Friday, October 24, 2008

India's inventive form of secularism recognises, respects, even financially supports all religions

Indian Express > Op-Ed > ‘In India, the greater the intensity of religious practice, the greater the support for democracy’ > Vandita Mishra > Oct 24, 2008: Alfred C. Stepan

For many decades the highest quality of democracy is assessed to have been in Scandinavian countries. But all have an established evangelical Lutheran church. So we cannot say, as theoreticians of democracy, that an established church per se is dissonant with the democratic state.

But it would have been totally inappropriate for India to select the Scandinavian model. India has great religious heterogeneity and by Scandinavian standards, a terrific intensity of religious practice. So the unique Indian model was devised — one that recognises all religions, respects all religions, even financially supports all religions. The French idea of secularism based on state hostility to religion and the US notion based on its separation from the state was also not attractive in the Indian context.

India has also overturned the secularists’ prediction and hope ? that the more urban and educated the people are, the less involved in religion they would be, and therefore more secular. In India, data proves the exact opposite has happened — the greater the size of the city you live in, the more educated you are, the more you practice religion.

Do you see a crisis of secularism in India today?

I am horrified by events in Orissa and in Gujarat earlier. But as a comparativist, I must look at the larger frame.
The conventional wisdom is that the greater the intensity of religious practice, the more dangerous it is for democracy. But our data tells us that for all of India’s four major religions — Hinduism, Islam, Christianity and Sikhism — the reverse is true. The greater the intensity of religious practice, the greater the support for democracy. My judgment is that this would not have happened if India had not chosen its inventive form of secularism. Sometimes the state doesn’t live up to it. But in comparative terms, it is a success. 10:44 AM

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