Monday, December 22, 2008

Rajeev Bhargava “Religious and Secular Identities”

Rajeev Bhargava “Religious and Secular Identities” in Crisis and Change in Contemporary India, ed. Upendra Baxi and Bhikhu Parekh (London: Sage Publications, 1995), 317-349.

SUMMARY: Essay attempts to create typologies to explain the intersections and divergences of religious and secular identities. It begins with a definition of identity and ends by asserting that despite a popular belief, secularism and religion (and the identities people have relating to them) are not always incompatible.

317-says scholars have typically taken modernization’s effects as marginalizing religion and thus causing zealotry—and this is an obvious conclusion. But some of the reasons for this analysis are ‘not entirely honourable”—and this essay looks at these “unconvincing” reasons; Bhargava says this view “is plagued with an excessive them-us syndrome. It ridicules the dichotomies of modernity without the slightest awareness of its own fractured vision. It is obsessed with the spirituality of traditional religion but unashamedly obscures the spiritual roots of modernity. It is over-sensitive to the linkages of power, wealth (318) and privilege with a secular but not religious discourse. It fluctuates between a perilous purism for which a value loses all it import even when slightly tainted with power and a vertiginous relativism for which high values are at base plain, lowly desires. In short, I detect in this reasoning a dash of motivated simple-mindedness, an oversimplification that has dangerous consequences in times of trouble.”

318-Bhargava identifies himself as a secularist who is “wedged between secularists in power and the religious who wish to usurp this power from them”, and he points out there are various levels of religious and secular identity—some “secular” identities are closer to “religious” than with “state secularism”

-so we must first have an understanding of identity; says there are “at least four ways of formulating the concept of identity”

319-“some forms of secular identities have more in common with some variants of religious identities than they do with members of their own fold, and that a common culture cuts across the familiar divide between the religious and the secular.”

-objects to the common idea that objects, and thus identities, are the same from one moment to the next; and if objects are a little different, what brings them together?; “it is impossible for anything to remain the same within itself in all respects all the time. To demand that it do so is to impose such a stringent requirement that no object can meet it…And if nothing ever lost its identity, then the problem of identity cannot even arise in the first place…(320) This is equally true of a thing’s identity with other things. At a given instant there are any number of respects in which it is different. To talk of the identity of something with some other thing makes sense therefore only within a pre-selected domain; once again, identity is crucially linked to some principle of relevance” (a criterion)—identity must be permanent and essential (cf Erikson “The Problem of Ego Identity”)

320-and this conforms to the common sense of identity which also anchors us in the world, and if one loses it one loses “one’s bearings and the ability to see where one stands, to be unhinged, detached and to feel (321) insecure.”

-But “No person can be exhaustively identified with her body alone…because a person is a person only in so far as she has mental attributes. Strawson is surely correct in viewing a person as an entity to which both corporeal characteristics and state of consciousness can be ascribed” (cf Swanson Individuals 1964); states of consciousness: sensations (eg pain and pleasure) which “cannot occur without the minimal awareness by the subject”; “beliefs and desires” –desires are states of “intentionality”, “involves the use of a ‘that’ clause”—these “do not require that in order to have them we be conscious of them…At the same time, no person can have all her beliefs and desires without some minimal awareness. To be a person at all, an individual must be conscious of some of her beliefs and desires. It is necessary, therefore, that to have an identity a person must consciously be able to identify with some of her beliefs, desires and acts.”

322-beliefs and desires are either completely independent from external environment or “depend on the natural environment” and then they are constituted by language, and so “A person’s identity, one can legitimately say, is defined by her language…She cannot identify with her beliefs and desires without identifying with the conceptual framework embodied in the vocabulary provided by her language…[so] personal identity is related to a world of meanings.”—which is “held in common with others”, beliefs are necessarily shared, identity is recognized in socially defined terms (cf Berger and Luckmann) , and is built through interaction with others; plus each group has a “common world of references” and “we get initiated into the practice of cutting up the world, slicing it in one rather than another manner.”—words have slightly different meanings depending on the group, though (323) not every world has a definite meaning that everyone in the group agrees on—so our identity depends on our group

