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Religion, Politics and Public Policy: Interrogating Discourses

Hilal Ahmed

Edited by Gurpreet Mahajan and S. Surinder Jodhka
Routledge, New Delhi, 2010, pp. xi+ 336, Rs. 695.00


This book under review tries to explore the complex relationship between religion and development in two different ways. It questions the modernist assumption that religion is the personalaffair of an individual while development is entirely a matter of secularpublic policy. Examining religion as a sociological category, the book makes a strong claim that the discourse of development, which is often understood in rigid secular terms, is closely linked to social customs, practices and ways of lifeof religious communities. In this sense, the book problematizes the making and remaking of religious communities, and at the same time, it interrogates the production and reception of the discourse of development in different contexts.   This kind of conceptual refinement helps the contributors to ask another relevant question: how to make sense of the contemporary moment, when religion is recognized as a mode of policy intervention in what is called the postsecular world? Although the contributors approach this question in a variety of ways, through various conceptual frameworks and methodological interventions, this thematic concern offers an interesting sequential coherence to the book.   The Sachar Commission Report (SCR) is taken as an important point of reference to contextualize the research concerns of this project. The book makes two very significant moves in this regard. First, the contributors reconceptualize SCR to make a wideranging comparative analysis of various religious communitiesHindus, Sikhs, Christians and Muslimsto go beyond the popular rhetoric of Muslim backwardness. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the essays in this volume also try to place the ongoing discussion on development rightsof religious communities in the realm of contemporary social and political theory. Thus, SCR is seen in relation to the debates on multiculturalism, secularization, marginality and egalitarianism and so on. This kind of analytical rigour produces empirically rich and theoretically sophisticated arguments.   Although the essays are arranged in a fascinating sequence to respond to an obvious comparative anxiety of readers, one can easily figure out two kinds of arguments: politics of secularization and marginalization in contemporary India and the making/remaking and internal configurations of religious communities.   Gurpreet Mahajans introductory essay unpacks the fundamental concerns of this project and tries to bring together the various themes discussed in the volume. This essay demonstrates the conceptual values of the contemporary sociopolitical debates on caste, religion and development in India, especially after the publication of SCR. Mahajan underlines the need for more refined and empirically grounded theoretical attempts ...

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