Imphal Review of Arts and Politics


Revivalism Instinct in Advanced and Backward Societies Compared in the Light of Postmodernity, and the Consequences This Phenomenon May Bring

Anthony Giddens posits that the condition in late modernity has led the foundation for resurgence of many religious revivalist movements which he termed as a consequence of ‘High Modernity’ in advanced industrial society. In his view postmodern people are radically skeptical and there is increased reflexivity where people are willing to change their belief, practice and institution in the light of new knowledge. However the basic existential question still remains and there is always a sense of meaningless and purposelessness and loss of identity in the postmodern world. The ‘Enlightenment’ promise of certainty through scientific knowledge is losing its ground and every knowledge has become hypothetical. And this led to the increasing monopoly of the expert making divergent claims often leaving frustration and doubt in people’s mind about what is true and what is not? And to fill these moral vacuum people tend to take refuge and decide for themselves which sects, cult or denomination of the new age belief to follow.

His theory reminds the claims made by Martin Seligman, founder of positive psychology where he says meaning in life gives individual prolonged and everlasting happiness than the momentary pleasure which we find in the senses and the happiness we received through engagement in some form of work/job and activities. We often heard of people being the victim of stress and depression after they stop engaging in work or after retirement from their services. And this is where a search for identity and meaning play out.

However the factor contributing to religious revivalist movement in first world countries somewhat differs from third world countries. In the developing countries religious revivalism takes the form to rebuild traditional identities that have been disrupted with the rise of modernity and globalization and sometime has come to be largely galvanized for political ends. Traditional identities are used for political mobilization with intrinsic sentimental value often creating schism and divide among people. To cite an example in India, the new syndicated Hinduism which is created more for political purpose than religious one and sometimes it is referred to as political Hinduism too. It claims that the Hindus were persecuted for thousands of years by the Greeks, Turks, Mughals and the Britishers, destroying temples, proselytization, destruction of idols, seizing the wealth of temples etc. and under the guise of reform movement, it aims to create a monolithic Hinduism. They linked religion with nationalism and believe that Hindus, that is the (‘indigenous’) inhabitants of Indian subcontinent are more patriotic than non-Hindus and the latter should join the Hindus as a mark of loyalty to the Indian states.

The term Hindu does not have a specific religious meaning and it originally denotes to the geographical location of those people living beyond the Indus/Sindhu river. Though the term was found in many historical texts but it never had a religious connotation. As a religion, the Persians sources refer to various Hindu religions, the earliest texts mentioning forty two and the later one listing at least five.

When Muslims invaders had to differentiate between the believer and non-believer, they used the word Hindu for non-believer. The European adoption of the term gave it further currency. In the early nineteenth century, the colonial power encourage the conversion activities of the Christian missionaries and this compelled the emergence of many reform movements, which gave greater currency to the term Hinduism.



Some scholar argue that it was only in the late 19th century when the census introduced by the British colonial authorities in 1871 club the majority population as Hindu who do not fall under the category of Mohammedan and Christian, as a religious designation which in turn many Indians began to think themselves as Hindu and their land as Hindustan without acknowledging the diverse social, cultural and regionally diverse religious tradition.

Hindu as a cultural and religious entity has a diverse and complex form in itself. It includes a belief system ranging from the lowest fetishism to the highest absolutism. It has a philosophical system that covered Carvaka, a hedonistic and materialistic philosophy to ascetic philosophy of Samkhya and Yoga. It also encompasses sects like Lingayatism that emerged as a force against Hinduism rejecting the authority of Vedas and mainstream Hindu values. It also has within its fold the believer in Nirguna Brahman (god without attributes) and the Saguna Brahman (god with attributes).

Therefore aiming to create a homogeneous monolithic religion is more of ‘artificial imposition’ and ‘militant reformism’ to create one nation- state under the umbrella term called Hindu. And it is also an attempt to assume authority over the various sects and divergent philosophical systems.

In Manipur, the rise of Meitei nationalism, the crisis of identity and its inherent fear of losing it and the metropolis hegemonic tendencies to swallow up minority communities has led to the resurgence of revivalist movement. But this revivalist movement seems to work exclusively for sections of Sanamahi religious believers opposing the harmonized cross-fertilization/religious syncretism of the historical Gaudiya Vaishnavism and Sanamahism .

