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The western influence along with the rapidly changing global economy is causing a change in cultures and religious cultures of the world. Whether it is due to the price of a good increasing so much that the people that need it cannot afford it or the demand for it decreases, the cultures from many parts of the world are dwindling. This is the issue that Kwame Appiah addresses, because he feels that it is inevitable that the worlds’ traditions will become unappreciated or go extinct due to the advances in knowledge and technology as well as the global economy. Appiah makes a very important connection in his analysis called “ The Case for Contamination”, in which he compares religion and culture to how they are reacting to the rapid changes that constitute our modern world. Throughout this paper the main questions to be addressed are, what roles do religions play in Appiah’s analysis and how does my approach compare to his? These questions and more will be analyzed in great detail and my thoughts will be given for each along with my conclusion on the matter. In order to see the role of religions for Appiah’s analysis, we must first know about the effect globalization has on societies in the twenty-first century.
Kwame Anthony Appiah is from a town in Ghana called Kumasi that is holding a Wednesday festival at the start of his article. He describes how the traditional blowing of the horn is signaling the arrival of the king of Asante, yet he says that the vast majority of millions of people from Ghana would not understand what is going on regardless of what seems like a traditionally act. This is because of the atmosphere that Appiah portrays during his arrival where businessmen for insurance companies are on their cellphones and office meetings consist of H.I.V./AIDS discussions. This goes to show that in our rapidly developing world even places like Ghana are becoming technologically savvy despite all the poverty and turmoil that the great percentage of its people face. The government officials including the President of Ghana who studied at Oxford University, come from really prestigious places and therefore are becoming considered very credible.
In African countries like Ghana where Appiah is from it seems as if only officials and those who have connections with important people can enjoy any type of luxury. Due to this, the rest of the population must rely on their religion to hope and pray for a better life to come since nobody helps them. Even though Appiah and his family are very lucky and fortunate to be among the likes of the king of Asante and such, they still hold true to the culture of the town. This goes to show that even though it might seem that governments use religion to control people or give them false hope about things instead of helping them, that traditions are universal. Appiah later goes on to say that this trend of people celebrating old cultural traditions while adapting to the modern world like using laptops and such is increasing in more places around the world.
Since the whole world is initially going towards a more globalized system to unify and operate a market free world, there are still some critics of this idea that think that the principle cultural values are being threatened. The argument is backed up by the fact that homogeneity will occur between more and more regions of the world when it comes to topics and products such as Coca Cola or global warming. It does not only stop brand names because with more globalization things such as medicines and proper schools are more common to more people which leads to overall success for humanity. Although, this is true that more and more things are being understood and exposed to more people, I do not believe it makes the world homogeneous or the same. This is because all the regions are unique to their specific location and group of people they contain no matter how diverse. The traditions do not get affected and the only thing that changes is an increase in knowledge about certain things, which is really great because after all knowledge is power.
This leads to the thought about whether it is up to the individual to decide what they want from everything that is being thrown at them through both the Internet and other sources, or from the government that controls the masses. The groups of people that believe that the individual controls the difference in cultures as opposed to a more globalized society are known as the Cosmopolitans. Cosmopolitans do not agree with the critics of globalization and believe that the rapidly changing world can be good or bad depending on how the individual reacts to the change. If a person decides to stay true to their heritage despite the changing global economy then that is good, but some people lose touch with themselves.
A reason for people drifting away from certain traditions or ways of life is the global economy. For a farmer that has been cultivating coffee beans all his life and expects to pass the tradition on to his kids, a major difference in the price could change everything for him and make him stop doing it. Thus, the farmer would have to find something else to do to sustain himself economically and the tradition dies with the change. This example is something the Cosmopolitans support, which is having different options for certain scenarios in life even if it interferes with culture as opposed to the critics of globalization and preserving everything. Although, many of these types of things are happening more and more around the world, it is up to the individual to be able to react appropriately so that their values are preserved.
