A Feature Review of
FLOURISHING: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World.
Miroslav Volf is one of the preeminent theological voices of our time. He has a kept a keen eye on the broad religious and cultural issues that play out in the world, with his book Allah: A Christian Response being a masterpiece of theological reflection that seeks to build bridges between Christianity and Islam. Volf’s latest book, titled Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World, continues the kind of work exemplified in Allah and Exclusion and Embrace. More importantly, this book speaks to the moment at hand. At a time when religion is seen by many as a danger to the world’s existence, Volf offers a trenchant defense of the role religion can play (at its best) in shaping the ongoing globalization of our world.
Volf believes that the major world religions, including Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity, have the resources needed to promote flourishing in an increasingly globalized world. In fact, the world religions are “part of the dynamics of globalization — they are in a sense, the original globalizers and still remain among the drivers of globalization processes . . . ” (p. 1). While Volf engages in the conversation from a Christian perspective, he makes every effort to be fair and respectful of other faith traditions. He affirms their differences and respects them. There are commonalities, of course, but we needn’t gloss over the differences that make a religion what it is. Although these differences are central to the identity of a religion, they can all envision and contribute to the flourishing of the world.
The author approaches the relationship of world religions to the globalized world as a Christian theologian, living in the United States, who is a native of Croatia, which was once part of Yugoslavia. He experienced firsthand many of the struggles that ultimately broke up Yugoslavia. He experienced the efforts on the part of the Communist government to suppress religion as an expression of its own vision of globalization, a vision that was totalizing and destructive. It is this experience of religious suppression and conflict that gives rise to Volf’s desire to understand the ways in which religion can play a positive role in an increasingly globalized world.
He presupposes the idea that the divine-human relationship is foundational to the ability of the human community to flourish. This leads to a discussion of the relationship of faith and politics, which he understands to be “two distinct cultural systems.” While they are different systems, “authentic faith is always engaged, at work to relieve personal suffering as well as to push against social injustice, political violence, and environmental degradation” (p. 9). That is, religion has a place in the public sphere, but persons of faith need to understand that religion can and does play a destructive role in society when it becomes entangled with the state. The question is, how does faith engage public life without becoming a pawn of the state? To walk this line one must recognize that one cannot live by bread alone. The material is not enough. There must be the transcendent if we are to flourish.
Volf divides his book into two parts, comprising five chapters, which seek to engage more broadly the relationship of the world religions to the globalization process. In addition, Volf writes an introduction he lays out his Christian vantage point. He wants the reader to know where he stands faith-wise. In the epilogue, he once again engages his own faith tradition in relationship to the challenge of nihilism to human flourishing.