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Religion and the Public Domain

Surinder S. Jodhka

Edited by Rowena Robinson
Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 359, Rs. 350.00


The volume brings together a total of sixteen papers published over a period of more than four decades in the official journal of the Indian Sociological Society, the Sociological Bulletin, on subjects relating to religion in India. Though religion is much talked about in India, social scientific literature on the subject is still not much. This volume is indeed a welcome addition.   As the editor Rowena Robinson points out in her introduction, the theories of development and modernization that influenced the thinking of social scientists during the decades of the 1950s and 1960s, the early years after India’s independence from colonial rule, presumed that with the process of development, urbanization and industrialization, religion would eventually disappear from the public domain. Even if it survived, it would do so only in the private domain. Interestingly, a large majority of the modernizing elite of the newly independent countries of the Third World also shared such an understanding of social and economic transformation. This has changed over the last two decades or so. It is widely recognized today that ethnic and religious identities do not disappear with modernity. They only refashion themselves, and could, in fact get stronger with economic development and the process of globalization.   Coming to the Indian context, Robinson claims that those engaged with the study of religion in India have concentrated largely on Hinduism. ‘The study of India was … and has been, for a long time, the study of Hindu India. This notion often led both to the reification of Hinduism and the marginalization and neglect of non-Hindu groups and communities’ (p.20). Even empirical studies on subjects like caste and village were carried out with this kind of bias. Caste was the most critical of categories for sociologists and social anthropologists because it provided a link between the micro realities of village communities and the great Sanskritic tradition. Even when non-Hindu communities were studied, they were approached through the prism of caste. The papers included in this volume, Robinson claims, do not altogether fall into this kind of a trap.   The volume is organized around four sections dealing with different sub-themes. The first section has papers on ‘Religion, Society and National Identity’. In a paper on ‘Visions of nationhood and religiosity’ in early nationalist thought, Proshanta Nandi underscores the point that unlike the recent trends, which try to present Hindu culture in unitary terms, the early nationalists emphasized ...

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