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Panel 1. Religion and Modernity in South Asia

Chair: Clemens Cavallin, Associate Professor in Religious Studies at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden

 

VENUE: Kerstins rum, Akademiska Föreningen (AF), Sandgatan 2, Lund

Day 1: 20 September 2016, 14.30-16.30
1. Clemens Cavallin
2. Åke Sander
3. Sudha Sitharaman

Day 2: 21 Sept., 10.00–12.00
4. Ruben Elsinga
5. Daniela Bevilacqua
6. Manoj Parameswaran

Day 3: 22 September, 09.00–11.00
7. Ferdinando Sardella
8. Nirmita Roychowdhury
9. Raza Naeem

 

ABSTRACTS:

 

1. Clemens Cavallin

Religious Studies in India: an Alternative Modernity

Since 2011, I have together with my colleague prof. Åke Sander, and joined by prof. Sudha Sitharaman, Pondicherry University, in 2014, worked on the project “Religion on Campus: Changing Perceptions of Religion and the Study of Religion at Two Indian Universities.” At this panel, Prof. Sander will present the fieldwork at Banaras Hindu University, while Prof. Sitharaman will present the fieldwork at Pondicherry University. In my presentation, I will lay out the theoretical framework for the study, which concerns the notion of Multiple Modernities and the particular trajectory of secularization that laid the fundament for the study of religion in India during the 20th century. Especially, I will touch on the conspicuous absence of unifying subjects such as Religious Studies and the Comparative Study of Religion. 

2. Åke Sander

Academic study of Religion in India

Given India’s vibrant religious landscape, there is a somewhat surprising paucity of departments, centers – or even programs – for the academic study of religion. This article discusses this issue based on the preliminary results of an interview study conducted at Banaras Hindu University (BHU), Varanasi, India, in 2014 and 2015. Its focus is on the views of university teachers and researchers concerning the place, role and function of religion and religious studies at BHU. Twenty-eight semi-structured interviews were conducted, and, in the course of their analysis, six themes emerged: 1) the place and role of religion in society; 2) religion as “religiosity/spirituality” orsanatana dharma vs. political ideology/communitarianism; 3) religion vs. dharma; 4) secularization; 5) religion in education in general; and, 6) religion in the education at BHU. The informants agreed about the increasing importance of religion in India, and most of them viewed the meaning of secularization as being “equal respect for all religions”. Moreover, a majority distinguished between “religion”, in the Western sense, and the Indian conception of dharma, considering it regrettable that the latter, described as the common ground of all religions, is not taught more extensively at BHU. They also considered the original ideal of BHU’s founder, Madan Mohan Malaviya, to be of significant importance. That ideal involved not only teaching students the knowledge and skill sets found in a standard modern university, but also equipping them with a value-based education, grounded upon sanatana-dharma. As our project progresses, further understanding of this turn toward dharma education is something we intend to pursue through the lens of multiple modernities, developed by Marian Burchardt et al. as multiple secularities. 

3. Sudha Sitaraman

Religion in the Campus: Views on Religion/Secular in Centres of Higher Education

Extant scholarship on Religion in/of India agrees that India has a long history of being a diverse landscape; they, however, debate its ‘troubled religious past’. However, religious studies are scarce and underdeveloped at Indian universities. This is conspicuous considering the vibrant religious life in India. The reasons for lack of ‘Religious Studies’, as a discipline, or for that matter intellectual engagement, include large-scale historical and societal processes. A main one being the secularist ideology fundamental for Indian nation building since independence and two, educational reform, with its foregrounding of comparative religion, as part of a state or polity’s unique engagements with modernity. Nonetheless, the general processes of resurgence of religion, modernization and globalization, as well as domestic processes such as the resurgence of Hindu nationalist organizations and other religious communal movements pose a challenge to this secularist framework. The aim of this paper, therefore, is to understand to what extent this resurgence of religion in society, brought about by the processes of modernization and globalization, has had any effect on Indian universities, and if so, how they may be described and understood. More precisely, the views of faculty and scholars in institutions of higher education, on the place and role of religion in society and their views on the study of religion in relation to the present Indian debates on the secularity of the state and higher education shall be analysed.

Sudha Sitharaman, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, School of Social Sciences and International Studies, Pondicherry University, Puducherry

4.  Ruben Elsinga

Leadership succession and Institutional Development at the Mazar Shrine Institution, Haripur, Pakistan

My presentation will be on fieldwork conducted over the late spring / early summer of 2016 in Pakistan on sufism and sufi shrine institutions. It is part of a collaborative research project in process with prof. dr. Leif Stenberg, Director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES), Lund University, preliminarily named “Leadership Succession and Institutional Development: Comparative study on Sufism in every-day institutional practice between Pakistan and Syria”.

In my presentation I will paint the picture of the Mazar shrine institution in Haripur, and particularly the interaction of its leadership and its institutional functioning internally and within its broader environment, eventually linking this to the broader discussion on sufism and its interaction with modernity. 

