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Sushmita Nath

Junior Research Fellow (08/2016-02/2017)

Areas of interest

  • Contemporary Political Theory

  • Modern Indian Political Thought

Research project: Conceptions of Secularisation and Secularism in Modern India. A Study of the Political Ideas of M.K. Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru

Theories of secularisation postulate a single process of functional differentiation of the various institutional spheres – economic, political, scientific, educational etc. – of modern societies. While this central assumption of the secularisation process remains relatively unchallenged, its two sub-theses namely, “the decline of religion” and “the privatisation of religion” have been chastened and revised. What is striking about a renewed academic interest in theories of secularisation is its pervasive Western-centrism. The present research is a comparative examination of conceptions of secularisation and secularism as they have emerged and developed, or conversely have not emerged and developed, in modern India, as opposed to their countries of origin – that is, the Euro-America or the West. This study emerges in the context of the new awareness of religion, especially in the West, with its assumption of public-political roles and its new visibility in the public domain at least since the late 1980s.

Religion-state relationship in India when seen in terms of the secularisation thesis seems problematic because unlike western secularisation, both privatisation of religion and decline of religion in the public sphere have not been seen as essential components of Indian secularity. The debates on secularism in India bring out this problematic sharply into focus as critics of secularism in India question whether the doctrine of secularism is suitable for a country with a vast religious diversity and a society based on public presence rather than privatisation of religion. Thus, it is argued, unlike modern West where a resurgence of religions in the 1980s brought the secularisation narrative into question, India at no point could partake in a secularisation narrative which privatised religion. Critics of secularism in India therefore, pointing at the impossibility of privatizing religion, argued either for seeking alternative forms of secularism, or alternatives to secularism. Defenders of secularism in India however make a distinction between “de-politicisation” and “de-publicisation” of religion, as well as different kinds of de-politicisation. The present study seeks to explore India’s secularity narrative through the politico-philosophical ideas of India’s two leading political leaders – M. K. Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, both of whom had a defining impact on India’s politics and society.

Relevant Publications

  • Nath, Sushmita. “Secularism in Crisis: Indian State's Codification of Muslim Personal Law and the Relegation of Muslim Women's Rights.” Studies in Religion / Sciences Religieuses, 45/4 (2016): 520–41.
  • Nath, Sushmita. “Changing Trajectories of Indian Political Thought.” SüdasienChronik / South Asia Chronicle, 4 (April 2014): 271–304.
  • Nath, Sushmita. “Accommodating Religious Demands and Gender-justice Concerns: Indian State Practices after the Shah Bano Judgment.” ASIEN: The German Journal on Contemporary Asia, 126 (January 2013): 45–67.