Posts Tagged ‘India’

May 15th, 2014

The complicated case of Narendra Modi’s visa

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Monday, May 12th, marked the ninth and final phase of India’s general elections, and the results announced in coming hours will likely declare Narendra Modi as India’s prime minister. Modi, the candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance, would then lead the world largest democracy—one with a staggering 814.5 million registered voters—but has been denied entry into ours: for almost a decade, the Department of State has banned Modi from entering the United States. Looking back at how this came to be highlights the uneven history of religious freedom as part of American foreign policy.

May 14th, 2014

In defense of the fragment

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Richard Madsen has done me the favor of reading my book carefully and sympathetically. He points out that the complexity of comparative analysis increases immensely when one does away with assuming unified cultural wholes. The kinds of narratives that were built in the past on the assumption of unified wholes have become impossible, and with them the kind of theorizing that characterized comparative analysis. In the view of many scholars, that means an end to comparative analysis. How can one do comparison of shifting, disintegrating social and cultural realities? How can one compare India and China when one respects the fragmentary nature of society?

May 8th, 2014

Modern spirits

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The Modern Spirit of Asia is like a brilliant pencil sketch for an uncompleted oil painting. Something inspiring appears in abstract, but the necessary shading hasn’t been done, and any effort at further illumination will necessarily transform what is depicted. The book traces in provocative outline the recent histories of India and China, arguing that neither formulations of modernity were merely derivative or defective imitations of the West, and that the degree of colonial encounter entwined religion and nationalism differently for each. While its larger goals are admirable, it fails to justify them by doing truly original research or rigorous theorizing. I agree with many of Peter van der Veer’s conclusions, but I fear that anyone who isn’t already singing from the same hymnal isn’t going to be converted.

May 5th, 2014

Looking back while hurtling forward

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At a time when the late twentieth century giants of comparative social science—like S.N. Eisenstadt and Robert Bellah—have recently passed away and when most of the younger generation of social scientists are preoccupied with narrowly focused research questions, it is heartening to see Peter van der Veer reviving the great tradition of comparative inquiry into the cultural origins and consequences of modernity. The Modern Spirit of Asia is an ambitious book that sets a new standard (and a hard standard to meet!) for comparative studies of religion and modernity. The level of erudition is impressive, but unlike the work of most comparative historical sociologists of an earlier era, the knowledge of historical documents is undergirded by an experiential, ethnographic knowledge of the languages and cultures of India and China (as well as extensive knowledge of European languages). Beset by pressures for specialization and for rapid and steady “productivity,” younger scholars will find it difficult to reach the level of scholarship displayed in this book.

August 23rd, 2013

Ascetic faith in a modern world

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Jainism, a religion from India that emphasizes a disciplined adherence to non-violence, is one of the oldest religions in the world. Modern-day Jains, including those born in the United States, are learning to adapt and reinterpret their faith in a modern world.

June 15th, 2012

“Twin tolerations” today: An interview with Alfred Stepan

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Alfred Stepan is Wallace S. Sayre Professor of Government at Columbia University and founder and director of the Center for the Study of Democracy, Toleration, and Religion. He has written extensively on democratic transitions, military regimes, and the relationship between religion and democracy in countries throughout the world. His theory of the “twin tolerations,” which argues that healthy democracies require religious leaders to grant authority to elected officials, and that state authorities must not only guarantee freedom of private religious worship but allow democratic participation in civil and political society, has influenced political theorists, heads of state, and grassroots activists.

May 2nd, 2012

Religious freedom as crisis claims

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Adopted in 1950, Article 17 of the Indian Constitution legally abolished untouchability—the ancient Hindu system of social discrimination—forbade its practice in any form, and made the enforcement of any discrimination arising out of this disability a criminal offence. At the same time, the Indian Constitution guaranteed freedom of religious belief and practice under Article 25 and autonomy of religious institutions under Article 26. The discussion of Employment Division v. Smith in Winnifred Sullivan’s post and subsequent comments reminded me of the very substantial jurisprudence surrounding Article 26.

