Spiritual Perspectives on Globalization by Rifkin

Ira Rifkin. Spiritual Perspectives on Globalization: Making Sense of Economic and Cultural Upheaval. Foreword by David Little. Woodstock, Vt.: Skylight Path Publishing, 2d ed., 2004. Paperback, xiv + 233 pages.

Whether we like it or not, globalization is an undeniable fact of postmodern life. Its praises have been sung as often as it has been condemned as a force of cultural and spiritual corruption. This book avoids taking sides and instead provides the reader with a variety of viewpoints intended to stimulate personal reflection and discussion.

Specifically, Ira Rifkin, who also authored Spiritual Innovators, explores eight distinct religious responses to globalization: from within Roman Catholicism, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Baha’i, Tribal and Earth-based Religions, and Protestantism—in this order. He impartially airs both criticisms and positive reactions.

Religious perspectives often emphasize the undesirable effects of globalization, notably the erosion of local cultures and faith communities, social inequality, economic exploitation, and environmental degeneration. Within each camp, however, there also are voices to be heard in favor of today’s globalizing trend.

It is always beneficial to hear divergent opinions on any topic, especially those that, like the present one, are surrounded by controversy. There clearly is a need to reflect more deeply and intensively on the issues involved in globalization, and Rifkin’s book provides a good starting-pint for both those who are committed to a particular religious tradition and those who go their own way.

Rifkin feels that “the only things new about globalization are the phrase and the speed at which it is now occurring” (p. 4). But, in my view, this is mistaken. Even if humans have always sought to extend their economic and cultural territory, stretching human civilization all the way around the globe, globalization is associated with a rapacious materialistic ideology that has no parallel in bygone ages. Under the misleading banner of “democracy” and “free market,” globalization is powered by the profit motive (read: greed) of a superwealthy elite operating through ruthless multinational corporations that lack all democratic fiber. In many ways, globalization means Americanization. This statement obviously reveals my own perspective on the subject.

In the chapter on Hinduism, I missed any reference to the Bhagavad-Gita’s concept of loka-samgraha (“bringing the world together”), which surely is relevant to the topic of globalization. It could be seen as a supportive concept were it not for the important moral principle of sva-dharma (one’s own inner law), which demands that we remain faithful to our distinct life path and its associated obligations. This would suggest localization rather than globalization. A discussion of this would have been pertinent and useful.

The Discussion Guide at the end of Rifkin’s book will be found helpful not only by teachers wanting to organize intelligent classroom discussion but also by the general reader wishing to articulate his or her own thoughts more coherently. A great didactic tool!

Copyright ©2006 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in any form requires prior permission from Traditional Yoga Studies.

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