Concretely the case of the Mazar shrine in Haripur is of particular interest because the well-established institutions of the shrine – the mosque and most notably its adjacent school – are in terms of its leadership succession divided between 1. the sanctified spiritual sufi leader of the last generation, 2. his oldest son, the current leader of the shrine institutions, still educated in the sufi school under his father but not spiritually sanctified and 3. the next generation of sufi leadership, the heir apparent, the modernly educated young son of the sanctified sufi leader, who is trying to reconnect with his sufi heritage spiritually.

The leadership of the institution is intertwined with its institutional operation and success. The shrine institutions of which most notably the school, among other things educating sufi spiritual leaders, within the Qadri tradition, has faced challenges from both outside and within. Its legitimacy has been constantly questioned for one in the religious domain, especially by the surge of Saudi funded salafi educational institutions that sprung up in the last 2-3 decades in Pakistan. A problem that manifests itself internally through the ‘infilitration’ of salafi rather than sufi educated teachers in the school. 

Ruben Elsinga Researcher Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University, and PhD Candidate at Erasmus University Rotterdam.

 

5.  Daniela Bevilacqua

The trade of religious titles in contemporary India and the consequent growth of religious leaders in a society that still needs them

Compared to the past, an increasing number of Jagadgurūs, Mahāmaṇḍaleshvaras, Mahānts etc. is filling the Indian contemporary religious space. Why this proliferation? The answer given by ascetics is that today everybody can buy a religious title by paying the Akhāṛā Pariṣad, an organization that assembles the heads of thirteen nāgā akhāṛās from different Hindu orders. Historically the role of these ascetics is to protect the ascetic society and to organize religious gatherings like the Kumbh Melā. As in the past, the Akhāṛās deal with the political power, but the support that today they obtain (especially the economic one), gives them a new “religious” power: they not only bestow religious titles, but they sell them for thousand and thousand of rupees. This paper aims to analyze the reasons behind this “trade”. It will demonstrate that the purchase of a title is becoming quite a common practice because a prestigious title can attract lay disciples, but also it can confer an “official” authority to those gurus who have already a large number of followers.The demand for religious titles demonstrates that the request for religious leaders is still present, and this paper will describe how, crossing domains and extending their range of action, religious leaders are still able to fill the needs of lay people. Therefore, the fact that the number of religious leaders is increasing represents a data that should be taken into consideration while analyzing social changes in modern India as the influence that religious leaders have on their followers allows them to obtain social as well as political power.

Daniela Bevilacqua, Postdoc Research Fellow, SOAS (University of London).

6. Manoj Parameswaran

Understanding Religion and Development: A Case Study of Mata Amritanandamayi Math, Kerala. 

The paper aims to understand the Mata Amritanandamayi Math’s (MAM)1 vision of “selfless service to humanity” and the model of development emanating therefrom. Her discourse on selfless love and service to humanity needs to be located along with the construction of her identity as a universal mother. How do the popular conceptions of motherhood and its cultural sanctions in the society legitimise Amritanandamayi’s spiritual authority? Amma addresses her followers around the globe as her own children/ ‘makkal’ and extends her love in the form of a spiritual ‘hug’, thereby attempting to offer a motherly affection so as to mitigate many ontological insecurities and existential anxieties faced by an individual in a modern world. What is the significance of the ‘hug’ as a medium of communication in the case of a performance religion like MAM in a global society? What does it say about the new modalities of attachment between gurus and followers? What does it say about the transformation of religion under modernity?

The emerging field of research on religion and development has opened up a new array of questions regarding the developmental potential of religion especially in a neo liberal world. Shift from a purely secular understanding of development to newer possibilities of thinking about it is widely discussed and debated. Amritanandamayi math and its development activities can be located in this context. What is the nature of developmentalism promoted by MAM? How do we understand the concept of ‘seva’ (voluntary service) offered by the devotees in the developmental activities of MAM? How can one differentiate a model of development motivated and inspired by the ideas of ‘selfless service’, love, ‘universal motherhood’, spirituality etc. with that of a ‘secular’ model of development premised on the idea of ‘citizenship entitlements’ of welfare state? Given the history of Kerala’s state supported, welfare oriented developmental experience, how do we understand such new modes of developmental initiatives and redraw the contours of development theory and practice?

It is also interesting to explore how does the secular, neo liberal, democratic state in India mediate its relationship with New Religious Movements (NRM) like MAM in the capacity of a major nongovernmental development provider? How do we understand faith based organizations interaction and cooperation with the state to deliver development priorities and goals? In a neo liberal era of globalization, how does one make sense of the changing nature of spirituality? MAM has successfully explored newer methods of popularizing their respective brand of spirituality making maximum use of  technology. How do we conceptualise the new modes of attachment with religious authority and the relationship between spirituality and development in modern contexts?

Mata Amritanandamayi Mission (MAM), was established in 1981in Kollam district of Kerala. Ever since its inception, the mission has constantly reiterated service to humanity as its motto.

