October 12, 2006
KRISTA TIPPETT, HOST: I'm Krista Tippett. Today, "Globalization and the Rise of Religion." Conventional wisdom once had it that modernization would diminish the force of religion in politics, economics, and society. But as the 21st century progresses, exactly the opposite is true.
DR. PETER BERGER: Modernity does not necessarily lead to secularism or decline of religion. What it does lead to, necessarily, is pluralism. Every conceivable belief system and lifestyle rubs against every other.
MS. TIPPETT: As sociologist Peter Berger and management guru Rosabeth Moss Kanter tell it, religious voices are being heard from Davos to Harvard. This hour we'll explore why our age is marked by an explosion of religious energy and what effects it's having. This is Speaking of Faith. Stay with us.
MS. TIPPETT: I'm Krista Tippett. Conventional wisdom once had it that as history advanced, religion would decline. But as the 21st century unfolds, precisely the opposite is true. From American Public Media, this is Speaking of Faith, public radio's conversation about religion, meaning, ethics, and ideas.
Today, "Globalization and the Rise of Religion." This hour we'll explore why our age is marked by an explosion of religious energy and what effects this is having. Later, we'll speak with Rosabeth Moss Kanter from the Harvard Business School.
My first guest, Peter Berger, is known as a visionary scholar who foresees and charts cultural watersheds. Austrian born, he has taught in the departments of sociology and theology at Boston University, and he directs the Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs.
He described the culture wars and globalization before these notions had entered our popular vocabulary. But early in his career Peter Berger was part of a wide circle of influential thinkers who predicted that religion would lose ground in a pluralistic modern world. This idea came into wide public discussion with Harvey Cox's 1965 best seller, The Secular City, which celebrated the advent of secular urban civilization and the demise of traditional Christianity.
By the 1980s, Harvey Cox had renounced his own thesis. Peter Berger made a turnaround, too, culminating in his 1999 book, The Desecularization of the World: Resurgent Religion and World Politics. He declared: "The assumption that we live in a secularized world is false. The world is as furiously religious as it ever was." His ideas were called prophetic after the September 11th terrorist attacks. Peter Berger.
DR. BERGER: Well, in terms of my career as a sociologist, that's been my major change of mind. When I started writing in the sociology of religion, which now seems almost like 100 years ago, I, like almost everyone else in the field, believed in what was called secularization theory: more modernity, less religion. I began to change my mind — oh, it happened gradually, not because of some philosophical or theological change in myself, but simply because the evidence became overwhelming that this is not the case.
And if you look at most of the world, it's full of huge religious explosions, with tremendous passion and depth, at least in terms of feeling and emotion. And modernity, if you take the Islamic world, some of the most passionate religious people are the children of secularized intellectuals. Turkey is a good example; Egypt is a good example. And it's not happening, if you take the Islamic resurgence — and I don't mean terrorism, which is, thank God, a relatively small part of that resurgence. The Islamic resurgence is not primarily happening in some backwood rural areas, it's happening in the cities where you would think modernity is strongest. So I think simply on empirical grounds, one would have to say this is a very religious world.
There are two exceptions to this generalization. One is sociological, one is geographical. Sociologically, you do have an international intelligentsia, to use that term, which is indeed quite secularized. And if one limits oneself to hanging around with fellow academics, whether it's in the faculty club at Taylor University or at Harvard, you might think the world is a secular world. Well, it isn't, although intellectuals, of course, have an influence, and it's important to look at that influence.
MS. TIPPETT: And, I mean, a question I have is did religion recede in the rest of the world or were Americans just not paying attention to it? I mean, is there really a resurgence in our time in many cultures, or has it sort of been there, bubbling along, and we're just noticing?
DR. BERGER: Well, I think both of these things are true. I mean, most of the world was never secularized, so it's not the question of some big change. On the other hand, you have these powerful explosions which are new. And the two major ones, I would say, are Pentecostalism and resurgent Islam. Well, let's put Pentecostalism — let's put a somewhat broader category, globalizing of evangelicalism. To which you also have to add groups which most people wouldn't quite regard as Protestant, such as the Mormons, who are enormously successful internationally. Well, they're not exactly Protestants, but they come out of the same world. I mean, a Catholic would look upon them as Protestant, let's put it this way.
