Trade and religion are examples of cross-cultural exchanges in world history. The two aspects represent the most significant inter-cultural exchanges because of their long-term effects and the critical roles they played in shaping history. It is necessary to understand the development of the two cross-cultural elements, how they have affected human life over time (importance), and their long-term significance.
The development of different religious groups and commerce is an issue that Overfield gives an elaborate account in his book Human Record. According to Overfield the period between the 15th and 17th centuries was the time when many changes occurred due to the increase in global interaction. The author explains that profound changes across the world affected each aspect of human life between the 1400s and 1600s. The period between the two centuries is essential because “significant religious developments occurred in many parts of the world”1. For example, the European Christendom splintered because of the protestant reformation that happened at the time. The duration is also significant in the history of religion because monotheistic faith emerged and disturbed the balance of religion in Europe. Such faith included Sikhism that developed in India and Shiism that became Iran’s state religion. Islam also strengthened between the two centuries as it gained more converts in Africa and East Asia. Thus, the period that Overfield explains, especially the 1500s, was a time of spiritual change as different sects spread across the world.
The major setback that undermined the spread of religious intercultural exchange was the missing connectedness. There was little interaction between people from different parts of the world, e.g. because of the physical barriers that separated them, especially the oceans. The technological development that occurred from 1450 created supportive infrastructure for transportation, an issue that supported the spread of religious pluralism globally. According to Overfield, two regions were unknown to the rest of the world: Oceania and the Americas. The two locations had their outstanding religions, but the increase in global interaction opened them up to the other sectarian groups, for example the European missionaries who spread the Catholic faith to the Americas.
Various parts of the globe experience the political events that affected the development of trade and religion. For example, “the North and South Americas gained more political control by the mid-seventeenth century”. Also, the Europeans developed a taste for sweets, a factor that inspired slave trade. The sugarcane planters enslaved Africans, e.g. on the fields in Brazil1. Mining also grew as a commercial activity in Mexico and South America, a factor that affected the silk prices in China. The seventeenth-century China also underwent the political disorders that encouraged the porcelain industry in the Netherlands and England. Similarly, the Japanese shoguns and Chinese political leaders introduced commercial and political policies that attracted the attention of the Roman pope. The significance of the seventeenth-century developments is that they occurred at a time when the world became accessible.
Religion significantly affected the emergence of the scientific revolution. Before the 1400s, religious uniformity was present in Europe, with the Roman Catholic Church as the leader. The period between the 1400s and 1600s marked the time for religious diversity.
The Protestant Reformation affected the uniformity in Europe significantly. The people who ascribed to the protestant church “rejected the papal authority and the doctrine of the Catholic church”. The changes, however, were not unique to the 1400s and 1600s. The European civilization that began during the 5th century CE led to the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. Such a change indicated the future developments that would occur in religion because the Roman Empire had a critical role in the continuation of the Catholic faith. However, the religious multiplicity that arose mainly from Protestantism affected human life negatively. Although the world accepted religious multiplicity, the Protestant belief, it became a source of persecution and war during the 16th and early 17th century. The Roman Catholic Church opposed the ideas of the scientists such as “Nicholas Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler”. The scholars received opposition from the Catholic Church as their new ideas undermined the Catholic beliefs.
Martin Luther was the founder the Protestant Church that changed the course of religion worldwide. In 1517, for instance, Luther wrote ninety-five theses in which he criticized the Catholic faith1. He taught theology at Wittenberg University in the 1510s, and he reflected on the Biblical scriptures. Luther concluded that the blameless life and pious acts that the Catholic doctrine demanded were impossible. He developed the doctrine of “justification by faith alone,” which criticized the practice of indulgences among other acts of the Catholic Church.
Trade developed alongside religion. The Portuguese had crucial roles in trade development because of their early explorations. For instance, the Portuguese had an ambitious plan for monopolizing the trade between Asia and Europe.
Firstly, the Portuguese explorers built fortified trading posts along the coast of Africa. They also positioned the posts on the entrances to the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, and India’s West Coast region. The Portuguese’s intention was to control international trade by controlling the routes that the merchants followed. Their second plan was to open contacts with Japan and China, the core sources of the trading commodities. Conquering Melaka was a key strategy that they would use to direct the trade between Europe and Asia, but their conquest failed because the city of Melaka had a strong defense.
The Portuguese influence of the global trade was apparent though their expeditions that targeted the African coastal regions. Slaves were the main commodity for trade between the 15th and 17th centuries. The expeditions introduced the European ships along the African coasts, and a long-lasting contact developed as the European traders exchanged their finished commodities, e.g. sugar, with the slaves from the Sub-Saharan Africa. The region became the source of slaves for a long time. The slave trade also led to the settlement of the Europeans in strategic regions from which they could control commerce. For example, the Portuguese explorers occupied Cape Verde islands in the 1460s. The location lacked human settlement because of its volcanic activities. The long-term impact of slave trade was the spread of the Africans to other continents, e.g. Europe and the South America. They spurred the agricultural and industrial revolution in these continents because they gave free labor. The African presence has remained in the regions long after the end of the slave trade.
One of the long-term significances of trade development, which has continued to the modern-day, was globalization. For instance, trade connected China to the rest of the world. Trade also spread the Islam faith and other beliefs. The fifteenth century was important to the development of China’s sea trade. Zheng He is an example of the Chinese Muslim eunuch who conducted voyages between China and other parts of the world between 1405 and 1433. During his explorations, Zheng reached places like the Persian Gulf and the coast of Africa. Zheng would spread the Islam faith and carry various items back to China, but the notable one is the giraffe that he carried from Africa to China. The exports from China during the 15th century included gold, silver, porcelain, and silk. The Chinese traders imported goods such as wood, jewels, and rhino horns. Trade thus improved human life because the commodities that one country produced, e.g. China, reached other countries. The exporting countries could also get the raw materials for their industries and the goods that other countries produced.
Overfield explains the long-term significance of religion by stating, “Most importantly, the Reformation (Protestant) contributed to Europe’s ongoing secularization”. The author states the long-term essence as follows, “In the long-run, however, the proliferation of competing faiths divided and weakened Europe’s churches, and years of religious intolerance and war discredited religion in the eyes of many”. Europe accepted religious diversity, and this was an indication that the role of religion in the Europeans’ life and thought had diminished.
In conclusion, religion and trade are the cultural exchanges that influenced human life greatly. The increase in global interaction from the 14th to 17th century encouraged the growth of trade and spread of religion. The earlier periods had religious uniformity due to limited access to other continents. However, the European voyages and expeditions supported the development of trade and spread of religious multiplicity. As global trade grew, the events in one country affected the prices of commodities in other nations, an implication that trade led to globalization. However, wars also emerged alongside religion and trade, e.g. the Portuguese war of conquest against Melaka. The expansion of Protestantism also met a lot of resistance from the Roman Catholic.