-323-and not all beliefs and desires are central to an identity, those that are central must matter to a person; (324) sometimes it’s simply one’s strongest desires; plus people (325) can value things differently from how they desire—and this is what’s “relevant for a person’s identity”, therefore, “since my identity is formed within an enduring framework, not to posses it is to fail to have an identity”; (326) a crisis in one’s identity results when a person doesn’t have a framework

326-says individuals that make value judgments vary, they vary on how important they make ideas; and when ideals are made most important, “One’s identity within this culture is non-negotiable or almost so…when acquired it leaves no scope for maneuverability or escape. Getting out of it is next to impossible.”; but when ultimate ideals aren’t the most important aspect of one’s identity, “from an existing repertoire of identities a person partly selects and shapes her identity”, though she can’t “pick up any one and move it exactly how she pleases.” And not everything is up for grabs or negotiable, and they are “context-dependent”, fluidity; (327) there’s also a style with a high idea but is also fluid with many small ideals; then there are those purely driven by desire [PROB: what about when the high ideals are to fulfill desire or to have plurality? This typology would then break down]

328-says a religious identity is a framework for ultimate ideas, of values

329-based off Geertz’s and Nandy’s observations about religion, Bhargava says there are 6 kinds of religious identities: “the zealot, of the faithful and (330) finally of the religious ideologues.”, plus “religion lived as spirituality (religious spiritualism), spiritless religiosity, and what I call religion as a pastiche”

330-for Bhargava, faith = trust; and belief is faith and devotion to a particular object; so the identity of the person with faith is “unshakable belief” in a way of life (that is but one of many available)—(332) and since belief is within a culture, it shares culture’s ideals

333-ideologues appear when certainty in faith weakens, so people cling to their commitment (they are already in the process of losing their religious identity) and their actions are guided by more worldly reasons; (334) and therefore their identity is formed less by ideals than by desire, with religion only as a rationalization for their actions

334-says a religious zealot sees faith and ideology as “dead can” and is driven by desire “but makes the restoration or creation of a religious order his primary project”, but really “moved by an earthly desire for power” and the idea he’s a victim; cynical of all ideals

335-pastiche is just an extremely empty form of spiritless religion, where they don’t know that they are spiritless; they are constantly trying to do self-expression

-spirituality is an intuition of the infinite; and “religion strays when it posits essences…[and] final causes and proclaims eternal truths.” As well as when it has duties and commands—(336) “a person with such a religious identity is contemplative and tolerant”, his ideals are high but he has multiple values

337-says his original dichotomy (his first typology—of desire-driven to ideal-driven) puts the ideal end as the “more mature, fully human sense of one’s identity”; and they are distinct from desires

-religions can have different religious identities; says secularists have a caricatured view of religious identity; each type of religious identity has a secular counterpart

338-“All religions worry about” anarchy; says modern secularism values unrestrained desire, though it also has its own ideals, and multiple values, though because of pluralism these values aren’t as distinguished from desire as they might be in other religions; plus it has spirituality too

339-he calls one of secularism’s high ideals “superhumanism”—man can do and know everything and discovery of all things will only take time and anything is justified in pursuit of knowing and doing everything; (341) also a culture of multiple values; plus there is a “spiritualized” “humanism” that “accepts that we cannot know, predict and control everything”

342-so religious and secular identities can be similar, says their content is different: “One is integrally tied to god, the other is not”

-some religious identities can be subsumed under secular ones; though not those of ideologues and zealots—(343) so the identities are not always incompatible (especially if they’re both “spiritual”)

343-says Nehru was really spiritual, as was Gandhi; (344) and the BJP is closer to ideologue/zealot than secular, as they claim

345-can’t necessarily say that the modern world is incompatible with religion and that it forces the religious to become zealots or ideologues; though it has changed religion through homogenization and traditional religious symbols don’t have as much power

346-criticizes Nandy’s analysis of secularism as too harsh, a caricature
[PROB: bhargava doesn’t play out the implications of changing identities—that religious and secular ones are transient, perhaps constantly changing]

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