May 25, 2009

Exclusion of religion from educational institutions, and from the public sphere

`Secularism and the Hardening of Religious Identity'; Sonia Sikka, CSDS, April 21, 3 PM Rajesh Ramakrishnan rajeshr at Mon Apr 13 10:38:53 IST 2009
Tuesday, 21st April, 2009
Sonia Sikka will speak on
Secularism and the Hardening of Religious Identity
at 3:00 PM in the Seminar Room, CSDS, 29 Rajpur Road, Delhi – 110 054

The broad thesis of this paper is that practical operation of certain secular paradigms has an undesirable effect on the construction and negotiation of religious identities. This thesis is oriented towards political models that seek to exclude deliberation involving appeals to religion from the public sphere, whether these prescribe the wholesale privatisation of religion as a matter of individual conscience, or offer state recognition to multiple religious communities.

While these two procedures are in many respects very different, they both encourage members of religious communities to cordon off a critically important subset of their beliefs and values, and to treat this subset as if it were fixed and unrevisable, intrinsically unsuited to substantive discussion and debate. Such a process contributes to a reification and hardening of religious identities; it contributes, in fact, to the positioning of religious viewpoints as a matter of “identity.”

At the same time, the exclusion of religion from educational institutions, and from the public sphere in general, gives rise to a situation in which non-religious citizens are largely ignorant about religion, and unable to see in it anything but foolish superstition and a source of hatred and violence. This view of religion, it is suggested, is both false and unhelpful, serving to reinforce rather than to mitigate the dogmatism of the forms of belief it opposes.

Sonia Sikka is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of
Ottawa, Canada. Her primary research interests are in modern European
philosophy, philosophy of religion and philosophy of culture. She has
written extensively on Heidegger, Nietzsche, Levinas and other authors
in the continental tradition of philosophy. Over the past several
years, she has also published a series of articles on issues related
to cultural identity and pluralism within the thought of J.G. Herder.
At present, Dr. Sikka is working on the topic of identity
construction, with a particular focus on religious identities.

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