The Clash Within book cover

In Review

The Crucible of Indian Nationhood

By Tulasi Srinivas

In her most recent book, Martha C. Nussbaum, the Ernst Freund Distinguished Professor of Service in Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago and acclaimed political philosopher, legal scholar, and human rights activist, focuses on a series of horrific, violent events that took place among Muslims and Hindus in 2002 in Godhra, a remote Indian town—events that one Indian journalist rightfully termed “a collective moment of shame for India.” In keeping with her Platonic vision of philosophy and human life, which stresses the importance of compassion and the recognition of human finitude and fragility, her purpose in The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence, and India’s Future is to use these events to examine what anthropologist Stanley Tambiah has called “the strange malformations” of religio-national conflict in this new century.1 In a sensitive, in-depth, compelling analysis of the way in which religious rioting is routinized and ritualized, Nussbaum raises a question central to the survival of the democratic project in a rapidly globalizing world: what is the relationship between religion and nation in a multicultural democracy?

Ernest Gellner sees the idea of nation as a “shared culture,2 but, as Nussbaum cogently argues, the concept of a modern “nation” is European in origin and culturally homogenous in spirit and has no parallel in the lexicon of South Asia. The anthropologist Gananath Obeyesekere has argued that in South Asia the indigenous Sanskrit term sasana (which he translates as a “moral community”) is more applicable, where people find meaning in community without losing deeply rooted local ties.3 This raises a troubling question: in contemporary religiously plural, democratic nations like India, should we speak of the idea of a nation in the singular or the plural? This problem drives Nussbaum’s inquiry.

But first, what exactly happened on February 27, 2002, in Godhra? Last May, just as The Clash Within was published, Nussbaum gave a breakfast talk to the Carnegie Council in New York on the subject of religion and politics, and described the Godhra events—the core inspiration of her broad inquiry—in this way:

On February 27, 2002, the Sabarmati Express train arrived in the station of Godhra in the state of Gujarat in western India bearing a large group of Hindu pilgrims who were returning from a pilgrimage to the alleged birthplace of the god Rama at Ayodhya, where some years earlier angry Hindu mobs had destroyed the Babri Mosque, which they claim is on top of Rama’s birthplace. . . .When the train stopped at the station, passengers got into arguments with Muslim vendors and passengers. . . . As the train left the station, stones were thrown at it, apparently by Muslims. Fifteen minutes later, one car of the train erupted in flames. Fifty-eight men, women, and children died in the fire. Most of the dead were Hindus. . . . Because the area adjacent to the tracks was an area of Muslim dwellings, and because a Muslim mob had gathered in the area to protest the treatment of Muslims on the train platform, blame was immediately put on Muslims. . . . In the days that followed, wave upon wave of violence swept through the state. . . . There is copious evidence that the violent retaliation was planned by Hindu extremist organizations before the precipitating event.4

Although the title of Nussbaum’s book seems to focus exclusively on India, within the first few pages she constructs a useful comparative framework. In the discourse surrounding this dangerous moment, where democracy nearly lost its footing in India, Nussbaum finds “important lessons” for other democratic states, most notably the United States. Nussbaum’s work is timely and indicates a broader paradigm shift in American understandings of India. As critic and author Pankaj Mishra noted in his review of her work in The New York Review of Books (June 28, 2007), last summer several important journals, including Foreign Affairs, Time, Newsweek, and The Economist, all had cover stories about India that described the country as a rising economic power and a likely “strategic ally” of the United States. Nussbaum rides this paradigm shift effectively, as she laudably seeks to end “American ignorance of India’s history” and to learn from India’s experiments with democracy. She saves her work from being construed as yet another Orientalist political treatise by frequently expressing her admiration for the Indian political system. Her knowledge of India is thorough.

