Archer, Robin. “Secularism and Sectarianism in India and the West: what are the real lessons of American history?” Economy and Society 30, no. 3 (2001): 273-287.
Thesis: The participants (especially T. N. Madan and Ashis Nandy, but virtually everyone involved too) in the debate on secularism and sectarianism in India uses 2 assumptions which are “mistaken” (274). These assumptions are “(1) that Western societies share common beliefs about the appropriate relationship btwn religion and politics and that these beliefs have been institutionalized in common secular practices; and (2) that the fate of secularism in India (and even the question of whether or not it is desirable) is best understood by highlighting fundamental differences in the relationship between religion and politics in Indian and Western societies” (273-74).
-Focuses on Madan and Nandy because they have been at the center of the debate. They say that “secularism has been unsuccessful because it is not an indigenous concept, but one which is imported from the West and artificially imposed upon Indian society. As a result, it is not only impotent in the face of rising sectarianism, but is actually partly responsible for this development. Secularism is complicit, they argue, because of its intimate relationship to the project of ‘modernity’” a project which has itself generated the growth of ‘fundamentalism’ and violence, either indirectly by provoking a backlash or directly through the nation-state’s pursuit of an unrestrained instrumental rationality” (274).
-US “has a secular state, but not a secularized society” (274), Britain is the other way around, and Australia has both state and society secularized. And US and France became secular states through different paths.
-Archer focuses on US because there, like in India, “we can study what happens when a formally secular state presides over a deeply religious society” (275) and because “in the literature on Indian secularism, it has frequently been treated as the paradigm case of a ‘Western’ society, and as the paradigm embodiment of ‘modernity’. Consequently, it has, from the beginning, been used as the benchmark for judging the extent to which independent India really is secular, and for assessing whether or not the establishment of a fully secular state is either possible or desirable in Indian conditions” (275)
-In the US, there is a “recurring struggle between the inheritors of a Puritan Protestant tradition…and a ‘secular’ coalition that rejects any government activity which seeks to promote a particular version of godliness” (275) cf Errand into the Wilderness 1956
-“On the contrary, the founders of New England colonies like Massachusetts, were the Ayatollah Khomeneis of the early seventeenth century” (276)
-“The Puritan state was a minority ‘dictatorship of the holy’”; only those who publicly attested to having been chosen by God (1/5 of the population) “could be full members of the official ‘Congregational’ church and hence of the state, and only they could elect their religious and political rulers” (276)
-“The idea that there should be a separation of church and state was completely alien to the Puritan tradition. On the contrary, the unity of religion and politics was axiomatic, indeed it was central to the very rationale for founding these new societies” (276)
-not all the colonies were like the Puritans’. Southern ones were just as religiously strict, but Anglican and mid-Atlantic colonies were not religious states because they had diverse groups, but generally “for a century or more, most American colonies, whether in the North or the South, actually reduced the small amount of religious freedom that was then available in England” (277)
-3 developments changed this: “the two ‘Great Awakenings’ and the Revolution” (277)
-the “Great Awakenings were mass Protestant revival movements in which highly emotional waves of religious frenzy, promoted by charismatic and often uneducated itinerant preachers, swept through the country” (277) in the 1740s and mid-1800s. They wanted salvation for all and denied Puritan limitations, and they wanted a government run in the will of God.
-the Enlightenment had ideas that separated church and state, but it wasn’t very popular among the masses.