So you have these powerful eruptions which are new, but most of the world has never been secularized. Now, you used a nice phrase before, it was bubbling along all the time.
MS. TIPPETT: Right. I mean, something that has been unusual in our country, though, is that there has been more of a compartmentalization. I think, that religion was sort of consigned to the private sphere. I'm often asked why I think things are changing now, and I'm sure people ask you this, too, I mean, and I'm curious about how you answer it, you know. What has changed in the last few years or in the last decade, that religion has suddenly burst out onto the surface in this country again? How do you think about what's happened?
DR. BERGER: Well, if you look at the view of religion, say, of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is basically — I'm satirizing it a bit. Religion should be something that takes place among consenting adults in private, OK? And this view has, at least for a while, strongly influenced the federal courts. Now, that's not how most Americans think about religion.
Let me step back a moment. Sweden is the most secularized country in Europe, probably in the world. Probably the most religious country in the world is India. If you go to India, you take three steps, you'll stumble across four gods, OK?
The religious situation in the United States could be described as a nation of predominantly "Indians," in quotation marks, with a cultural elite which is "Swedish," in quotation marks. We have an intelligentsia which is very Europeanized. It's quite secular, and although it is a minority of the population, it's very powerful because it has large control over higher education, over media, to some extent the law, especially federal law. So it's a secular group in the population, with strong influence in a country which is very strongly religious. So when you talk about compartmentalization, you have to ask who is compartmentalizing? And I would say, in the United States, it's the aforementioned minority, a kind of cultural elite.
MS. TIPPETT: OK. I wonder, do you think globalization has had an effect on this dynamic in this country?
DR. BERGER: Yes, it has had an effect, sure. The Catholic Church has always been a global institution. In fact, it's the oldest global institution there is. So there is strong global consciousness there. Evangelicals certainly are very conscious of the fact that their type of Christianity is having worldwide successes, and they're very happy about it. But I think the other thing that's happened is that because of globalization and because of different types of immigrants coming to the United States, there now is a presence in America of non-Western religions, which is very strong and relatively new.
If you want to have a sort of tourist impression of this, I have a suggestion. Go to Washington, D.C., get a taxi or drive a car on 16th Street. Sixteenth Street, for reasons that I don't understand, has become an orgy of comparative religion. If you drive, almost every block, beginning about three blocks from the White House and stopping a few blocks short of Walter Reed Hospital, there's some kind of religious building. Now, you have every kind of Protestant church, including African-American churches, you have a huge Catholic parish, you have two Eastern Orthodox churches, you have every form of Judaism, but you also have Buddhist groups, you have a Vietnamese temple, you have a Baha'i group. The only thing, as far as I can tell, you don't have, is a mosque. But the big Washington mosque is just a couple blocks from 16th Street. All that is new.
I remember when I came to America as a young man, I saw a sign in the New York subway that said, "This week worship in the church or synagogue of your choice." And then the first time I went to Hawaii, I was on a bus in Honolulu and there was a similar inscription, except it said, "Worship in the church, synagogue, or shrine of your choice." They had brought in the Buddhists and the Hindus and everyone else. And that's an important change. Well, Hawaii may be the first state in which Christians are a minority. We're not sure because the U.S. Census doesn't permit questions on religion. Well, that's very interesting, you know. It's new.
MS. TIPPETT: Yes, it is.
DR. BERGER: And this kind of religious pluralism in America is an interesting challenge to the old religious groups. And it's also reflected in the relation of institutions to each other. You used to have a Protestant and a Catholic clergy participating in public ceremonies, and they threw in a rabbi. Now you've got an imam or some lama or whatever.
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah. Now you have five or 10.
DR. BERGER: Yeah. Which is interesting.
MS. TIPPETT: Sociologist of religion and global culture Peter Berger. View images of religious diversity on 16th Street in Washington, D.C., at our Web site, onbeing.org. I'm Krista Tippett and this is Speaking of Faith from American Public Media. Today, "Globalization and the Rise of Religion."
At his Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs at Boston University, Peter Berger conducted a three-year study on globalization in 10 countries. He led this, together with Harvard's Samuel Huntington, whose notion of the clash of civilizations fueled debate about the modern dangers of religion, especially global Islam.