Nussbaum explores India’s complex engagements with democracy through its recent history, and brings the reader to consider Godhra as a lesson to the developed world, particularly the United States, on the value of social plurality and the accompanying philosophy of cosmopolitanism. Nussbaum states that, even five years after the September 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, “Americans are still inclined to believe that religious extremism in the developing world is entirely a Muslim matter.” The affect-laden language of the U.S.-led “war on terror” served not only to demonize all Muslims as “the enemy” both within and without, but also to enable and justify violence against them. In fact, as we learn through her carefully crafted text, the ideology of religious fundamentalism is not indigenous to Hinduism or to India, but was imported from Europe during the interwar years of the early twentieth century. Nussbaum cleverly uses the religious violence in Godhra as a lens with which to critique Samuel Huntington’s influential thesis of a “clash of civilizations.”5 Admittedly borrowing from Gandhi’s ideas of swaraj (self rule) where respect of others and self-discipline creates the engaged and moral citizen, Nussbaum states this “thesis”: “The Gandhian claim [is] that the real struggle that democracy must wage is a struggle within the individual self, between the urge to dominate and defile the other and a willingness to live respectfully on terms of compassion and equality.”

She contends that the real “clash of civilizations” is not a clash between Islam and “the West,” but is instead a clash within every modern nation “between people who are prepared to live with others who are different, on terms of equal respect, and those who seek the domination of a single religious and ethnic tradition” In so saying, Nussbaum bravely tackles what scholars of globalization have argued is the problem of our century: the complex relationships between cultural identity and nationhood.

Nussbaum suggests that India is uniquely situated to shed light on this problem because of the multiplicity of religious and ethnic communities within a nation of one billion people who live in relative peace and harmony; it is a default case of cosmopolitanism. Nussbaum suggests that Indian democracy always provides the possibility of encounters between citizens that are more inclusive and complex, and that the Godhra violence provides a telling example of the violence unleashed when the religious right handcuffed this model of inclusivity in the quest for an ideologically homogenous “pure” Hindutva (Hindu right-wing) state. Nussbaum states that Godhra’s “complex and chilling case of religious violence” did not fit either the Indian democratic model or some “common stereotypes about the sources of religious violence in today’s world.” From a deceptively simple explication of complex events, Nussbaum derives her central research question: how did this monolithic fascist reading of Hinduism emerge in such a religiously and ethnically plural nation?

Nussbaum’s knowledge of India is drawn from her many travels to the subcontinent to study women’s rights issues. Her obvious and oft-stated admiration of its progressive spirit and enduring democracy makes her work authoritative, empathetic, and eminently readable. In her scholarly description of India’s founding, she recounts the struggles of a fledgling nation to balance pluralism and equality. She draws attention to facts little known except to students of South Asia. For example, India’s legal quandaries are due to several systems of law designed to give equal rights to all religions, its social revolutions were an attempt to mitigate the evils of the caste system, and it has made stellar efforts to retain a secular state despite the polarized religious landscape in its part of the world.

It is crucial to remember that the view of a nation-state based on a singular identity (either religious, as in Pakistan, or economic, as in America) did not prevail in India after Independence from the British Raj, and Indian nationalism rested on the bedrock of the conception of a plural India. This choice was not simply a pragmatic acknowledgment of the breadth of India’s religious traditions and other diversities,6 but was also a principled stance against merely duplicating the Western nation-state model. It was a self-conscious construction of a distinctively Indian model of cosmopolitan, synthetic nationhood. I agree with the historian Gyanendra Pandey that it is precisely these facts that make it futile to write of any totalizing narrative to explain violence within the subcontinent.


The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence, and India’s Future, by Martha C. Nussbaum. Belknap/Harvard University Press, 403 pages, $29.95.

Nussbaum’s account can be read as a cautionary tale about the slippery slope from democracy to fascism. Hers is not a critique of Hinduism but of narrow-minded fundamentalist forces.

As a background to Godhra, Nussbaum traces the story of rise of the Hindu right in India—represented by the Rashtrya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) (though some may balk at classifying the RSS and BJP together). For modern societies, her account can be read as a cautionary tale about the slippery slope from democracy to fascism. As Nussbaum responsibly notes, hers is not a critique of the religion of Hinduism but of the narrow-minded fundamentalist forces that seek to impose a singular reading of any religio-cultural tradition: “What happened in Gujarat was not violence done by Hinduism; it was violence done by people who have hijacked a noble tradition for their own political and cultural ends.” Indeed, many scholars both within India and without, myself included, are seeking out the very alternative civil frameworks that exist within India in order to resurrect them within the national and international debate.7 However, critics may argue that the title and focus of the book misleads readers into assuming that India is unstable: merely a hotbed of religious and ethnic violence, not a plural, peaceable, and democratic society as Nussbaum repeatedly asserts.

