Fluid Faith, Rigid Religion: In the Framework of South Asia

By Singh, Santosh Kumar; Pathak, Dev Nath | International Journal on Humanistic Ideology, January 1, 2018 | Go to article overview

Fluid Faith, Rigid Religion: In the Framework of South Asia


Singh, Santosh Kumar, Pathak, Dev Nath, International Journal on Humanistic Ideology


South Asia's religious landscape, from a close distance, conjures up an image of an assortment of innumerable faith rivulets that criss-cross; organically inter-nurture each other, before merging in to an ocean of unfathomable imagination and deep philosophy; a cognitive, civilizational construct that runs parallel to the starchy neatness of official nation-state paradigm of imagining South Asia. South Asia, in that sense, is visually more akin to a wanderer, a mystic, who has been variously referred or tagged or stamped depending on the linguistic affiliation of the ever changing frontiers. The wanderer thus becomes a dervish, a fakir, a Guru, a Baba, a Bhikhu or a saint, to essentially comfort and cater to our modernist fetish for marking out a boundary. In spirit, however, the wanderer defies boundaries, flattens notions of certainty around human sense of limits; thereby particularly undermining its cartographic apparatuses and their grand claims. South Asia's sense of 'religion' gets beautifully reflected in the idea of such a wanderer. It all persuades for a rethinking and reimagining of a tangible body as 'another South Asia'1. The 'another' in the quest of South Asia is a marker of unofficial exploration, defiant discourse, and utopian imagination. This is indeed not an idea of South Asia that rules the roost of nation states, diplomatic discussions, and utilitarian narrowness of a body such as SAARC (South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation). The framework of South Asia conducive for a discussion along the lines of fluid faith ought to be non-nation state centric, away from the political dominance of state craft. And it shall be inclusive of both, celebration of utopias and comprehension of realities, dreams of future and nightmares of present, recognition of possibilities and acknowledgement of anomalies. Therefore, complex dynamics of fluid faith and rigid religion is a mainstay in the essays in this special issue of the International Journal on Humanistic Ideology. While we admit the significance of utopias we don't give into some of the politically constructed socio-religious atavism. And hence, the essays seek to present manifold reasons for celebration and lamentation at once. After all in the complex socio-cultural and political situation it is unjustifiable to be content with linear formulations. We tend to be optimally critical of linearity that dominates official imagination of religions. Ours is not a census-concern to count religion, nor are we inclined to settle with the simpler text book idea of unity in diversity. We endeavor to understand the becoming and unbecoming in the same breath, and that renders the narratives complex, and analyses nuanced.

Hence, we acknowledge the dominant notion of religion, largely influenced by Judeo-Christian formulation from the west, with fixed boundaries and compartmentalization. This modernist notion of religion pervades our understanding today. Therefore, a rather scintillating account of primitive religiosity in the anthropology of religion, starting with Émile Durkheim, seeks to show the enumerated communities, territorialized rites and rituals, and sealed off totemic practices2. It was an approach informed by the imperative of modern industrial society. It rendered everything related to fluid faith into rigid religiosity, to say the least. Islam was one religion, so was Hinduism, as was Christianity. But Sufis did not mean anything in the mapping of religions. Dervishes did not fit the framework. Any monk affiliated with any denomination of Buddhism was easy subject to the modern framework of reckoning. But a monk who wandered across the length and breath of religious map, dwelling upon diverse faiths, was not a suitable candidate. Say for example, a medieval poet of Bhakti tradition Kabir spoke critically of both, Hindus and Muslims, and propounded a heterodox faith would not be suitable for the rigid religion. Sects and cults with abundance of faith may easily fall out of the purview of mapped religions even though they derive a great deal from the sources with religious significance. …

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