Religions and Religious Nationalism

Religion across the World

Over half of the world's population identifies with either Christianity or Islam; the other half identifies as Buddhist, Hindu, folk religionist, other, Jewish, or unaffiliated.
Over 80 percent of people in the world identify as belonging to a religion. A majority of those, over 90 percent, belong to a world religion, a religion that has spread outside its original cultural context into the greater world. The term world religions is also sometimes used to indicate the most widespread religions: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Judaism. Other people belong to folk religions, faiths that are closely associated with a particular group, ethnicity, or tribe that are typically more local. These include African traditional religions, Chinese folk religions, Native American religions, and Australian aboriginal religions. Slightly less than 1 percent of people worldwide identify with other religions, including Baha'i, Jainism, Shintoism, and Taoism.

World Religious Affiliation

Over 80 percent of the world's population identifies as a member of a religious group. Sociologists look at how society and religion impact each other, as well as the role religion plays in social change.
A large number of people, about 16 percent, identify as unaffiliated. Also called nonaffiliated, the unaffiliated are people who do not identify with a specific religion. This group include atheists and agnostics. However, unaffiliated individuals are not necessarily agnostic, atheist, or nonspiritual. An atheist is a person who does not believe in a god, or in the existence of any deities, or gods. An agnostic is a person who is unsure about the existence of a divine being, not seeing enough evidence on either side of the question to make a determination. The unaffiliated also includes people who hold religious beliefs but do not identify with a specific religious faith. Religious pluralism is the belief that all or many religions are fundamentally correct. Pluralism indicates cooperation, understanding, and acceptance between religions. Many religions are based in ethicalism, the belief that moral principles have a sacred quality. Many religions teach that goodness involves following certain rules and behaviors. Sociologists consider how this serves as a force of social control, encouraging conformity to social norms and discouraging certain types of behavior. In addition to studying specific religious faiths, sociologists also look at civil religion, a nation's cultural beliefs. Certain rituals and symbols, such as a national flag, monument, or anthem, hold deep meaning for the citizens of a nation as a whole. These rituals and symbols often have religious implications, although they are part of civil or public life. Like religions based on belief in the divine, civil religion can emphasize an ethical code and can serve as a form of social control.

Religious Nationalism

Religious nationalism is the linking of strongly held religious convictions with beliefs about a people's social and political destiny.

Religious nationalism is the linking of strongly held religious convictions with beliefs about a people's social and political destiny. It combines religion and nationalism, an extreme form of patriotism marked by a feeling of superiority over other countries. Religious nationalism can arise within any religious faith.

Religious nationalists reject the idea of a separation of church and state. They reject secularism. Instead, they believe laws and government should follow their specific religion's teachings and beliefs. Religious nationalists insist upon a strict interpretation of their religion's teachings and beliefs. However, they pick, choose, and reinterpret those teachings and beliefs to serve and justify their own purposes.

Sociologists look for the causes of religious nationalism and the reasons that have sparked the rise. One theory is that religious nationalism is a reaction against secularism and modernity. A related theory is that it is a backlash against rapid social change because of globalization. Another, as in the case of terrorists who claim to act in the name of Islam, is that religious nationalism is a reaction against Western culture and the Westernization of their own culture. Western cultures are much different from and typically more secular than many cultures in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Religious nationalism tends to arise in societies that have little religious diversity, although it can arise in any society.

Extreme religious nationalism often leads to violence. The juxtaposition of religion and violence can seem jarring because most religions espouse peace, compassion, and understanding. But sociologists point out that religious nationalists often see themselves in a religious war. They believe their religious and national identities are under attack. They justify the violence as a defense of that identity, casting themselves as good fighting evil.