Saturday, March 21, 2009

T. N. Madan, “Secularism in its Place”

T. N. Madan, “Secularism in its Place” in Secularism and its Critics ed. Rajeev Bhargava (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998), 297-320.

SUMMARY: Article originally published in 1987, but also has a postscript from 1996. Madan gives a brief history of word “secularism” (297-298). He criticizes the imposition of secularization on India because he says it is an essentially Protestant idea (306-307) and in India’s religions (Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism), secularism is “encompassed” as a subordinate aspect of the religious worldview (303-306)—and so “secularism” cannot be simply “translated” to India’s culture (307-309). Looks at Nehru’s views on the subject (310-311) and compares him to Lenin and Ataturk (312). In the Postscript he addresses critics of his original article (316-320).

297-says word “secularization” was first used in 1648 at end of 30 years war in Europe, referred to “the transfer of church properties to the exclusive control of princes.”, then “on 2 November, 1789, Talleyrand announced to the French National Assembly that all ecclesiastical goods were at the disposal of nation as indeed they should have been still later, when George Jacob Holyoake coined the term (298) ‘secularism’ in 1851 and led a rationalist movement of protest in England, secularization was built into the ideology of progress. Secularization, though nowhere more than a fragmentary and incomplete process, has ever since retained a positive connotation.”

298-“ ‘Secularization’ is nowadays generally employed to refer to, in the words of Peter Berger, ‘the process by which sectors of society and culture are removed from the domination of religious institutions and symbols’.” [direct quote from The Social Reality of Religion], and different areas are differently amenable to secularism (eg economic area is very amenable, and the political area less so)

THESIS-“I believe that in the prevailing circumstances secularism in South Asia as a generally shared credo of life is impossible, as a basis for state action impracticable, and as a blueprint for the foreseeable future impotent. It is impossible as a credo of life because the great majority of the people of South Asia are in their own eyes active adherents of some religious faith. It is impracticable as a basis for state action either because Buddhism and Islam have been declared state or state-protected religions or because the stance of religious neutrality or equidistance is difficult to maintain since religious minorities do not share the majority’s view of what this entails for the state. And it is impotent as a blueprint for the future because, by its very nature, it is incapable of countering religious fundamentalism and fanaticism.”

-“Secularism is the dream of a minority that wishes to shape the majority in its own image, that whishes to impose its will upon history but lacks the power to do so under a democratically organized polity. In an open society the state will reflect the character of that society. Secularism is therefore a social myth that draws a cover over the failure of this minority to separate politics from religion in the society in which its members live.” And for the minority to “stigmatize the majority as primordially oriented” is (299) “moral arrogance and worse…political folly.”

300-secularization marginalizes religious faith and makes fundamentalists: “There are no fundamentalists or revivalists in traditional society.”

-“The point to stress…is that…Secularism as a widely shared worldview has failed to make headway in India.”, the views in the popular pro-secular books (Smith’s India as a Secular State and Kothari’s Politics in India) “have been belied”

-Indian secularism has proven to be weak; (301) “It trivializes religious difference as well as the notion of the unity of religions, and really fails to provide guidance for viable political action, for it is not a rooted, full-blooded, and well though-out Weltanschauung, only a stratagem. It has been so self-confessedly for fundamentalist organizations such as the Muslim Jama’at-i-Islami. [cf Islam in Secular India] I would like to suggest that it was also so for Jawaharlal Nehru…”

301-Secularism’s failure “underscores the failure of the society and the state to bring under control the divisive forces that resulted in the partition of the subcontinent in 1947…tempers continue to rage, and occasionally…blood even flows in some places, as a result of mutual hostility” of different religions; “What produces this hostility? Surely not religious faith itself [though on p299 he says he won’t define religion], for even religious traditions which take an uncompromising view of ‘nonbelievers’…speak with multiple tongues and pregnant ambiguity…It was not religious difference as such but its exploitation by calculating politicians for the achievement of secular ends that produced the communal divide.”

*303-Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Sikhism all distinguish between “religious” and “secular” and “these religions have the same view of the relationship between the categories of the ‘religious’ and the ‘secular’.” [Madan says: “I wish I had the time to elaborate on this theme…” which allows him to not provide more support for this bold statement]; “My studies convince me that in Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Sikhism this relationship is hierarchical (in the sense in which Louis Dumont uses this term).”

-“Thus, though Buddhism may well be considered as the one South Asian religious tradition which, by denying supernatural beings any significant role in human life, has the most secularist potential, yet this would be an oversimplified view of it. What is important is not only what Emile Durkheim so clearly perceived, namely the central importance of the category of the ‘sacred’ in Buddhism, but also (and more significantly in the present context) the fact, so well documented for us by Stanley Tambiah that the bhikkhu, or the world renouncer, is superior to the chakkavatti, or the world conqueror, and that neither exists by himself.”

-“Similarly, in every Sikh gurudwara the sacred sword is placed for veneration at a lower level than the holy book, the Granth Sahab, which is the repository of the Word (shabad), despite the fact that, for the Sikhs, the sword too symbolizes the divinity or, more accurately, the inseparability of the spiritual and the religious functions.”

-“I would like to expand a little more on Hinduism and Islam. I would have preferred not to go all the way back to the Rig Veda of three thousand years ago, were it not for the fact that it presents explicitly, employing a fascinating simile, the hierarchical relationship and temporal power. It would seem that originally the two functions were differentiated, but they were later deliberately brought together, for the regnum (kshatra) could not subsist on its own without the sacerdotium (brahma) that provided its principle of legitimacy…(304) Let me move on to the Kautilya Arthashastra (? Fourth century BC/AD) which has been often enough said to present an amoral theory of political power. Such a reading is, however, contestable. What I find more acceptable is the view that the Arthashastra teaches that the rational pursuit of economic and political ends (artha) must be carried out in fulfillment and not violation of dharma.”; and in “traditional Brahmanical political thought, cultural pluralism within the State was accepted and the king was the protector of everybody’s dharma…Hence the idea of a state religion was not entertained…Some of these traditional ideas have reverberated in the practice of Hindu kings and their subjects all the way down the corridors of time into the twentieth century. [cf Mayer “Perceptions of Princely Rule”] Even today, these ideas are relevant in the context of the only surviving Hindu monarchy of the world, Nepal, where the king is considered an (305) incarnation of God and yet has to be consecrated by the Brahman royal priest.”
“In our own times, it was, of course, Mahatma Gandhi who restated the traditional point of view in the changed context of the twentieth century, emphasizing the inseparability of religion and politics and the superiority of the former over the latter.”, though the state was obliged to ensure religions can grow, while “no religion that depended on state support deserved to survive. In other words, the inseparability of religion and politics in the Indian context, and generally, was for Gandhi fundamentally a distinct issue from the separation of the state from the church in Christendom. When he did advocate that ‘religion and state should be separate’, he clarified that this was to limit the role of the state to ‘secular welfare’, and to allow it no admittance into the religious life of the people. Clearly, the hierarchical relationship is irreversible.”

305-“Traditionally Islam postulates a single chain of command in the political domain: God-Prophet-Caliph-King. God Almighty is the ever-active sovereign of His universe which is governed by His will. In his own life Prophet Muhammad symbolized the unity of faith (din) and the material world (dawle). His successors (khalifa) were the guardians on whose authority the kings ruled. They (the kings) were but the Shadow of God on earth, holding power as a trust and answerable to their maker on the Day of Judgment and like everybody else. In India, Ziyaud-Din Barni …(mid-fourteenth century) theologian (306) and political commentator, wrote of religion and temporal government, of prophets and kings, as twin brothers, but without leaving the reader in any doubt about whom he placed first.”
“In the twentieth century, Muhammad Iqbal occupies a very special place as an interpreter of Islam in South Asia. Rejecting the secularist programme of Turkish nationalists, he wrote: ‘In Islam the spiritual and the temporal are not two distinct domains, and the nature of an act, however secular in its import, is determined by the attitude of mind with which the agent does it…In Islam it is the same reality, which appears as Church looked at from one point of view and State from another.’ [direct quote from The Reconstruction of Religious Thought] Iqbal further explains: ‘The ultimate Reality, according to the Qur’an, is spiritual, and its life consists in its temporal activity. The spirit finds its opportunities in the natural, the material, the secular. All that is secular is therefore sacred in the roots of its being…There is no such thing as a profane world…All is holy ground’.”; then Madan quotes Fazlur Rahman as saying “Secularism destroys the sanctity and universality (transcendence) of all moral values” [direct quote from Islam and Modernity]

