8.) Indic and Western Concepts of Religion

During the period of the heavy interaction between India and the West during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the West did not succeed in converting Indians to Christianity on an appreciable scale. This fact has obscured what it did achieve—it converted its intelligentsia not to Christianity but to the Christian concept of religion—not to the West’s religion but to the West’s concept of religion. This concept of religion was employed by this intelligentsia both during the period of British Raj and after, to describe the Indian “religious” reality, which does not quite conform to it. Hence its use to describe this reality, in the process of reflecting it, also reshaped it. According to this Western concept of religion one can only belong to one religion at a time, while the Indic concept of religion permits multiple religious affiliation. This was doubly unfortunate: It was unfortunate for the West failed to benefit by not taking the Indic concept of religion into account in its conceptualization of religion, a failure apparent in human rights documents available in the West, abetting the charge that human rights discourse is Western, and it was unfortunate for India: By forcing Indian religious reality into a Western conceptual constraints it thereby distorted it and exported to India the problems the Western concept of religion had created in the West.

The reformulation of intellectual discourse in a way in which it takes the Indic concept of religion as seriously as the Western might help solve both the problems.

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One Response to “8.) Indic and Western Concepts of Religion”

  1. Kalyan Viswanathan Says:

    This is an interesting idea… It takes Pluralism to another level, beyond co-existence of multiple traditions (or Sampradayas), to a fluidity of membership across multiple Sampradayas.

    I also think, that there is a progressive evolution, where in an individual graduates from his or her adherence to one Sampradaya to acceptance of multiple sampradayas eventually to a general freeing up from the constraints of Sampradaya itself.

    The ‘evolution’ of the individual’s thinking allows for the movement from one thought paradigm to another, and ultimately to a ‘granting of space’ to all the sampradayas existing or yet to come.

    This individual evolution of consciousness does not it seems have a parallel in western religion at all. Therefore the category of thought that ost distinguishes the Indic religions from the Western is this idea of human evolution.

    I wonder if you would agree…

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