“Indian Islamic Perspectives on Religious Diversity”
Indian Muslim society is broadly divided into the Deobandis (reformists) and the Barelwis who advocate a mediated experience of Islam. Both these identities crystallized in the colonial context. which meant that they positioned themselves not only vis a vis each other but also against the colonial state, Christianity and the broader Hindu society. This paper will seek to understand their position on religious diversity in a post colonial context within the framework of secular democratic polity. More specifically, the paper will seek to unravel their understanding of living in a multicultural society. Through these two religious orientations within Indian Islam, the paper will ask how and to what extent Islam in India has been able to develop a philosophy of living with other religious traditions, primarily Hinduism. The paper will also contrast the religious practice of Indian Muslims with the official discourses of Deobandis and Barelwis in order to point out that perhaps a better way to understand religious diversity is through the practice rather than through literary expressions of Islamic high culture.
“Multi-religious Education and the Idea of Religion”
Dr. Bhargava has argued elsewhere that state-provided multi-religious education is not incompatible with appropriately formulated secular principles, but is, rather, necessary and valuable in nations characterized by deep religious diversity. At the same time, however, this paper contends, the curriculum design of such education assumes the existence of mutually distinct "religions," to which members owe exclusive commitment. Historically, Indian traditions have not been "religions" in this sense, but they have increasingly come to conform to a modern Western idea of religion, which multi-religious education tends to reinforce. But perhaps there is something to be learned from traditional Indian (and other Asian) approaches to religious questions and claims, and a way of adapting these lessons to the teaching of religion in India and elsewhere.
“Religion, Education, and Secularism”
In the context of a post 9/11 (New York) and less advertised post 26/11 (Mumbai) world, religion has become a highly significant and sensitive issue globally. Fundamentalism in all religions is growing and causing alarm not only because of terrorism, but also because of its association with right wing politics and economics. My presentation will explore how education can be a powerful instrument for fighting fundamentalism. Cultural theory and critical pedagogy, which connect education and the politics of difference with the economy and citizenship, provide a conceptual framework. The lack of clarity in definition and interpretation of diversity, religion and secularism has undermined the study of the subtle relationships among these terms despite their strong influence on each other. Is secularism antithetical to religion? Will secularism lead to resistance and change? What is the impact of ideological struggles such as secularism on the public policy making process? The presentation will conclude with a brief discussion on the place of religion in the school curriculum.
“Inter-Religious Intimacies: Conversions, Desire and Dalit Women in Colonial India”
The question of Dalit female desire has been intrinsic to everyday forms of caste and religious violence. It has produced deeply politicized discourses, particularly in relation to inter-caste and inter-religious intimacies. These are also tied to elevation or decline in social status, mobility, religious conversions and crossing of boundaries. This paper examines religious conversions by Dalit women in colonial north India, as acts which embodied desires and were accounts of resistant or stubborn materialities. It focuses on some police reports, court cases and writings of caste and reformist ideologues, to show how the right to conversion produced increasing anxieties, framed around the bodies of Dalit women. These also reflected the insecurities of Hindu publicists to flexible and liminal religious spaces. Through its analysis, the paper implicitly attempts to recover in part Dalit female agency, choice and aspiration. The localized, quotidian practices of these women and their expressions of new inter-religious intimacies and desires exposed the inherent vulnerabilities in the dominant Hindu logic.
“Religious Diversity and the Politics of Overlapping Consensus in India”
This paper examines the nature and scope of religious diversity in India. It argues that the religious diversity which exists at the social level is being articulated at the political level, but is in this articulation being converted into what Rawls describes as an overlapping consensus. The result is a "thin" notion of religious diversity that does not provide an adequate foundation for developing the policy measures required to ensure genuine equality between religious communities, and between individuals within those communities. The paper then works out a thicker notion of diversity, taking account of the realities of life for subordinated groups in particular. It also proposes that profound ethical, and nor merely legal and political, change is required to foster true equality and dignity for members of these groups.
Elizabeth Shakman Hurd:
“The Politics of International Religious Freedom”
This paper examines the forms of authority authorized by contemporary international religious freedom advocacy. It argues that the power of this construct has led to the creation and proliferation of new categories of actors in world politics, the definition and adoption of new tasks, mandates, and commissions, and the global dissemination and normalization of new modes of social organization. Religious freedom authorizes exceptions to norms of non-intervention and legitimizes far-reaching transnational campaigns to shape the religious landscapes of other states and regions. These models and projects help to define what it means to be religious, and to be free, in the contemporary world. The paper concludes with a discussion of an alternative, emergent conceptualization of religious freedom.
“’Untouchables’ and the Temple Entry Movement in Odisha”
This paper examines how 'untouchables' still suffer from various forms of exclusionary practices in the overwhelmingly Hindu state of Odisha, arguing that this is contrary to the inclusivist and integrationist Jagannath culture. The paper focuses especially on the Keradgarh temple entry movement by the 'Harijans', which challenged the Hindu social order, clearly preferring assertion to patronage and dignity to humiliation. Despite powerful mobilisation and egal intervention in their favour, they were ultimately prevailed upon to agree to a restricted entry. However, in the new arrangement, the upper casted were denied entry to the sanctum sanctorum, so that the entry of the upper castes as well as the Harijans was restricted to a common point. This shows how the upper caste Hindus, aided by the state machinery, cleverly negotiated a settlement which still kept Hari away from the 'Harijans'.