Gangumei Kamei, in his book “Lectures on history of Manipur” writes, “The Sanamahi cult revived the Meitei script, old literature and contributed greatly to the reassertion of the distinct Meitei identity. This movement turns out to be at later stage anti-Hindu and to some extent anti outsider”.( Kamei, Gangumei, Lectures on history of Manipur, p106).

But here we need to recognize the differences between the spirit of revitalization movements based on ‘Idealist model’, ‘Imposition model’ and ‘Indigeneity model’ because fanaticism occurs when singularity outweighs pluralism. If this is not the case, the movements mobilizers may sway the minds of people by means of rhetoric which often will lead to conflict and communal violence that will destabilize society. And it may also create a chain of action and retaliation within and between the communities that will brew hatred and schism causing friction to social stability.

Hindutva brand of revivalism can be classified under ‘Imposition model ‘or syndicated Hinduism as Romila Thapar calls it as opposed to traditional pluralistic Hinduism. And ‘Indigeneity model’, the case of Sanamahi revivalist that manifest elements of communalism. On the other hand ‘Idealist revivalist’ movement (spiritualist movement) purely aims at self-realization, harmony, peace, truth and justice. Here we can cite the example of Vivekananda, though being deeply associated with Vedanta philosophy, his approach transcends religious and philosophical barriers. Or we can cite the liberal and modernist movements represented by Gandhi and Ram Mohan Roy that aim at rationality, truth and justice. (Marbaniang, Domenic: Modern revive, resist and reform movements connected with the Invasion, Indigeneity and Idealistic theories of Hinduism in India)

Sociologically, communalism can be defined as a form of chauvinism based on religious identity and it is usually accompanied by an aggressive and hostile attitude towards persons and groups of other religious identities. It is a recurring source of tension and conflict between communities that usually avenge the death and dishonor suffered by co-religionist elsewhere or even in the distant past. They have common secular interest for those sharing the same faith but are divergent from the interest of the adherence of another religion.

The impetus of the religious movement in India seems to have triggered mainly as a response to Islamic invasion and British colonialism. And in Manipur it is partly shaped as a response to proselytization in the 18th century. But here we need a self- introspection whether we should use 21st century sensibility as a benchmark to judges past behavior? Historical tyranny, brutality and oppression is not exclusive to our society or any other society for that matter, it was life then, and if we evoke any past sentiment anew then this world will become a living inferno of war against one another. And if people began to identify themselves with exclusive religious identity then we risk ourselves to develop a larger national identity that will create more division than to coalesce.

It is true that much of the harm in the history of mankind is done in the name of religion but if we delve into any religious conflict historically we will find that it was not a saint, a Buddha, a Mahavira or the Jesus who inflict religious hatred but fanatical minds which concoct and perpetrate such crime. We should evolve from the ceremonial and ritual aspect of religion to the philosophical and spiritual culmination of religion rather than to be stiff in institutional religious matters. And it is the character which counts not the superficial identities which one carries like a masthead in the name of religion. If we look at the character of the great saint the world had ever produced, we will find that ‘continence’ was the cornerstone of their moral foundation which makes them spiritual giants.  But is that possible without self-abnegation?

In a country like India people tend to judge the custom or religion of others through the standard of their own culture and this is the reason why most of the wickedness and conflict emerged out of religion. Every society has its own value system and deviance in one society can be a normal in another society. Sociologists would even go to the extent of saying that it is not the individual who is abnormal which psychologist would claim but it is the society which is abnormal.

The Hindu would think giving a beef to feed someone is a deviance while a Christian or Mohameddan will consider a sin not to give the same if someone is hungry. And it is the cultural conditioning in the particular society that makes the person to feel that way. No Hindu/Christian or Mohammedan born will feel the same if they are left in isolation without socialization. As John locke puts it, humans are born with a ‘blank slate’ mind and Social psychologist George Herbert Mead would claim that without prior social experience there is no such thing as mind . And this ignorance is one of the natural mistakes which we tend to make most of the time. To define the objective idea of duty will be a futile endeavor and it is always subjective and contextual from a sociological standpoint. From a subjective standpoint there are certain actions that ennoble us while certain acts have a tendency to degrade us. But one of the flaws of such subjectivism or cultural relativism is that we cannot ascertain which acts have which kind of intention/tendencies or inclination.

One idea of universal morality can be derived from Kantian deontological moral philosophy which he dubbed as ‘Categorical Imperative’. Kant stated that there can be no separate morality for each individuals rather they are the same for everyone and universal irrespective of tastes, inclination or circumstances beyond condition.  And that is the supreme standard of morality based on rationality. Human essentially is a rational being and rationality is universally present and since that is universal, moral law should also be unconditionally universal.

