The "hindu identity" subjected to the "Self Policing" vs "Self Defense" test. The ideas of two eminent thinkers, Amartya Sen's & Arvind Sharma, discussed & compared.
Who am I?
Ever since the first humans started asking this question, we set out on the path of cultural evolution. Since we're not aware of animals asking this question, we will presume for now that it is true for only humans. There is a long & detailed history, or rather histories that have been recorded by us over the million or so years we've been human. With being human comes also the need to strive for something beyond "roti-kapda-aur-makaan, i.e. food, shelter & other basics to sustain life. Notions of what self-improvement, and societal "progress" means have been changing over time.
Today, many thinkers have said that the future of humanity lies in cultural, not biological or genetic evolution. It is this acute sense of self-awareness & the subsequent exploration of the idea of "self" through language, symbols and actions that sets humans apart from other species. All traditions, more or less, hold that humans are capable of transcending their "basic natures". Some cultures do this in an extrovert way, emphasizing on external "conquest" in the material world, and others, thought not neglecting external & material gains, emphasize on "conquest" or understanding of the "Self" as the major goal of existence. In one word, the need for self definition, or an identity, is deep for all human beings.
IDENTITY and IDENTITIES
One could look at the Identity issue at various levels. Broadly speaking, starting from a macro perspective one could go on down to a "micro" perspective. One can conceive of-
A Universal Identity – inclusive of everything that was, is and could be; in the past present & future.
A Social Identity- as governed by the individual's daily life, mostly defined by context of physical location, in time & place;
A Personal Identity- at the operating level, or the action & personality based self;
An Inner or Spiritual Identity- when in deep contemplation, withdrawn somewhat from immediate surroundings, attempting to intuit & understand beyond obvious perceptions.
The individual is usually aware, at different times, of all these identities existing inside oneself. & can see each identity influence & drive the other in roughly cyclic fashion, inner to outer, or vice-versa.
Of course, needless to say, this is my personal interpretation, based on my growing awareness of the huge body of Indic thought that our ancients have made available to the world via Sanskrit writings, and which is now available in translations in all major languages in the world. Being a work in progress, this "theory", or my understanding of Indic thought probably still has holes which need filling up.
Along with Indic thought, there are other thought systems (East Asian- Buddhist Tao, Confucian and other systems, "tribal cultures, etc) that are broadly similar in approach, basically trying from their own perspectives, to unify all conceptualizations, attempting to include all phenomena they know of into a system complete system. Taking Indic & East Asian systems, though they have highly developed thought & "logic systems"; they are mostly not interested in rigid "falsification of the other" interpretations as their major goals.
On the other hand, there are other thought systems, primarily Abrahamic based, i.e. Western & Islamic, that posit irreconciliable dualities, i.e. Reason vs Faith, or Outsider vs Insider distinctions between non-converts and "faithful", and insist, via strongly held doctrines, on an infinite distance between man in the natural state, & the divine state that man is assumed to aspire for.
More on my take on Indic thought below.
From times immemorial, the approach of Indic thought has been the exploration of the true nature of the self. The beautiful distillation of this concept is in the Bhagavad Gita where the human being is given a concise, usable, map to transcend body identification of the self. Through out Indic thought (hindu-jain-buddhist-sikh & other systems originating in the Indian Sub Continent), there is a well argued out and practically substantiated insistence on this idea. The idea being the training of the "true self" to rise above the identification with the physical body. The practical paths to achieve this are known to the world as various Yogas, and the goal of these disciplines is defined variously as Moksha, Nirvana, etc.
There is no reason, of course, why this approach would have occurred only to the seers of India, or Eastern Asia. There are plenty of similar traditions all over the world, some long dead gone, existing only in records, & some still being practiced, revived, etc.
The uniqueness, if any, of the Indic traditions is that this thought of "All in one & One in All" holds center stage, & has not been sidelined, or banished to the periphery under the labels of "exotic" or "mystic", etc. From the simple Theistic devotee content with performing puja at the "murti" of Bhagwan, or devi devatas at the temple in the village, to the "nastik" who has no use for the temple, and who finds the very idea of Theism, or a "God" based philosophy very immature, all have access to well defined guide paths that allows one to experience & access the unity that lies beyond words & word based logic & thought systems.
While each way has certain disciplines to adhere to, the need to "falsify" the basic premises of "the other paths" when on this way of self-discovery has not been felt by these traditions.
