Religion and Nationalism in India: The Case of the Punjab

By Harnik Deol | Go to book overview

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The trouble with classic theories of nationalism

In this chapter an attempt will be made to explain the distinctive nature, growth and scope of the anti-colonial nationalist struggle in India. This concern has emerged from an attempt to develop a conceptual framework within which to seek an understanding of Sikh ethno-nationalism. Broadly speaking, an attempt will be made to identify the deeper social processes by which nations came to be envisaged in the colonial context. Emphasis will be on the specific historical conditions that gave rise to nationalism in India. This chapter comprises three sections. In the first section the key concepts used in this study of 'nations' and 'nationalism' will be defined. The beginning of the second section describes the classic modernization theories of nationalism. This is followed by a discussion on the Eurocentric limitations of the modernization theories of nationalism. In the third section, the processes that gave rise to the socio-religious reform movements during the nineteenth century under British suzerainty will be identified. The socioreligious reform movements preceded the anti-colonial nationalist struggle. Then the social base and nature of Indian nationalism will be considered.


Concepts and definitions

The field of enquiry is bedevilled by attempts to define the terms 'nations' and 'nationalism'. Despite the profound influence of nationalism in the modern world, both the terms have proved notoriously difficult to define. Despite several attempts by various scholars to define the term 'nationalism', the term remains conceptually evasive. The protean nature of nationalism is perhaps responsible for this conceptual confusion. The presence of many variants of nationalism makes it difficult to define the term by any one criterion. Although scholars are far from being agreed on the meaning of the terms 'nation' and 'nationalism', I have adopted a more inclusive representation of the term 'nationalism'. In this book, nationalism represents an ideology and movement on behalf of the nation and incorporates both political and cultural dimensions.

If nationalism is viewed as an ideological movement, appropriating European classic doctrinal formulations, such as the concepts of popular

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