Their new research did not focus primarily on religion, but it yielded vivid examples of religion interwoven in practical ways as globalization settles in many cultures. Young Indian software engineers in Bangalore garland their computers in Hindu ceremonies. In China, there's an emerging concept of the "Confucian merchant." And Buddhist movements in Taiwan have picked up Western Protestant methods to propagate an anti-consumer message. Peter Berger calls all of this cultural globalization.
DR. BERGER: The basic fact about cultural globalization is that everyone can talk to almost everyone else, and that's true, whether you talk about crime or about politics or about religion. And what we have in terms of globalization is an enormous increase in international communication. And that involves organizations like, say, American evangelicals making a movie which is shown in Nepalese villages or Buddhist missionaries who walk around in Chicago. It also involves individuals, even children, who talk to each other in kindergarten and try to explain each other's religious backgrounds. So that seems to me an enormous intensification of pluralism. And that's one of the very important consequences of globalization in culture generally but also specifically in terms of religion.
MS. TIPPETT: Mm-hmm. Let me ask you this kind of large question. I mean, as you approached this multi-year project that you did with Samuel Huntington and many others, what surprised you most in terms of the religious aspect of globalization?
DR. BERGER: What surprised me was the degree of creativity with which human beings are capable of combining the impact of modernization with all sorts of traditional values and lifestyles. And whether you talk about — you just mentioned computer engineers in India, whether you talk about American executives stationed in some Asian country, I'm very impressed with the capacity of people to integrate, to relate their own background to the new things they encounter in the world. And that I find very cheering.
MS. TIPPETT: And I guess what struck me just reading some of the examples that came out of that project, is how people seem to maintain their own identity while also embracing some of the changes of globalization. There often seemed to be a religious component to that.
DR. BERGER: Yeah. I think that's a fair description. The most explosive religious phenomenon in the world today is Pentecostalism. And it's global only in the sense that they have missionaries who want to convert people all over the world. But certainly they don't particularly think of it in terms of economic globalization or political globalization. Yet they become a globalizing force willy-nilly by the very fact that they exist in such large numbers and cover an enormous territory.
Our research center started studying this in Latin America about almost 20 years ago and we've followed it through various countries. And what impresses one there is that Pentecostalism, after all, is an American Protestant movement, which in its modern form originated in Los Angeles exactly 100 years ago. And now you find it being an extremely powerful religious phenomenon, for example, among the Mayans of southern Mexico and Guatemala. They are very conscious of their culture. In fact, you have a cultural revival going on in terms of Mayan culture, Mayan language. And huge numbers of them are Pentecostal. They don't speak English; their services are in Spanish. Even some of them are in Mayan. Whether you like Pentecostalism or not is beside the point. But you find a very creative way of taking a religious message and the religious practice that comes from abroad and integrating it into a very vibrant local culture. And there are many examples of this.
MS. TIPPETT: What I also think is interesting about that particular phenomenon is that Pentecostalism has a very strong social impact and cultural impact in other countries that's different, I think, at least, from maybe stereotypes of Pentecostalism in this country.
DR. BERGER: Well, in this country, it's been around for a century, so obviously it doesn't have quite the explosive dynamic it would have in a place like Guatemala. But the social consequences, even economic consequences, we think, in our research team, are enormous. They're mostly inadvertent. And, well, you're probably familiar with Max Weber's famous thesis on Protestantism and capitalism.
MS. TIPPETT: Right.
DR. BERGER: I always have a mental subtitle for our projects, and this one I called "Max Weber is alive and well and living in Guatemala." I mention Guatemala because it has the highest percentage of new Protestants. At least a quarter of the population in the capital area, probably one-third of the population. Well, if you get to know these people and look at what they do and interview them, they are not interested in transforming society, very much as was the case with Protestantism in Europe and North America a couple of hundred years ago. They're not out to create a social revolution.
MS. TIPPETT: It was a religious reform, right.
DR. BERGER: They're creating it inadvertently. But it's real all the same. And what you have is large numbers of people who radically change their lifestyles, and those changes are conducive to social development and, in the case of individuals and families, conducive to social mobility, and looking at the society as a whole, favorable to modern economic development because it encourages habits which are useful if people want to move ahead economically, such as saving, interest in education, interest in family, stability, things of that sort.