THE ARGUMENTATIVE INDIAN
Moving to the current situation in the globalized world, issues of Identity have taken centerstage in almost all human activity, be it Economic, Social, Political, or other. This brings us to an activity which in the modern world is getting increasingly sidelined, which seems to be doable only on an "optional basis" , if at all. This is the whole gamut of what today is lumped under names like "Religion", "Philosophy", "Spiritualism" etc.
This subject then becomes big and complicated in a way that is mind boggling to discuss. So I'll only try to discuss the aspect of Identity here.
For the issues here are those of the doings of groups based on their respective "identity fortresses" or "religions" or lack thereof, as in the case of hinduism.
The "mother" system of Indic thought is hinduism, and though it is called as a "religion" in the English speaking world, its "followers" haven't seen it necessary to build an Identity fortress" upto now. The "identity fortress" essentially being a theoretical construct, built and propagated by organizations that have historically taken it upon themselves to actively "falsify the other" schools of thought in order to grow their kingdoms or Empires. These generally involve a "Prophetic Voice" that declares what the "Only Truth" is, and is deemed beyond debate or falsification by "the faithful", who then proceed to find & falsify other thought systems.
Any reader can look back in history and find more than one such system globally.
THE INDIC IDENTITY – Self Policing vs Self Defense
Here I attempt to contrast the thoughts on Identity by two Eminent thinkers with roots in the Indian Sub- Continent. My attempt is to contrast somewhat their approaches, hoping that by doing so, we can gain some insights of our own into the Identities we are talking about. The two authorities I pick are Amartya Sen (Oxford/Harvard Professor, & Nobel prize in Economics); and Arvind Sharma (Professor of Religions, McGill Univ, Canada)
SUBJECTIVE vs OBJECTIVE
As a caveat, I have to again re-iterate that this is an entirely subjective exercise. There is always my attempt to be balanced in views, but I can make no attempt to have some self imposed "objectivity", or to claim some "more neutral than thou" scholarship.
Personally, I wonder how it is possible at all for any study of human behavior to even remotely claim "objectivity", being that the "measuring instrument" for the study of self, or other humans and their societies is obviously one's own human perception I've not experienced or known how "true" objectivity can be achieved when using one's own value judgements.
From my basic knowledge of Indic thought, Human thoughts are always coloured by what is known in Sanskrit as "samskara" which are basically irreversible impressions formed in the cognition or thinking apparatus we humans carry & use for thinking. This Samskara, as posited by Indic thought are supposed to be mental impressions carried over from previous births, and then more being added on throughout life, from the first moment of consciousness at the fetus/child stage. The goal of "objectivity" then, would be, then, to try to neutralize or transcend one's Samskaras via Yoga or what other cultures would call "mysticism" (eg. Buddhist meditation, Sufi paths, Christian mystic paths, Tao, the ways of innumerable nonwestern cultures that are not known well outside the cultures).
This would be possible for accomplished Yogis, etc, keeping in mind Patanjali's YogaSutra "Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodhaha" [Yoga removes the modifications of the mind. Here Vritti can be taken as equivalent to Samskara, i.e. the modifications of the mind] But then a realized Yogi, having achieved/recovered the "unmodified free and clear mind" would probably term this line of thinking and analysis I'm following here as too shallow, not worth their effort anyway…
Let us now look at what I consider the two sides of the argument.
His last book, the "Argumentative Indian" is a must read, in my opinion, if there ever was, though I disagree with a lot of what he says. These interviews linked below also offer some insight into his thought process, and into his next book "Identity & violence".
I agree with his basic point of Indic culture being always encouraging of "heterodoxy" (i.e. denial of a monopolistic status of "orthodoxy" to any one thought-system amongst many, to put it simply). I also agree with his larger attitude that this historic "Argumentative Indian" mentality has been, & will be, the reason & source for India's strength in the past, present, & future.
But being an "argumentative Indian" myself, I cannot hesitate in picking a bone with some of his other points.
He appears to be strenuously pitting "traditional Indian heterodoxy" against "hinduism" or "hindu identity".
One just needs to look at his own arguments to realize that the "Indian heterodoxy " that he is describing IS what is understood as "hinduism" by most practitioners, who don't have a rigid watertight Identity (another of his pet peeves, and rightly so) of Us vs Them.
A better working definition of "hindus" in this context would be that of those from the Indic civilisation / culture who have not "converted" to the exclusive Abrahamic dogmas.
Of course, that would change the nature of many of his arguments, which are always of the "self policing" kind. For then he would have to turn his spotlight on the dogmatic Abrahamic religions. And that , as we all see, is not something an expert celebrated by the West (with Christian dogma hardcoded in its genes) can afford to.