 

7. Ferdinando Sardella

Modern Hinduism in the Colonial Period

The paper discusses the challenges posed by the colonial presence in India with particular focus on Bengal. The battle of Plassey in 1757 marked the British overtake of regional administration in Bengal and the beginning of the East India Company’s imperial venture. As modernity was introduced in terms of new rational systems of economic exploitation, political administration, law and social values, various responses and initiatives emerged that came to define Hinduism during that period. Calcutta, then the capital of the empire, became the hub for a number of institutional developments that saw modern and traditional interpretations of Hinduism compete with one another such as the progressive Brahmo Samaj and the more traditional Calcutta Dharma Sabha (1831). These modern strands have been explored by scholars such as John Nicol Farquhar, David Kopf, Friedhelm Hardy, Paul Hacker, Wilhelm Halfbass and others. Based on their research it is clear that Hinduism during the colonial period had several more strands than the ones usually associated with Modern Hinduism. Based on the analysis of multiple modernities offered by Shmuel Eisenstadt, the paper will address the following questions: Is it meaningful to speak of tradition and modernity as opposed? Is modernity exclusively defined by secularity, or can a religious orientation be regarded as equally modern? In which terms can we speak of alternatives paths to modernity in colonial India that included the established traditions of the medieval and early modern period?


 8. Nirmita Roychowdhury

Dharmathakur: A Modern Religion from Ancient Times

Dharmathakur, an amorphous deity primarily worshipped by the lower caste Hindus of Rarh Bengal is comprehended to be an amalgamation of Buddha, Surya, Varuna, Shiva, Vishnu and Yama. Haraprasad Sastri’s account on Dharmathakur, considered as a seminal work in revealing the image of the deity in public talks about its origin and practice in relation to Buddhism stating that the practice of Dharmathakur is the last alive symbol of Buddhism in Bengal whereas, a distinct indication in Ramai Pandit’s Sunnyapurana reveals its strong connection to Islam. Several field visits across the landscape of Rarh came up with an observation that low caste as well high caste Hindus, Muslims and Vaishnavs engage themselves in the annual worship of Dharmathakur during the full moon in the months of April, May and June. Hence, the practice, irrespective of caste and religion creates a common platform for all blurring the popularly created category of ‘religion’ and establishing a modern category of ‘Dharma’. This paper tries to develop the argument that cross-religious, all inclusive practice of this entangled deity has defined a modern category of Dharma, a Dharma beyond all religious pantheons. Placed beyond the entanglements of popularly created religion, Dharmathakur in itself is a ‘modern religion in practice’. The naming itself profoundly suggests that he is ‘the god of religion’, the supreme who doesn’t fit within its neat categories, hence modern. Interviews, oral history and participant observation in the field unfolded the ample reverence of people towards Dharma. “Ei Baba Dharma-e Amader Sob” (this Father Dharma is everything for us) emerged as a core dialogue in the field diary. No matter what caste they belong to or religion they are placed in, faith on Dharmathakur does matter in their everyday.

 

9. Raza Naeem

The Strange Case of Saadat Hasan Manto (1912-1955): A Muslim Cosmopolitan in ‘Muslim Zion’?

When Pakistan came into being in 1947, it was an anomaly: a state found in the name of religion – for some a ‘Muslim Zion’ – led ostensibly by a secular, cosmopolitan Muslim elite (Muhammad Iqbal and Muhammad Ali Jinnah). These foundational tensions were acutely apparent during the early years of state formation i.e. 1950s, when the constitution had yet to be formulated and all kinds of debates over the religious (Islamic or secular), locational (a Middle Eastern or South Asian country) and cultural (should there be a ‘Pakistani’ or Islamic culture/identity) character of the state were taking place. Amid all this, Pakistan was also held up as an early example of a Cold War frontline state against communism meaning that all other alternative identities and ideologies which contested the state’s preferred definition of ‘Islamic cosmopolitanism’ i.e. Communists, Ahmedis, etc. had to be tightly regulated, banned or persecuted. What it was like to be a Muslim cosmopolitan in this environment is best exemplified by the life and work of Saadat Hasan Manto, the most important of the intellectuals who were struggling in Pakistan to define a cosmopolitan secular identity for postcolonial Pakistan in that period, and whose writings symbolize the tensions between the idea and reality of Muslim cosmopolitanism there. Personally opposed to the partition of India, he nevertheless crossed the communal red line to migrate and settle in Pakistan. Repeatedly banned by the state in colonial India and then in postcolonial Pakistan over writings deemed sexually explicit, and marginalized equally by the right and left, Manto uniquely stood out as a Muslim cosmopolitan who resisted the myth of Islamic cosmopolitanism appropriated by the Pakistani state, and later by the Pakistani right-wing and left-wing forces, seeking to expose the hypocrisy of middle-class and bourgeois adherence to these norms, from a solidly proletarian perspective. Supported by original English translations of Manto’s work from the Urdu, the paper argues that his writings give vital early and prescient glimpses of debates over the soul of Islamic cosmopolitanism at a formative period in Pakistan’s history, and an alternative vision and version of the same, whose marginalization continues to shape the country in the 21st century after the liberation of Bangladesh and return to democracy.   

Raza Naeem, social scientist, literary critic and translator currently engaged as Senior Lecturer in Economics at the University of Central Punjab in Lahore.

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