One has to follow duty because it is the only rational alternative available for humans. And since humans are rational creatures, it is important for them to perform action for the sake of duty with no reference to any other condition or circumstance that is to follow reason based on ‘goodwill’ motivated by reverence for universal rational moral law. Though Kant idea of ‘Categorical Imperative’ can be criticized to a great extent, his endeavor to ground moral duty in the nature of human as a rational being can be main takeaway from his moral philosophy. And in this age characterized by fragmented varying cultures, pluralities and ethnicities, rationality is the best means to reason out one’s moral duty rather than subjective theological thinking.

Sam Harris, American neuroscientist and atheist philosopher says that religion is nearly a useless term and it is a term like sports, and each sport has nothing in common apart from breathing. The Christian idea that ‘Humans are born sinner’ and the Vedantic notion that ‘Each soul is potentially divine’ are hugely different ideas. But of course saints like Vivekananda would say that all religion or truth is one but the wise speak differently and they have the obligation to say that being a genuine saint. But if we dissect each philosophy of religion with a worldly mind/intellect, they are hugely diverse and different which will often lead to a conflict of theological interest and superiority complex. Comte treats theological thinking as an intellectual error which will eventually be dispersed by the rise of modern science. And that is why we need a universal duty or morality with a foundational rationality, a priori and should have the form of universality as Kant stated.

The Vedantic dictum that: “Do not injure any being; not injuring any being is virtue, injuring any being is sin” has a universal application to all races and humankind, across sects and religion. When Mahavira proclaimed: “Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture, or kill any creatures or living being”, it sounds rational and universally acceptable that appeals the modern mind irrespective of who they are.

According to Durkheim, in primitive society the hold of ‘collective conscience’ is very strong and religious belief is overwhelming and people are discouraged to deviate from the strong value consensus they shared and any violation of the law has violent retaliation from the community or the authority which is characterized by repressive law.

In a society with higher division of labor, there is increasing differentiation of task and specialization with increasing size and density of population. This led to the development of diverse unlike individuals with varying inclination and belief. Therefore ‘collective conscience’ goes through changes that free individuals from the stronghold of ‘conscience collectif’ and unity takes place out of interdependency. And here the laws become more democratic and the content of ‘collective conscience’ is secularized.

But Durkheim theory of religion seems less helpful in studying modern societies with high division of labor. His proposition that religion works as a unifying force works in a simple society or society with high degree of homogeneity but becomes irrelevant in multicultural and advanced societies. In a multicultural society it may  unites one particular group but conversely it can provoke conflict between these groups within the larger society unless it is a theocratic state. Durkheim even goes to the extent of saying that in the advanced stage of industrialization religion will ultimately vanish which is not the case.

Another attempt to study religion in modern society can be substantiated from Merton conception of dysfunction that question the traditional theory of functional unity proposed by functional approach. Merton stated that there is no such thing as functional indispensability that is always prerequisite for survival of society. And every existing belief and institution are not inherently functional for society. In a society where there is a diverse ethnic and religious group, certain belief and practice will not always lead to functional unity but in turn can affect the unity and harmony of society. And it is here he recognized the existence of dysfunction in society where certain elements or parts in society may have problems to adapt and adjust to the evolving currents in society. Merton encourages sociologists to identify the existence of such dysfunctional elements and to look for functional alternatives. Therefore if certain political or religious ideology inhibit the very idea of unity and create a socio-pathological conditions that provoke spasm of malevolence then, the better option can be to explore other alternatives but Merton’s warns that the new alternative should not produce the identical consequence like the former item but should see that it produces more positive function with less dysfunctional consequence. And in such a situation ‘secularization’ thesis only provides a leeway to resolve and replace such conflict where religion should be separated from civic affairs and state and it should be a matter of private and personal choices.  And any act that goes against the idea of ‘secularism’ would mean a reversal to the old homogeneous society with repressive laws or either a retreat from democracy.

In a state like Manipur we should stop radical identification with religious values and institutions and should move towards non-religious secular values like nationalism and patriotism. And this is where the ‘teaching of history’ becomes of prime importance to foster and enhance “collective value consensus”. If narrow self-interest is the guiding force rather than mutual obligation, conflict and chaos is inevitable to result. In Durkheim words: “For where interest is the only ruling force each individual finds himself in a state of war with every other”.

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