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Theoretical Insights Grounded in Empirical Research


Amiya P. Sen

IMAGES OF THE WORLD: ESSAYS IN RELIGION, SECULARISM AND CULTURE
By T. N. Madan
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 378, Rs. 595.00

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 6 June 2007

Images of the World is a useful and engaging collection of public addresses and writings produced over a period of roughly twenty years. The earliest of these goes back to 1987 and the most recent, produced in 2005. Altogether there are thirteen pieces put together for this volume which represent a continuing exploration of the significance of culture, religion, ethnicity and secularism by one of India’s foremost sociologists. As the interested reader will no doubt know, the present work succeeds a number of other comparable volumes that Madan has produced in the past : Non Renunciation (1987), Religion in India (1991), Modern Myths, Locked Minds (1997) and India’s Religions (2004). The last of these, as I recall, I had the privilege of reviewing for The Book Review in September 2005. This is a fact that I deliberately choose to mention for two reasons. In the first place, a few things that I have to say of the present work are identical with what I had to say back in 2005. Secondly, I thought I should take this occasion to say how happy I would have been if only our author had chosen to respond to certain points of query and criticism that I had put before him at the time. In a work where he otherwise so painstakingly deals with his critics, this too might easily have been accommodated. Nonetheless, I do entertain the hope that what I had said in the past and am about to now add are not irritatingly trivial or entirely misplaced.   Structurally, the present work is divided into four uneven segments that bear the following titles: ‘Religion and Secularism’ (5 essays), ‘Religion and Secular Identities’ (2 essays), ‘Religious Traditions and Values’ (4 essays) and ‘Cultural Traditions and Conceptual Categories’ (2 essays). Of the essays included here, at least two (Nos. 5 and 11) appear to have been published for the first time while some others, like ‘Secularism in its place’ (No. 3) or ‘India’s Religious Traditions (No. 8) are, I imagine, all too familiar with students and scholars. All the same, the underlying strength of this collection is the juxtaposition of essays/addresses that carry theoretical insights with those that are well grounded in empirical research.   On the whole, the work under review persuasively advances several important points. For one, it dissociates itself with hegemonic and homogenizing tendencies in the fields of both religious and secular ideologies and here, evidently, Madan is far from apologetic in revealing his political ...


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