-[PROB: only looks at certain expressions of religions and makes reductionist claims]

306-“…the search for secular elements in the cultural traditions of this region is a futile exercise, for it is not these but an ideology of secularism that is absent and is resisted. What is important, therefore, is the relationship between the categories, and this is unmistakably hierarchical, the (307) religious encompassing the secular.”, says this view was even in Christianity until the Reformation—Madan takes the Weverian thesis, saying that secularization was connected to Protestantism, individualism, rationalization, and intellectualism [PROB: he ignore other ecoc and poll motives for secularization]; “The general secularization of life in the West after the Reformation is significantly, though only partly, an unintended consequence of this religious idea.—that the individual is responsible for his own salvation; Madan tries to make his view unreproachable by adding: “This is not the occasion to go into the details of the well-grounded idea that secularization is a gift of Christianity to mankind, but” we must recognize the at the privatization of religion is indeed a “gift of Christianity”

308-“…the idea of secularism, a gift of Christianity, has been built into western social theorists’ paradigms of modernization, and since these paradigms are believed to have universal applicability, the elements that converged historically—that is in a unique manner—to constitute modern life in Europe in the sixteenth and the following three centuries, have come to be presented as the requirements of modernization elsewhere, and this must be questioned. Paradoxically, the uniqueness of the history of modern Europe lies, we are asked to believe, in its generalizability.”
“In other words, secularism as an ideology has emerged from the dialectic of modern science and Protestantism, not from a simple repudiation of religion and the rise of rationalism. Even the Enlightenment—its English and German versions in particular—was not against religion as such but against revealed religion or a transcendental justification for religion…Models of modernization, however, prescribe the transfer of secularism to non-western societies without regard for the character of their religious traditions or for the gifts that these might have to offer.”

-and “translations are not easily achieved. As Bankim Chandra Chatterji (that towering late nineteenth-century Indian intellectual) put it, ‘You can translate a word by a word, but behind the word is an idea, the thing which the word denotes, and this idea you cannot translate, if it does not exist among the people in whose language you are translating’. [in Nationalist Though and the Colonial World] It is imperative, then, that a people must themselves render their historical experience meaningful: others may not do this for them. [PROB: not really a problem, but a line I very much agree with, though Madan doesn’t deal with the issue that even within societies there are competing groups and if an idea or term is picked up by one, that doesn’t necessarily mean all agree with it] Borrowed ideas, unless internalized do not have the power to bestow on us the gift and grace of living…(309) once a cultural definition of a phenomenon or of a relationship (say, between religion and politics, or society and the state) has been crystallized, it follows that subsequent formulations of it, whether endogenous or exogenous, can only be re-definitions.” And different traditions survive in different groups; “In short, the transferability of the idea of secularism to the countries of South Asia is beset with many difficulties and should not be taken for granted.”

309-“Secularism must be put in its place, which is not a question of rejecting it but of finding the proper means for its expression. In multireligious societies, such as those of South Asia, it should be realized that secularism may not be restricted to rationalism, that it is compatible with faith, and that rationalism (as understood in the West) is not the sole motive force of a modern state.” [PROB: assumes that rationalism is seen as the only cause of secularization—it may be a very popular modern idea, but is in no way uniform, even among common people who all have varying understandings of secularization’s history, largely depending on their religious leaning]

310-in India, there’s no wall of separation between church and state, but an idea that there is “neutrality or equidistance between the state and the religious identity of the people”, and “not only Nehru but all Indians who consider themselves patriotic and modern, nationalist and rationalist, subscribe to it. What makes it impotent is that it is a purely negative strategy and, in the history of mankind, nothing positive has even been built on denials or negations alone.”

-“An examination of Nehru’s writings and speeches brings out very clearly his conviction that religion is a hinderance to ‘the tendency to change and progress inherent in human society’ and that ‘the belief in supernatural agency which ordains everything has led to a certain irresponsibility on the social plane, and emotion and sentimentality have taken the place of reasoned though and inquiry’.” [direct quote in The Discovery of India]; Nehru contrasted religion to science, and believed communalism would vanish with modernization [cf Nehru’s An Autobiography] and (311) economic improvement; Nehru wrote in 1961: “It is perhaps not very easy even to find a good word in Hindi for ‘secular’. Some people think it means something opposed to religion. That obviously is not correct…It is a state which honours all faiths equally and gives them equal opportunities.” [from other writings]; and based on Nehru’s views and his political position, Madan says he can be compared to Lenin and Ataturk

312-Lenin “played n active and direct part in the formulation of the 1918 decree on ‘the separation of the church from the state and of the school from the church’. While every citizen was in principle free to profess any religion, or none at all, he could not actively propagate it; what is more, the educational function of the communist part ensured that ‘senseless ideas’ arising from a false consciousness would be countered.”