Nussbaum returns to the “idea of India” that the founding fathers—Nehru, Gandhi, and Tagore—bequeathed to the nation: an idea of plural nationhood that was forged in the crucible of India’s social and cultural institutions. Nussbaum argues compellingly that it was Gandhi who gave a spiritual and philosophical backbone to the vision of the Indian nation by calling “all Indians to a higher vision of themselves, getting people to perceive the dignity of each human being.” But while she is openly admiring of Gandhi’s spiritual discipline, self-reliance, and tolerance, and of Tagore’s artistic cosmopolitanism, she is critical of Nehru. She argues that his failure to understand the central role of religions in the subcontinent left a vacuum in both policy and the public sphere, which the religious right was quick to occupy. She also criticizes Nehru for neglecting “the cultivation of liberal religion and the emotional bases of a respectful pluralistic society.” She claims that neglect allowed for a “public culture of exclusion and hate” which the RSS (the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh) equivalent of a National Corps of Volunteers built into a vast, affect-based social network of young boys. These branches, or shakhas, indoctrinate young men into the mindset necessary for intranational violence. She subtly suggests that Hindutva arose in response to the humiliating and emasculating culture of colonialism, while finding inspiration to understand the emotions of the Hindu right in Rabindranath Tagore’s 1916 novel The Home and the World, whose hero wishes to be more aggressive, but cannot, and blames his peace-loving Hindu cultural heritage.

Crucial to the project of nation building is the shaping of the public sphere and the deployment of explicitly religious arguments within it. Throughout her career Nussbaum has been noted for her emphasis on the role of religious ideology in constructing everyday human moral life and her envisioning of philosophy as a critical tool entwined with other areas of the humanities. So Nussbaum begins The Clash Within with the biographies of two ideologues: V. D. Savarkar, a freedom fighter who spent time in a British prison, believed by some to have coordinated the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi; and M. S. Golwalkar, a guru-like sattvic (pure) figure who built up the RSS. She then sketches out the story of the growth of Hindutva in contemporary India. She argues that Hindutva made inroads into pluralist Hindu culture through the modern media (such as the television spectacle of the classical Hindu epic, the Ramayana, which aired in the late 1980s), and she suggests these spectacles were conflated in the pubic imagination with the Hindutva propaganda of purity. This, she says, allowed Hindutva cadres to destroy the Ram Janam Bhoomi mosque in Ayodhya in 1992, and that event became the fuse for the later Godhra killings.8

But one cannot discuss contemporary culture wars in India and the development of this muscular morality without mentioning the sudden and successful liberalization of the Indian economy that began in 1989, which Nussbaum rightly praises as being Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s brainchild under the rule of the Congress Party. Sociologists and anthropologists of globalization9 have suggested that globalization often leads to chauvinistic nationalism, as cultural identities are subject to seismic shifts in the process that Indians call amrit manthan (cultural churning).10 In India, the suddenness and the scale and nature of these changes are enormous, as Indians negotiate between traditional and modern identities and are often wracked with guilt, confusion, and insecurity.

In numbers alone, the changes are dramatic. Foreign direct investment (FDI) rose from approximately $200 million in 1990 to approximately $3 billion by the end of the 1990s, and quantitative controls on imports were removed in April 2001, in keeping with recommendations from the World Trade Organization.11 Economists predict heady growth rates for a “poor country”: expected to reach 9.2 percent in 2008. This growth has led to visible prosperity in the great metropolises as well as in India’s small provincial towns, and the rise of “the great Indian middle class,” approximately 150 million Indians, whom the National Council of Applied Research in New Delhi termed the “consuming class” for their rampant consumerism.12 Though a small percentage of the population, they are very influential through their iconic status as the new “maharajahs” of a global India.

The emergent politics associated with this new middle class is a more chauvinistic, religion-based nationalism in line with conservative movements that are sweeping the globe.

