Publication Type:

Conference papers


Raphael Susewind


European Conference of South Asian Studies, July 24-27, Paris (2018)


The proposed paper is a conceptual contribution to the question of religion and violence, based on ethnographic fieldwork in Gujarat and Lucknow. Following Zygmunt Bauman⁠, I understand modern violence as the outcome of an overzealous pursuit of moral and categorical clarity which alienates us from the ambiguity of lived experience. At some point, alienation becomes so gross and the aspiration for clarity thus so untenable that it breaks down into ambivalence, and then violence. Deviating from Bauman and others, I however propose a heuristic vocabulary that distinguishes more clearly between the concepts of ambivalence and ambiguity, building on ethnography of religion, gender and aggression in North India. To me, ambivalence is a relation of either/or. Ambivalent phenomena are those that are either good or bad, or rather: they are simultaneously good and bad. Ambivalent phenomena are thus clear, though in two contradictory ways. In their clarity, they form a continuum with univalence and multivalence, concepts denoting phenomena that are clear in one straightforward or multiple ways, respectively. Ambiguity in contrast is something entirely else: a relation of neither/nor. Ambiguous phenomena are neither good nor bad, they sit in between, ill defined, poorly evaluated. This closely resembles lived experience, which as experience is yet undefined, unevaluated, just lived. Clarification only comes to experience as an afterthought, when additional layers of moral and categorical meaning are attributed to it. This process of clarification is of course necessary, useful, even inevitable. But if driven too far, clarity breaks down into ambivalence. This then engenders violence.