The social construct of ‘civilization’ conveys a meaning of common identity. This identity, in turn, is entailed in shared social norms, societal values and cultural mores—all repeated iterated in public discourses and institutions of socialization. Organized religion, thus, emerges as the chief signifier of civilization, both directly-as the repository of identity and values and indirectly - as shaper of institutions and discourses. While a ‘civilization’ is not coterminous with a religion, the latter is a necessary - but not sufficient, component of the former.
Where religion is relatively homogenous as in much of the Muslim world, we allow for the conceptualization of a single civilization in the name of Islam or the ummah - the Muslim body politic. Likewise, ‘associate’ members of the Muslim civilization are found in Africa as well as Europe. The difference between a core member and an associate member of a civilization is the civilizational identity’s location on a spectrum from contentedness to hegemony. Likewise, some civilizations as the Primal-Indigenous may simply be a residual category, which lacks formal association and membership.
The demographic balance between the world civilizations has seen several tectonic shifts in the last 2,000 years. In the period 0-800, ethno-tribal belief systems, known as Primal-Indigenous religions, were the chief socio-religion dispensation among humankind. As the Christianization of Europe merged with the Islamization of the Middle East and North Africa, the Primal-Indigenous dominance was weakened. This gave way to the Sinic civilization, which became the numerically largest, followed until the turn of the millennium closely by the Indic civilization. The Sinic civilization remained the dominant until medical advances in Europe resulted in decreased child mortality, courtesy of the Industrial Revolution, and by 1870 Christendom were the largest civilization, a privilege it retains till this day.
However, while all civilizations are increasing in absolute terms, as a result of population growth, only Islam is growing in relative terms. Future projections anticipate that Islam will attain parity with Christianity by 2050, as Islam is the only civilization whose growth rate is in excess of the generic growth rate of the world population at large. Islam has not before reached parity with Christianity, with the exception of narrowing the gap considerably around the time of the Black Death in Europe - gap that since widened, even with the 30-Year War in Europe.
The most dramatic decline over the two thousand years is found in the Primal-Indigenous group, where evangelization and death at the hand of colonialists entirely eradicated parochial forms of religiosity. Buddhism, too, has seen considerable demographic decline; from having been more numerous than Hindus, Buddhists suffered from loss of dynastic support in India and the spread of Islam in central Asia. Likewise, the Communist take-over of China sounded the death-knell of Sinic civilization, which quickly deteriorated. Like the Sinic civilization, the Buddhist too suffered from the institutional imposition of Antitheism, a blow that either is still to recover from, even as Antitheism has recently seen a decline with the fall of the Soviet block.
(Author is PHD Scholar in History)