-“Similarly, Ataturk proceeded by one deliberate step after another, beginning with the abolition of the Caliphate in 1924, of the religious orders in 1925, of Shari’a courts in 1926, and of Islam as the state religion in 1928. The process of secularization was continued thereafter, and the changes effected were strictly enforced with Kemal himself often setting the example in even minor points of detail.” [PROB: 1) these places weren’t colonized like India and 2) secularization was a process that did not start simply from the force of these leaders]

313-“Contrary to what may be presumed, it is not religious zealots alone who contribute to fundamentalism or fanaticism, which are a misunderstanding of religion, reducing it to mere political bickering [PROB: a very narrow def of these terms], but also the secularists who deny the very legitimacy of religion in human life and society and provide a reaction.”

314-“Maybe religion is not a fake as Marx asserted; maybe there is something eternal about it as Durkheim maintained.” [PROB: 1) durk essentially wrote off rel as a social feeling and 2) there have been many prominent theories of religion before and since durk that are less problematic in many respects]

-Madan has “no solutions to suggest”, though he’s “not advocating the establishment of a Hindu state in India—not at all. It simply will not work.”; “…the only way secularism in South Asia, understood as interreligious understanding, may succeed would be for us to take both religion and secularism seriously and not reject the former as superstition and reduce the latter to a mask for communalism or mere expediency. Secularism would have to imply that those who profess no religion have a place in society equal to that of others, not higher or lower.”

316-in a postscript written in 1996 he says at the time of writing the original article, “There were not many intellectuals then who either showed an awareness of the limitations of secularism as a world-view or expressed any great unease about the recrudescence of religious fanaticism in the form of communalized politics or fundamentalist movements.”, “only a few intellectual had dissented with” the hope for secularism, “Ashis Nandy being the most notable among them.” Cf Nandy “A Counter-Statement on Humanistic Temper” Mainstream 10 Oct 1981; and “An Anti-Secularist Manifesto” Seminar 314, 1985, pp 1-11

-he points out there have been several critics of the article: Bailey “Religion and Religiosity” Contributions to Indian Sociology 25, no. 2, 1991; Baxi “Secularism: Real and Pseudo” in M. M. Sankhdher (ed.) Secularism in India (1992); Beteille “Secularism and the Intellectuals” Economic and Political Weekly 29, no. 10 (1994)

317-“It is imperative that we distinguish between secularization (in Beteille’s (318) words, ‘a social process that unfolds itself on its own, as it were’) and secularism (‘an ideology that some members of society strive consciously to espouse and promote’)”

318-“Looking back, it seems that I did perhaps overemphasize the holistic character of traditional religions, particularly Hinduism” as critics of that article have pointed out; and (319) “It would obviously be a throwback to an untenable Durkheimian sociological extremism to envisage a society in which the secular is non-existent, and I did not mean to propose such a monistic thesis.”, his main point was that the secular is “encompassed by the religious”; plus he admits to religious diversity under the broad banner of “Hindu”, but says that overall Christianity makes a strong distinction between secular and sacred that other religions don’t—“This does not mean that Indians have first to be converted to Christianity before they may be expected to appreciate the virtues of secularism in the sense of its being the ideology of secularization. It only draws attention to the need for greater efforts on the part of Indian intellectuals to clarify the notion of secularism in a (320) context-sensitive manner, drawing upon India’s pluralist traditions.” And says “the masses of this country…[are] comfortable with religious pluralism, and indeed practice it in one form or another. The traditional elite, from whom the great majority of today’s intellectuals are descended, generally disapprove of such pluralism as the superstitious ways of the masses.”

320-secularism should be better related to Indian religious views, “but this should not mean the imposition of one particular meaning on it, and it has to be made into a national ethos. This will take doing and will take time.”, and the responsibility falls on the intellectuals’ shoulders


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