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Let Us Talk About Your Book:
Arvind Pal Singh Mandair - "Religion & The Specter of The West"
Part XXI

Q & A with Author by SIKHCHIC.COM




Continued From Last Week …


Q    Last week, you concluded with the following words: “The search for a ‘new discursive place’ … will be better served not by quarantining but by infecting the normative dominant symbolic order with a different logic, thereby also empowering a mode of critical practice that can resist assimilation by Christian-Secular and Hindutva or Indian secular universals …”

That is a fairly provocative statement. In fact if I recall correctly, elsewhere in your book you raise similar concerns.

First of all, what do you mean by “
Christian-Secular”? Don’t the Christians take the stance that the ‘Secular’ is opposed to Christianity, not working in conjunction with it? Secondly why do you contest the Christian-Secular and Hindutva and Indian secular universals simultaneously?

A    There is a very long and rich history to these terms.

As I use it, the term ‘Christian-Secular’ is really meant to indicate the essential unity of the Western consciousness as grounded simultaneously in Christianity and Secularism.

We talked a little bit about this earlier in the interview.

Despite the much publicized separation between Church, secularists and atheists who continue to identify themselves as Western, continue to draw upon concepts that are drawn from Christian theological principles. In fact the German legal scholar Carl Schmitt puts it quite succinctly when he said that the law of the secular nation state, the nation state’s legal framework, is basically a secularized version of Christian theological principles:

“The central concepts of modern state theory are all secularized theological concepts”, he says.

The place of the Christian God was simply taken by the Nation State which becomes the people’s ‘god’. Moreover, the concepts of religion as a universal, and secularity, emerged together at the same time. And this co-emergence is intricately connected to the development of modern Western consciousness.

The secularization thesis itself depends on propagating the idea of religion as a cultural universal – the idea that religion is and has always been everywhere.

So the ‘Christian-Secular’ as I use it indicates that the structures of secular atheism are themselves drawn from and grounded in the structures of classical Christology (especially the concept of the Trinity: Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit) going back to the Fourth and the Fifth centuries, and also to the modern structures of rational self-consciousness.

We see this co-dependency of Christianity and the Secular really come to light after the fall of communism post-1989. In the aftermath of the demise of communism, philosophers in the West who had positioned themselves as atheists or secularists found themselves drawing on their Christian heritage in order to devise new positions, rather than trying to reach out to non-Western traditions.

It was a demonstration of how deeply entrenched and self-sustaining was the belief in the West’s uniqueness and sovereign nature, in order to preserve its universalizing tendency. Even (or especially) when Western scholars have talked in the language of pluralism (e.g. the world religions) – this is just another example of how the West draws around itself a magic and narcissistic circle.

The term ‘Christian-Secular’ is one name of this narcissism. It displays its universal as ‘religion’ – religion is everywhere, but the West is unique because it alone was able to overcome religion and create the secular. Because Christianity was unique.

To answer the second part of your question, I do indeed contest the Christian Secular and Indian universals (vis-a-vis Hindutva or modern Hinduism, etc.) simultaneously. The reason for doing it simultaneously is that from a Sikh standpoint, both represent forms of domination and subordination of minorities (whether non-Western or non-Hindu) through different forms of metaphysics.

That is to say, they both work through a form of metaphysics that is specific to each civilization. Western metaphysics culminates in the concept of ‘religion’ as a universal which it exports through colonialism and the modern Western academy. That religion is a culturally ubiquitous phenomenon.

Once a particular culture is identified as essentially ‘religious’ – even though it may not have the same concept of religion within its native lexicon – that culture is delegitimized. It has to renounce its ability to use violence which now belongs to the State. In this way it cedes sovereignty to the modern nation state.

Hindu metaphysics works differently.

As I mention in the introduction of ‘Religion and the Specter of the West‘, it is rooted within an indigenous ideology of sacred sound which derives its authority from the intimately close connection between Veda, Sanskrit and dharma. According to this very ancient Hindu ideology which gets reincarnated in the modern era, Indian cultures are governed by a central and unifying principle based on the mystical (because eternal) nature of sound, and this principle supposedly differentiates India from the West (p. 38).

As I said, this is also a metaphysics because it devalues the world that we live in favor of the supposed eternity of sacred sound. Hindu metaphysicians argue that this sound is sacred because it has always been there and will always be there. Its supposed eternity gives it authority. The Veda and the language of the Veda are the closest approximation to that sound, which is why they are venerated.

Over time there developed a society of those who live their lives as a sacred duty to this sacred sound. This society was bound by the notion of dharma, and dharma is in turn protected by this society which thereby retains a kind of ethnic purity, etc.

I have posted separately on this and in that post I suggested that this is Brahmin ideology at its purest. In the hands of modern secular Hindus, who emulated the Christian concept of universal religion by arguing that Hinduism was the Universal Religion, it provided a weapon for contesting Christianity’s superiority and thus helped Hindus to combat Christian metaphysics.

But to do so they had no choice but to emulate the Christian concept of universal religion and gave it a Hindu twist through the notion of dharma.

So the terms ‘Christian-Secular’ and ‘Hindutva/Indian secularism’ serve a particular purpose in my book.

First, I am suggesting that, faced with such powerful universals, Sikhs therefore have no option but to contest these universals together because they are both destructive with respect to minorities.

Second, I am suggesting that Sikhs contest them by operationalizing Sikh universals.

This is precisely what the early Singh Sabha (Singh Sabha 1) started to do but they ended up using Christian metaphysics to do their work and so became bogged down. That’s why we’ve never seen any development in Sikh theory past a certain point.

A few Sikh scholars did realize the complexity and precariousness of the situation. But the only ones to really grapple with it in the Punjabi language context were Harinder Singh Mahboob and Puran Singh.

To Be Continued Next Week …

June 12, 2014

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Arvind Pal Singh Mandair - "Religion & The Specter of The West"
Part XXI"

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