Thursday, May 19, 2005

globalization and the Church's response (part 1)

Globalization is a reality that has attracted attention in many circles not only in the press, but also in academia, in our political discussions, and even in the Church. Just recently, National Public Radio (NPR) hosted a discussion about globalization in a religious perspective--and interestingly there is no Catholic representative in the guest list. Hmm.

Anyway, globalization is a phenomenon that has had a long history, showing itself in various forms through the ages (think of the "globalizing" influence of the Roman or the British empires, as one author puts it); but only during the past few decades have its impact and effect been keenly felt, discussed, and analyzed in any systematic way in journals, conferences, symposiums around the world. Plus, globalization today is far different than the "globalizing" influences of the empires of the past.

Globalization's influence today is varied, touching on many aspects of the human condition: in politics, economics, culture, and even ethics. And because of its wide-reaching effect, a clear and well-thought-out response to it is necessary. This has been a critique that has been leveled at the Church: that the Church as a whole has not had a detailed and comprehensive response to the phenomenon of globalization.

So what I thought I'd do is to blog about of some of the manifestations, effects, and contours of globalization: how it has made itself felt in various areas such as in politics, economics, culture, and ethics. In a series of blogs, I will provide examples of instances for each of these manifestations as I present them. And then, I will identify what the Church's response to these effects has been and to the whole reality of globalization. The late Pope John Paul II as well as theologians and Church commentators have had a few things to say about this reality which, as the years and decades roll by, will continue to have an effect in the world.

Defining globalization
The authors David Held and Andrew McGrew, professors of political science at the London School of Economics and of international relations at Southampton University respectively, in their book Globalization/Anti-Globalization, define globalization as "the expanding scale, growing magnitude, speeding up and deepening impact of transcontinental flows and patters of social interaction. It refers to a shift or transformation in the scale of human organization that links distant communities and expands the reach of power relations across the world's regions and continents."

The main point in this definition is that a transformation or a shifting has occurred in the way people interact with one another and between communities due to this expanding reach of "transcontinental flows." These transcontinental flows could refer to several things, such as the rapid transfer of capital, information, technology, people, news, goods, and services. The speed with which these things have flowed from one distant part of the world to another helps to cause a change and a transformation in relations between world regions and cultures.

David Crocker in his paper for the Pontifical Academy used Held's definition of globalization during the Seventh Plenary Session of the Pontifical Academy of Social Science held in April 2001. Referring to Held and other authors, Crocker asserts that these writers "characterize globalization as a process (or set of processes) which embodies a transformation in the spatial organization of social relations and transactions--assessed in terms of their extensity, intensity, velocity and impact."

That these transcontinental flows have caused a transformation in the way people organize themselves and relate to one another is interesting and noteworthy. The definition points to the reality of the powerful impact of this globalizing phenomenon.

It is these varied effects of globalization that prompted Max L. Stackhouse to say that globalization is more than an economic reality. It is a growing and prevailing condition which seeps into various aspects of living. In his Public Lecture at Santa Clara University here in the SF Bay Area on January 2003, Stackhouse, a professor of Christian Ethics at Princeton Theological Seminary, says that "more determinative forces than purely economic ones are at work in technology, medicine, law, and education, forces that make the economic changes viable, and through the complex of developments, as Roland Robertson has famously said, 'the whole world is becoming one place.'" He adds in the lecture that theology and spirituality have a role to play in this globalizing trend, a point which will be taken up later.

But Stackhouse's, as well as Crocker's and Held's definitions of globalization, point to the varied factors that make up the phenomenon: globalization is not just a mere economic reality, but rather a global condition that touches on politics, culture, the environment, science, medicine, law, and even religion.

It is with these definitions in mind then that one can examine the different ways in which globalization has touched the central areas that are dominantly featured in the public and academic debates on globalization. In examining this, I will follow the format laid out by Held in the aforementioned book. I will look at the role of the nation-state, national culture, world economy, world governance, and ethics as they relate to the reality of globalization. By looking at each of these areas, I will try to examine how globalization is manifested.

So, the next installment on this topic will feature the nation-state.

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