Roles of Religion in Appiah’s Analysis

Roles of Religion in Appiah’s Analysis

The interrelatedness of globalization, cultural diversity and religion are vividly analyzed in Kwame Appiah’s essay “The Case for Contamination”. In the essay, he identifies two roles that religion plays based on one’s claim for or against globalization. Indeed, the evidence of religion can be termed as a two edged sword in terms of the role it plays in analyzing the issues at hand. These two sides are divided by the nature of the impacts on the people that practice the religion in their cultures. First, religion can be taken positively to influence globalization while protecting culture in which case all cultures become contaminated. On the other hand, the impact of religion and its role in globalization can be negative with respect to changes in culture. Ultimately, the role of religion in globalization covers both negative and positive impacts on a community’s culture.

Over time, religion has been appreciated for its role in exposing certain cultures to the world. In these processes of globalization, the people become revealed to external media while still maintaining their unique cultures and values. In so doing, religion is used to positively influence globalization as well as protect the people’s culture. Appiah asserts that the process of globalization expansion stimulates the preservation of unique cultures within their traditions. This statement is supported through the example of Sipho who is a very religious Zulu man from the Kwazulu-Natal province of South Africa. Despite Sipho having been raised in a traditional culture, globalization has caught up with him and his family through television experiences amongst others. In this respect, the man’s religious values and customs have a role in the aspects of globalization that a person or even a community adopts from a foreign culture (Appiah, 2006).

The role of globalization in influencing cultural change or retention is discussed in the essay through the eyes of Sipho. The man reveals that American programs such as “Days of our lives” have influenced his relationships with people. In particular, the relationship with his father became better and more understandable after watching the show. However, his views about certain aspects were not changed by merely watching the television program. In one episode, the program depicts a relationship involving a very young woman. In the Zulu traditions, a woman dating before attaining the age of twenty years is an unacceptable practice. Having this in mind, Sipho does not change his stand about such a practice despite having watched the same in the program. Moreover, the ability of Sipho to differentiate different aspects of globalization and adopt only those that match with his religion is interesting. Evidently, religion has a positive role in globalization by enhancing cultural preservation.

Still, religion can be seen as having a negative role in globalization through the detriment of religious values and traditions. Indeed, this view is held highly by preservationists who believe that globalization may have negative effects on their culture. The imposition of foreign ideas on the local cultures may lead to changes in the original culture through the use of imperialism by foreign media. The impact of this interaction is that people of local cultures are likely to adopt the Western culture thus affecting their own cultures negatively. Herbert Schiller points this fact out in Appiah’s essay by attributing the same to the incidence of imperial media of the West. In addition to the influence of culture, globalization affects the local cultures economically and in a negative fashion. Appiah provides an example where cheap Western clothing floods the local market thus making it more expensive to wear the religion traditional attire that is locally made with silk (Appiah, 2006). In this fashion, the culture is affected not through direct changes in culture but through indirect means.

The role of religion is not solely in the preservation of cultural values though as Appiah points out in his essay. Rather, he goes on to point out other roles related to the existence of global equality as well as the harmonization of world society. In the analysis, he asserts that religion is a useful ingredient in the creation of a global society devoid of cultural divisions and ties. In pointing this out, Appiah is of the opinion that religion helps in the development of an all encompassing society where individuals in the religion share one similar culture of love. Depending on the religion in use, the culture formed is one in which all individuals submit to the worship of one god regardless of the cultural background of the members. The example of the ummah is well articulated in the essay to show the principles of such cultures because it accepts membership from all over the world provided one shares in the religion (Appiah, 2006). Incidentally, the racial or cultural background of the members does not influence the admission to the new religious culture.

In addition to bringing harmonization in the global society, religion is also identified for its potential to bring a sense of equality around the globe. Ideally, this assertion is based on the fact that religion presents an opportunity for people to be equal regardless of their socio political and economic backgrounds. Appiah is of the opinion that every religion shares a common faith amongst the members of the society. When the people of a similar religion gather for prayers, their status in terms of social economic wellbeing does not matter. In fact, it is quite obvious that no religious group defines the members’ political or socio economic status before admission. In this way, religion does provide a sense of equality in the world through admission of members of different socio economic and political status.

