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CIR Lecture: Can India offer an alternative to secularism?

When:Mo 25-03-2013 16:00 - 17:45
Where:room 253, Oude Boteringestraat 38
Colloquium on Indian Religions

Colloquium on Indian Religions

Abstract by Dr. Jakob De Roover (Ghent)

Can India offer an alternative to secularism?

The liberal model of the secular state and religious toleration is being challenged across the globe. Generally, this crisis is blamed on retrograde forces that once again seek the unity of politics and religion: Hindu nationalism in India, political Islam in the Middle East, and Christian fundamentalism in the USA. Yet, flaws internal to liberal secularism have also come to the surface. Not only has this model failed to reproduce its European successes in Asia and Africa, even in Western Europe the modus vivendi that crystallized within its outlines is beginning to show cracks. Where could we look for alternatives?

India is known as a country of tremendous diversity. A large variety of Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, and Sikh communities have lived side by side with Zoroastrian Parsis and different kinds of Jews, Christians, and Muslims for more than a millennium. Over the years, there were occasional conflicts between groups, more systematic clashes at times, and even decades of repression of some traditions. Nevertheless, we should note the following minimal fact: Indian society never disintegrated in spite of this diversity. Therefore, it must have known successful practices, heuristics, and mechanisms of co-existence between groups. Could we not find an alternative to liberal secularism here? Once this question is raised, common objections also appear: “Indian society may be tolerant of different beliefs, but it is socially intolerant because of the caste system.” “The story of Indian tolerance is nothing but romantic revivalism and political propaganda.” “What about Hindu-Muslim violence?” It seems impossible to think of a nonwestern culture like India as a potential resource for alternatives to the political models of the West. In contrast, western political ideas and institutions have always been seen as alternatives for other cultures. My talk will examine this asymmetry of cultures and the obstacles that prevent us from finding alternatives to liberal secularism.