“On the Spot” backs members of Culture on the Edge into a corner to talk about their backgrounds, their ongoing work, and what might be gained by an alternative understanding of how identity works.
1) When people ask what you study, what do you tell them?
Typically, I respond with the straightforward “Religions of India, like Hinduism and Islam” or “Religions of Asia.” While the answer prompts some people to talk about whomever they know who is from India or has visited India, the perceived exotic nature of India, Hinduism, and Islam means that fewer people are confident to start a lengthy discourse about India, as some people do if I simply answer “religion.”
2) How do questions of identity manifest in your research?
My initial intention was to study the difference between strict religious identifications and the fluidity of practice, as many in India participate in practices that we commonly identify with competing religions. Self-identified Hindus not only celebrate festivals with their co-workers and friends who identify as Muslim, but they also often pray for healing or assistance at Sufi shrines. Similarly, self-identified Muslims have cooperated with Hindus in both ritual and non-ritual practices, even serving as sponsors and performers in particular festivals. And the same dynamics play out among people who identify as Sikh, Jain, or Christian in many parts of India. Continue reading “On the Spot with Steven Ramey”
Classification is a political act. Like the creators of “Coexist” images, the author/editor of any discussion of World Religions has the power to choose what groups are discussed and who is left out. In a recent critique of the Norton Anthology of World Religions, Brianna Donaldson carefully discusses two groups that the editors excluded. Donaldson describes Jainism and Sikhism as being “footnotes,” often not included in lists of major world religions, perhaps because of their challenge to the status quo and their size in contrast to communities identified as Hindu and Buddhist. No list of World Religions exists outside of the context in which it is created, with the political and social interests that become a part of that selection process. Donaldson’s assertions brought to my mind Jonathan Z. Smith’s assertion,
It is impossible to escape the suspicion that a world religion is simply a religion like ours, and that it is, above all, a tradition that has achieved sufficient power and numbers to enter our history to form it, interact with it, or thwart it (“Religion, Religions, Religious”).
Continue reading “Is Inclusion Possible?”
Two recent incidents of mistaken identity in the United States have garnered significant attention. The crowning of Nina Davuluri as Miss America, the first Indian-American to win that pageant, spurred some people to tweet their displeasure, associating her with Arabs and terrorists and questioning if she is American. In a more physically violent incident, some men attacked Prabhjot Singh near his home in New York City, taunting him as “Osama” and “terrorist,” apparently because of the turban he wears as a part of his expression of Sikh identity. Continue reading “The Violence of Mistaken Identities”
Katy P. Sian, Unsettling Sikh and Muslim Conflict: Mistaken Identities, Forced Conversion, and Postcolonial Formations (Lexington Books, 2013).
Sian focuses on the process of identification and the ways the interests of those who identify as Sikhs and the context of contemporary Britain generate narratives about “dangerous Muslims” seducing young Sikh women. These narratives address multiple community issues (e.g., shifting gender relations, generational differences, differentiation from a feared Muslim other, alliance with Europeans, etc.). Although a little thin in places, she clearly illustrates Sikh identity as continually constructed, not pre-existing.