Saturday, February 18, 2006

Sen on religion and politics

Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen is interviewed in the Guardian on his forthcoming book, "Identity and Violence":

"To put people in a faith school is to pre-classify people into categories at a time when they can't even think for themselves. They are told that they have a very clear identity, which swamps all other identities. They are Muslims or Sikhs or Hindus and that is all you are going to get. Now of course, later on, they might be able to overcome that narrowness, but it is much harder to overcome if it has been drilled into you that that is what you are." It is not that he is hostile to religion, he says; it is simply a question of context. Gandhi was very much a religious man and a religious Hindu, he reminds me, but when it came to politics he was thoroughly secular.

11 comments:

Word Mincer said...

I agree that schools and the children in them should not be religiously segregated, in the same way that personally I don't agree with infant baptism and similar practices that put a religious stamp on the head of humans before they have been able to make up their own minds. However, I think it is naive to assume that some people might not want that for their families and communities based on religious views and sentiment. Do we as a society want to make a rule that says this is not allowed? Do we as a society want to restrict choice in this way? There are countless ways in which parents muck up the lives of their young, not just by religious upbringing, and later the young grow up and have to make their own way. Yes it sucks, and it is hard work. But it's another way of looking at it. What support do we give teenagers and young adults who are out their forging their new identities at important times in their lives? I really benefitted from the things I studied at university in the context of BA Ancient History & Social Anthropology - I would even go so far as to say that by studying stuff like that you could even be 'de-programmed' from much religious indoctrination, and it gives you the ability to take a step back and look objectively at the meaning of religion in your own life and in that of others. At the same time it teaches you that you can't just look at this stuff from an objective standpoint, you also have to take the time to look at the meaning from the insider's point of view.
Also, as a final note, I am not convinced that Gandhi's politics were always entirely secular. I don't believe these things can be discreetly compartmentalised in people's lives. For example, look at the final hunger strike Gandhi went on... that in itself was a political action, but grounded in his religious beliefs regarding non-violence, and it was to protest about the fighting between the hindus and the muslims in the newly segregated India/Pakistan. Tell me how his politics were secular there?

Ian Brown said...

1. I don't think that states should fund religious schools. I wouldn't go as far as to ban them, although others (like Richard Dawkins) would.

2. You'll have to take up the argument over Ghandi's motivations with Amartya Sen — I'd say he knows a good deal more about Indian history than both of us. Good luck!

Word Mincer said...

Yes, I'm not keen on the state-funded, government initiation of religiously segregated schools either. And Amartya doesn't seem keen either. I think if it happens it should home grown, bottom-up, like Amish style self-sufficiency maybe, or the Israeli Kibbutz style (am not into recommending these either, I just mean the way they are bottom-up, originating from the religious community themselves, rather than being a goverment driven thing... in line with Amartya's comments).
I really recommend the subject of anthropology for anyone wanting to get their heads round this stuff though. I even think elements of it should be on the national curriculum and that people should hear of it before university.
I would recommend it to anyone thinking of engaging in further higher education on a part time basis.
I would recommend it to anyone not thinking about it.
I think everybody would benefit from exploring it at some point in their lives to any extent.
Re Ghandi etc... yes, I may drop Amartya a line by email and ask him if he can back up his comment as it wasn't elaborated on in the Guardian article... just left hanging there...
Am not keen on Richard Dawkins. Saw his TV documentary the other week on religion and just felt he did the objective observer with mallice treatment on religion, never got even close to trying to empathise from a subjective enquirer point of view. In anthropology / sociology you refer to this as the etic/emic distinction... etic = objective observer outsider looking in perspective taken in research; emic = subjective experience and search for mearning perspective ... in order to develop and synthesise a coherent study with meaningful findings it is essential to aim for an integration of the two approaches. Dawkin I felt gave lip service to the emic, but went for the kill with the etic.

Anonymous said...

Religions are expressions of superstitions.

Anonymous said...

It cost a lot of money keeping Ghandi in his state of poverty. Whole train loads of people were thrown off when the Mahatma travelled.

Word Mincer said...

Re your comment that religions are expressions of superstitions Anonymous, that is one way of looking at it, yes.
I would also say after studying and trying to understand epistemology (theory of knowledge), ontology (theory of social reality), and axiology (values), I come to the conclusion that most of human action is based on different degrees of something we could loosely term 'superstition' - it depends on your definition and understanding of the word superstition to a large extent. And, once you realise that, it isn't then such a great leap to make that if one is to differentiate between oneself and others by saying 'he/she is religious and therefore superstitious' that actually there isn't much difference between oneself and *them* at all. Ask yourself 'how do I know what I know?', 'how does this knowledge reveal itself to me?', 'why do I choose to believe that and not something else?'. A lot of people may say they look to scientific explanations to give them knowledge and tell them what they know. But how many of those people are actually scientists and have themselves studied the phenomena they believe in that scientists have told them about, or that they have read second hand? In most cases, people believe what others have told them and what they have read, without even critically assessing what they are told. Is this not a form of faith based on trust? This reminds me a lot of people with religious faith, who decide and make the choice to believe in a set of principles, thoughts and ideas, without setting out or seeing the need to question it or prove things for and to themselves. It's their choice and if they want to live their life based on their beliefs like that this is up to them. Not everyone could and should be a scientist, right? I mean, come on, the world would be a very boring, dull and geeky place if it was filled with scientists.

I believe in religious tolerance. I am in favour of religious diversity. I do not support or agree with anti-religious arguments. This is principally because the lines between religion and race are too blurred and therefore to be anti-religious is in many cases to be racist (e.g. Jewish faith / race). Therefore to be anti-religious is to be anti-humanity... and if I was anti-humanity would I not be anti-myself?

Ian Brown said...

Thank God we live in a world where so many people have such a weak understanding of the scientific method. Think of all the religous hatred, wars, terrorism, new age hocus pocus, Scientology, inquisitions, homophobia and oppression of women we would be missing otherwise. Our lives could be so much more authentic without those tedious Internets, clean drinking water and sanitation, mass transport, cheap food and powerful medicine to bore us with.

Carol, does a degree in anthropology turn all of its graduates into absolute relativists who only believe in stereotypes of people in their own societies (e.g. "boring, dull and geeky scientists")?

Word Mincer said...

hahaha, very funny Ian ;-)

Martin Sewell said...

I believe that we should legislate against faith schools, for the same reason that we should ban schools that believe in the tooth fairy.

Word Mincer said...

FYI:

Author(s): Sheridan, L. P.
Article Title: Islamophobia Pre- and Post-September 11th, 2001

Journal Title: JOURNAL OF INTERPERSONAL VIOLENCE
ISSN: 0886-2605
Year: 2006
Volume/Issue: VOL 21; NUMB 3
Page(s): 317-336

Publisher: Great Britain : SAGE PUBLICATIONS INC

Martin Sewell said...

Without religion, there would be no religious discrimination.
Without religion, there would be no Islamophobia.
Without religion, there would have been no 11 September 2001 attacks.