Religion and Social Justice

Article excerpt

Religion and Social Justice. By Shivesh C. Thakur. Library of Philosophy and Religion Series. London: Macmillan Press/New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996. vii + 145 pp. L37.50/$49.95 (cloth).

Shivesh C. Thakur (B.A., M.A., Patna University, India; Ph.D., University of Durham, England), who recently retired after 15 years as professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at the University of Northern Iowa, has written a book that stands over against "liberal" religion's proclivity to focus primarily upon social ethics. Throughout this book the author argues that religion should not be used as a direct instrument of social justice; rather, the main emphasis of true religion should always be upon transcendental matters and the coming kingdom of God (and its equivalents in other world religions).

This reviewer had several negative impressions while reading Dr. Thakur's book. For example, the quality of the book is somewhat uneven: the last chapters are much better than the first ones, which are rather "textbookish" with considerable use of secondary sources. Throughout the book there was imprecision and inconsistency in the use of language, and some of the book was a bit dated. Perhaps the weakest chapter in the book is Chapter 5, "Liberation Theology and Social Justice," in which Latin American liberation theology is used as the primary foil for the author's argument. He decries "the use of theology in the promotion of political ends," and he even says that to use religion so "the masses may be persuaded more easily of the need for revolution" is to treat religion as an opiate (p. 60)-hardly what Marx had in mind in his reference to "the opiate of the masses.

The main problem for this reviewer, however, is the author's appropriation of the traditional "Indian" religious perspective which seems to support the status quo and thus to militate against any work for social reform (for example, the author says that "the `religious point of view' must see 'natural' inequalities and disadvantages as part of a supernatural or 'transcendental' design, and not simply as accidents of nature or history" (p. …