April 26th, 2012

The problem of translation: A view from India

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What is the politics of religious freedom? For the past decade and more, those who would like to see the active promotion of religious freedom at the “core” of foreign policy in the U.S. and now in Canada would have us understand that religious freedom is the foundation of democracy, the basis for political stability and first step to all other freedoms. The mission statement of the Office of International Religious Freedom in the U.S. Department of State links its promotion of religious freedom to human rights and to political “stability” for “all countries.” Referring to the establishment of a new Office of Religious Freedom within his government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in a statement to the United Nations last year, the Canadian UN Ambassador declared, “History has shown us that where religious freedom is strong, democratic freedom is strong.”

January 5th, 2012

Axial axioms

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The word “magisterial” in publishers’ blurbs usually means little more than “too long,” and indeed Religion in Human Evolution is very long, but it is also magisterial in many of the ways that the Oxford English Dictionary suggests: “Of, relating to, designating, or befitting a master, teacher, or other person qualified to speak with authority; masterly, authoritative, commanding.”   It is certainly all of those, a book full of the wisdom and erudition that comes only when someone quite brilliant has thought about a big subject for many years.

December 13th, 2011

Multiple secularities and their normativity as an empirical subject

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It is difficult to come to an agreement when normative issues are concerned. Are the “moderate” forms of European secularisms flexible enough to include the Muslim population as well, as Tariq Modood suggests? Or are they “irretrievably flawed,” as Rajeev Bhargava has argued, because they emerged from a context in which Christian confessions dominated and were not set up to include non-Christian minorities? Or should we get rid of the language of secularism altogether and instead refer to liberal-democratic constitutionalism as a meta-language, as Veit Bader has proposed?

October 11th, 2011

Beyond secularisms of all sorts

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Is there a crisis of secularism in Western Europe? Is Tariq Modood’s “moderate secularism” the solution, or should we go “beyond moderate secularism” and embrace the “alternative conception of secularism,” that of “principled distance,” proposed by Rajeev Bhargava? In this piece I hope to show that, for the purposes of normative thinking—in the realms of political and legal theory, constitutional law, and jurisprudence in particular—we had better drop the language of secularism altogether and reframe the contested issues in terms of the language of liberal-democratic constitutionalism and its respective principles, rights, and institutional arrangements.

September 7th, 2011

“Traditionalist” Islamic activism

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At the time of the 9/11 attacks, commentators trying to analyze Afghan support for Al-Qaeda put a great deal of emphasis on the Taliban’s sectarian orientation as “Deobandi.” Deobandis across South Asia were known for disapproval of what they took to be Sufi or Shia intercessory practices that might compromise monotheism; they also discouraged celebration of ostentatious life-cycle customs. They called for adherence to what they took to be sharia-based individual practices. Deobandis had had a long tradition of influence within Afghanistan. This influence surged with the return of the Taliban leadership, who were, in fact, largely a product of Deobandi schools in Pakistan’s frontier region where they were refugees after the Soviet invasion. The problem was that commentators took to formulating a simple syllogism: The Taliban were Deobandis. The Taliban had accommodated Al-Qaeda. Deobandis therefore were “fanatical,” “fundamentalist,” “anti-Western,” and “terrorist.”

August 9th, 2011

Religion in the call center

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When I set out to examine the lifestyle changes of employees working night shifts in India’s call centers, I was surprised to discover how outsourcing highlights some of the important tensions between new modes of secularity and new religious modernities emerging around the world.

October 13th, 2010

Hinduism, prosperity, and India’s rising middle class

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The tendency in recent years of some U.S. evangelical and Pentecostal Christian preachers to celebrate immense wealth, rather than critique it—what is known as the “prosperity gospel”—is not unique to those forms of Christianity or to the United States. According an article by Mary Fitzgerald in The Irish Times, Meera Nanda’s new book, The God Market, chronicles a similar movement emerging in India.

