B S Raghavan

Shape of religious trajectories to come

B. S. Raghavan | Updated on August 13, 2011

No amount of praise will be enough for the Principal of the Chennai-based MOP Vaishnav College for Women and the Head of its Department of Sociology for organising an International Seminar on August 2, on the continuities and changes as well as the traditions and improvisations that are likely to influence the dynamics of religious trajectories in the decades ahead.

Not only is the choice of the theme imaginative and inspired in the light of the challenges, problems and dilemmas bearing on the precepts and practices of various religions, but it is also relevant and timely in the context of the debate provoked world-wide by the delusional rantings of Anders Behring Breivik who perpetrated the shocker of a carnage at Oslo (Norway).

The topics covered by the participants are a happy blend of the elucidation of the tantalising aspects such as the secularisation of bindi on the forehead, universalisation of religion in story-telling, Diwali as Nature's nemesis and the power of Sanskrit, and the exploration of the important “affects” (as the sociologists call them to differentiate them from “effects”) of religion in relation to economics, environment, pluralism, globalisation and modernisation.

Not a stand-alone concept

Karl Marx's often quoted statement, “Religion is the opiate of the masses” is actually the concluding part of his observation which is not that censorious: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions.” Religion is also the end-product of the quest of humankind for a dispenser of happiness and a refuge from forces of evil to which it finds itself unequal.

Saints, seers and sages have regarded religions as so many paths to the same Supreme Power by whatever name called. Scholarly writings based on a deep study of the real purport and purpose of religions of the world have quoted chapter and verse from every religious scripture to bring out the breadth of vision that looks at the whole humankind as one family and its total well-being as the paramount objective. Religion was never interpreted as a stand-alone concept but as being part of a continuum of religion-spirituality-ethics and morality-humanity.

Indeed, there are many passages in religious books enjoining respect for different faiths, harmony, fellow-feeling and compassion which are almost identical in language and content; if the information about the source from which they have been taken is undisclosed, it will be hard to tell which passage pertained to which religious teaching.

‘HEAVEN OF FREEDOM'

Of late, though, religious denominations are being exposed to severe tensions. First and foremost among them is the spread of religious prejudices, especially after 9/11. The Norway outrage cannot be dismissed as resulting from a single person's sick mind, because there are many elsewhere too who entertain with varying degrees of intensity and conviction the same fears of being swamped by religious fanatics and immigrants with whom the native populations have little in common.

Second, social mores are undergoing a sea-change, throwing state-religion-society relations into a state of turmoil. As a paper on the subject of religious trajectories puts it, “demands for the recognition of gay marriage, teen marriage and inter-marriage…undermine existing religion-state agreements. Societies can….display secular trends, while state institutions remain bound to religious norms, or societies may become more religious while states remain, or attempt to remain, secular…” Third, the interconnectivities brought about by globalisation and the vast unknown of the new economy pose the dilemma of adjustment and threat of marginalisation to religion.

There are also unresolved questions about the impact on religion of advances in technology, such as space research poking into the Universe and genomics revolution abolishing death itself.

Finally: Will the cumulative effect of all these changes be a situation in which either there will be no need for religion or the society will on its own be freed from the hold of any kind of religious identities, enabling the world to awake into that “heaven of freedom” described by Rabindranath Tagore in his poem “Where the mind is without fear…”?

Published on August 01, 2011

Follow us on Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Linkedin. You can also download our Android App or IOS App.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Related

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor