The rapid spread of globalization has brought numerous advancements to our world: free markets, access to diverse products, efficiency of production, intelligent record keeping systems,
high speed global communications and a heightened awareness of world events, to name a few. These improvements have also come with some unintended consequences: porous national boundaries, increased internet and media usage which diverts time away from family and local
community, increased exposure to violent imagery, and a trend toward individual consumerism. This article will seek to define globalization, and discuss the way in which these unintended consequences have threatened to erode local time and space-bound human community and the cohesion of extended family systems. Islam and Christianity provide a set of shared values by which to evaluate these rapid changes and to suggest a model for the preservation of communal connection and identity.
Globalization is a relatively recent term often used synonymously with global capitalism to describe a world wide web of commerce, the global exchange of resources, products and services. The term was coined in the mid-late 20th century but only gained widespread usage in the 1990’s. Some political theorists correlate usage of the term with the fall of the Soviet Union, the decline of socialism and the global rise of capitalism. While often used to describe this
global trend toward capitalism, the term ‘globalization’ applies more broadly to the influence of modernization and the increasing inter-connectedness of global media and communications. The world’s global inter-connectedness is not a recent trend. Global markets and their contiguous exchange of information have existed for millennia. There is significant archaeological and historical evidence of an inter-continental exchange of livestock and products, an ancient web of global commerce that stretched from the farthest reaches of eastern Asia through the greater Middle East, the center of Africa and the northwestern boundaries of
Europe. These networks of global trade date back thousands of years. Prehistoric tribes in the Sahara desert were importing domestic animals from Asia between 6,000 and 4,000 BCE. Egyptians were purchasing goats and sheep from Southwest Asia in 6,000 BCE.ii
Archaeological evidence dates Oman’s participation in global markets to at least 3,000
BCE.iii Oman’s products can be traced to locations in the farthest reaches of Europe and China.
There is even speculation that 3,000 year old artifacts of the Olmec people from Central America
could be evidence of an early trade with Africa.iv Our world has been connected in a web of
global commerce for thousands of years.
International connection through commerce is not antithetical to religious values. Mohammed
was himself a successful merchant along the ancient caravan route through the desert to Syria, a
trade route that supplied goods to transnational markets.v
Participation in the benefits of
globalization does not necessarily betray the deepest values of the Abrahamic faiths.
Globalization is not, then, a new phenomenon, nor is it an exclusively Western innovation.
Globalization has, however, accelerated immensely in the last century, and exponentially in the
past twenty years. Consequent to the growth of international trade has been the necessary
development of a high speed global communication system that links the world through cell
phones, internet connections, and the vast sharing of information through a mass media,
accessible to billions at a time. This rapid acceleration of inter-connection has changed the
world quickly and dramatically. Once clearly defined social boundaries – national, local,
linguistic, cultural, religious, ethnic – have become permeable as never before.
Robyn Bateman Driskell and Larry Lyon of Baylor University in The Impact of Globalization on
Local Communities suggest that local communities have been eclipsed in the United States by a
“A mass society is a standardized, homogeneous society devoid of major ethnic and class
divisions and, most importantly for the community, devoid of substantial regional and
local variation. Because of mass media, standardized public education, and residential
mobility, the intercommunity variation in norms, values, and behavior has been reduced
to a remarkable degree. The territorial community, then, is of little scientific importance
in a mass society. Residents of New York…and New Deal, Texas (population 732) will be
much more alike than they are different. They watch the same TV shows and movies, read
the same magazines and syndicated columnists, study the same textbooks in the same
grades, and travel from one city to the next with ease.”
The homogenization of local communities that has occurred in the United States is representative
of a global phenomenon that has affected the way in which local communities function in nearly
every region of the planet.
Ali Mohammadi, editor of International Communication and Globalization defines globalization
as “the way in which…relations of power and communication are stretched across the globe,
involving compressions of time and space and a re-composition of social relationships.” vi
The full effects of this hyper inter-connectedness remain to be seen. What forms will human
interaction take? Will there emerge a global “mass society”? What will become of locally-based
The Importance of Locally-based Community and the Effects of Increased Mass Media
Christians and Muslims share a value for locally-based relational community and cohesion with
an extended family. The Abrahamic faiths value local social networks of mutual aid and share
the intrinsic values of reconciliation and hospitality, essential to sustaining community.
