The Future of World Religion: Four Scenarios, One Dream
Religious globalization, new religious movements, transnational religions, global proselytism, multiple religious identities, ecumenical services, religious syncretism, secular and postsecular spiritualities—all these are among the many remarkable trends that shape the religious landscape of the beginning of the twenty-first century. Despite the rampant materialism still dominant in an increasingly technocratic world, it is clear that we live in times of rich spiritual diversity, proliferation, and innovation. For instance, when David B. Barret was asked almost ten years ago what he had learned about religious change in the world after several decades of research, he responded, “We have identified 9,900 distinct and separate religions in the world, increasing by two or three religions every day.”
Although there may be something to celebrate in this spiritual cornucopia, this apotheosis of the religious imagination can also be the source of profound uncertainty and confusion. Where is the world heading religiously speaking? Will humanity ultimately converge into one single religious credo? Or will it rather continue to diversify into countless forms of spiritual expression often at odds with one another? Alternatively, can we envision a middle path capable of reconciling the human longing for spiritual unity, on the one hand, and the developmental and evolutionary pulls toward spiritual individuation and differentiation, on the other? I believe that we can, and in this essay I offer the contours of such a vision after considering four other scenarios for the future of world religion. As we go through them, I invite you to consider not only their plausibility but also inquire into what scenario you feel is the most desirable: what would you like to see happening?
Religion in the Global Village: Four Scenarios
The first scenario portrays the emergence of a global religion or single world faith for humankind. This global religion may stem from either the triumph of one spiritual tradition over the rest (e.g., Catholic Christianity or the Dalai Lama’s school of Tibetan Buddhism) or a synthesis of many or most traditions (e.g., the Baha’i faith or New Age
spiritual universalism). The former possibility, historically the ambition of most religions, entails the wildly unlikely prospect that religious practitioners, except those from the “winning” tradition, would recognize the erroneous or partial nature of their beliefs and embrace the superior truth of an already existent tradition. ...
Ferrer, Jorge N. 2012. The Future of World Religion: Four Scenarios, One Dream. Tikkun 27(1): 14.