MS. TIPPETT: Sociologist of globalization Peter Berger. Max Weber, whom Berger just mentioned, comes up often in discussions about religion and the global economy. In an influential series of essays published in 1904 and 1905, this German sociologist showed how Protestant Christianity had contributed to the development of Western capitalism, not by design but by an ethic instilled in the faithful, habits of self-discipline and self-denial, and a readiness to attribute positive moral meaning to worldly activities. Here's a reading from Max Weber.
READER: "The whole ascetic literature of almost all denominations is saturated with the idea that faithful labor, even at low wages, on the part of those whom life offers no other opportunities, is highly pleasing to God. In this respect, Protestant Asceticism offered nothing new, but it not only deepened this idea most powerfully, it also created the force which was alone decisive for its effectiveness: the psychological sanction of this labor as a calling, as the best, often in the last analysis the only means of attaining certainty of grace. And it also interpreted the employer's business activity as a calling. It is obvious how powerfully this … was bound to affect the productivity of labor in the capitalistic sense of the word."
MS. TIPPETT: From Max Weber's classic collection of essays, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.
Now back to my conversation with Peter Berger, who describes Pentecostal Christianity as a powerful, inadvertent driver of global capitalism in today's world. Pentecostalism has grown explosively to an estimated 500 million adherents worldwide. In Latin America, especially, it has made dramatic inroads in Catholic countries. Peter Berger.
DR. BERGER: We can never be certain of anything in the social sciences, but we can make a distinction between what we can affirm with great assurance and what we are not so sure about. I would say — after looking at this phenomenon for almost 20 years, I would be very confident in saying that Pentecostalism is having a positive effect in terms of modern economic development, and one can spell out just what that means. Take just one thing, the role of women. In Latin America, in many ways, Pentecostalism is a women's movement, and it's emancipatory in terms of women. It's a kind of anti-machismo movement. Now, I don't think you'd call that left-wing, but it changes the society in significant way. Of that I am very confident.
I would say it's probable, but I wouldn't be quite as confident to say that Pentecostalism also becomes a kind of school for democracy. Why? Because here you have mostly very poor people, marginal people who've never had institutions of their own, and they create their own institutions. It's very much a grassroots movement. So people who never had a voice before now have a voice. And it's a religious voice, but this has political implications. And that, in a very interesting way, replicates what happened in North America a few hundred years ago. I mean, out of Congregationalism came the town meeting, and became a very important aspect of American democracy. The Puritans were not particularly interested in developing democracy, but inadvertently, I think, they contribute to that development.
MS. TIPPETT: Sociologist Peter Berger.
The chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, Jonathan Sacks, has participated in Peter Berger's projects on religion and globalization. He's written a thoughtful book, The Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations. In this passage from his book, Rabbi Sacks describes his understanding of the reason for religion's enduring power as a social and political force.
READER: "On the one hand, globalization is bringing us closer together than ever before, interweaving our lives, nationally and internationally, in complex and inextricable ways. On the other, a new tribalism, a regression to older and more fractious loyalties, is driving us evermore angrily apart. One way or another, religion is and will continue to be part of these processes. It can lead us in the direction of peace, but it can equally, and with high combustibility, lead us to war. Politicians have power, but religions have something stronger: They have influence. Politics moves the pieces on the chess board; religion changes lives."
MS. TIPPETT: This is Speaking of Faith. After a short break, more of Peter Berger's expansive perspective on religion in the globalized world. Also, Harvard Business School's Rosabeth Moss Kanter on religious influences on the global economy.
Visit our Web site, onbeing.org. You can listen to unheard clips of my conversation with Peter Berger. He tells us why secular Europe is an anomaly in the world and why the polarization of secular and religious groups in the U.S. doesn't represent most citizens. Also on our Web site, subscribe to our free weekly podcast so you can listen to this and other archived programs again. Listen when you want, wherever you want. Discover more at onbeing.org.
I'm Krista Tippett. Stay with us. Speaking of Faith comes to you from American Public Media.
MS. TIPPETT: Welcome back to Speaking of Faith, public radio's conversation about religion, meaning, ethics, and ideas. I'm Krista Tippett. Today, "Globalization and the Rise of Religion."
