January 02, 2019

The Faustian bargain we have struck with ‘godless secularism’

Resident Senior Fellow Vivek Dehejia writes in Mint, drawing on ideas from Faisal Devji and Akeel Bilgrami, and reflecting on recent events in India. Excerpts:


"On India, I have decried recently, writing in the Nikkei Asian Review (India—Retreat Of Liberal Economics”, 12 December), the imminent demise of liberal economics, in light of recent events here, so no rehearsal is warranted. Equally, if not more, worrisome here is the decline of what may be termed a secular, liberal ethos, in which all Indians, regardless of confession, feel secure: an inchoate sense brought to the fore recently by much publicized (and much criticized by Hindu nationalists) remarks by actor and director Naseeruddin Shah, which aptly captured the zeitgeist.


Needless to say, the relentless pushback against liberalism and secularism is not unique to India—one sees this across the Islamic world, in Europe, and even within Anglo-America’s putative liberal bastions in the xenophobia implicit in “Brexit” and aftermath in the UK and Trumpian America. This is yet another of the Faustian bargains of the liberal compact, but not in the way, I would suggest, it is commonly understood.


The conventional narrative holds that it is the return of the religious, willy-nilly entering public life despite the strictures of liberalism, that is responsible for the current crisis in secularism and the rise of fundamentalisms. Yet, it may just be the opposite. As sharply and provocatively argued recently by intellectual historian Faisal Devji, it might be not the return of religion but the vanishing of religion from public life that is at the root of the crisis."

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