It is not that he doesn't criticize Western ideas in themselves, but when it comes to the "Hot button" word religion, his criticism is exclusively reserved for "hinduism". I guess he is being his usual "self-deprecatory" self, but one expects more even handedness from a man of high stature. Why put "self policing" above "self defence" ?
Read the below linked interviews with him published in the media.
1. 'Like every human being, I have many identities' http://in.rediff.com/news/2006/aug/18inter.htm
2. The arguing Indian' http://alumni.berkeley.edu/calmag/200607/sen.asp
I also think that, in his repeated bashing of the "militant hindu right", he not only does a disservice to the millions of concerned "non-rightwing" hindus, but also falls (sadly so for a man of his stature, but understandably for someone who is squarely an "international thinker" i.e. accepted in the western academia) for the "myth of hindu sameness" to borrow a phrase from Rajiv Malhotra (from his excellent article of the same name, at http://sulekha.com/expressions/column.asp?cid=305972 ).
To explain further, he may be fine in taking issue with the politics practised by the Sangh Parivar and followers, who claim to represent the interest of hindus. That is between him & them. The problem comes when he essentially seems to say that the concern that these groups are tapping in, is without basis.
This concern being the mainstream non-political, even "secular minded" hindus who are increasingly fearful of being swamped in an unfriendly world of global geopolitics. There is a strong case that could be made that the concerns of traditional hindus are being largely ignored, and that they are without a strong, credible champion of their issues.
The implication of Mr Sen seems to be that there is no need for hindus to either feel threatened, or "get their dander up" by all the explicit Identity Politics going on globally. He seems to imply that all would be fine if hindus were "liberals like me" (or Gandhi, or Tagore, or Ashoka, or Akbar, all his heroes, and to some extent mine too).
His falling for the idea of "hinduism" being same as the other world religions, primarily Abrahamic Religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) is not too different from most Western trained intellectuals both Indian & foreign. But this does undermine a lot of his arguments in my mind. He makes statements like:
"India has had a phenomenally rich and immensely diverse history, and any unifocal interpretation of that history in purely Hindu terms cannot but miss out a lot of India's traditions."
"India has always had room for different religions, and apart from indigenous development of non-Hindu religions (Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism), the country has been tolerant and welcoming to people from different religions immigrating to India. Jews arrived in India from the first century, Christians from the fourth century, followed by Parsis from Persia in the seventh century, and Muslim Arab traders in the eighth. Indian culture has benefited greatly from the diversity that the various religions have produced."
"Over the last two decades, the idea that Indian civilization is a Hindu civilization has gained some ground. It has also led to considerable political intolerance, playing up Hindu-Muslim conflicts rather than their constructive interactions. This has also gone with some targeting of minority groups, for example in Mumbai in the early 1990s and in Gujarat in 2002. "
"That is why I think that to understand India as a Hindu country is not only a big descriptive mistake, it is also politically nasty. It is used to ignite the ferocity of an exclusive and allegedly dominant identity of the Hindus, and to undermine the common identity that all Indians can share. "
While most of these statements are kind of true, they do make "hinduism" sound like the exclusivist dogmas of the Abrahamic religions, with their rigid believer / unbeliever distinctions. This is entirely inaccurate. There may be some politically expedient reasons for this sort of hindu identity (of a group of believers of some monopolistic "monotheistic" doctrine) to be claimed by political groups, or imputed to hindus, but it does not match with how a majority of hindus see themselves, and when they think of their "hinduness".
It bears remembering that even the name "hindu" has historically been a label of convenience, initially by foreigners for people on the "other side" of the Sindhu river, and later for people of the Indian subcontinent who didn't "convert" to the Abrahamic "faith" systems. In effect, today's "hindus" are the people who have steadfastly held on to their traditions, and refused coercion & temptation to "falsify" their own past systems in order to join with the more glamorous & "successful" Abrahamic counterparts.
In essence, the "hindu" of today or yesterday, is the least bit interested in "falsifying" anybody else's thought systems, in order to prove that his system is the best.
Unfortunately, this "broadmindedness" has not won the hindu any favours from the relentless falsification campaigns that have been the driving force of the expansionist organizations that follow monopolistic & exclusivist Abrahamic dogmas.
It is here that we turn to Arvind Sharma who makes a coherent case for the "hindu" voice, in this "Kurukshetra (battlefield) of Identities.