My guest, Austrian-born sociologist Peter Berger, is a leading interpreter of the role of religion in American culture and around the world. He directs the Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs at Boston University, which conducted a vast, three-year study on globalization in 10 countries. We've been discussing his findings of vivid and practical ways in which religious ideas infuse local responses to globalization in many cultures. Peter Berger also sees religious movements creating models of globalization that contrast with the prevailing Western influence.
DR. BERGER: The conventional view of globalization is that you have a predominantly Western, indeed, predominantly American, type of culture which is spreading all over the world. Now, that's not a mistake, there is this. But you also have counter-globalizations of a different sort. Buddhist missionaries in America, maybe about 800,000 converts, who knows? I mean, but there are a lot of them, OK? You have the enormous growth of Islamic communities in Europe, probably now between 10 and 20 million Muslims in the European Union. Well, this is also globalization. But it's alternate globalization. It's not the West conquering the rest, but it's the rest coming back to the West. The Netherlands is a very tumultuous place. How are they going to deal with multiculturalism? What does it mean to be a Muslim citizen of The Netherlands? These are very fascinating questions.
MS. TIPPETT: Yes. It's right. I mean, this pluralism is actually forcing the Europeans to think about religion in a way that they haven't for some generations, at least.
DR. BERGER: That's right, yeah. Even the French. I mean, the French have the most radical form of separation of church and state, what they call laïcité, and now you've got large numbers of Muslims who refuse to play by the rules of that game. How are they going to deal with this?
MS. TIPPETT: There are also visions of Islamic democracy — you talk about Indonesia — which again present a kind of alternative vision of globalization.
DR. BERGER: Look, in the Muslim world, what you have is what some people have, I think, quite accurately, described the struggle for the soul of the Islam. And the Wahhabis or other extremist groups are very strong right now. But they're not the only game in town. And you have — and I think this is increasing, you have movements and individuals and ideas in the Muslim world which have a very different view of Islamic civilization. Indonesia is perhaps the most important example, biggest Muslim country in the world, biggest Muslim population in the world, and the predominant form of Islam in Indonesia is tolerant, moderate, civil, not at all extremist, although unfortunately, extremism has been growing.
So, yeah, again, go back to something I said at the beginning of our conversation, globalization means that everyone can talk to almost everyone else. And whether you are a Wahhabi or whether you are a moderate Indonesian Muslim, you have international networks that carry your message. And one thing that's very interesting is that groups that can be religiously very conservative have very adroit uses of modern technology of communication. Evangelicals are a good example of this — use of television, of movies, of the Internet, whatever — and Muslim groups also do it. Almost everyone does it. The Jews do it; the Mormons do it; you have Hindu movements that do it.
MS. TIPPETT: It's quite interesting, isn't it? Some of the groups which are most critical of some forms of modernity are also very skilled with modern technology.
DR. BERGER: Yeah, but they hope that the technology will not bring the ideas they dislike. There's a wonderful story — probably true, but if not, it's still wonderful — when the old King Ibn Saud in Saudi Arabia wanted to introduce the telephone. And this must have been in the 1920s, maybe 1930s, and they put in the first telephone line between the capital Riyadh and the port of Jedda. And conservative Muslim scholars said, 'You shouldn't use that, it's an instrument of the devil.' So what the king did, he put in somebody at one end of the telephone who read the Qur'an, and it could, of course, be heard at the other end, so the argument was, if the telephone can carry the Qur'an, it must be OK. Well, that's, if you like, a symbol of what's happening. Technology of communication can be used to carry ideas which are not modern at all.
Let's talk about what modernity does. I have insisted for quite a while modernity does not necessarily lead to secularism or decline of religion. What it does lead to, necessarily, is pluralism, because all the basic movements of modernity — economic globalization, migration, urbanization, mass education, mass communications — all of this creates a situation in which every conceivable belief system and lifestyle rubs against every other. And I think that's inevitable.
Now, if you look at what this means in terms of the individual, you can say that religion loses its taken-for-granted status. In most of human history, most people lived in ideologically integrated communities. I mean, say, if you take central Europe, where I come from, there were Catholic villages as recently, I suppose, as in the 19th century, up in the Alps somewhere, people happily lived with their goats or whatever, and they never encountered anybody who wasn't Catholic. So to be Catholic was as self-evident, as much taken for granted as being a man or a woman or having blonde hair versus brown hair or having hay fever, OK?
MS. TIPPETT: Mm-hmm.