Following the talk about increased globalized theory, there comes the question of whether places that preserve their authentic cultures should be forced to keep them or be allowed to adapt to the changing times. An example of this would be the popular baseball caps that are being imported into Vietnam. The question is whether they should be allowed to import the caps or not because of the traditional red headdresses that the Zao culture of Vietnam typically wear. Since the baseball caps are considered really cheap Western clothes, many people feel that it would be impossible for the Vietnamese to decline the imports mainly due to the high cost of making the traditional headdresses. Due to the high prices of these traditional articles of clothing, very few people will be able to afford to practice their traditions and this will in turn lead to a decrease in this tradition being practiced overall.
Apart from the world economy and globalization occurring, which is changing traditions all over the world, there are mental changes happening as well. These originate from influences of Western or European media in the form of television shows that show how people in these mediums act. Other people around the world might inherit some of their mannerism and thus, cause a change in the behavior of a whole sect or group. This could lead to subtle yet impactful changes in traditions and values over time.
Finally, the topic of religion becomes apparent when Appiah introduces the example of the two groups of Muslim fundamentalists. The first group is called the neofundamentalists, who hope to show that Islam is the universal religion that can be applied to all aspects of life in an effort for more people to convert. The reason that they can do this is due to the globalization that is happening right now and opportunity that they have to show the world what they are all about. In contrast to this great idea of general good feeling and peace there is a contrast between the second group known as the radical neofundamentalists. This more radical group of Muslims believes that they must perform jihad, which is a war against the west that they think has threatened the authenticity of their traditions. They even want to go as far as make this jihad mission one of the pillars of Islam, which originally has five pillars and make it their sixth. Obviously these radical Muslims are not a large enough group to actually change anything about the religion but there are enough of them. From this radical group of Muslims came the most famous one known as Osama Bin Laden. Osama gave a warning that said anybody is welcome to join the beautiful religion of Islam and take pride in it. However, if you choose not to he will kill you. This statement that Osama gave in 2002 following the World Trade Center collapse is pretty terrifying and serves to show just how radical that group of Muslims are.
From the Muslim fundamentalist example that Appiah mentions, it says a lot about the power that religions have over people and their consequent expectations. In Islam if you do not respect Allah who is your god, then he will punish you. Same goes for Christianity, that says Jesus died for your sins. If you sin you will get punished, yet if you do not sin then Jesus died for nothing. There are a lot of punishments and contradictions across many religions as well as their corresponding traditions. Whether it comes to lack of money or few resources, religion and change will always clash.
In Appiah’s article he referenced religion’s role in cultures and how the “contamination” is the thought that of how this capitalistic world we’re living in is slowly destroying cultures and traditions. In the first half of the paper the main issue deals with culture rather than religion in my opinion. Anything from preserving cultures in an adapting modern world where almost every society is acquiring Western values. The critics and Cosmopolitans whose views differ about how to handle the developing world and the responsibilities of the individuals or governing bodies to keep traditions alive. It’s not until the second half of the paper where Appiah introduces a religious example when talking about Islam and the Muslim radicals. He then contrasts the Muslim radical neofundamentalists to cosmopolitanism and shows how the radical Muslims like Osama Bin Laden interpret religion in a way that cause harm to those that don’t follow it, as opposed to the religious freedom the Cosmopolitans believe in. This contrast in views leads to conflict and inevitably wars caused by religion.
I think Appiah’s stance on the religion versus tradition issue was not very clear, although I felt as if his writing reflected a feeling of disapproval towards religion as our world advances. However, I do believe that he wrote very well about the situation the human species is in when it comes to preserving our individual values or traditions. The format in which Appiah organized his points and information was very appealing and made a lot of sense. I hope that someday religion will not be as prominent as it is today when it comes to disagreement and causing wars. I think religion should adapt for a more peaceful world that lacks any type of scrutiny for not believing in something you are forced to.
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