For a good contrast from Amartya Sen, and a clearer explanation of the "multiplicity of identities" inherent in "hindu thought" and without the "hindu-bashing" that Sen is so prone to, one can see Arvind Sharma's defence of hinduism while testifying at the powerful USCRIF (US comission on International Religious Freedom ). This was probably a singular honor for him, but he did not mince his words, as most other Indians in the same position would probably have. (http://www.uscirf.gov/events/hearings/2000/september/
As a "teaser", here is the initial layout of his argument. (please visit above link to read the rest)
In this paper I would like to advance three propositions:
(1) That the word religion, as it is currently employed in English-language discourse around the world, is parochial (as opposed to global) in orientation;
(2) That therefore the use of the word to refer to the reality it claims to describe as it exists around the world distorts this reality, with serious policy consequences;
(3) That the examination of the correlative term dharma from within Indic civilization helps identify one dimension of such distortion with precision; and enables one to propose policy recommendations which will help overcome the effect of such distortion.
Before I proceed to the discussion of the three propositions, I would like to offer two clarifications.
(1) The word religion is being used here not in the philosophically abstract sense of what is religion and how one might define it, but in the historically concrete sense of a religion, that is to say, a specific religious tradition such as Christianity, or Buddhism as employed by the Western academia and media;
(2) The appropriateness of the term religion to describe this reality is being questioned from a global perspective, that is in a geographical way, rather than from a universal perspective with its philosophical undertones and overtones.
Hence the issue addressed is the following: Does the word religion correctly describe the religious traditions as found around the globe and not just within the experience of the West. It does not involve a consideration of such matters as whether one can meaningfully speak of religion which shall not be a particular religion, and so on.
AMARTYA SEN AGAIN
For some present day context, this time using the immigrant experience in the UK, let us turn again to Amartya Sen.
Let us look at some lines quoted in a review of his latest book Identity & Violence:
(See full review "Illusions of Identity. Amartya Sen discusses his new book, in which he claims that the British approach to multiculturalism has undermined individual freedom" by Kenan Malik at http://www.prospect-magazine.co.uk/article_details.php?id=7583 )
[in reviewer Malik's words] For Amartya Sen it is the bargain itself that is the problem. Why, he asks in his new book Identity and Violence, "should a British citizen who happens to be Muslim have to rely on clerics and other leaders of the religious community to communicate with the prime minister?"
This bargain is based on [in reviewer Malik's words] "the belief that Muslims constitute a community with a distinct set of views and beliefs, and that mainstream politicians are incapable of reaching out to them. So there had to be a bargain between the government and the Muslim community. The government acknowledged Muslim leaders as crucial partners in the task of defeating terrorism and building a fairer society. In return, Muslim leaders agreed to keep their own house in order. The argument was about who was, or was not, keeping their side of the bargain."
[End reviewer Malik's words]
It his usual sharp style, Sen saab has gone to the heart of the matter in asking his crucial question, i.e. "Why".
The reviewer elaborates further
[in reviewer Malik's words] At the heart of the book is an argument against what Sen calls the communitarian view of identity-the belief that identity is something to be "discovered" rather than chosen. "There is a certain way of being human that is my way," the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor wrote in his much-discussed essay "The Politics of Recognition." "I am called upon to live my life in this way." But who does the calling? Seemingly the identity itself. For Taylor, as for many communitarians, identity appears to come first, with the human actor following in its shadow. Or, as the philosopher John Gray has put it, identities are "a matter of fate, not choice."
Sen will have none of it. "There are two issues here," he says when I meet him at King's College, Cambridge, where he was master until returning to Harvard two years ago. "First, the recognition that identities are robustly plural and the importance of one identity need not obliterate another. And second, that a person has to make choices about what relative importance to attach, in a particular context, to their divergent loyalties and identities. The individual belongs to many different groups and it's up to him or her to decide which of those groups he or she would like to give priority to." We are multitudes and we can choose among our multitudes.
[End reviewer Malik's words]
So far so good. Now to the next part.
[Reviewer Malik's quoting Sen's words]"…The way that British authorities have interpreted multiculturalism has very much undermined individual freedom. A British Muslim is not asked to act within the civil society or the political arena but as a Muslim. His British identity has to be mediated by his community."