-But for the religious, “faced with a multiplicity of competing religious organizations, many denominations and sects were now more concerned that the authority of the state might fall into hostile hands than they were with the unlikely prospect that they could acquire exclusive control of it for themselves. A unified regime of church and state, which ensured that the whole community would live in a more Godly life, was still considered optimal, but, if that were now impossible, a neutral state, that enabled one to live a Goldy life oneself, was the next best thing, far better than being forced to live according to the edicts of some other religious group” (278)
-The framers understood this. “By promising to keep the federal government out of religious affairs, the states would be free to retain their own institutional arrangements: those that favoured establishment could retain that arrangement, as could those that favoured political neutrality towards different churches. Only under these circumstances would all states be likely to ratify the proposed constitution” (278)—so although thinkers influenced by the Enlightenment (eg Jefferson and Madison) supported it “for fear that religion would corrupt politics…a far more widespread reason for supporting this separation was the evangelical fear that politics would corrupt religion” (278) cf The Pursuit of Equality in American History 1993
-“…anti-secularists [and others]…make the specific claim that Western secularism emerged as a result of either the Protestant Reformation or the Enlightenment, or both. But the establishment of a secular constitution does not bear this out. A particular brand of Protestant ideology was indeed a strong influence, but it did not favour secularism. Enlightenment ideology did favour secularism, but key elements of American political culture emerged before its influence was felt, and, when that influence was felt, it was largely restricted to a section of the revolutionary elite” (278)
-and the importance given to the idea that “…the values embedded in the dominant ideological or intellectual traditions of society play an important role in explaining whether or not secularism can emerge” (278) is, as the US case shows, “misleading” (279). “Of greater importance were more prosaic and pragmatic considerations…”, “The political attitudes of religious groups are profoundly affected by the context in which they find themselves”, for example in countries where Catholics are majority, they tend to be more right-wing, but more left-wing in countries in which they are minorities (279)
-The other assumption is that “the prospects for secularism (and even its desirability) can be best understood by highlighting fundamental differences in the relationship between religion and politics in India and the West.”, and to do this they use a “hierarchy of increasingly specific characteristics” as differences: 1) “India is different because the secularization of society has been very limited, and secularization must be widespread if a secular state is to survive and prosper”—but Archer says this is no different that in the US which itself was “deeply religious”, and compares Jefferson to Nehru; 2) “India is different because of the particular kinds of religious belief that dominate there.”—Archer says, “But we have seen that, though Protestant beliefs do indeed course through the veins of the American body politic, this tradition was far from conducive to secularism.”; 3) “India is different because classical Indian religious thought posits a ‘hierarchical relationship’ in which politics is subordinated to religion, and that Indians themselves have a ‘totalizing’ religious world-view which makes it both undesirable and impossible for them to separate political from religious questions” (280)—“But we have seen that a similar hierarchy is posited by classical Puritan religious thought, and that this also fostered a ‘totalizing’ world-view…”
-Also suggests similarities between contemporary Indian and second half of 19th century US in order to “suggest that consideration of these similarities might help to clarify some of the possible consequences of contemporary Indian developments.”
“Both are continent-wide societies, with a predominantly rural population, a largely agrarian economy, a British legal system, a federal polity, a well-entrenched democracy and a first-past-the-post electoral system.”
Also similarities between the party systems: the “third party system” of the US from the 1850s until the 1890s—The new Republican party—composed of pietistic/evangelical movements (who were also anti-slavery) and the anti-Catholic nativist movement who thought the Catholic church was the source of a conspiracy—wanted “the government to use its authority to uphold their notion of righteousness, and to enforce what they deemed to be a Godly way of life” (281). And those who opposed government intervention over cultural norms of particular groups, and who supported ethnic diversity coalesced around the Democratic party (which had been dominant since the 1830s. (282) Religiously, Democrats were typically liturgical (Catholic, Anglican, German Lutheran) and criticized the pietistic Republicans as being fanatical for their emphasis on human work to create the kingdom of God. cf Kleppner in Emerging Coalitions in American Policts 1978
This is similar to what is now going on in India “following a decade of realignment.” “…political forces are coalescing around two main parties [which]…are strikingly similar to the Republicans and the Democrats in the second half of the nineteenth century.”
-“The BJP, like the Republicans, has established itself as a ‘communal’ party of religious revival and assertion. And, like the Republicans, it has a social base in the dominant religious community…and an organizational infrastructure linked to highly motivated extra-parliamentary mass movements.”
-“The (new, realigned) Congress, like the Democrats, is seeking to re-establish its credentials as a ‘secular’ party of resistance to religious assertion. And…it has a heterogeneous social base among groups, both inside and outside the majority community, which reject the political demands of revivalism, and an organizational infrastructure based on political patronage: a legacy of its previously dominant position.” (283)
-this means the political issues are similar: conflict over “whether or not the state should promote the values, practices and symbols of the dominant religious tradition.” The BJP mobilizes against religious minorities who are feared to have foreign loyalties. And in both cases, sectarian violence erupted. cf Reinders, Robert 1977 “Militia and public order…”
-The lessons US experience teaches us:
We shouldn’t fear that having a secular state will weaken religious belief and institutions cf Lipset 1996, Tocqueville 1969.
If we judge the success of secularism based on the appearance of “religious activism”, then secularism in the US should be considered a failure.
And, (284) we should look to see if the pietistic/liturgical loyalties play the same role in India.
-Political parties are not developed along interests alone, the parties themselves shape which interests are to be focused on. So, in the US case, these parties focused on religious lines and not class interests and that is “one of the main reasons, why, even in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when the United States had become of the leading capitalist economies in the world, it still failed to produce an electorally important labour or socialist party. It also helps explain why, to this day, the United States has weak unions, insecure workers, negligible interest in redistributive policies and no real welfare state.”
And Indians should look at this as an example as to where they could be headed.
(285) India has its own secular political culture, not just religious traditions and all these react in complex ways.