(un)Making the Nation: Religious (un)orthodoxies, Secular (un)certainties and Minorities
(un)Making the Nation
Religious (un)orthodoxies, Secular (un)certainties and Minorities
Centre de Sciences Humaines (CSH, Delhi) collaborating with The Centre d’Études de l’Inde et de l’Asie du Sud (CEIAS – EHESS, Paris), and the CNRS
a two days digital conference
on 9th and 10th September, 2021
Postcolonial secularism legitimises itself around the figure of the minority, construed as it often tends to be, by a selective assembling of colonial experiences. The procedures of selection often coincide with the postcolonial national moment, which inevitably pays homage to the majoritarian national imagination. Such national formations extant in South Asia, where religion is accommodated (rather than dispensed with), lead to secularist positions that subject the minority figure to sustained State regulation. The minority is thus produced at the intersections of religious dogma, postcolonial nationalism and secularist narrative. It becomes imperative therefore that we ask the question: Who or what is a minority? Is the minority manufactured by a set of identity markers that is forced into periodic negotiations with the dominant national imagination? For instance, is the “minority” like features of a Parsi, a Christian and a Muslim similar or equitable within the Indian national imagination.
A religious way of imagining the nation represents a longer tradition of collective belonging which may be traced to the European Enlightenment. Such conventions of collective belonging draw our attention to the historical production of minorities, making the figure of the minority as duplicitous as it is contentious. It thus leads us to ask: when a model of secularism is adopted within the national imagination, should the terms of engagement with the minority be defined in terms of principled distance or overlapping consensus? With the slow but steady resurfacing of majoritarian sensibilities across South Asia, what is the fate of the minority that is caught between religious orthodoxy and secular uncertainties? If, as Talal Asad states, secularism is a range of sensibilities, how much agency does the minority have in the expression of such sensibilities?
In a nation constituted by discourses of secular and religious orthodoxies, the minority figure is the perpetual outlier. This is reinforced when the chief precondition to undermining secularist thought is an articulation of violence against the minority figure. This occurs despite the legitimisation of minority identity in the constitutional narrative and its conscious dissemination in the public sphere. In many ways the contentious relationship between religious orthodoxy and secular nationalism may be ascribed to the treatment of religion as both un-evolved and hence antithetical to the principles of the modern nation-state. Are minorities then the collateral fallouts of this contentious relationship? Is it true that a minority community bereft of agency cannot articulate itself and is thus relegated to the periphery? Do all minorities (within a national imagination) suffer the same experiences of peripheralisation or rather, are all minorities equidistant from the majoritarian centre?
Centre de Sciences Humaines (CSH, Delhi) and Centre d’Études de l’Inde et de l’Asie du Sud (CEIAS – EHESS, Paris) have come together to host this young researchers’ conference to investigate the contentious and evolving nature of religion and secularism through the figure of the minority as it has come to be classified within the South Asian national imagination. In a discursive paradigm shaped by religion and secularism, the conference intends to raise the question: does the nation determine its minority or do minorities determine the nation?
In addition to the issues raised, the conference is largely designed to examine the slippages that sustain the continued peripheralisation of certain groups — ethnic/religious/sexual — within a South Asian national imagination. It is intended that we can all come together as scholars to engage in a sustained scrutinisation of religious (un)orthodoxies, secular (un)certainties and the increasingly precarious position of the minority within national imaginations.
In the face of enforced travel restrictions across national boundaries and in response to the ongoing global pandemic, the event is largely imagined as a space where we can come together virtually. As we isolate ourselves in our cubicles, the event is perhaps a token of our enduring desire to reach out and support each other.