More people in the world are living in cities than ever before, and this is leading to renewed interest in religion, and confounding those who predicted a growth of secularisation, according to a new UN report - writes Stephen Brown of ENI..
"Rapid urbanisation was expected to mean the triumph of rationality, secular values and the demystification of the world, as well as the relegation of religion to a secondary role. Instead, there has been a renewal in religious interest in many countries," the United Nations Population Fund says in its report, 'The State of World Population 2007;.
The growth of new religious movements is primarily an urban phenomenon, the report notes.
The report points to "radical Islam in the Arab region, Pentecostal Christianity in Latin America and parts of Africa, and the cult of Shivaji in parts of India".
In China, where cities are growing at a breakneck pace, religious movements are fast gaining adherents, the report adds.
By 2008, more than half the world's current 6.7 billion people will live in cities, the report states. It says that by then, though mega-cities - urban areas with more than 10 million inhabitants - will continue to grow, most people will be living in cities of 500 000 or fewer.
Globally, all future population growth will take place in cities, nearly all of it in Asia, Africa and Latin America, says the report, which was launched recently. It explains that in Asia and Africa this will mark a decisive shift from rural to urban growth, and will involve changing a balance that has lasted for millennia.
"The urbanisation is jolting mentalities and subjecting them to new influences," the report's main author, George Martine, is quoted as saying by the London-based Independent newspaper. "And now one of the ways for people to reorganise themselves in this urban world is to associate themselves with new or strong, fundamentalist religion," Martine said.
Still, the report also cautions against a tendency to focus on extreme religious responses and "to lump them all under the rubric of 'fundamentalism'."
While such extreme responses have gained numerous followers, "religious revivalism has varied forms with different impacts, ranging from detached 'new age' philosophy to immersion in the political process," states the UN report.
"Increased urbanisation, coupled with slow economic development and globalisation, has helped to increase religious diversity," the report notes. "Rather than revivals of a tradition, the new religious movements can be seen as adaptations of religion to new circumstances."
[With grateful acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International  is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches]