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Religion in the World Today

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Atlas of the World’s Religions, Second Edition What is This? Depicts the historical development and present state of the world's major religions

    Religion in the World Today

    THE WORLD, with the exception of Antarctica, has only been divided into defined nation-states comparatively recently. Sometimes nations are defined by religion, but relations between religion and state vary greatly. The arrangement and complement of the world's nations has altered during the twentieth century, due primarily to the demise of empires, culminating in the collapse of the Soviet Union. The only extensive empire left is the People's Republic of China.

    Religion in the World Today

    1. World Religions

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    This process has affected religion profoundly. The disappearance of enforced Marxist ideology allowed older religious forces to re-emerge, from Orthodoxy in Russia, Islam in Central Asia and Lutheranism in the Baltics, to Buddhism in Cambodia. By the early 1990s, only North Korea, China, Vietnam, and Cuba still embraced Marxism, while other states, such as Iraq, Syria, Algeria, Tunisia and, to some degree, Turkey, were run in theory on secularist principles. But most nations either tolerated or encouraged pluralism, although modern political Islam, notably in Iran, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan, has been less tolerant.

    Religion and Conflict

    While nation-states predominate, they may include ethnic and religious areas seeking autonomy or independence. Moreover, ethnic and religious mixing has increased around the world because of refugee movements and greater ease of transport and migration. Another factor is the growth of new religious movements, especially in the West, Japan, Russia, sub-Saharan Africa and the South Pacific; vigorous forms of Protestant evangelism are particularly prevalent in Central and South America.

    In the new millennium several nations have been involved in a variety of civil wars or regional struggles incorporating a religious or ideological element: these include Bosnia, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Algeria, Israel and Palestine, Shan and Karen parts of Burma, Kashmir, the Philippines, East Timor, Chechnya, Abkhazia, Afghanistan and southern Sudan. Less overt struggles are continuing to occur in various parts of the world. Ethnic conflicts with a less pronounced religious element have taken place in Rwanda, Angola, Liberia and Somalia.

    The Globalization of Religion

    Although loyalties remain between traditional religions and nationalism, itself almost a religion in its various dimensions, a wider global vision is beginning to emerge. Blocs of nations are forming in Europe, the Americas, the Middle East, the Confucian Far East, the Pacific Rim and Southeast Asia which, while not abandoning nationalism or a background in the Christian, Muslim, Confucian, Buddhist, Hindu, or Jewish traditions, take global needs more seriously. While internal divisions remain within, and between, religions involving traditional, modernist and radical groups, ecumenism is growing through internal discussion and inter-faith dialogue. At the start of a new millennium, the united forces involved in tackling global dilemmas concerning ecology, human rights, and spiritual transcendence can be seen as not merely particular nation-states or religious traditions, but as the human beings who together inhabit planet Earth.

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