Was India ever really “secular”?

Anton Wessels, a Reformed Christian professor of “missiology”, wrote a book many years ago, Europe: Was It Ever Really Christian? The title reflects on the fact that a secular ‘post-Christian’ Europe may never have been very Christian at all, at least in Wessels’ telling.

Wessels writes from a Reformed Protestant perspective. This tradition has taken a very dim view historically of ‘popular folk religion’ during the medieval period in much of Northern Europe. Wessels’ catalog of non-Christian beliefs and practices before and during the Reformation emphasize that from the perspective of a confessing Reformed Protestant it may actually be a fact that most of the population never truly internalized in the gospel, even if they made outward show of affiliation with the Christian religion. Christendom was nominal, not substantive.

There are many arguments one can bring to bear to critique Wessels’ views. In particular, some historians of religion assert that in fact, late medieval piety resulted in the spread of genuine deeply held Christianity to the peasantry of much of Europe. The argument then is that this sincere Christianity is actually one reason that the Reformation occurred when it did. Additionally, even granting Wessels’ contention about the medieval period, the competition between Protestants and Catholics after 1500 guaranteed attention to popular beliefs and practices for several centuries before secularization. The suppression of pagan practices among Lithuanian peasants occurred during the period when Catholic clerics were fighting off the expansion of Protestants.

And yet I think we need to give the nod to some element of Wessels’ thesis: that popular Christianity was quite distinct and different from the faith promulgated from on high, and officially claimed as the ideological basis of Western societies. Perhaps the rise of modern secularism is in some ways the proletarianization of European culture?

What does this have to do with India? In the comments below, and in the media, some Indians are bemoaning the death of secular India. But was India ever secular truly? Nehru was an agnostic. His great-grandchildren now make a show of attending Hindu temples and asserting their Brahmin lineage.

I grew up in the United States of Ameria with the children of elite Indian Americans, who left in the 1960s and 1970s. These people were all urbane, and most of them were not particularly religious. But, like my own parents, they were all very self-conscious of their “communal” identity. These were people who grew up in a “secular India”, and moved through good universities. Because of the times, and when they left, many still retained socialist sympathies (as my own parents do). But, these were not liberal cosmopolitans. Most of their children were absorbed into American culture, but they were products of something very alien to liberal individualism.

The India that people are mourning was a weird chimera. Traditional, collectivist, and communal on the broad level. But ruled by a small English-speaking elite with cosmopolitan pretentions, Macaulay’s children. Generations of secularism and socialist rule did not erode the ancient foundations of Indian society, with caste and community reigning paramount.

What we are seeing is the death of the chimera and the revolt of the middle class. True change and secularization are going to occur only with broad-based prosperity and urbanization. Secular socialist India couldn’t bring that, and so nothing changed on the fundamental structural level. Its failure laid down the seed-bed for the emergence of the Hindu Right, which draws deeply at the well of communal sentiment which is stitched throughout the fabric of Indian society.

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Aladdin!

Disney’s Aladdin is likely to be a hit. And Naomi Scott is likely to be the break-out star. The half-English and half-Guju British chatterbox is also going to play Elena Houghlin in this fall’s reboot of Charlie’s Angels.

The casting of the mixed Scott, of white and Indian ancestry, as Jasmine created some silly backlash online. But one thing that strikes me about the Jasmine she depicts is that her sartorial style has a definite South Asian rather than Near Eastern tincture.

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Browncast Ep 40: Wael Taji on the Topology of Privilege

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsyniTunesSpotify,  and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at one of the links above.

You can also support the podcast as a patron (the primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else…).

(as of this posting there are two postings on the patron page that probably won’t see the light of day until next month; one on Game of Throne and another a discussion with an Indian American on his impending arranged marriage)

On this episode, I talk to Wael Taji, a graduate student in behavioral economics and neuroscience at Peking University, in China. Wael is from an ethnically European background but converted to Islam at one point, before becoming a Coptic Christian (listen to the podcast for details!).

We talk about privilege, race relations, or lack thereof, in modern China. Wael has been living in China for two years, and first visited in 2013. He offered his own views on the changes in China’s view of the world and its place geopolitically.

Wael also offers a pessimistic take on Western academia (his undergraduate background was as a student at Cambridge University). His comparative assessment of intellectual prospects in China and the West were published in Palladium Magazine.

