The Future of World Religion: Four Scenarios, One Dream

Photo of various relgions

As globalization continues, will religious diversity persist, or might all traditions integrate into one world faith? Credit: Jaclyn Tobia (

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


One possible future scenario, Jorge N. Ferrer writes, could involve "spiritual creative unions in which diversity is not erased but rather intensified." Icons of the Hindu goddess Pavarti and Jesus remain separate but united in this mural from Agra, India. Credit: Creative Commons/R.M. Calamar.

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. ...

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Jorge N. Ferrer, Ph.D., is chair of the department of East-West Psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. He is the coeditor of The Participatory Turn: Spirituality, Mysticism, Religious Studies (SUNY Press, 2008). In 2009, he became an adviser to the organization Religions for Peace at the United Nations on a research project aimed at solving global interreligious conflict.

Source Citation

Ferrer, Jorge N. 2012. The Future of World Religion: Four Scenarios, One Dream. Tikkun 27(1): 14.

tags: Culture, Rethinking Religion, Spirituality   
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3 Responses to The Future of World Religion: Four Scenarios, One Dream

  1. tahoevalleylines January 15, 2012 at 7:22 pm

    Confusing unless one takes seriously the 1st Commandment of the Big Ten in (Exodus 20)Jewish scripture; John 1: 1 of the New Testament, and the warning of Mathew 7:15.

    Everything else is goofy man contrived ritual. Masons, Mormons, Muslims have pasted up syndicates that profane the original revelations to mankind.

    “syn-di-cate /sin-di-ket/n 1: a group of persons who combine to carry out a financial or industrial undertaking

    “syn-di-cate / sin-di-kate/ vb 1: to combine into or manage as a syndicate

    There is no such thing as a “World Religion” any more than a “World Government”…

    There is an original (John 1:1) beginning for all things that exist physical and spititual. Believe it or don’t. Intellectual honest persons come to the eventual conclusion they don’t have enough faith to be atheists.

    As for “World Government”, the mother of all Ponzi schemes. ALL trading schemes involve one party or nation or corporation (or invented religion) trying to get the upper hand…

    The Republican primaries are a collection of ill prepared Christian believers going against an absolutely deceived and absolutely confident cultist. It should be interesting.

  2. Dr Richard Boeke January 22, 2012 at 1:32 am

    The riddle posed by TIKKUN is one on which I have spent much of my life.
    ONE RELIGION OR MANY … OR NONE (replaced by Science?)
    The Bahai’s put them all together .. some UUs try the same.
    Some envision ONE WORD, their WORD at the end of the game.
    Some envision an end to all with human folly to blame.

    For the World Congress of Faiths … I came up with what is now our symbol .. a small bee hive.
    Each religion has its own compartment, but fits in with all the rest.
    Check out to see it.
    One hexagon is left blank. There is always room for one more.
    Blessings and hope, Richard

  3. Ron Krumpos March 2, 2012 at 11:47 am

    I am a great admirer of Jorge Ferrer and we have become “email friends” over the past year. One of my personal mentors was Swami Nikhilananda in New York who wrote: “The nearer we are to God, the closer we shall feel toward other religions. In God we all meet. In order to promote religious harmony, let us deepen our religious consciousness. Let us come nearer to God by following our respective faiths and not by jumping from one faith to another. Let the Hindu, the Muslim, the Christian, the Jew emphasize the spirit and not the letter of their scriptures, and all religious quarrels will stop. All religions are challenged today by a common enemy: the rising tide of skepticism and secularism.”

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