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The influence of traditional religious and social values on modern politics - PowerPoint PPT Presentation


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Modern South Asian political systems are the result of at least three overlapping set of values: - pre-colonial religious and social values - colonial ideas and concepts - the values and ideology of the Indian independence movement.

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Modern South Asian political systems are the result of at least three overlapping set of values:- pre-colonial religious and social values- colonial ideas and concepts- the values and ideology of the Indian independence movement

slide2

The influence of traditional religious and social values on modern politics

  • These are often discarded in official discourse
  • India is officially a “secular” state, still its religious and social values have a great relevance in shaping the forms and dynamics of its politics
  • Pakistan officially recognises “Islamic ideology”, still just as India, it denies the relevance of kinship structures and institutions like “caste” (Biradari)
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Therefore our discourse must begin from the analysis of these values. Three examples:

  • the role of the individual vis-à-vis the community
  • the idea of equality of all citizens
  • the idea of one Law valid for all members of the society
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All three concepts are generally considered basic ideas in the making of the modern state in the western world

  • All three are non-existent in Indian civilization; in fact the opposite is true:
  • in Indian society it is the group, not the individual which is the source of all values
  • Inequality is the basis of the society
  • There is no single Law, but the Laws change according to the person (group) considered
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The individual and the concept of history: Indian civilization is not a “historical civilization” rather a “mythical civilization”

  • We find no historical texts in ancient India
  • The religious literature: the Vedas (Shruti: “what has been heard”) and the epic narrative (Smrti: “what has been remembered”)
  • These texts contain no history
  • Dates and history are quite recent in India and are due to external influences
  • When we find histories in ancient India, these are usually due to particular reasons as invasions or foreign cultural influences, for example in border regions (Kashmir, Assam)
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If we look at the ancient religious texts, the Vedas, usually we find no dates nor numbers, and when we find them, they are useless for any attempt at making history

  • In the religious texts we find enormous numbers and periods of time (the basic Hindu unit of time is the Kalpa or a day of Brahma, more than one million years)
  • The individual human being’s dimension is meaningless
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Moreover time in ancient Hindu religious tradition, unlike the Western idea, is not a linear evolution (a progress) but a cyclic process

  • Time is made of enormous units of time (made of various Kalpas) that repeat themselves forever
  • Every cycle starts with the creation and expansion of the universe, followed by its destruction and recreation, in a never-ending process
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Therefore we do not find “History” in traditional India

  • history begins in fact when there are ruptures of the traditional values: sectarian movements, military invasions of external powers (Muslims, European colonial powers)
  • In this cultural framework it is not surprising that the individual’s life is not important, it is not something to be remembered
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Other aspects:

  • The ideal structure of society according to the Vedas
  • The four Varnas: Brahmana, Kshatrya, Vaishiya, Shudra
  • Their meaning and significance: inequality, hierarchy and interdependence
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Brahman and Atman: the search for one’ soul reunion with the Absolute (moksa)

  • Samsara: the eternal cycle of life
  • Karma: the action and its results
  • Life on earth is therefore seen as mainly negative
  • The “man in the world” is not an individual because his/her individuality does not emerge
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He is part of a system, of a network of relations to the other human beings, gods, etc.

  • If the man wants to become an individual, he has to leave the world, to become a “man out of the world”, which in fact means that he has to become a renouncer (sannyasin)