According to the Wikipedia, "Asia is the largest and most populous continent, with a wide variety of religions. The largest religion in Asia is Islam with approximately 1.1 billion adherents". If the Middle East Region is included into the Asian continent, then Asia became the cradle of religions. Almost all religions were born and began their existence in Asia. The three Abrahamic religions, namely Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, were originated in the Middle East, and other religions, such as Zoroasterianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Jainism, Sikhism, Shintoism, and others, were originated in Southern and Far Eastern Asia.
As the birthplace of many religions, Asia was a fertile soil for spirituality, and thus brought about a sort of Asiatic mode of religiosity. This religiosity emphasizes, generally, a harmonious triangle between God, man, and nature. Islam, for instance, maintains that there is spiritual correspondence between God the Creator and the creatures, and there is an analogy between microcosm (man) and macrocosm (nature). This kind of interrelationship might well create harmony, and ability for reconciliation as well as acculturation (according to Community of Sant Egidio' term: Religion and culture in dialogue). And that is the fact that certain religions in Asia, in particular the so called natural religions, developed new forms constantly ramifying.
Globalization and the Global Market
Our world is currently experiencing an unprecedented speed of change in almost all aspects of live in almost all corners of the globe. Globalization has promoted advancement of human's civilization, especially in its material aspect. Due to the information technology revolution in the last a few decades people in different countries can easily communicate between each other in different time and space dimension. The wave of globalization has created the globalized world and the global society.
We are now living in a fundamentally interconnected world, integrated by complex pattern of global-supply-chain of trading goods and services –which are increasingly interdependent, yet paved the way for certain countries and regions to develop more than the others.
Center of world economic gravity is now moving from the Atlantic to the Pacific basin. It is remarkable that Asia, particularly East Asia, is showing significant economic development and progress. The emergence of East Asia with the rise of China and India, two biggest countries in the world, is now observable. East Asia is now the only region that can challenge the economic domination of the Western countries. Korea, Japan, and Taiwan, for example, are still showing their high economic growth. China, India, and Indonesia are expected to become the second, the third, and the fourth biggest economy of the world in the near future.
As the cradle of major world religions and great civilization Asia's development is indeed a reawekening or resurgence of civilization. Thus it is pertinent to raise a question on whether this resurgence is stemmed from a religious drive or not, and can religion play a role in preventing the negative impacts of that development and, at the same time, encouraging that development to the right path.
Tendencies of the Globalized Asia
The globalized Asia has possible tendencies. Here are some that have relation to religion. Firstly, the globalized Asia will intensify secularization, which in fact has begun earlier through the process of modernization occurred in the region especially since the second part of the twentieth century. This process of secularization has encouraged to some extends anomaly and disorientation of religious values among the believers. The emergence of secular culture has paved the way for hedonistic pop culture and change of life style especially among young people in many countries of Eas Asia.
Second, globalization that had created the globalized Asia has also encouraged individualism among nations as each nation tends to show its national identity. This individualistic orientation has brought about tension and even conflict over territorial claim between certain East Asian countries, such as between Japan and China, China and the Philippines, the Philippines and Malaysia, etc. This is excluding the existing conflicts between the two Koreas which has ideological backgroud, and the Mindano's case in Southern Philippines, and the Pattani's case in Southern Thailand, which both include religious nuances.
Third, the globalized Asia has also a tendency on it's relation to religious driving. Though there have been polemics on the role of religion on East Asia's development, many believed that the rise of China, for instance, has something to do with Confucianistic ethical values. Like Protestanism ethics had played roles in the emergence of Western economy, Confucianistic ethical values are also seen in the rise of China's economy and the economy of some countries with "Confucianistic" influence, such as Hongkong, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, or Singapore.
Globalization has intensified liberalization in economy, politics, and culture. As a result, this streams of liberalization have created a free global market of commodities as well as values. Globalization, which created borderless countries, has, thus, paved the way of free trade, labor, and value areas. It has certainly created a free market of economy, as well as free market of religion and culture.
What is happening today is indeed the dignity of life, which is deeply honored by religion, has now been destroyed by materialitic mode of life. Human civilization, which today faces a great disruption, is trapped in an anthropo-centrism, that is that the dignity of life is counted by and from cost of material. The anthropo-centrism has paved the way to liberalism, that is a worldview encouraging human being to perform life free from value and lack of eschatological purposive orientation that there is life after life. The global market is indeed embeded by liberalism, while religion is preoccupied by belief and practices based on theocentrism.
Possible Roles of Religion
Religion can play important roles in the globalized Asia, especially in coping with problems may occur and in directing the development to the right path according to religious ideals.
Theoretically, religion has some powers including moral, ethical, and spiritual power. In order to meet the challenges of the globalized Asia, and in encouraging hope to all the people of the region, all religions should joint hand in hand in mainstreaming peace and globalizing of indifferences.
Religions may play roles. Firstly, religions should emphasize their power as an integrative force, that is to bring unity among the people different faiths and cultures. Religionists should take part and even initiative for conflict resolution. Perpetuating conflicts in Eas Asia will only curb a dynamic progress of the region, more over if war or conflict occur between nations in the region, be it religious or non religious in nature. By so doing religious leaders may set up agenda for interfaith dialogue and cooperation both at the elite level and grass root level, and extend dialogue between religious leaders and the government or political leaders.
Our main task is to ensure that religion continue to serve as the basis of peace and coexistence.We continue to work so that religion is not used, misused, or even abused as a source of violence in many forms. As the Holy Qur'an strongly reminds us that "whosoever killed a person without justified reason, is that if he or she killed all human being and humanity" (Chapter 5: 32). When conflicts do occur it is our task to ensure that those conflicts are resolved peacefully, not through the use of violence. We have to believe in the power of dialogue, and interfaith dialogue may take the form of mediation for conflict resolution.
Secondly, religions may play a role in providing the society with its moral or spiritual power. Secularization has created many kinds of immoralities in the society, especially derived from an anthropocentric orientation of human's life. Because of this orientation human being are far from God and are trapped in new kinds of atheism, such as individualism, materialism, and hedonism. As a result, modern society in industrialized countries are facing social illness. Religion is the best way for therapy and healing to such social illness. By providing moral and spiritual values religion may heal and bring back the people to a normal and healthy life. Religion, in this regard, keeps balance between material and immaterial life.
Thirdly, religion may perform its prophetic mission, that is by providing its ethical values for progress and development. Despite having differences in faith, religions share many commonalities with regard to ethical values. Religions of East Asia can be driving force to stimulate economic growth of the region. To some extend, religions in East Asia have played effective role in bringing about development, such as Confucianism in China, Buddhism in Japan and Korea, Shintoism in Japan, Catholicism in the Philippines, or Islam in Indonesia. Though religions, on the one hand, have been victimized by the stream of modernization and secularization, yet on the other hand religions have encouraged development or, at least, prevented that development from being misled and misleading. Therefore, religions have provided moral courage and encouraged East Asia to become the region of growth, progress, and development in the 21th century.
These are the roles of religion in the globalized Asia. Relatively, religions in Asia remain as a source of spiritual, moral, and ethical values, and become an effective factor to lead the globalized Asia to be progressive, prosperous, and peaceful region based on moral values. It is our hope that religions in Asia may strengthen the establishment of sustainable development with meaning in the region.