DR. BERGER: Now, this taken-for-granted status is lost with the coming of pluralism because you realize there are other possibilities of belief and of life. And therefore people are forced to make choices, and that is a very big change.
I've described modernity as a gigantic transformation from destiny to choice. People must choose what they believe, how they define themselves, how they are to live, which is quite a burden. I mean, it can be a liberation, but it's also a burden. And then you have to ask, what are the ways in which people can cope with this loss of taken-for-granted status?
MS. TIPPETT: Sociologist of global culture and religion Peter Berger. He says human beings respond in three general ways when religious traditions that have been taken for granted are suddenly coexisting with other vibrant practices of faith. Religious people can remain religious and engage with the new traditions around them. But some religious groups choose to create sectarian subcultures in which they take their values for granted in isolation from others. Another option is the attempt to forcibly restore a single religion to dominance. Peter Berger has observed attempts at all of these approaches in many cultures.
DR. BERGER: One is to try to restore taken-for-grantedness in the entire society, the totalitarian system. Now, the other little more plausible project is to forget about the larger society and to create a taken-for-granted subculture. So, if you like, it's the sectarian option. You create little groups, tightly controlled, and within those groups, whatever the religious tradition is, it again becomes taken for granted. There are lots of examples of this. It's also difficult because of the turbulent pluralism outside. So you have to keep very tight controls over your members. The third possibility is to engage with the pluralism and to enter into dialogue with the alternatives that exist to your own traditional belief system. That is difficult also. There are no risk-free options in any of this. But it's possible, and many people go that way.
MS. TIPPETT: Mm-hmm. So as you've studied countries and cultures all over the world, do you find that all three of those options are employed in different ways, in different places?
DR. BERGER: Well, the first option is pretty much impossible in Europe and North America.
MS. TIPPETT: Right. You can't turn back, right.
DR. BERGER: In the Christian world, the only country in which this might be an option is Russia. And we have a project on the Russian church and democracy. It's very interesting. When I say "we," by the way, I don't mean the royal "we," I mean our institute. And there are elements in the Russian church which would like to recreate what they call the symphonia, a symphonic unity between church, state, and society. I don't think they will succeed, but at least in Russia there is that option somehow hovering around Russian politics. Of course, it is a major project in the Islamic world. The sectarian option, the subcultural option, is of course very common and it can succeed, at least for a while. And many people, not only institutions, but individuals, take the third way. I mean, they have certain beliefs, but they expose these beliefs to dialogue and see what comes out of it. And one thing I would like to emphasize is that this is not just a matter of academics meeting in seminar rooms. It happens across fences, between houses in suburban America.
MS. TIPPETT: OK. It's not just elites who are practicing that openness and that dialogue in the face of pluralism.
DR. BERGER: No. If I may give a personal example, my oldest son is married to a woman from India who is a Hindu, not terribly practicing, but she is a Hindu. And I was fascinated. We have two grandchildren. The boy's too small to engage in theological discussions, but the girl, my granddaughter, when she was about six, they lived in suburban Maryland, and she had fascinating conversations with her neighbors, other five-year-old little girls, trying to explain why her mother has a Hindu statue in her bedroom. And then for a while the little girl across the street, her parents were missionaries for Jews for Jesus, and I was just fascinated how these two little girls tried to come to terms with each other. So that happens all over the place. And sociologically speaking, it's really more important than intellectuals who meet in seminar rooms and issue papers because it's more massive.
MS. TIPPETT: Peter Berger is director of the Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs and professor emeritus of sociology and theology at Boston University. His books include The Desecularization of the World: Resurgent Religion and World Politicsand, with Samuel Huntington, Many Globalizations.
I'm Krista Tippett and this is Speaking of Faith from American Public Media. Today, "Globalization and the Rise of Religion."
MS. TIPPETT: When the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, began in 1971, it was reserved for leading executives of the world's richest companies, national political leaders, and selected intellectuals and journalists. In recent years, there have been more religious participants than ever before. My next guest, Rosabeth Moss Kanter of the Harvard Business School, has attended many of these powerhouse gatherings. She articulated a global management sensibility for American business with her 1995 book, World Class: Thriving Locally in the Global Economy.
