Monday, February 25, 2008

Sikh origins lie in the shared insights of Hindu and Muslim devotional mysticism

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Indian Express: Monday, February 25, 2008 at 2335 hrs Are religions such clearly demarcated entities?

Even as scholars have been struggling to define religion, the data from comparative religion has also forced them to come to grips with defining ‘a’ religion. Most books on religion and philosophy of religion follow the conventional view of religions as clearly demarcated entities — Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism and so on.
The real picture, however, is more complex. In some societies, such as Japan, membership of more than one religious tradition is the norm. In Japan, more than 90 per cent of the citizens declared themselves as followers of Shinto; and more than 70 per cent of the same population also declared themselves Buddhists, in the census of 1985. Both these religions are distinctly mentioned in the census and the question which such dual membership poses is that of separateness of religions. Clearly, such a situation of dual membership is hard to imagine in the case of the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The history and current experience of Sikhism in this respect of great relevance.
Willard G. Oxtoby remarks: The attention that the Sikhs merit does not rest primarily on their numbers, which are reckoned currently at more than 15 million, or over 1.5 per cent of India’s population. What makes the Sikhs important is their situation on the political and spiritual interface between Hindus and others in India. Sikh origins lie in the shared insights of Hindu and Muslim devotional mysticism, including a denial that distinctive forms of worship or a separate community identity is important to God. Ironically, the Sikhs in India have more recently displayed a quest for precisely such identity, namely, for public recognition as a separate tradition in a dominantly Hindu society.
Philosophers of religion are only now beginning to grapple with the theoretical significance of such issues. It is both in raising and in dealing with this issue that Sikhism makes one of its first contributions to the philosophy of religion. The philosophy of religion, which can get quite exercised over the question of defining religion, has been rather complacent in the matter of defining ‘a religion’ or ‘a religious tradition’. But once Sikhism is introduced into its ranks, this bullet can no longer be dodged. Excerpted from The Philosophy of Religion: a Sikh Perspective Published by Rupa & Co

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