies lead people not to care about others' identities and often lead people not to care about their own identities and value systems themselves, and thus the process of assimilation to the degree of loss of values and loss of sense of identity that can be a positive force in giving people stability and giving people anchorage and giving them a sense of rootedness that enables them to deal with the challenges of contemporary society is a more serious problem for the Jewish community than ever before.
STASIO: Tariq Ramadan, that sounded like some of the concerns you voiced earlier in terms of Muslims around the world.
Mr. RAMADAN: Yes. I really think that what he said right now is exactly the same line. You know, the point is that the first part of it is all about consistency and a balanced approach between the individual and the collective, and the second part is about how we protect our own identity. The point is that what we have to promote as Muslims is not a closed identity. We have to understand that we have multiple identities and moving identities, not always the same. You know, I'm coming from Egypt, I was born in Switzerland, I live in Europe, and all this is part of my identity, so it's also coming from the globalized world and in that respect is a positive.
Mr. RAMADAN: At one point we have to be very cautious that this kind of multiple identity is not leading you to forget about the values, the responsibility you have towards God and towards mankind and the human beings around you. So it's really to be connected to the people but not in the name of this connection and this reaching out to people to forget about your values, and very often we are confusing the fact that we are losing the perception of who we are with what we stand for, and this is the danger.
STASIO: Tariq Ramadan, thank you very much.
Mr. RAMADAN: Thank you so much.
STASIO: Tariq Ramadan is Islamic scholar based in Switzerland, author of the book "Western Muslims and the Future of Islam." And we also spoke with David Rosen.
David Rosen, thank you very much.
Rabbi ROSEN: A pleasure, and I look forward to airing more interesting comments on your program, especially as I'm in the States very often, as I should add that I'm in charge of the American Jewish Committee's interfaith operations around the world.
STASIO: Thank you very much, and I know at the moment, you're in Romania. Thanks for speaking with us.
Rabbi ROSEN: Right. We're in dialogue between the chief rabbinate of Romania and the Orthodox Patriarchate of Romania. So in another aspect of globalization is that interfaith has become a globalized industry and the good news is it's breaking out all over.
STASIO: Rabbi David Rosen, thank you very much.
Rabbi ROSEN: All the best.
STASIO: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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