Multi-religious societies are often said to be intrinsically instable. Yet there have been many viable multi-religious societies, not least in Asia. How do such societies hold together? This project directed the spotlight at India, which has given birth to at least three world religions (Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism) and which has the largest Muslim minority in the world. India has not been without religious conflicts, but its villages, towns and cities are nevertheless multi-religious and overwhelmingly peaceful. Which role does ritual engagement across official religious boundaries play in promoting societal cohesion? How does the legal regulation of religious offences promote interreligious respect? And what can the study of these issues contribute to the scholarship of cosmopolitanism?
To investigate these questions the project initiated eight case studies spanning six states (Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Karnataka) and six religious traditions (Hinduism, Christianity, Sikhism, Sufi Islam, reformed Islam and revitalized indigenous religions). A common denominator was the political context, which since 2014 was increasingly marked by Hindu nationalism following the election victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Since then India?s cohesive practices have been under pressure, which increased the topicality of our research questions but which also made it necessary to calibrate some of the research methods.
The main finding is that ritual engagement across official religious boundaries has a substantial cohesive effect. According to the scholarship we had consulted, religious fluidity has declined considerably, but we nevertheless found surprisingly many varieties. People still approach sacred spaces of religious others in times of existential need; and urban spaces, markets and religious art alike reveal a religious polyphony that is rarely articulated verbally. The project also found novel religious crossings, including recently initiated processions from a Hindu temple to a Sufi shrine as well as continued composition fo songs that integrate Hindu deities with Sufi Islam. Additionally the project found growing nostalgia for modes of interreligious ritual engagement that clearly have been on the wane, such as Hindu participation in Shia Muslim Muharram processions. Yet a finding concerns the discretion with which many people now approach religious spaces other than their own, which former research may have misinterpreted as a decline.
The cohesive effect of such practices lies in opening for the possibility that other faiths may be almost equally true and ritually efficient as one?s own. This does not preclude interreligious antagonism, but hampers the ascription of grievances against the Other to their religion, thus locating it beyond history and human agency, as seen in anti-Muslim rhetoric in the West. Nevertheless, ritual engagement across official religious boundaries clearly deserves attention as a cohesive practice rarely found in Western contexts, thus expanding our ideas of what cosmopolitanism can be.
Legal regulation of religious offence has a contradictory effect, just as anticipated. On the one hand it reduced the circulation of potentially offensive expressions. Very few offence controversies reported in the press found their way to our respondents. But on the other hand, legal regulation also nurtured religious offence controversies since the legal sections in question are phrased in ways that encourage the dramatization of hurt occasionally followed by considerable political agitation to maximize the chance for a successful verdict. Such processes tended to arise when interreligious conflicts were already simmering, in which case legal regulation «crystallizes» rather than mitigates tension. The cohesive effect of the law was thus primarily to limit circulation.
The theoretical ambition of the project was to utilize the aforementioned findings to nuance the international scholarship on cosmopolitanism. This is a scholarly field that developed in the 1990s, as Europe became increasingly multicultural and had to find ways of dealing with this reality. As the scholarship matured, researchers working in other parts of the world initiated offshoots on ?Muslim cosmopolitanism?, ?African cosmopolitanism? and so on. The main contribution of this project has been to underline the limitations of analytical concepts and methodological approaches that claim to be universal but that nevertheless are deeply anchored in a Christian majority culture where ritual engagement across religious boundaries historically has been strictly sanctioned.
You can read more about this project here:
1) Etablert en transnasjonal forskergruppe med bredt nettverk innen forskning på religiøs kompleksitet i Sør-Asia;
2) Utviklet et perspektiv på kosmopolitisme som motstand mot «harde» religiøse grenser, enten motstanden er eksplisitt, implisitt eller skjult;
3) Utviklet perspektiver som forklarer økningen av blasfemikontroverser på tvers av svært forskjellige statlige, juridiske og religiøse kontekster;
4) Endret forståelsen av indiske religioner i Norge: Tidligere års tendens til å studere religionene én og én er nå supplert med et fokus på deres kontaktflater, gjensidige påvirkning og politiske påvirkning.
1) Medvirket til å øke interessen for forholdet mellom religion og politikk globalt som forskningstema i Norge;
2) Et masterkurs om emnet planlegges fra 2021. På sikt håper vi også å etablere et mer omfattende studietilbud for å gjøre den norske forståelsen for hva religiøst mangfold og religionspolitikk kan innebære mindre eurosentrisk.
This research project will conduct an intensive, concerted analysis of two alternative cosmopolitan models in one of the most successful multi-religious states in the world: India, which despite several glaring instances of ethno-religious violence has su rvived as a reasonably robust multi-faith mega democracy. More specifically the project directs a sharp spotlight on two forms of cosmopolitanism commonly found in India but not in contemporary Europe: (i) ritual intersections and (ii) legal proscription of expressions that offend religious sentiments and threaten public order.
Conceived as a multi-disciplinary project involving social anthropologists, sociologists and cultural theorists producing ethnographically grounded research, the project consists of eight case studies, each designed to address the workings and social implications of ritual intersections and the proscription of offensive expressions respectively.
The project departs from the following hypotheses:
1) Ritual intersections and the proscription of religious offense have documentable benefits for interfaith relations ?on the ground?.
2) The proscription of religious offense nonetheless generates political controversies that have troublesome outcomes from a cosmopolitan perspective. Contrary to popular belief in India and the West alike, this is not because it curbs freedom of expression, but because it stimulates what is known as 'the politics of affect'.