"Creating a European society with India’s religion": Mapping a moment in nationalist thought

Open to the Public
Nador u. 9, Faculty Tower
Popper Room
Wednesday, April 24, 2013 - 5:00pm
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Wednesday, April 24, 2013 - 5:00pm to 6:30pm

The Department of Political Science and the Nationalism Studies Program cordially invite you to the lecture 

“Creating European Society with India’s Religion”: Mapping a Moment in Nationalist Thought

delivered by

Jyotirmaya Sharma
University of Hyderabad

Discussant: Szabolcs Pogonyi, Nationalism Studies Program, CEU, 

Date: April 24, 2013 - 17.00, 

Venue: CEU, Nádor u. 9, Popper Room.

Reception to follow.

The growing literature on the quality of democracy draws attention to aspects of politics,
and to criteria for the evaluation of politics, beyond those encompassed by a minimal definition
of democracy. But,  what is  the quality of democracy?  This paper reconstructs and critiques 
conventional conceptualizations of the quality of democracy, and then reconceptualizes the 
quality of democracy. The proposed reconceptualization equates the quality of democracy with 
democracy pure and simple,  posits that democracy is  a synthesis  of political freedom and 
political equality, and spells out the implications of this substantive assumption with regard to 
government decision-making and  the social environment of politics. Other  specifications of
democratic standards relevant to these two components of a political system  are considered 
and reasons for discarding these proposals are provided. In short, with the aim of clarifying the 
concept of the quality of democracy, this paper highlights basic options and provides a rationale 
for rejecting certain positions and opting for others.


In the 19th century, thinkers like Swami Vivekananda sought to formally define a national religion. They did so in a variety of ways, creating a complex web of often confusing and contradictory explanations. Having defined religion in a variety of ways, they, then, attempted to define Hinduism as religion. In doing so, all the confusions and contradictions that arose in defining religion spilt over into defining Hinduism as well.

Defining religion and defining Hinduism as religion depended on a careful representation of the past, where an unbroken chain of textual, doctrinal and spiritual unity could be shown. Customs, traditions and rituals also had to be accounted for and explained. This exercise of defining religion and Hinduism as religion was not merely a theological exercise, but served as the foundation upon which arguments for building a Hindu nation rested.

To accomplish this purpose, Hinduism as religion had to be compared and contrasted with other faiths, especially Buddhism, Islam and Christianity. The first step towards this was to argue, as Vivekananda did in his speech at the World’s Parliament of Religions, that Hinduism was the mother of all religions and also had the ability to teach other faiths things they did not know. In the evolutionary schema of faiths, Hinduism had perfected itself, whereas all other faiths were in an infantile state, inferior and inadequate, but trying to keep pace with Hinduism as religion.

In arguing a case for Hinduism as the perfected religion, Vivekananda ironically repeats and re-enacts for Hinduism all those attributes that he considers to be the faults and follies of other faiths. He allows all the myths that represented the Hindus in the eyes of other faiths to invade his representation of Hinduism as religion, namely, the idea of the peace-loving, tolerant, other-worldly, non-materialistic, socially divided, doctrinally plural Hindu. At the same time, he absorbs within his definition of Hinduism as religion all the myths surrounding other faiths: unified, intolerant, violent, aggressive, this-worldly and unforgiving.


Jyotirmaya Sharma is professor of political science at the University of Hyderabad, India. In December 2010, the Swedish Collegium of Advanced Study at Uppsala elected him Fellow for the Spring Semester of 2012. The Lichtenberg-Kolleg at Goettingen has also elected him Fellow for the academic year 2012-13. His recent publications include, Hindutva: Exploring the Idea of Hindu Nationalism (Penguin/Viking, 2003; second edition published in december 2011) and Terrifying Vision: M.S. Golwalkar, the RSS and India (Penguin/Viking, 2007). His critical examination of the ideas of Swami Vivekananda will be published in February 2013. He is currently working on the thought of Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, Tagore and Gandhi, while simultaneously working on a book exploring the life and ideas of Gandhi.