While the numerical progression of Islam is likely to slow down alongside the persistence of powerful movements promoting re-Islamization during the coming decades, both charismatic Christianity and revivals of Asian religions should continue to prove attractive in non-Western countries, writes Swiss theologian and scholar Georg Schmid, in the October issue of Informationsblatt (Evangelische Informationsstelle Kirchen – Sekten – Religionen).
Schmid reminds his readers that there are many contradictory forecasts on religion, from biopsychologist Nigel Barber’s predictions that atheism will rapidly spread (insofar the world will become more affluent) to political scientist Eric Kauffman stating that the world will turn more religious due to higher demographics of conservative societies. If we are merely to push forward currently observable trends, Islam and evangelicalism might become the two most significant religious currents by 2050. However, many forecasts depend too strongly upon the situation at the time the analysis is elaborated.
People writing three years ago on the prospects for Islamism at the outbreak of the Arab Spring or for Roman Catholicism before Pope Francis was elected would not have assessed future developments in the same way they would today. Moreover, when a trend becomes very determinant in a religious field, it usually gives rise a counter-trend.
The secularization process and decline in church membership is likely to continue to progress for some time still in Western and Central Europe. Worldwide, the numerical growth of Islam will slow down. We are currently watching contradictory trends of “re-Islamization” and “de-Islamization.” While the first trend is more obvious in the daily news, the second one is rampant, but less openly expressed due to fears about reactions of some Muslim sectors (skepticism and questions by a number of Muslims about their own religious tradition).
Buddhism and other forms of Eastern spirituality will continue to prove attractive in the West, but without turning into a significant force in organizational terms—they won’t become mass religions. The attraction of Pentecostal and Charismatic forms of Christianity will continue in non-Western countries; this kind of religiosity offers strong experiences within communities. But one should not overlook revival movements taking place within Asian religions, with financial support provided by increasingly affluent followers.
Going further, Schmid speculates that scientific progress will continue, but it will not erase religion. It will lead simultaneously generate deeper and self-critical reflections among believers in order to incorporate those developments and stimulate fundamentalist reactions. Moreover, the coexistence of various religions and interactions with international developments will prepare the ground for “fundamentalist crises” (e.g. violent Buddhist reactions against Muslims in Burma and Sri Lanka), but also for efforts to overcome such reactions and go back to the essentials of one’s religious tradition.
In secularized environments, the lack of religious framework and training will also make radical messages attractive for some people, especially youth. Social developments also encourage religious autonomy; the pressure toward a democratic organization of religion is likely to increase. The era of religious monopolies will be over, even in Muslim countries, pluralism will gain ground. Atheism is becoming a respectable option, but can become a popular movement only insofar it gets mixed with romantic or even pantheist-mystical feelings.
(Informationsblatt, Evangelische Informationsstelle, Wettsteinweg 9, 8630 Rüti, Switzerland – www.relinfo.ch)