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Some French Perspectives

Purushottam Agrawal

Edited by Denis Vidal , Gilles Tarabout and Eric Meyer
Manohar, New Delhi, 2003, pp. 328, Rs. 650.00


Religion is not about love and compassion only. It is also about exclusion, hatred and violence. Being a total narrative, religion gives meaning to existential and societal concerns of the believers. Unlike the secular narratives, religion also claims a virtual monopoly of satisfying the spiritual yearnings of human beings. Such a totality will contradict itself if it were only to concern itself with “good”, and “noble”. It has to perforce tackle the dark abysses of the human mind as well. It has to explain the inexplicable, has to bestow ‘goodness’ on something which is otherwise considered ‘evil’ in the religious discourse itself. It is a logical outcome of the claimed totality that each and every religion has a mechanism and theorization to differentiate between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ violence, has a system of separating those who are to be ‘loved’ from those who are to be ‘hated’ or ‘tolerated’. Mediated through religion, the idea of purity transforms itself into the mechanism of ‘exclusion’. This leads to what Barrington Moore has aptly described as ‘slaughter in defense of moral purity.’ Moore calls it ‘a monotheistic invention’, (and rightly so as the proselytizing zeal of monotheistic religions has fortunately been absent in the non-monotheistic traditions). But these traditions have their own notions of ‘purity’ and consequently those of the legitimate and illegitimate violence or more aptly the ‘violence of order’ as opposed to violence causing ‘disorder’—a distinction reflected upon in a thought-provoking manner by Jean-Luc Chambard while recollecting his own experiences of ‘Violence in a Hindu village’ (pp. 105-125).      Not only religion, any discourse of power and identity is bound to have ideas of good and bad, desirable and avoidable violence, but the totality of the religion and its putative divinity makes its relation with violence somewhat unique. This aspect needs to be critiqued specifically and not in a simplistic and essentialist way treating each and every religion, as ‘essentially’ good or bad in similar ways. The issue of violence in the religious worldview needs to be tackled with rigour and passion—particularly in times like ours when far from acting as a bedrock of morality and spirituality, religion is providing rationalizations to most brutal forms of violence.      The volume under review seeks to do this in the epistemological and ethical context of Hindu religion. As an attempt to look into the construction of the meaning of violence in the Hindu worldview ...

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