Participation in a local community is essential to healthy human development.
Duncan Timms, a sociologist who has studied the effects of the internet on the formation of
identity and local community noted that “individual identity derives largely from face to face
human interaction through mirroring and relations with others and from one’s imagination of
their community’s perceptions and evaluations.” vii There may be no replacement for
participation in an extended family system and a primary local community for identity formation.
What will function to form identity if local community and extended family systems continue to
weaken in the emerging “mass society?” Some social scientists have asserted that community is
shifting from time and space bound localities, to on-line communities. As an individual’s use of
the internet increases, participation in on-line communities also increases. Though, an on-line
community does not seem to be able to perform the essential functions of a locally-based
There is counter evidence which suggests that rather than weakening local community, those
who use the internet are more likely to use it to connect with a network of local social groups. It
could be that internet use actually increases face to face contact.viii This increased contact,
however, is not likely to be in a single community of support, but rather in several isolated and
self-selected communities. Membership in a single place-based primary community is being
replaced by membership in multiple communities, spread across space and time.ix Sociologist B.
Wellman calls this “networked individualism.” “Rather than fitting into the same group as those
around them, each individual has his or her own ‘personal communities’.” x
While there are
benefits to broadening one’s social networks in this way, it is probable that as people
increasingly choose membership in several self-selected personal communities, the functions
which are essential to identity formation will be less available.
Sociologist Michael Traber has studied the impact of television and internet use on families and
local communities. Traber noted, “…a major impact of television on culture is the compulsive
obsession to watch TV programmes, irrespective of quality. It becomes a part of the daily
routine…It makes family members less communicative with each other.” xi Television viewing
and internet use intrude into the pattern of family life and increase the communication gap
between the members of the family.
An increase in TV viewing and internet use in America has led to a measurable decline in
American’s participation in local community. According to the Nielsen Report on Television, in
1998, the average American watched 4 hours of television each day, an increase of 11% per
decade since television became available in nearly 100% of American homes in the 1960’s.
“(Today) husbands and wives spend four times as much time watching television together as
they spend talking to each other, and six to seven times as much as they spend in community
activities outside the home.” xii The average internet user world-wide spends nearly two hours
per day on-line. This is an increase of 45 minutes per day since the year 2000.xiii Time given to
media usage in the home is time diverted from family and community activities. The evidence
supports the conclusion that increased use of mass media leads to a weakening of local
communities and extended family systems.
These emerging social problems related to media usage are not exclusive to North America, but
are likely to be experienced in any region of the world where television and internet usage are on
the rise. Internet access and usage has increased dramatically world-wide over the past decade
with the greatest increase having occurred in the Middle East.xiv
Of course there are numerous benefits to our world’s increased interconnectedness through the
internet and mass media: instantaneous awareness of world events, instant access to a growing
collective database of on line knowledge, efficiency of communication, connection to a vast
network of friends, and organizational effectiveness in opening local movements to large
constituents.xv These are wonderful advancements. And yet both Christianity and Islam have a
mandate to analyze social trends, to respond to them, to speak prophetic witness to the world
regarding them and to offer guidance about how to incorporate new trends into our lives in such
a way that they harmonize with the wisdom and blessings of our traditions.
Media Exposure to Fear and its Effect on Community
Another unintended consequence of increased interconnection and media usage is a heightened
awareness of crime and the fear which this awareness seems to generate. According to Jeremy
H. Lipschultz and Michael L. Hilt of the University of Nebraska at Omaha, in their paper titled
“Race and Local Television News Crime Coverage,”
“Public opinion polls consistently found during the 1990s that a majority of
Americans worried that crime was getting worse (Gallup, 2000)…coverage of
murders increased by about 600%, even though the national murder rate dropped by
20% in the period 1990–1998 (Westfeldt & Wicker, 1998) and the violent crime rate
dropped by a record 10.4% in 1999 from the previous year (Associated Press, 2000).