The adoption of aspects of globalization depends on the desirability of the changes to the locals. For instance, changes that are seen to be resonant with cultural values are gladly inmtegrated in the people’s way of lives. On the contrary, other changes that are not prevalent in the locals’ culture become undesirable and are therefore rejected at face value. Appiah asserts that Christianity may have been a success as witnessed in the huge conversions of locals. However, other aspects of local folk religious values are still evident in the religion thus outlining the fact that the religion is not accepted in essence but in its external form. Religion is treated as a cultural artifice that is faced with threats of change like all other aspects of globalization. The changes that religion undergoes may provoke either bad or good responses depending on the role it plays in shaping the cultures (Appiah, 2006).  In this manner, changes in religious culture are similar to other cultural changes occasioned by the upscale of globalization of ideas. Ultimately, religion only affects changes just like language, custom or dressing and some people may like it and others hate it.

Appiah agrees that religion has a role in changing the cultural values of a people and has the potential of enriching it by interacting with other values. Ideally, religion plays an important role in the diversification of cultures across the world. Surprisingly, it is not just the local culture that gets affected but also the foreign culture which may be enhanced through continuous interaction with other different cultures. Appiah confers that cultural diversity is welcome as a condition including the incidence of religious traditions. In contrast however, he rebukes the process of cultural change that is focused on creation of one mode of culture terming it unacceptable. Accordingly, artificial diversity in culture and the eventual homogenization of the same is considered an entrapment that effectively bars the evolution of man to attain higher nature. He thus proposes the replacement of homogeneity and artificiality with natural diversity that is conducive to man’s nature of evolution. Essentially, such developments can only serve to help in the maturation of man’s aesthetic, moral and mental potentials in the long run. In truth, these developments are prerequisites in man’s dreams of attaining a fair share of happiness in the world.

In spite of the positive roles that religion plays with regard to globalization and cultural diversity, it has some negative roles. Key among these roles is the dangerous role of global utopia as evidenced in the neo-fundamentalist ideas. The problem with this religious role is the potential for posing problems to humankind which is rather dangerous than useful. In the essay, he asserts that the emergence of a religious utopia points to a horde of faith in the dignity of humans. Further, religious utopia has the potential for sharing different ideals with millions of people in different countries of the world. Rather than the utopia being a useful element of society, it conceals a façade of intolerance that further emboldens the utopian ideologies. In essence therefore, utopia theorists make war with anyone that resist their way of universal justice which they believe to be wholly true. Appiah rubbishes the idea of having religion to enhance the utopian ideals of superiority based on the fact that no culture is stronger than the other. To him, imperial dispositions are released any time fundamentalist attitudes to culture are attached to religion.

In portraying the roles of religion in effecting cultural change in his essay, Appiah contributes towards the ideals of a global citizenry of cosmopolitanism. Nevertheless, his staunch defense of Christianity and its fundamentals point to a man not ready to betray his own religion. Ideally, the barriers to cosmopolitanism are anchored on the belief by some that their ideals are superior to others therefore making matters even worse. Appiah, in his ethical advocacy calls for respect and tolerance for the rights and freedom of everyone to make their own choices. However, the advance of religion and the role it plays in bringing cultural changes cannot be ignored as a harmless positive impact. Today, the world remains divisive along thousands of religious inclinations as well as many church institutions around the world. Therefore, although beneficial, religion is not as harmless in terms of cultural change and globalization.

It is hard not to agree with Appiah’s analysis in terms of the role of religion in globalization and cultural diversity. Ever since the inception of the world, religion has developed to become one of the most important social institutions in the world. Millions of people rely on their religions for guidance on factors affecting the society on a daily basis thus outlining the important role of religion in shaping values. The ability of religion to unite people of different socio economic and political backgrounds along a common culture cannot be overlooked. It provides an optional culture with which millions of people can identify themselves. Religion guarantees global equality of the world citizens regardless of their social economic backgrounds as well as cultural and political status. Clearly, the role of religion in globalization covers both negative and positive impacts on a community’s culture



Appiah, K. A. (2006, January 01). Http:// Retrieved June 20, 2016.


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