“Bhakti and the Shaping of Social Imaginaries in Colonial India”
This presentation examines the social imagination fostered by the egalitarian thrust of the Bhakti movement within Hinduism. It argues that this imagination facilitated easy accommodation of the interpretations of freedom and equality that came to the subcontinent through the encounter with colonialism. That in turn paved the way for the emergence of a secular democratic social imaginary in colonial India. The paper considers how the conceptual resources of Bhakti -- expressible through what Fred Dallmayr calls "the standard of castelessness, nonhierarchy and caring human fellowship" -- contributed to the process of translating ethical ideals in colonial India, to yield a spirited assertion against the intragroup (and intra-religious) domination entrenched through Hinduism's caste order. It looks at key figures such as Jotiba Phule, M G Ranade and B R Ambedkar. Such a study can supply details of the intellectual history underpinning the choice of liberal democratic institutions for the political accommodation of religion in postcolonial India.
“A Cultural and Dialogic Approach to Religious Education”
This paper presents an analysis of religious education in Quebec, focusing especially on the content of the program of ethics and religious culture implemented in 2008 in both the public and the private school system, along with its vision of diversity and intercultural relations. The paper examines the various debates surrounding this program: fears on the part of proponents of interculturalism as opposed to multiculturalism; contestation in courts by parents and one private catholic school; and contestation by secularists. The final part of the paper offers a comparison with the French and British visions of diversity in schools. The French model refuses teaching religion as particular discipline in public school, providing instead teaching about the "religious fact" in disciplines like history and literature. The British model promotes inter-faith religious education as a specific discipline. Quebec offers a hybrid approach, between the French secularist and the British interfaith models. Behind these various models lie specific comprehensions of state and school neutrality, and of the function of religion in social and individual life.
"Diversity, Secularism and Religious Toleration"
How ought we to approach the relationship between religion and politics in the context of India? On one end, a dominant response is grounded in the wall of separation model, as in France or the United States. The opposite pole is that of near theocracy, as in some self-described Islamic nations. The near theocracy model is clearly dangerous in the context of post-colonial India. But, on the other hand, Ashis Nandy suggests that a complete adherence to a wall of separation model in the social and historical context of India is neither realistic nor justified. The real issue in the debate between religion and politics in India is that of toleration among groups, and fairness or equality between them. Nandy argues that these can be achieved, and have been historically achieved in India, primarily through religious perspectives. Examining his position, I pose the central question: can one assure checks and balances that restrain the arbitrary abuse of religious power, such as from the Hindu right and Islamic militants?
“Engaging with Diversity between Buddhism and Hinduism: Radhakrishnan, Ambedkar & T. R. V. Murti.”
The colonialism-modernity combination imposed on Indian society an imperative to engage with unity and diversity in a new way, posing fresh challenges to Indian philosophers. The latter employed different strategies; some conformed to the colonial model of modernity, while others relapsed into orthodoxy. Against this background, this paper discusses how S. Radhakrishnan while initially acknowledging differences between Hinduism and Buddhism eventually renders them as insignificant. In contrast, B. R. Ambedkar, rejecting the politics underlying caste discrimination, highlights the radical difference between these two schools of Indian philosophy. T. R. V. Murti takes into account both differences and commonalities between Hinduism and Buddhism, and highlights the underlying interaction between these schools of thought in shaping their developments. The three provide examples of how philosophy in India engages with surviving traditional philosophies regarding unity and diversity in view of the challenges of co-existence in a modern plural state.
“Faith, Ethnicity & Nationalism: The Case of St. Thomas Christians”
Roughly, 27% of Kerala's population are indigenous Indian Christians who trace their roots back to the apostolic work of St. Thomas. The different factions within this group form a distinct people who yet share a cultural identity with Hindus, having carved out a way of life within the cultural space in which they were located. In common with Hindus, they have had a concept of sacred, and observe similar social customs related to birth, marriage and death, such as giving newborns powdered gold mixed with honey, and not cooking or eating food in the house of the deceased till after the burial. At the same time, they have drawn on Christian themes in their work as agents of social, economic and moral transformation. Their preservation of identity by adaptation to the cultural space of India provides an instructive case that challenges the categories of native and foreign still widely used to discriminate against Christians in India.
"Diversity in Religious Practice: Examples from the UK"
Discussion of religious diversity is often narrowed down to discussion about inter-religious relations at the level of the (nation) state and state politics, including the governance of religion. I argue for the need to broaden this to include (a) intra-religious and religion-secular relations, as well as inter-religious diversity and (b) attention to the ways in which diversity plays out across society, including in key domains such as schools, the workplace, hospitals, and prisons. This paper explores recent research into the actual workings of diversity in practice, in a number of different areas of British life. Examples include chaplaincies, universities, the voluntary sector, multi-faith 'prayer' spaces, and the internet. Far from confirming a picture of intensified difference and conflict, which is often rehearsed in national media and politics, much of the research finds that there has been considerable progress in moving towards constructive forms of 'multi-faith' engagement in the UK since the 1980s.