Publication Type:

Conference papers


Raphael Susewind


Communal harmony and secularism: Indian experiences, November 11-12, Allahabad (2011)




"Communalism" and "secularism" are usually thought of as specific ideologies, built around a set of core beliefs. My paper however explores what happens if we rather consider "secularism as a property of action" (Turina2007) and focus on the micro-level experiences and practices of those calling themselves "secular". During fieldwork among Muslim peace activists in Gujarat in the wake of the 2002 riots, I discovered one particular kind of activist, who is frequently overlooked by those who consider all Muslims religious and all agency of Muslims as religiously motivated. The attitude of these activists could best be described with Max Weber as "religiously unmusical": neither religious beliefs, nor religious belonging play any role in their activism, and they call themselves "secular". Their secularism is, however, unagitated, and like religion not an issue of passionate conviction. I coin this sovereign attitude "secularized secularism" and argue that it warrants wider attention; it might in particular calm overheated discussions about the fate of secularism as an ideology in India, by introducing a different perspective on secularism as an embodied practice. While I am not claiming that there are no solid threats to Indian secularism (which there are plenty), the "secularized secularism" of these activists is perhaps a sign of hope - if only we don't forget to listen to them due to our own rigid preconceptions.