With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the
Cold War in 1989 a new optimism arose and people thought that it would be the
beginning of a new, prosperous and peaceful period in world history. This
optimism soon disappeared and it became clear that, contrary to popular
optimistic belief, the world had become more complex than ever before. Problems
that were once in the background of political attention were now right at the
centre, such as rivalry among neighbouring countries, regional wars and migration.
Where 19th century sociologists thought that through modernisation societies
would turn away from religion and become thoroughly secularised, these ideas
are now questioned by the global rise of conflicts coming forth from concerns
over religious instances influencing state politics, society and ethics. Though
contemporary problems are many and diverse, it seems that these current
problems are increasingly framed in a cultural, religious sense. With the
events of 9/11 this new division is intensified further and the prospect of
clashing civilisations does not seem that far away any more.
News coverage around the world shows that
secularisation is not a factor on a global scale and that religion is still at
the heart of many people’s understanding of their lives. Through the process of
globalisation, people are informed of events happening all over the world and
feel influenced by them. In this respect culture is no longer encapsulated
within local communities, with various cultural boundaries rooted in different
cultural components. World society, however, is not a global and unified society,
but is in fact made up of social groups that differ in their practices, beliefs
and institutions. In this a paradox arises between a growing global cultural
homogeneity and the ongoing creation of new cultural diversity. Rather than
creating massive cultural homogeneity on a global scale, the world system is
replacing local diversity by global diversity; and this new diversity is,
relatively speaking, based more on inter-relations and less on autonomy.
Up to now it has been the state, in the main, that
constitutes the framework for social life. But the growing cultural,
ideological and religious diversity has contributed to the questioning of the
concept of this ‘Western nation’ state. Borne by the globally accepted
discourse of “identity as a right”, ethnic and/or regional groups and religious
communities enter the public domain in order to make collective claims, a
crucially important consequence of which is that the moral basis for social
solidarity needs to be reinterpreted. Rather than national ideologies it is the
trans-national ideologies, ethnic movements and feelings of religious belonging
that increasingly affect local life and form the basis for moral solidarity.
Since the last quarter of the twentieth century and particularly in Western Europe, the taken-for-granted effects of secularization processes, privatized religion and the liberal view on the individual citizen, have been put into question by intensified contacts over the global sphere and by an increased number of migrants with different understandings of religion, culture and public life. As a consequence, the ideas and practices of religious and civic co-existence are shifting; public space has diversified beyond imagination. Plurality has become a fact.