For more than 40 years, the Gallup Poll has found that Americans identify crime as
either the first or second problem facing their local community.” xvi
Crime has been on the decline in the United States, yet global awareness of localized crimes,
crimes that would have been known only to a small community 20 years ago, creates the
impression that crime is more prevalent than it is. As a result, a culture of fear is emerging in
America and around the world where media usage is on the rise.
According to Wesley G. Skogan, Professor of Political Science at Northwestern University, “The
fear of crime can have devastating long term effects for neighborhoods. Once fear of crime sets
in…residents frequently withdraw from community life.” xvii Mark Warr, Professor of Sociology
at the University of Texas at Austin notes, “The most frequently reported precaution that people
employ in protecting themselves against crime is called ‘spatial avoidance’, or avoiding places
that are believed to be dangerous.” xviii There is evidence to suggest a positive correlation
between increased media consumption and the increase in fear which inhibits community.
Both Christianity and Islam share an antidote to fear: the belief in God’s sovereignty, and a
command to trust in God’s providence. The command “do not be afraid” occurs 65 times in the
Bible. Continually, the message of Christian scripture encourages believers to trust in God and
to resist the impulse to fear. Psalm 27, verse 1 says, “The Lord is my light and my salvation,
whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?” And
Psalm 23, verse 4, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no
evil, for you are with me.” In the Gospel according to John, chapter 14, verse 27, Jesus
comforted the disciples by saying, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give
it to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” And there
is the beautiful Surah in the Qur’an, Surah 9, verse 40 when Mohammad and Abu Bakr were in
flight from Mecca to Al Medinah. Mohammed said to his comrade, ‘Fear not, for Allah is with
us.’ Then it says that “Allah caused His peace of reassurance to descend upon him and
supported him with hosts ye cannot see, and made the word of those who disbelieved the
nethermost, while Allah’s word it was that became the uppermost. Allah is Mighty, Wise.”xix
The Islamic and Christian shared assurances to trust in God engender a feeling of peace and a
freedom from fear, essential to the formation and fostering of human community.
Individualism, Consumerism and Their Effects on Community
Globalization is often associated with free market capitalism, its accompanying ethic of
consumerism and the tendency in the current form to encourage individualistic behavior. Both
trends, consumerism and individualism, threaten to erode the cohesion of mutual community and
run counter to the shared communal ethics of Islam and Christianity. Christians and Muslims
have an opportunity in this emerging global trend toward cultural hegemony to give voice to an
alternative ethic, one that both embraces the advantages of globalization while countering
individualism and consumerism with an ethic of local and global community. There is nothing in
the religious systems of Muslims and Christians that prohibits participation in the market, but
consumption is not what defines them. Free market capitalism can be a useful tool for the
exchange of goods and services, but for Muslims and Christians it should never be idolized.xx In
secular culture, even after the world economic crisis, the free market economy has become
something of a god.
While globalization in general, and the values of individual consumerism as communicated
through mass media in particular, are often portrayed as an unstoppable force, in truth
globalization is no more prevalent a human construct than the political organizations of nationstates,
entities to which the Abrahamic faiths have a wealth of experience in shaping, in
influencing with a counter-cultural ethic. Michael Traber aptly reminds us, “Globalization is
portrayed as some law of nature rather than a human construct of power in the service of
economic and cultural hegemony. The mass media…are subject to both personal and corporate
ethical scrutiny.” xxi The shared values of Islam and Christianity can provide the ethical scrutiny
and corrective voice that Traber speaks of. With approximately 1.5 billion Muslims in the world
and 2 billion Christians, Muslims and Christians together make up over half of the world’s
population. Muslims and Christians joining their voices around shared values can potentially
influence emerging world culture in a substantial and positive way.
The Way Forward
Christianity and Islam, perhaps more than any other social organizations on earth, are in a
position to model for the world a way to both embrace the advancement of global interconnection
while remaining engaged in local time and space-bound primary communities.
Globalization and cross-cultural interconnection are not new concepts for Islam and Christianity,
religions that became global soon after their founding. Islam and Christianity are not based on
ethnic, cultural or linguistic identity, but have at their core a concept of global communal
membership that transcends national identity. Today Christians and Muslims co-exist in nearly
every country of the world. Though the Qur’an is recorded in Arabic, the language of
Mohammed, Islam is not exclusive to Arabic people any more than Christianity is exclusive to
speakers of Hebrew and Greek, the languages of the Bible. From the beginning Mohammad
envisioned Islam as a global community of Muslims, the Ummah, the community of believers.
Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God as a community of global inclusion, “and people will come
from east and west, and from north and south and sit at the table in the Kingdom of God.”xxii
In addition to being global in reach, Christianity and Islam are lived out in the context of a local
community of worship and fellowship. The global religion of Islam is lived in relation to one’s
affiliation with a mosque. The global religion of Christianity is lived in relation to one’s
participation in a local church. Christianity and Islam are global and yet remain deeply
committed to a version of globalization that places local community and direct human
relationship at the center of their activity. Christians and Muslims can participate in one interconnected
world while maintaining their respective commitments to a local community.
Muslims and Christians share a willingness to make use of mass media as a tool within
disciplined boundaries, a commitment to preserving extended family systems and local
community, a desire to trust in God alone, becoming freed from fear. These two Abrahamic
faiths share a religious identity as God’s servants, not individual consumers to be served.
There is a troubling alternative to inter-faith partnership in the face of globalization. The
alternative to collaboration is a seductive tendency toward isolationism, a religious
fundamentalism that tends toward the reestablishment of boundaries in an attempt to insulate its
members from the forces of the other. It seeks to draw lines of theological purity and then to
work only with insiders for insiders. This fundamentalism can lead to the unfortunate rejection
of partners from other religious who share a desire to protest the very same negative aspects of
A far preferable and more effective way forward is to embrace an ecumenism that engages with
other faiths as partners in a project of speaking prophetic witness to the intended and unintended
negative forces of globalization. The Abrahamic faiths can collaborate creatively to suggest
correctives to the aspects of globalization that threaten shared values.
God in divine infinite wisdom has formed us into many nations, and I believe that God intends
for us to collaborate as friends and co-creators of healthy human systems. In the Qur’an, Surah
49:13 (13) says, “O ye people! We created you from a single pair of male and female, and made
you into nations and tribes, that ye may know (recognize) each other. Not that ye may despise
each other.”xxiii Quranic commentators Ali Abdullah Yusuf and Aatullah Agha both understand
“many nations and tribes” in this passage to mean all people of the earth, Muslim and nonMuslim.xxiv
The world will continue to grow ever more inter-connected in the coming decades. Access to
information will accelerate and become available in the most remote regions of the planet. The
emerging global society will continue to permeate and transcend national, linguistic and ethnic
boundaries. Humanity will become increasingly aware of a growing economic, political,
environmental and social inter-dependence. But God has created humans with both an ability to
form partnerships across human boundaries, and a deep need to be nurtured in extended families
and local communities. One need not be sacrificed for the other. The Abrahamic faiths are in a
position to discern together as brothers and sisters to provide a model for the world that is both
globally connected and regionally engaged in community.
Acknowledgements: Thank you to Dr. Abdulrahman Al Salimi of MERA, Dr. Charles Amjad-Ali, Director of
Islamic Studies, Luther Seminary, Susan Bennett White, Sociology Librarian, Princeton University, Rev. Michael
Bos, Minister of West End Collegiate Church, Rev. Melissa Boyer, Pastor, Trinity-Boscobel United Methodist
Church, Professor Katherine Czepiel, Caleigh Boyer-Holt, editorial assistance.
Beyer, Peter. Religions in Global Society. London: Routledge, 2006, p.18.
Wendorf, Fred, and Romuald Schild. “Late Neolithic megalithic structures at Nabta Playa (Sahara), southwestern
Egypt.” Journal of Anthropological Archaeology.17:97-123 (2000).
iii Al ubair, Mohammad, and Vincent McBrierty. Oman:Ancient Civilization: Modern Nation Towards a Knowledge
and Service Economy. Dublin, Ireland: Trinity College Dublin Press, and Muscat, Oman: The Bait Al Zubair
Foundation LLC, 2004, p.15.
iv Melgar, Jose. “Antigüedades mexicanas, notable escultura antigua.” Boletín de la Sociedad Mexicana de
Geografía y Estadística, época. 2, vol. 1.(1869): pp. 292–297.
v Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. Islam: Religion, History and Civilization. New York: Harper One, 2001, p.49.
vi Ali Mohammadi. ed. International Communication and Globalization, London: Sage, 1997, p.3.
vii Timms, Duncan. “Identity, local community and the internet,” Social Capital, Lifelong Learning and the
Management of Place: An international perspective. Eds. Michael Osborne, Kate Sankey, and Bruce Wison.
London: Routledge, 2007, p. 63.
viii Wellman,B. , Boase, J. and Chen, W. “The networked nature of community: online and offline”, IT and Society
ix Timms p. 72.
x Wellman, B. “Physical place and cyberplace: the rise of networked individualism.” Community Informatics:
Shaping Computer-mediated Social Relations. Eds. L.Keeble and B.D. Loader. London: Routledge, 2001, p.17.
xi Traber, Michael. Globalization, Mass Media and Indian Cultural Values. Delhi, India: ISPCK, 2003, p.131.
xii Putnam, Robert. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Simon and
Schuster, 2000, pp. 223-224.
xiii The World Internet Project: International Report. Research conducted by the Center for the Digital Future at the
USC Annenberg School for Communication with 13 partner countries and regions in North America, South
America, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Oceania. 2009. p.32.
xiv The Middle East has seen an internet usage growth rate of 1,648.2 % since the year 2000.
Africa has seen an internet growth rate of 1,392.4 % in the past decade. Asia’s internet growth rate has been 545.9
%. Europe – 297.8 %, North America – 134%, Latin America/Caribbean – 890.8 %, Oceania / Australia – 175.2 %.
(Internet World Statistics: Usage and Population Statistics, http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm. data from
Nielsen Online, by the International Telecommunications Union, by GfK, and local Regulators.) Included in the
study’s definition of ‘The Middle East’ is: Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Sudan,
Syria, Israel, Kuwait, UAE, Yemen, Libya, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Algeria and Tunisia.
xv The internet transformed the Gülen movement from a modest community of Nursi followers to an international
Islamic activist movement. The Gülen Movement was an Islamic movement inspired by the teachings of Turkish
Sufi Scholar, Fethullah Gülen who argued in favor of the need for inter-faith dialogue, explored the relation of Islam
to secularism, issues of gender equality, and suggested a framework for Islamic interaction with global commerce.
(Aslandogan, Yuksel, and Robert Hunt. Muslim Citizens of the Globalized World: Contributions of the Gülen
Movement. Somerset, NJ: The Light, Inc., 2007, p.26). “The global reach of rapid communication has allowed
charismatic Muslim leaders with new ideas about Islam to take those ideas from the margins to center stage with
unprecedented speed.” (Aslandogan, p.2)
xvi Lipschultz, Jeremy, and Michael Hilt. “Race and Local Television News Crime Coverage.” SIMILE: Studies in
Media and Information Literacy Education. V3 #4. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, (November, 2003), p. 2.
xvii Warr, Mark. “Fear of Crime in the United States: Avenues for Research and Policy.” Criminal Justice. V 4.
(2000), pp. 451 – 483. Fear of Crime –
Effects Of Fear.
xviii Warr, Mark. “Fear of Crime.” Encyclopedia of Crime and Justice. The Gale Group Inc. Encyclopedia.com.
xix Pickthall, Mohammed Marmaduke. The Meaning of the Glorious Koran: An Explanatory Translation by
Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall. New York: New American Library, p. 149.
xx Ameer, Ali. “Globalization and Greed: A Muslim Perspective.” Subverting Greed: Religious Perspectives on the
Global Economy. Edt. Paul Knitter and Chandra Muzaffar. Boston:Boston Research Center for the 21st Century,
2002, p. 140.
xxi Traber p. 191.
xxii NRSV, The Gospel According to Luke, chapter 13, verse 29.
xxiii Ali, Abdullah Yusuf. The Meaning of the Holy Qur’an by Ali, Abdullah Yusuf. Maryland: Amana
xxiv Agha, Aatullah., et al. The Holy Qur’an: text, translation and commentary. New York: Qur’an Inc., 2004.