6. Globalisation, Migration and Refugees

The populism evident in both Brexit and the 2016 US election can be understood as a backlash against globalisation, read both in economic terms (the loss of jobs overseas, loss of traditional industries) and in terms of migration and refugees. Barak Obama characterised the problem thusly: “Globalisation combined with technology combined with social media and constant information have disrupted peoples lives in very concrete ways — a manufacturing plant closes and suddenly an entire town no longer has what was the primary source of employment — and people are less certain of their national identities or their place in the world.” Not all understand matters this way, arguing that economic globalisation is of benefit to the majority; it is, instead, cultural disconnection and the realisation that “democratic control was being destroyed by technocratic unaccountability,” which is, of course, another way of describing globalisation. The economic cannot be so easily detached from the cultural. This week considers the paradox by which globalisation drives especially the racial and religious interests underlying the populist concerns regarding globalisation: there is a belief in one’s own press and a frustration that the promise of empire is not finding cultural embodiment.

Linda Kintz does not question the pretence of neutrality which accompanies the economic affirmation of globalisation; she is much more forthright: “In the global expansion of cyberspace, the complex mixture of high technology and U.S. cultural politics has made white supremacy paradoxically both more powerful and more invisible” (p. 333). As the storm surrounding Oculus Rifter founder, Palmer Luckey, suggests, Kintz’s position holds more than a little truth. Kintz bears no affinity for Christianity, but the links she forms between whiteness, theology, economics, technology, are worth extended reflection.

  • Kintz, Linda. “Performing Virtual Whiteness: The Psychic Fantasy of Globalization.” Comparative Literature 53, no. 4 (2001): 333–53.

Our second reading shares some continuity with last week’s focus. Jeannine Fletcher surveys definitions of globalisation, finds its roots in the old colonial order, and how this itself shapes the contemporary understanding of religious difference. Fletcher continues with an account of hybridity and a cosmopolitan vision. Her conclusion: “Far from a theological afterthought, the religious other must be brought into our community of discourse and our circle of concern” (p. 409).

  • Fletcher, Jeannine Hill. “Religious Pluralism in an Era of Globalization: The Making of Modern Religious Identity.” Theological Studies 69 (2008): 394–411.

For further reading, Susan Abraham offers an excellent reflection on the intersection of globalisation theories, postcolonial theory and theology.

  • Abraham, Susan. “What Does Mumbai Have to Do With Rome? Postcolonial Perspectives on Globalization and Theology.” Theological Studies 69, no. 2 (2008): 376–93.

As to migration and refugees, a 2012 project from the Pew Research Centre titled “Faith on the Move: The Religious Affliation of International Migrants” points out that “Christians comprise nearly half – an estimated 106 million, or 49% – of the world’s 214 million international migrants.” Anecdotal evidence also suggests that a number of Muslim refugees to Europe are converting to Christianity. A significant gap exists between the perception of how many Muslims live within western societies and the actual number. The point is simple, you are more likely to encounter a Christian refugee within the West than any other religion. Yet, much of the anti-immigration rhetoric is driven by the spectre of a foreign terrorist infiltrating a country through its generous and open immigration policies (meaning that those holding this fear have never tried to get a foreign visa before).

The final week will examine some positive theological responses to the question of political populism, and much of this will come from lessons learnt from migration and refugees. Here,

  • Campese, Gioacchino. “The Irruption of Migrants: Theology of Migration in the 21st Century.” Theological Studies 73, no. 1 (2012): 3–32.

Joshua Ralson develops a welcome dialogue between the social and political practices of Refugee resettlement and the theologies of William Cavanaugh, David Fergusson and Johann Baptist Metz.

  • Ralson, Joshua. “Toward a Political Theology of Refugee Resettlement.” Theological Studies 73 (2012): 363–90.

Further Reading:

  • Agamben, Giorgio. State of Exception. University Of Chicago Press, 2005. See Chapter 1 “The State of Exception as a Paradigm of Government”
  • Allard, Silas W. “Who Am I? Who Are You? Who Are We? Law, Religion, and Approaches to an Ethic of Migration.” Journal of Law and Religion 30 (2015): 320–34. [This is a review essay of five recent texts by Kristin Heyer, Susanna Snyder, Ilsup Awn, Gemma Tulud Cruz, and Bill One Hing.]
  • Arendt, Hannah. The Origins of Totalitarianism. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1951.