SOAS University of London

Department of Religions & Philosophies, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

Secularism & Political Violence: Rethinking Discourses of Sikh Ethno-nationalism

Professor Arvind Mandair (University of Michigan)

Date: 4 December 2009Time: 3:00 PM

Finishes: 4 December 2009Time: 5:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: T102

Type of Event: Seminar

One of the things that Sikh ethno-nationalism shares with other varieties of religious nationalism is the way in which its discourse has remained fixed within the intellectual framework governed by the opposition between religion and secularism. This opposition has been sustained by a discourse of violence that itself emanates from a Westphalian/Enlightenment interdiction against ‘religion’ as a phenomenon that must remain outside the public realm. This interdiction has effectively consigned Sikh enunciations in the political domain to a ‘subjective’ status i.e. to a form of identity politics based on the politics of religion-making. This lecture will interrogate the conventional typology of violence (‘subjective’ versus ‘objective’) that has fostered the religion-secular opposition. By way of such an interrogation it is possible to identify a third form of violence, namely ‘symbolic violence’. This is a violence that is embedded within language and which coerced Indian elites into translating their cultural concepts through the category of ‘religion’ during the colonial era. Though rarely acknowledged, symbolic violence (and its main functionary, the ‘interdict’) provides the elusive link between the seemingly opposed discourses of religious nationalism (here Sikh ethno-nationalism) and state secularism. The lecture will conclude by asking what implications this interrogation of violence and secularism in the making of discourses on Sikh ethno-nationalism might have for conceptually refashioning conventional models of secular democracy.

Organiser: Dr Cosimo Zene

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