The Impact of religion in Global Civil Society

In nations where citizens face great economic and political instability, faith in the government can be understandably hard to come by. Therefore, when looking for ways to bring about change, it makes sense for those in developing nations to look towards religious organizations. Not only do religious communities provide fundamental answers to a large portion of the world’s population, they connect communities across borders, causing religious and political issues to become global rather than local concerns. These religious organizations could very well be the main motor of political change in upcoming years.

Ironic to the idea that religious organizations can have large global influence is the fact that many religious organizations reject the idea of globalization. For example, Pope Paul II delivered a speech in which he blamed neoliberalism for placing unbearable burdens upon less favored countries, which means a small number of countries become exceedingly rich at the cost of the impoverishment of other countries. In other words, the wealthy grow wealthier and the poor grow poorer. However, this stance on globalization fails to address how religious organizations have and can continue to use globalization to drive change on a large scale.

An example of this large scale influence is the “Jubilee 2000” campaign. This campaign stemmed from a portion of the bible in Leviticus, in which the entire community was called upon to make efforts to restore to human relations the original harmony which God had given his creation and which sinfulness had damaged. During the Jubilee in biblical times, the burdens of the oppressed were forgiven so that everyone could have a new beginning. In modern times, the church interpreted the Jubilee as a calling for a foreign aid bill that fully funded debt relief for poor countries. This foreign aid bill became a reality during the Clinton administration due to an intense global campaign that used religious rational to frame debt as a moral issue, organize various groups into a single campaign, draw attention to the cause, and exert pressure on authorities to create change. Debt relief became a reality due to the global impact of religious organization.

Religious organizations can be an important part of civil society for developing nations because they encourage volunteerism and a communitarian vision of the world. They also address major social issues, like poverty, crime and health issues, along with building civic skills, and economic justice. Moreover, since religious traditions are often not confined to a single nation, the common practices transcend normal boundaries. Religious organizations are uniquely powerful actors in civil societies because they create a shared version of ultimate truth and are therefore able to foster social change transnationally. This is why some of the world’s largest relief and developmental organizations like World Vision, Caritas, the Aga Khan Foundation, and Compassion International, are rooted in religion. On an increasingly global scale, religious actors are interacting with one another, with intergovernmental organizations, development organizations, and foreign actors. All of this drives changes on the domestic policy of states.

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