We would definitely appreciate more positive reviews. Many of you listen to us, but don’t leave any reviews!

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Browncast Ep 39: Carl Zha, Pakistan, and China’s demographic crisis

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsyniTunesSpotify,  and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at one of the links above.

You can also support the podcast as a patron (the primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else…).

This episode we talk to Carl Zha (a return guest) about the Pakistani bride controversy and China. A lot of the discussion involves general demographic concerns about Chinese society.

Also, I know that some listeners consider Carl to be a Chinese government operative or plant (at least on Twitter). In which case, we present here a representative here of the Chinese government!

Ultimately the key point for me is to get someone on who can watch the Chinese media, which is totally opaque to me.

We would definitely appreciate more positive reviews. Many of you listen to us, but don’t leave any reviews!

Addendum: This podcast, along with one other, has been on the patron page for several days. There are cases where the latency is very short due to the timeliness, but in other cases, it can be as long as a week or more.

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Genetic variation across many South Asian communities

Someone in the comments posted the results from The Genomic Formation of South and Central Asia. I put the percentages with a few ratios in a Google doc. I don’t know what a lot of these groups are. Can readers illuminate? We need to be careful about the sample size, but I think there are a lot of interesting patterns in there.

Remember that “Steppe”, “Indus Periphery” and “Onge” are populations artifacts within a model. The way I explain it to people is that rather than focusing on the percentage, look at how the populations vary across the parameters. That is a pretty robust result. No matter what outgroups you’re going to use, Brahmins in most of South Asia seem to have more “West Eurasian” type ancestry than other populations (except in the NW). Because “Indus Periphery” has a minority of “Ancient Ancestral South Indians” (AASI) as part of its ancestry, the “Onge” fraction should be seen as a floor on AASI ancestry (the Onge ancestors diverged from the AASI ~40,000 years ago, so it’s a very large difference).

Continue reading “Genetic variation across many South Asian communities”

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Browncast Ep 36: Karl Smith, Communist to neoliberal

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsyniTunesSpotify,  and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at one of the links above.

You can also support the podcast as a patron (the primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else…).

On this episode, I talk to Karl Smith. A former economist, Smith is now a columnist at Bloomberg. Smith’s style is that of a nonpartisan neoliberal driven by empirical considerations, but he actually has a very interesting background as someone who came out of an orthodox Marxist family. He was raised, quite literally, as a Bolshevik.

We also talk about his experiences being a relatively heterodox black American public intellectual, and how both of us see how racism has played out in our lives and in the country at large.

Finally, we discuss what we see in store for the United States in the future on the global stage.

We would definitely appreciate more positive reviews. Many of you listen to us, but don’t leave any reviews!

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Lord Indra was a tan man

An angel of the Christian Era

I get a fair amount of email related to questions about Indian genetics, as well as calls for me to adjudicate various controversies. A major problem with any “Aryan invasion theory” or its descendants, which posit non-trivial gene flow from the Eurasian steppe, is the possibility that the Indo-Aryan ancestors of nearly all South Asians (albeit, in extremely varied proportions) were a thousand men with the bright faces, azure eyes, and flaxen locks. Paul Bettany times a thousand astride chariots.

The anachronistic neocolonialism obviously makes Indians uncomfortable. Or that’s my psychoanalysis. I don’t care much either way. What does Lord Indra’s scion care? We are the unbroken lineage, grasping Eurasia’s heart, from the Baltic to the Bay of Bengal!

The flip side of this is people of European ancestry, some of whom are white nationalists, do come close to making this claim. That is, that the Aryans were white Nordic people. The genetics from the Sintashta and Andronovo cultural complexes do indicate that they resemble many of the contemporaneous European populations. Their ultimate locus of origin probably is the Pontic steppe, which is in the geographic boundaries of Europe, as such. Finally, these steppe peoples exhibit genetic signatures of reflux from Europe. That is, they’re not just Yamna-descendants but derived from Yamna-like people who moved west, mixed with local indigenous Europeans, and moved back east along the Eurasian steppe corridor.

Lord Indra’s face? NO!

Looking at some of the ancient forensic DNA some of these individuals have suggested that I must admit that the Indo-Aryans were genetically like Europeans, and phenotypically like Europeans as well. They know that I won’t lie like some people, and just want me to admit this.

Continue reading “Lord Indra was a tan man”

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