It is a social science truism that identity at any level (individual, communitarian, tribal, familial, national, and transnational) is constructed through narratives and performances of difference. Identity is never just created ex situ, but instead develops through a set of relations with others, in relationship to an alterity, real or imagined. Religion is a key component in the construction of identity, both through individual conversion and in collective experiences with fellow believers, but we should not conflate religion with identity. Paradoxical as it may seem, globalization and the accompanying opening of India have led to anxiety, and “tribal identities” have become ever more important.13 The emergent politics associated with this new middle class is a more chauvinistic, religion-based nationalism in line with conservative movements that are sweeping the globe.

To place flesh on the bones of her culture wars theory of religious fundamentalism, Nussbaum conducted interviews with “the disillusioned” cosmopolitan humanist author, Gurcharan Das and three prominent leaders “of the Hindu Right”: “the zealot” K. K. Shastri, president of the VHP in Gujarat; “the RSS scholar” Devendra Swarup; and “the politician” Arun Shourie. Discussing what she terms “the fantasy of purity” and its links with the domination and subjugation of women, she locates the poisonous interweaving of purity as a political policy of exclusion in the framework of Hindu fundamentalism.

Following a psychodynamic argument about religious purity recast as a conservative fantasy of “annihilating the female,” Nussbaum details the stunning violence that was unleashed against the women of Gujarat: the rapes, killings, mutilations, torture, and burnings of Indian women and their property. “Approximately half of the victims,” Nussbaum writes, “were women, many of whom were raped and tortured before being killed and burned. Children were killed with their parents; fetuses were ripped from the bellies of pregnant women to be tossed into the fire.” According to Nussbaum, the communal violence was rooted in the Hindutva narrative of a virile militant masculinity that has overridden the transcendent sensuousness of the Hinduism of the Gita Govinda. She provides an unexpected psychosexually located analysis of shame, self-hatred, and the embodiment of nationhood:

the hate literature circulated in Gujarat portrays Muslim women as hypersexual, enjoying the penises of many men. That is not unusual; Muslim women have often been portrayed in this denigrating way. But it also introduces a new element: the desire that is imputed to them to be penetrated by an uncircumcised penis. . . . In one way, these images show anxiety about virility, assuaging it by imagining the successful conquest of Muslim women.

She argues that the conjoining of this fear of infantilism and impotence among the Hindutva cadres with the “India Shining” campaign of the BJP government “betrays the desire for a crystalline sort of domination.”

The violence against successful and prosperous Muslims spread to other towns in Gujarat, fanned by the flames of rumor (which anthropologist Stanley Tambiah notes is one of the key ingredients of religious violence). In addition, the Gujarat state government so emphasized communal tensions that Nussbaum suggests that the Godhra incident was a “preplanned” attack on the Hindu pilgrims. As the Times of India newspaper investigation report revealed two years later, the chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, and the Hindu right wing which dominated the BJP government, fueled the violence by bringing the bodies of those killed on the train in Godhra to Gandhinagar (the state capital). By announcing this arrival on the radio, they allowed several thousands of people to gather in a highly tense atmosphere. Subsequent investigations by the international Human Rights Commission, and the internal government-ordered Banerjee review committee, have suggested that the state actively allowed Muslim killings to continue by ordering the state machinery, including police, not to “interfere.” Both committees suggested that “problems with issues of transparency and integrity” were key factors in the incidents. In The New York Times, Celia Dugger noted that, “witnesses were dismayed by the lack of intervention from local police who often watched the events take place and took no action against attacks on Muslims and their property.”14 But as Tambiah disturbingly notes, “planning and rehearsing” violence is part of the political machinery of modern statehood.15

The processes of identity formation tend to be innovative, malleable, and promiscuous in that they use all markers of difference to either separate or integrate individuals through a process of labeling that is inherently about power. Nussbaum traces the many components of the Hindutva project that lead directly to Godhra, discussing at length the first move to manipulate history textbooks to reflect a “pure” ethnically and religious homogenous India (much to the dismay of historians in India). She sees this action as encouraging a simplistic view of Hindu victimhood and Muslim aggression, which is largely “a fabrication,” but that still has an affective potential of sacrifice and revenge for the lower order cadres. She argues that in the Hindutva revivalist version of Indian history, Hindu culture was, and is, repeatedly plundered, whereas in reality, Mughal emperors like Akbar (1542–1605) were tolerant rulers who sought to unite Hindus and Muslims through common religion (Din-I-Ilahi) and common civic pursuits. While this argument has my sympathies, it has been criticized as overly interpretive.16 Nevertheless, Nussbaum argues convincingly that the Hindu Right’s practice of changing history books was the beginning of asserting a unitary truth within a plural nation. This, along with the problematic history of several religious laws, leads to Godhra and other such tragedies.

