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Volf sees religions’ power of peace

Miroslav Volf demonstrates the power of faith to bring reconciliation among humans and flourishing life for the individual — even in a globalized world. 

In “Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World,” Volf, professor of systematic theology and founding director of the Center for Faith and Culture at Yale University, focuses on faith in the context of globalization — the ever-increasing interconnectivity of businesses, technologies and philosophies around the world.

In Print | Ron Bruner
He sees globalization as potentially helpful — a force that can reduce violence worldwide through trade and interaction. However, since economics drives globalization, the “flourishing” that globalization offers is consumption-oriented and ecologically irresponsible, Volf argues. “Globalization,” he writes, “stands in need of the visions of flourishing that world religions offer.” 

Though some attack religion as violent, Volf counters that “world religions, as historically practiced, are neither simply violent nor simply peaceable but ambivalent.” All major world religions, he writes, “have been implicated in violence and all have contributed to peace.” 

For Volf, malfunctions in practice, teaching or belonging cause violence — not religion practiced well. Even those believing their faith to be exclusively true can live at peace with others, he writes.

Because malfunctioning religion and misguided globalization break the peace, reconciliation is necessary. His examples include post-apartheid South Africans, whose religiously framed moves of confession and forgiveness brought reconciliation.

Volf suggests that world religions offer two things globalization does not. First, for globalization, flourishing is mere consumption — “health, wealth, fertility and longevity.” For religion, flourishing is contentment, compassion for neighbors and a healthy planet. 

Second, all world religions function as agents of reconciliation, he writes, healing relationships damaged by the friction of moves toward globalization. 

If Volf’s proposal were enacted, world religions could reframe globalization’s vision of flourishing to include economic justice and environmental responsibility. Globalization could bring a peace that empowers people of differing religions to have respectful conversations without abandoning truths they hold sacred. 

“Flourishing” is an important read, especially for those whose ministry or business crosses borders. 

This challenging book envisions a world where thoughtful people can publicly practice their faith and respectfully dialogue with others holding diverse beliefs.   

RON BRUNER is executive director of Westview Boys’ Home and a member of the Childress Church of Christ in Texas.

Filed under: Reviews

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