Rosabeth Moss Kanter advises governments and companies around the world. Obviously, she says, religion is on economic radar screens because religious actors are visibly driving world events. I spoke with her last year. She had returned from the 2005 Davos forum with a new sense of the vigor and ubiquity of religious influences.
DR. ROSABETH MOSS KANTER: Aside from the big political topics, I was also struck in Davos by the number of sessions that were about what role religion should play in business, in the workplace, and people declaring themselves in a way I had never seen before, talking about what their religion is and …
MS. TIPPETT: You mean not necessarily religious leaders or figures, but business people.
DR. KANTER: Ordinary people. Well, one was a physician, one was a business executive. And when I came back from Davos, I was at the beginning of a new Harvard Business School MBA course for second-year MBA students, and I always ask the students to introduce themselves and tell me — send me an e-mail telling me anything that's important about themselves they want me to know. And generally those e-mails are all about their career trajectory, where they grew up, what their job aspirations are. But this year I noticed many people talking about their faith and the role it played in their lives. And many of them Americans, mostly Americans, but that was also striking. So at both those levels, I think it's now part of the global conversation in a way that it hadn't been for a long time.
MS. TIPPETT: I'm curious about how you see that manifesting itself in concrete ways. You know, what does it really mean? What does it actually substantively add to the equation at a place like Davos or in a conversation you have at Harvard Business School?
DR. KANTER: Well, I don't have the conversations except privately with the students. You don't really talk about it in the classroom. And in Davos, what does it add substantively? I mean, it says this is on the agenda and that it has to be acknowledged that people approach issues from many different perspectives, that religious leaders have a great deal of influence and sway, that many people are going to be listening to them. And so that if you want to influence politics, if you want to influence international cooperation, if you want peace in the Middle East, you have to talk to religious leaders and not just political leaders because religious leaders, and not only in Iran where religious leaders run the country, hold political office, but also in other countries where religious leaders can make the difference in swaying opinions. So that's one very concrete and practical way it plays out.
MS. TIPPETT: And here's a passage from the piece you wrote after the World Economic Forum in Davos. You wrote, "At my first WEF meeting 15 years ago, global capitalism's proponents, thinking history was on their side, exuded moral superiority. Today, sobered by protesters, terrorists, wars, clashes of civilizations, and forces of nature, they manifest moral earnestness. The express desire is to repair, not ruin, the earth."
DR. KANTER: Well, it was moral superiority 15 years ago because it was almost like — I mean, speaking of one of the great books about religion and economics, which was Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, capitalism, Weber said — and, of course, he was a German sociologist, but he was also looking with admiration at the United States in the early 20th century, height of beginning to build industrial capitalism — that there was a sense in which the people who got wealthy felt that they were the elect, that God had chosen them, that there was something morally right. It proved that they had the right place in the world. And that was sort of the feeling I was getting…
MS. TIPPETT: Fifteen years ago.
DR. KANTER: …15 years ago because communism had fallen in Eastern Europe, so clearly capitalism was winning over communism. And Asian financial markets deregulated, and the Latin Americans started to talk about democratizing countries that had military rule. And it was like capitalism was going to win, and it was right. And for much of the '90s, so many people felt that their cause in life, was to make money, and that was the morally right thing to do because if you were in business, you created jobs, and jobs were a great thing, and we could have growth and growth was a great thing. And, of course, there was a backlash against that well before the terrorist acts, and it's not just terrorism, but the limitations of that. The gap between rich and poor was growing, and countries and people who were saying, 'Wait a minute, is this good for communities, all this commercial emphasis on growth? Is it good for the environment?' But I saw this grow throughout the '90s.
And by the time I went to Davos this year — now, I had been there many intervals in between — when I said it was moral earnestness this year, it's as though people needed to show off their credentials, that their company now wasn't just making tons of money, their company was contributing to tsunami relief or ending global poverty. That's become the new thing you had to show off in Davos. Not how rich you were, but how much you were giving away or how much good you were doing. And so that does change the discourse.
MS. TIPPETT: Harvard's global management consultant, Rosabeth Moss Kanter. She advises industries and countries around the world. I asked how she has experienced the effect of varied world religions on business practices.
DR. KANTER: I was struck when I was in Turkey. Now, Turkey is a secular Muslim country. It's probably about 95 percent Muslim. Amazing. Turkey was also the place that welcomed the Jews who were expelled from Spain in the Inquisition. So it's quite a remarkable country. And I was in workplaces where people paused many times during the day so that they could pray.
