To understand the role of religion in a globalised society, it is important to understand the concept of transnational religious and ethnic fields. This concept has emerged out of the broad field of migration studies. Within this field, scholars look at the cultural dynamics that accompany the process of migration. Traditionally, the questions are, what do migrants take from their home country to their receiving country? How do they integrate and adapt to this new context? To what extent do they recreate a culturally distinct home away from home? At some point migration, scholars observed that, to many migrants, the distinctions between sending country and receiving country were not so clear cut.
Rather, they lived and moved within a transnational social field that interconnected different groups of migrants across different receiving countries. Even migrants who have lived for a long time in their receiving country will stay in touch with their home country and groups of migrants with the same background living in other countries. These connections can take on many forms– ideas, fashion, travel, and exchange of goods. For example, Dutch Moroccans often travel to Morocco for the summer holidays. Along the way, they meet countless other Moroccan migrants from other parts of Europe all travelling in the same direction. The country of origin is one of the points within these transnational fields, of course, but often not the only one.
To West African migrants living in the Netherlands, for example, London, Paris, and Brussels may be important locations where they have many contacts, where they might be able to consult with religious leaders and healers from their own cultural context by the fashions they want, particular foodstuffs, and herbal remedies. These transnational fields can also be mobilised across national boundaries for political purposes to influence developments in the home countries or gather support internationally for nationalistic causes. For example, religious actors within India maintain very active transnational ties and support the building of mosques and temples worldwide, in turn receiving support for religious causes from people in the Indian diaspora.
In India, as in other countries, migrants are often actively involved in influencing the outcomes of religious conflicts. This involvement can range from sending money or even arms, lobbying the government of their countries of residence, to actively joining the sometimes armed conflict. Recently, there has been increased attention for European Muslims, often with a migrant background, joining jihadist groups to become active fighters in the violent conflicts in the Middle East. However, this is by no means a new phenomenon. Famous example drawing fighters from all over the world along ideological and religious lines are the Spanish Civil War and the conflict over Northern Ireland. These observations led to new kinds of questions and conceptual developments.
What kinds of worlds are created in this way? How are they held together? What are the political implications? Ethnicity, language, and nationality can all be important in knitting together and mobilising these transnational fields. But religion is another very important factor. Moreover, religion can provide linkages across groups, transcending ethnic and national boundaries. For example, Nigerian Pentecostal Christians, both in Nigeria and in the diaspora, are linked to American Christian evangelical networks that promote a particular policy towards the Middle East, based on the belief that the end of times is near. And vice versa, American evangelicals will be concerned with the fate of Nigerian Christians, especially in the troubled northern region of Nigeria, where sharia has been implemented in many states.
It is important to note that a shared religious identity does not mean groups can automatically count on the support of religious groups elsewhere in the world. There are many people of Jewish heritage, for example, who do not support the policies of Israel regarding the occupied territories. Equally, most Muslims worldwide to do not support IS. And not all Christians thought that the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, during the Bush administration, were a good idea. There is a great variety within religious traditions, not to mention the ethnic and national divides, that might play a role. Nevertheless, it is important to look at the role of religious identity in mobilising large groups of people, transnationally and globally, when analysing the role of conflict.
To be able to do that, it is important to realise that religious life, for many people, is played out within transnational social fields. Via religion, they are linked to people across the globe. This will be explored further in the lecture on globalisation as an opportunity rather than a threat that follows.