August 9th, 2010

Skyping secularism: Religion and multiple modernities

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Since our previous dispatch from the IWM Summer School in Cortona, we have settled back into our real lives in London, New York, and Washington, DC, respectively. But the discussions inspired by the summer school have continued—over email and group chats—and we wanted to share with you one recent exchange that followed from our course on “Religion and Multiple Modernities,” taught by Dipesh Chakrabarty, Sudipta Kaviraj, and Charles Taylor. The course drew on examples from European and Indian history that prompted us to think about the relation between modernity (a concept that itself was called into question) and secularism.

July 19th, 2010

“Who is a Jew?”

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A controversial bill passed the Israeli Knesset’s (Parliament) law committee this week.  The Rotem Bill, as it is known (named after its sponsor, David Rotem, a member of the nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party), would give ultimate control of the conversion process to the ultra-orthodox, Haredi, rabbinate.  This bill has caused both concern and indignation in the diasporic Jewish community. See Alana Newhouse’s recent op-ed in The New York Times.

June 30th, 2010

“The Lady Twilight”

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Over at Killing the Buddha, William Dalrymple is excerpting his new book, Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India.

June 2nd, 2010

Rajmohan Gandhi on faith, reconciliation, and peace

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In conversation with Katherine Marshall, Rajmohan Gandhi, President of Initiatives of Change International (formerly Moral Rearmament) and the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, discusses his life’s work of fostering peace and reconciliation.

April 28th, 2010

“Hegemonic Secularism, Dominant Communalism”

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In the January issue of Rethinking Marxism (sub. req.), Saroj Giri explores the underlying assumptions that drive the conceptions of Indian secularism employed by both its critics and its advocates.

January 4th, 2010

The Indian religious marketplace

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Hartosh Singh Bal explores why, even as India’s religious marketplace has grown more vibrant, the Hindu political party is on the decline.

December 7th, 2008

Is Mumbai’s resilience endlessly renewable?

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I grew up in Bombay (now Mumbai) in the 1950s and early 1960s. I spoke Tamil with my mother, a combination of English and Tamil with my siblings and my father, and various brands of Gujarati, Marathi and Hindi with friends, domestic helpers, neighbors, bureaucrats and shopkeepers. […]

December 4th, 2008

The death of secular India is greatly exaggerated

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As the citizens of this vast metropolis seek to restore some semblance of normalcy to their lives, it is important to probe the possible reasons for this horrific episode and explore its ramifications for the future of India’s plural, democratic and secular state. […]

August 19th, 2008

Preaching to the converted

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Islam and The Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shari`a is avowedly didactic, aiming to persuade Muslims in public debate that constitutional rule of law, human rights and democratic citizenship in a secular state represent the only form of political regime consistent with Islam in the modern world. Despite lengthy and repetitious exposition of the notions of democratic constitutionalism, “civic reason,” citizenship and human rights, An-Na`im fails in his explicit purpose of justifying and legitimizing them in Islamic terms, which appear somewhat incidentally and do not carry the primary charge of justification. In this regard, his preaching can only have an effect on those already converted.

May 27th, 2008

An Islamic case for a secular state

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If the state is going to enforce any principle from Islamic sources, according to Abdullahi An-Na‘im, then it should implement the principle that the state should not enforce Islamic principles. This is the crux of An-Na‘im’s new book, Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shari‘a. An-Na‘im, a renowned Islamic scholar and human rights activist, is a leading member of the generation of Muslim intellectuals that came to prominence in the 1980s as critics of both Islamist revolutionaries and post-colonial dictators. According to An-Na‘im, the secular state is not just a good thing on public-policy grounds; it is also justified on Islamic grounds. […]

April 28th, 2008

Islam and authority

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In his new book, Abdullahi an-Na`im argues that Muslims need a secular state to live their religious lives. Alongside his immensely informative account of modern developments, he makes a sustained argument against state enforcement of Islam along two major lines. First, it makes no religious sense for a state to force Muslims to follow God’s will, because Muslims should act from conviction and choice. An-Na`im makes a second argument that is parallel to the first: not only is it futile and religiously counter-productive to enforce Islamic piety, but doing so also distorts and impoverishes religion.