While Nussbaum finds the opening of the Indian economy praiseworthy, she problematizes the professional culture of India and the educational structure that enabled this economic leap. She has words of praise for the great scholar and teacher Tagore, who emphasized that all the skills in the world were useless unless wielded by those with a cultivated imagination and refined critical faculties. Currently, as Nussbaum rightly notes, such voices are being silenced in India by the demand for profitability in the global market, where jobs are scarce and governments and corporations collude to economically enslave their citizens. She also points out that education in India unequivocally emphasizes scientific thinking, rote learning, and “docility.”

She believes that the Achilles heel of Indian democracy is its complete lack of focus on critical thinking skills in education, and she foresees a world run by the scientifically sophisticated who have no organ for critical thinking: “I fear for democracy down the road when it is run, as it increasingly will be, by docile engineers in the Gujarat mold, unable to criticize the propaganda of politicians or to imagine the pain of another human being.”17 It is this “combination of technological sophistication with utter docility,” a pragmatism combined with a technical sophistication, she says, which is the death of the critical thinking so necessary for a vibrant democracy. While I agree with Nussbaum on the importance of critical thinking, I wonder if critics may see her argument as elitist. In a poor country like India, is it more important to have progressive elite schools, like Tagore’s Shantiniketan, that emphasize critical thinking, or to have a schooling system that emphasizes the skills necessary for development? And are these two educational imperatives mutually exclusive?

Nussbaum also focuses her critical gaze upon the Hindu right-wing diaspora in the United States and its single-minded pursuit of Western scholars who study Hinduism. Here she is on familiar and solid ground. Her passion for free thinking and what she describes as the “counter culture” attraction of Indian religion in the 1960s is evident as she discusses the many right-wing “attacks” on friends and colleagues who are notable scholarly authorities on India, such as Wendy Doniger and Paul Courtright, both of whom study and interpret Hindu sacred texts. Pointing to the diasporic face of Hindutva, Nussbaum carves out the terrain of the contestation and asks the oft-repeated question: Whose voice can we regard as authentic? And why?

As she states, in this new global order, right-wing Hindus and others use the language of political correctness to argue for a public space for their thinking in the West. Nussbaum brings to light the questionable and often invisible links between censorship and scholarship and the problem of assertiveness in the face of perceived racism or ethnic insult.18 It is clear that the problems of gender and/or politics can become subsumed under the rubric of “religion.” By naming and framing the enemy within discourse, do we leave no space for the sensitivity of critical hermeneutics? Does this framing then abandon the possibility of any dialogue creating what has been called a “grammar of diversity” that enables us to move toward a more fully “engaged cosmopolitanism”?19 And what then of American plurality? Does it rest unsteadily and awkwardly on a domestication of otherness through the paradigm anthropologist F. G. Bailey has called the “civility of indifference”?20

These and other such questions owe their origin to Nussbaum’s focus on the crucial philosophy of cosmopolitanism that accompanies the fact of social and religious plurality in India and informs the imaginative possibilities of interaction between strangers. Her “situationalist” view of the Godhra conflict demonstrates that well-informed citizens can “turn against religious nationalism to rally behind the values of pluralism and equality.” She points out how India’s democratic inclinations have endured, as she emphasizes the stellar work of civic and nongovernmental organizations, including Citizens for Justice and Peace, headed by human rights activist and lawyer Teesta Setalvad. Nussbaum stresses the integrity and fearlessness of the Indian justice system in prosecuting the perpetrators of the notorious Best Bakery case, where several Muslim families were killed and women raped in the town of Vadodara. But she also notes that, despite many valuable controls, the state prosecuted the victims of the Best Bakery case for perjury and some were incarcerated, doubly victimizing them.