MS. TIPPETT: For prayers, mm-hmm.
DR. KANTER: And so one has to think about work and the workplace a little bit differently than scheduling a meeting at any moment and people should drop everything because work is the most consuming thing. Then I was working in Indonesia for a while, and I was working with a company that was headed by an ethnic Chinese family group — as is true all over Asia, by the way, even in the Muslim countries; the ethnic Chinese tend to dominate the business world. That ethnic Chinese group, in the family, many of them were evangelical Christians. Their workforce was practically only Muslim, and I had to begin to learn what all the holidays were. I had to learn when we were scheduling. I began to learn when Ramadan was every year.
I also remember speaking of globalization and my role as an American Jewish woman. I was invited to speak in Dubai for an economic development conference in 2002, and I was one of the few women on the program, maybe the only woman of my stature doing what I was doing, and I was talking to a lot of Arab men. And I began by making some comment that was a value-based comment about the sun, that I was feeling the hot sun there and it's the same sun that shines in Boston, and I was hoping that that warmth would infuse us all with spirit of understanding, that we're only going to get peace and prosperity if we come to understand each other. And I had so many people, these men, coming up to me, talking to me about how much they appreciated that, because they were men for whom their religion was very important. But they didn't think anybody else cared about the fact that they cared about that. They thought of Americans as crass materialists, that we were — our religion was, in fact, global capitalism and making as much money as possible.
MS. TIPPETT: And I want to just push a bit. You know, a cynic would say that for all of this incorporation of values-based thinking and talk into workplaces and into — even into a forum like Davos, there is kind of a natural antipathy between religious values and the interests of capitalism and economies. How would you respond to that idea?
DR. KANTER: Well, first of all, I am not taking a position here, and I might agree with the cynics.
MS. TIPPETT: OK.
DR. KANTER: I think it's talk, much of it, not always real. I can't say we've made a big shift in the world. I think there are more businesses realizing that they have to show their moral credentials, and they have to do good, like British Petroleum. BP is trying to eliminate greenhouse gases. I mean, they're actually working on that, and they want to present themselves as a green company. So it's the new method of self-presentation, whether it really makes a difference or not. That's a very striking thing, though, because it opens the possibility that there will be more actions that are good. So we should always test for the works, not just the words.
MS. TIPPETT: Rosabeth Moss Kanter is Ernest L. Arbuckle professor of business administration at the Harvard Business School. Earlier in this hour, you heard sociologist Peter Berger of Boston University. These expansive thinkers point to a robust and not at all predictable role for religion in the future in global politics, culture, and economic development.
To close this program, we turn again to the chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, Jonathan Sacks, and his perspective on the critical responsibility that globalization presents to religious people in every society. This is excerpted from his book The Dignity of Difference: How To Avoid the Clash of Civilizations.
READER: "Our situation at the beginning of the 21st century is like that of Europe at the beginning of the 17th century. Then, as now, the landscape was littered with the debris of religious conflict. It is fair to say that religion did not distinguish itself at that time. The secularization of Europe grew directly out of the failure of religion to meet the challenge of change. As one who deeply believes in the humanizing power of faith and the stark urgency of coexistence at a time when weapons of mass destruction are accessible to extremist groups, I do not think we can afford to fail again. Time and time again in recent years we have been reminded that religion is not what the European Enlightenment thought it would become: mute, marginal, and mild. It is fire, and like fire, it warms but it also burns. And we are the guardians of the flame."
MS. TIPPETT: From The Dignity of Difference by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.
Contact us at onbeing.org. Our Web site offers exclusive unheard clips of my conversations with our two guests and view a gallery of globalization on the streets of Washington, D.C. While there, sign up for the Speaking of Faith podcast and you'll never have to miss another program again. Listen on demand, when you want, wherever you want. Discover more at onbeing.org.
The senior producer of Speaking of Faith is Mitch Hanley, with producers Colleen Scheck and Jody Abramson and editor Ken Hom. Our Web producer is Trent Gilliss, with assistance from Jennifer Krause. Kate Moos is the managing producer of Speaking of Faith, the executive editor is Bill Buzenberg, and I'm Krista Tippett.