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Secularism in Asia

From the book Asia and the Secular

  • Peter van der Veer


This chapter addresses two issues that do not seem to receive enough attention in the discussion of secularism. The first is the question of the secular as rational. This question is raised especially by Max Weber’s work on Entzauberung. It relates to secular policies against magic or superstition, especially in communist states. The second issue is that of violence against religious minorities. The relation between minority and majority is crucial in all nation-states and secularism of the state seems an important factor in them. The chapter focuses on the comparison of secularism in India and China. In various ways, Asian intellectuals have sought to connect modern ideas about the location of religion in society and state with Asian traditions. In East Asia, this has led to various forms of repression of certain kinds of religion as superstitious impediments to progress. In South Asia, this is subsumed under a unifying impulse to create religious forms of nationalism. The imperative of modern nationalism is to nationalize religion. This leads to the understanding of some religions as belonging to the civilizational essence, while marginalizing other religions. The very existence of religious difference can be interpreted as a challenge to the unitary state and its developmental mission. Forms of secularism are essential in extending the protection of the state to religious minorities and to differences in beliefs and practices.

© 2022 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston
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