Nussbaum points reflexively to significant areas of focus for any plural democracy wishing to avoid nationalist violence.21 The first is the rule of law and the stability of the nation-state. As Nussbaum notes, in free national elections in 2004, the participation of poor rural voters was decisive, both on the policies of divisiveness and on the BJP’s economic policies. On balance, then, as Sunil Khilnani notes in The Idea of India, though scholars and critics have repeatedly prophesied the end of Indian democracy, it has proven itself remarkably robust.

The second key area of focus is a genuinely free press and public intellectuals. In a comparison with the United States that should be troubling to most Americans, Nussbaum notes that in India the national media and the community of “argumentative”22 intellectuals kept up unceasing pressure to document and investigate the riots. Nussbaum implies through this comparison that the United States has failed to have an active, critical, and public intellectual culture. The greater financial independence of the national media, and the active intellectual debate in India has produced, as Nussbaum admiringly notes, a “wonderful outpouring of trenchant and high-quality analysis.”23 Similarly, as Ashutosh Varshney suggests, local civic institutions are particularly important for restraining violence: “strong associational forms of civic engagement, such as integrated business organizations, trade unions, political parties, and professional associations, are able to control outbreaks of ethnic violence.”24 Fighting the anomie of big cities, where violence and rioting is a “leveling” instinct,25 “vigorous and communally integrated associational life can serve as an agent of peace” by creating a “moral economy” of the good life, “restraining those, including politicians, who would polarize Hindus and Muslims along communal lines.”26

One of Nussbaum’s stated intentions in this work is to restore the liberal project of religion rooted in the essential sympathy of the pluralism of India. This would contribute to the ethical and humanist debate, which resonates with my own forthcoming work on the Sathya Sai Movement. Her call is refreshing, given the profusion of recent academic work on religious violence in India. But the current hegemonic narratives within academe—the secular agenda of modernity and fundamentalism as privileged categories of analysis—undermine the possibility of a neutral understanding of religion. Cosmopolitanism, a position Nussbaum advocates, is positively valued in social thought. But it is assumed in contemporary thought to go hand-in-hand with secular institutions. As Peter Van der Veer thoughtfully notes, cosmopolitanism itself re-emerged in its modern form in the European Enlightenment, where it grew side-by-side with the British imperialist impulse and was tainted by its links with the view of the non-Western world as “the white man’s burden.”27 On the other hand, religious affiliations are understood to be parochial, essentialist, intolerant, often separatist, and essentially uncivil. In this context, it is difficult to rescue the liberal project of religion unless one complicates the problem with the added problematics of the global political economy and its paradoxical relationship to identity and to the conception of a common good. Restating Tagore, Van der Veer sees “new perceptions of ‘home and the world’ at play.”28

It is clear that India is today in the throes of a public debate about self-definition. There are two broad processes, seemingly contradictory, that Indians and others recognize as having an effect on Indian identity. The first is a political movement, represented by the Hindu Right, devoted to completing the unfinished project of creating an Indian state in the image of a Western exclusive one. The Hindu right wing wishes to connect an exclusive story of India with the powers of the state to exploit hostility within the nation, while demanding restitution through violence. This is the aggressive nationalism that Nussbaum uncovers. Readers of The Clash Within can look forward to Nussbaum’s future articulations on the role that religion will play in constructing a notion of the common good for a nation as diverse as India.

India is resilient. Within its multi-layered culture exist many models and paradigms yet to emerge that will influence political and economic processes in unexpected ways.

A second process is subtler but equally forceful: the pressures of the free market that produce what has been termed by William Mazzarella as a “commodification of Indianness.”29 The market is creating a pan-Indian consuming class that wishes to have diversity packaged in neat parcels. This is a strategy of internal domestication and fragmentation subordinated to the bazaar. The tensions between these processes are likely to erupt regularly and in bloody ways, as the range of choice in identity expands exponentially, and the sphere of religion is likely, as Max Weber foretold, to shrink and become potent all at once. But, as Nussbaum notes, India is resilient. Within its multilayered culture exist many models and paradigms yet to emerge that will influence these processes in unexpected ways.