What policymakers have created in Britain, Sen suggests, is not multiculturalism but "plural monoculturalism," a system in which people are constantly herded into different identity pens. "Take the case of the Bangladeshis," says Sen. "Bangladesh's separation from Pakistan was not based on their religion but on their language, their literature and their secular politics. At the time of independence Bangladeshis who came here had a very strong sense of Bengali identity. But all that disappeared, because the official government classification ignored language, culture and secular politics, and insisted on viewing all Bangladeshis as Muslims. Suddenly they had lost all identity other than being Islamic. And suddenly Bangladeshis stopped being Bangladeshis and were merged with all other Muslims from Morocco to Indonesia."
"We have a system in which Muslim organisations are in charge of all Muslims, Hindu organisations in charge of all Hindus, Jewish organisations in charge of all Jews and so on." This parcelling out of the nation can only weaken civil society. "In downplaying political and social identities, as opposed to religious identities, the government has weakened civil society precisely when there is a great need to strengthen it."
Multicultural policies, in other words, have allowed mainstream politicians to abandon their responsibilities for engaging directly with Muslim communities. Far from promoting a sense of integration, the policy has encouraged Muslims to see themselves as semi-detached.
[End reviewer Malik's quotes and words]
So the blame lies with the government of UK, according to him.
Here are my thoughts on this.
Why is it the responsibility of the British Govt. only, to figure out who to deal with as "legitimate representatives" of these communities? And again, I don't see him blaming the Indian Govt. & intelligentsia's "Secularism" which pretty much does the same thing by talking to strident self appointed representatives of the "minorities". He drops references to the Ayodhya/Babri temple & Godhra riots like punctuation marks to most of his arguments. This is a constant monotonous thread in his arguments, where the "hindu extremism" is treated as on par with "Islamic or Christian extremism" & flogged mercilessly. The incidents mentioned are indeed nasty, but are far more complex than a simple case of "mistaken hindu identity".
The important, but implied, presumption is that all these identities involved are of the same class, with the same characteristics. This is what needs to be contested.
Which brings one back to counter arguments made in previous paragraphs.
The issue is, most definitely that of Identity, both globally & in India. In discussing / deconstructing the Indic/hindu notions of identity, Sen saab (like most of today's celebrated intelligentsia) is no help at all, having completely bought into the (mostly colonial) Western interpretations of it.
We mostly accept without questioning, when people talk about identities of "hindu" alongside the identities of Abrahamic religions of Christianity & Islam. Perfectly reasonable, we say, for that's what we've been taught, especially those of us who've been "fortunate" enough to be immersed in the English Language world (both school, & media). Is that really the case?
Now we turn back to Arvind Sharma.
ARVIND SHARMA AGAIN
It takes some one like Prof Arvind Sharma (See REFERENCE below) to seriously question this whole rationale, and make good sense why "hindu" identity (at least so far in history) is very different from Abrahamic identity.
Or better still, why Abrahamic identity (christian, muslim, & to some extent, judaic) is pretty much the only "family of religions" that believes, propagates, and insists on exclusivity of Identity. i.e. "you are either a Christian (you will be saved) OR pagan(convert or go to hell)" and "Your are either a Muslim (Allah's mercy is on you) OR unbeliever/kaffir (convert or Allah will rain retribution on you)"
Which takes us back to the "Why" question Sen saab so pertinently asked. "Why should a British citizen who happens to be Muslim have to rely on clerics and other leaders of the religious community to communicate with the prime minister?"
A simple answer could be, that it is simply because these identities are MEANT by the identity holders to be exclusive. From the dawn of their respective histories, there is an Official Organization (Church or Mosque) that is accepted as the spokesman for the "believer community". While this is true for Abrahamic communities, most "hindus" would laugh if told that the Sangh Parivar (politically) or any given mutth or temple (for religion or spirituality issues) is their sole legitimate representative.
In the real world today, post enlightenment Christianity has loosened it's stranglehold on the predominantly Christian West's life, and most muslims, like others, when left alone, have enough sense to live the life of "multiple identity".
But in the near future do we ever see the chance of the self appointed representatives (Churches, Imams, etc) stopping their relentless quest for more power, more numbers, i.e. a better monopoly? The law of the jungle, also known as Capitalism, Social darwinism, etc., says that Monopoly thrives & grows, unless regulated from within or without.
Amartya Sen asks us to look at Bangladesh, & we certainly should. Isn't what's going on in Bangladesh the same Identity Politics? i.e. the thrusting down of Abrahamic / Arabized identity down everyone's throat. The "proud Bengali who happens to be a muslim" will soon be no more, replaced by the "proud muslim. Period".
