Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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Developed above all by Immanuel Wallerstein and several collaborators, this Marxist-inspired theory conceives a globally extended world capitalist economy as constitutive of a single world-system. It treats religion as secondary and derivative. Countries or regions participate in the system as part of a dominant core, an exploited periphery, or a hybrid semiperiphery that functions to keep the periphery at bay. Within countries, socioeconomic classes are the primary divisions. By viewing the economy as primary, the theory regards other aspects ultimately as derivative: States are the tools of national bourgeoisie; culture, including religion, nationalisms, racism, and sexism express economic relations, even though cultural identities especially may in fact provide the immediate rationales of action for antisystemic movements. Having its historical origins in sixteenth-century Europe, the world capitalist economy has undergone successive cycles of expansion and contraction that will eventuate in the future collapse of the system, yielding to the formation of a single world-socialist state.

See also Globalization

Peter F. Beyer


I. Wallerstein, The Modern World-System , 3 vols. (New York: Academic Press, 1974-1989).


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