The current plethora of religious conflicts, whether viewed negatively as divisive, or positively as realpolitik, comes hand-in-hand with shrinking economic opportunities. The Clash Within is a book of and for our time. It will profoundly change the way we think about religio-national violence and about pluralism and democracy. Nussbaum’s persuasive tour de force makes clear that cultural diversity is a source of innovation and creativity and that a national identity that is layered and multiple, rather than exclusive or exclusionary, leads to cosmopolitan thinking and cultural innovation. Her command of the ethical, legal and sociopolitical problems that a political reading of religion poses for a multicultural plural democracy makes this work essential reading for anyone interested in the role of religion and the future of the nation-state.


  1. Stanley J. Tambiah. Leveling Crowds: Ethnonationalist Conflicts and Collective Violence in South Asia (University of California Press, 1996).
  2. Ernest Gellner, Nations and Nationalism (Cornell University Press, 1983), 7.
  3. Gananath Obeyesekere, “Political Violence and the Future of Democracy in Sri Lanka,” Internationales Asienforum (Munich) 15, no. 1-2 (May 1984): 39–60.
  4. Martha C. Nussbaum, Carnegie Council address, New York, May 3, 2007.
  5. Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (Simon & Schuster, 1996).
  6. Sunil Khilnani, The Idea of India (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997).
  7. Tulasi Srinivas, Winged Faith: Rethinking Religion and Globalization Through the Sathya Sai Movement (forthcoming, 2008).
  8. Peter Van der Veer’s work Religious Nationalism: Hindus and Muslims in South Asia (University of California Press, 1994) offers a nuanced portrayal of the complex religious and political interweavings that occurred in that culturally contested space.
  9. Ulf Hannerz, Transnational Connections (Routledge, 1996), 127; Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large (University of Minnesota Press, 1997); Danièle Hervieu-Léger, Religion as a Chain of Memory (Rutgers University Press, 2001).
  10. From the Hindu Puranic myth of the churning of the ocean by gods and demons to obtain amrit (the nectar of immortality)—a churning that produced both gifts and poison before the amrit.
  11. For more details on these numbers, see Sunil Khilnani, “Balanced on a Billion: The Idea of India in the Era of Globalisation,” The Little Magazine: Globalisation and Its Contents 5, no. 4-5;
  12. Shashi Tharoor, India: From Midnight to the Millennium (Penguin Books, India, 2000).
  13. Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large (University of Minnesota Press, 1997).
  14. Celia Dugger, “Hindu Rioters Kill 60 Muslims in India,” The New York Times, March 2002.
  15. Tambiah, Leveling Crowds, 110–131.
  16. The writers of the BBC documentary The Mughals: Warrior Empire, drawing on historical evidence, show that Akbar often brutally killed and maimed Hindu chieftains. This is a difference of opinion that could lead impressionable readers to question Nussbaum’s essential arguments.
  17. Nussbaum, Carnegie Council address.
  18. See Pnina Werbner, “Global Pathways: Working Class Cosmopolitans and the Creation of Transnational Ethnic Worlds,” Social Anthropology, 7, no. 1 (February 1999): 17–35.
  19. Srinivas, Winged Faith.
  20. F. G. Bailey, The Civility of Indifference: On Domesticating Ethnicity (Cornell University Press, 1996).
  21. This is based on utilitarian principles articulated by John Stuart Mill over a century ago; John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism, On Liberty, Considerations on Representative Government, ed. Geraint Williams (J. M. Dent, 1993).
  22. Amartya Sen, The Argumentative Indian (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005).
  23. Nussbaum, Carnegie Council address.
  24. Ashutosh Varshney, Ethnic Conflict and Civic Life: Hindus and Muslims in India (Yale University Press, 2002).
  25. Tambiah, Leveling Crowds, 321–325.
  26. Varshney, Ethnic Conflict and Civic Life.
  27. Nation and Religion: Perspectives on Europe and Asia, ed. Peter van der Veer and Hartmut Lehmann (Princeton University Press, 1999).
  28. Ibid.
  29. William Mazzarella, Shoveling Smoke: Advertising and Globalization in Contemporary India (Duke University Press, 2003).

Tulasi Srinivas is an anthropologist of South Asia, specifically India, and an assistant professor at Emerson College. Her book, Winged Faith: Rethinking Religion and Globalization Through the Sathya Sai Movement, will be published in 2008.

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