Questions for Sen saab (& all of us really):
While we are so accepting of criticism about our own Indian culture (quite a bit is justified, like any culture). Why are we so hesitant to grasp this core point regarding Identity, and do some legitimate criticism of this deep set Abrahamic mindset?
Arvind Sharma's Paper [Full paper at:
The word religion is now part of global discourse specially as it is carried out through the medium of English. The word, however, is Western in origin which raises the question: Does a Western word, when used in global discourse, reflect the globalreligious reality or does it in the process of reflecting it, also distort it?
It is contended in the paper that such in fact is the case-that when the word is used to represent the religions of Indian origin, the religions of the Far East and the indigenous religions-it in fact distorts reality. The basis for making such a claim is the following.
The word "religion" came into secular use in the nineteenth century and has since been freely used in the public sphere as if it were a neutral word, which could be impartially applied to all the religions of the world. However, the word embodies a certain concept of what religion is and this concept is rooted in its Christian background.
In such a context the concept of religion implies that a religion is something
conclusive; (2) exclusionary and (3) separative.
In other words, a religion, in order to qualify as such must hold that it has the final truth (conclusive); that in order to obtain it one must belong to it alone (exclusionary) and that in order to do so one must separate oneself from any other, specially prior, affiliation (separative). It is also separative in another sense: that religion constitutes a part of life, separate from the rest of it-a sense particularly pronounced in Christianity.
When this word was adopted in secular discourse these orientations of the word were retained, with some modifications. The claim to possessing the final truth by Christianity was extended to each religion on its own, this process giving rise to the expression "truth claim." The idea that the membership of a religion excluded that of any other was retained, while the third constituent of the concept, that of separation (betweenthe sacred and the profane or the secular and the religious) came to characterise one religion's separateness from another more than anything else.
All the three orientations of the word religion as conclusive, as exclusionary and as separative are in effect exclusivist in nature, a word to be carefully distinguished from the word exclusionary which has been used above in the sense of indicating the fact that the formal membership of one religion must exclude such membership of another.
The conclusive element is exclusivist in the sense that only the religion's own truth-claim is considered final, thereby excluding such claims of other religions; the exclusionary element is obviously exclusivistic and the claim that religions must be treated as separate entities by themselves is also obviously exclusivistic.
Such an exclusivistic orientation however does not characterise the Indic religious tradition or what we might also call the dharmic tradition. The word Indic in this context needs to be carefully distinguished from the word Indian. All religions found to exist in India may be called Indian religions. Those religions among these which are Indian in origin in their self-perception, namely, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism alone may be called Indic.
This Indic religious tradition tends to be non-exclusivistic. Each component of it-Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism-tends to view one's membership of it as a sufficient but not a necessary condition for liberation. This attitude finds further expression in the fact that these traditions tend to be non-proselytizing even when they become missionary.
Such a non-exclusivistic attitude in terms of religion is not confined to Indic religions but is shared by religions of the Far East. In pre-Communist China it was common for people to view themselves as both Confucian and Taoist in terms of religious commitment. The example of present-day Japan is also relevant here.
According to the 1985 census, 95% of the Japanese population declared itself as followers of Shinto. Seventy-six per cent of the same population, however, also simultaneously declared itself to be Buddhist.
The indigenous religions of the world-the American-Indian, the African and so on-are also non-exclusivistic in their attitude to religion.
The use of the word religion, which carries exclusivistic overtones, in these three contexts-of Indic religions, of the religions of the Far East and of the indigenous religions, distorts their reality, because it means that a word with an exclusivistic orientation is being employed to describe "religious" traditions which are nonexclusivistic.
One might still wonder, even if one accepts this point, as to how consequential a point it is. Is it merely of academic interest or of more than academic interest?
I would like to urge that the use of religion when applied as a blanket term to all the religions of the world-both exclusivistic as well as non-exclusivistic in nature- when the word itself has exclusivistic connotations, possesses significant policy implications.
For instance, it tilts the concept of religious freedom in human rights discourse in favour of freedom to proselytize which is more in keeping with an exclusivistic rather than a non-exclusivistic concept of religion, thereby depriving the non-exclusivistic religions of their religious freedom-which in their case would consist of not being made the object of proselytization. The formal recognition of such a right on their part would then constitute an Indic contribution toward a truly global understanding of the world religion.
More posts by this author:
- Vivekananda’s 150 year Legacy, and where are the Hindus?
- Sri Sri’s compact article on Spirituality
- Sandhya Jain and the Global Hindus
- Western Identity — Ours and Theirs…Part I
- Ongoing Adharma in Christianity in India?