Religion and Globalization

Some argue that religion was the first globalizing force in the world. Even before nation-states were formed, missionaries, conquerors, traders, and travelers carried beliefs, rituals, and sacred objects and texts with them. However, in recent decades, more efficient means of communication and transport have allowed the process of religious contact and exchange to take an enormous leap.

Global flows of religion are driven not only by religious institutions themselves, but also by immigrants, refugees, missionaries, tourists, pilgrims, and the internet. By allowing membership across national boundaries, religion offers a way for individuals and organizations to ground themselves amid the fragmentation and dislocation created by globalization.

Immigration and Religion

Religion plays an important role for immigrant communities. It is usually the first port of call when immigrants arrive in their new country. Religious institutions support undocumented and documented immigrants in finding employment and housing, understanding the rules and laws of the new country, and counseling them in spiritual and psychological matters. In addition, religious institutions may also assist in reinforcing identity and a sense of belonging by offering immigrants a home away from home. Immigrants can meet each other, worship in their own language, eat their own food, and celebrate holidays together. Because of this heightened social function, many immigrants who were not religious in the homeland may start frequenting religious institutions in their adopted country.

On the other hand, religious identity is more significant than national identity to some people even before they leave their homeland. As a result, conflicts from the homeland may be played out by immigrants in their adopted countries.

Immigrants' religious practices and beliefs also have an influence on their adopted country by exposing it to religious diversity. Further, new religious forms from the adopted country are carried back to the immigrants' homeland and introduced there.

Religious institutions are also part of this process of religious globalization through immigration. They may cater to multicultural congregations, uniting locals and immigrants or different immigrant communities in the same place of worship. Multicultural congregations, in particular, help immigrants integrate into a new society since they meet locals who can assist them in practical terms. Meanwhile, locals see such immigrants as brothers and sisters in their faith.


Some religious institutions may send missionaries from the homeland with the goal of keeping immigrants committed to the faith. Also, as in the past, missionaries work to introduce their own religious practices and beliefs to local populations in other parts of the world. A relatively recent example would be the introduction of Buddhism from Asia into Western countries.

Religious Tourism and Pilgrimage

Moreover, tourists and pilgrims are also agents in the spread and interaction of religions beyond their homeland. In modern times, sacred and secular pilgrimages intersect, and new sites are added to traditional pilgrimage sites such as Lourdes, Santiago de Compostela, Jerusalem, and Mecca. Globalization has made it less expensive and easier for pilgrims or tourists to create and reach new pilgrimage sites such as Elvis Presley's home, Graceland; the location of the Paris car crash where Princess Diana died; or the site of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks in New York City. Scholars are studying the impact of such expanded spiritual and secular tourism and pilgrimage on individuals and communities.

Influence of the Internet

Finally, the internet has made religions more accessible and participatory. Established religious institutions use the internet to spread their beliefs and practices, and there are also many virtual religious communities and websites run by private individuals. Religion's widespread reach on the internet reveals how meaningful it remains in today's world.

Cristina Rocha
Dr. Cristina Rocha researches at the Institute for Culture and Society and teaches at the School of Humanities and Languages at the University of Western Sydney. She earned her PhD in 2004 at the University of Western Sydney. Rocha is the editor of Journal of Global Buddhism and her research focuses on religion, globalization, and transnationalism. Among her publications are such works as Buddhism in Australia: Traditions in Change (2010) and Zen in Brazil: The Quest for Cosmopolitan Modernity (2006).
MLA Citation

Rocha, Cristina. "Religion and Globalization." ABC-CLIO Solutions, ABC-CLIO, 2022, Accessed 22 Jan. 2022.

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