Modernization leading toward confessionalization

From the comments:

I think what’s underappreciated is that hindu nationalism is partly caused by the collapse of the caste system. I know that may not intuitively make sense at first, but compared to when I was a boy the caste system has significantly weakened. People are finally starting to look at each other as hindus rather than by caste – and this has never been the case in the past. Obviously caste is still here and we all have a long way to go but it is substantially weakened and weaker than its ever been. I believe this is the major cause for the rise of hindu nationalism.

One of the strange things that surprises many people is that modernization often produces stronger and more robust confessional identities. In Eric Kaufmann’s Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth? Demography and Politics in the Twenty-First Century he talks about the fact that urbanization and increased access to educational opportunities for the rural middle-class in Muslim countries resulted in gains in power to Islamist movements. The reasons are manifold, but one issue is that local power blocs centered around customary and traditional relationships and patronage networks were disrupted by development. In a flatter and more deracinated landscape simple and universal Islamist messages were appealing.

You see the same process happening in Indonesia. Traditional Islam among the Javanese is syncretistic. But its power and strength are in the solidities of the rural cultural order which has deep local roots. Development and migration to urban areas result in a shift toward more world-normative (santri) Islam which is not contingent on local cultural and social frameworks.

In this model then the economic liberalization ushered in by the Congress Party in the early 1990s sowed the seeds for the emergence of a broad-based Hindu nationalism, as economic dynamism and urbanization begins to erode the older caste-based solidities.

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25 Replies to “Modernization leading toward confessionalization”

  1. Obviously caste is still here and we all have a long way to go but it is substantially weakened and weaker than its ever been.

    Many of us tried to say something similar to Zack on one of his blog posts a while ago but he wouldn’t believe us 🙂

    I’ll add that reducing the salience of caste, if not eliminating it altogether, has always been an understated goal of the Hindutva movement (if you hear from actual Hindu nationalists.) They really took the British and Muslim critiques (of Hindus being divided on the basis of caste) to heart.

    In this model then the economic liberalization ushered in by the Congress Party in the early 1990s sowed the seeds for the emergence of a broad-based Hindu nationalism

    When it comes to reducing the salience of caste, yes to some extent, but I wouldn’t overstate the importance of liberalization (Indians are still quite endogamous regardless of class and exposure to globalization.) I think a broader awareness of Indian history (cherrypicked maybe), of Hindus’ place in it and relations with other religious communities, has pulled Hindus of different castes closer and created more aversion to Muslims than existed before. I also think the existence of a much bigger diaspora has had an impact, as that diaspora had no pressure to be “secular” nor subscribe to caste strictures; brownness and Hinduness created a community whose opinions and values percolated back to the mother country.

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    1. Fair point. More opportunities for mixing in urban areas as people migrate for work and family ties loosen somewhat. I’ll be interested to see where this trends in the Modi era though. Filial commitment and loyalty is a big deal for Hindutva folks.

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  2. @Razib

    This article on Gujarat’s ‘post-Hindutva’ society provides a bit of a counter to your post:
    https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/why-gujarats-hindus-are-electorally-crucial-for-bjp/articleshow/61896377.cms

    Or, perhaps, we can model confessional pressures on a U-curve for non-confessional religions like Hinduism – once the external threats go away, there’s a retreat back into caste though not in the ex-ante manner.

    The materialistic reading of the article would be that retrenchment of jati identity is due to the failure of the Indian authorities to provide economic mobility through middle-class employment.

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  3. I’ve never seen so much concern for other Hindus that are minorities in another country (for example in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, heck Bali and even Bhutan).

    Another example is how there is so much more rage about Kashmiri pandits today than there ever was back when the exodus actually happened. Like what changed between then and now. Why the delayed rage? In my opinion the only explanation is caste breakdown. The Kashmiri pandit must be far more relate-able today to other Hindus than they were in the past.

    On the one hand I think this is a good thing as I’m more right leaning and glad to see social dominance hierarchies get flatter. But on the other hand, I don’t want to genie to get completely out of the bottle and destroy everything.

    So as much as I disagree with a lot of left wingers in India, I hope they continue to push their view and voice and keep the battle going. I don’t want for either side to win, but for the balance to keep everyone alive.

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    1. Not just what happened to Kashmiri Pandits, but people are angrier at everything. Pakistan of course, even though it poses a shadow of the threat it did in the 90s. Also old Muslim conquerors, the British, Christian missionaries….

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  4. Right, this is one of the supreme ironies of Indian politics. INC instituted the Mandal Commission to blunt the rising Hindu nationalism of the 1990s…only to end up potentiating it decades later.

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    1. This is inaccurate. The Mandal Commission was formed and came out with its report even before Babri Masjid, let alone other events that could be meaningfully linked to a Hindutva surge. Nobody considered Hindu nationalism to have any political potency at the time. The various communist parties together we’re more powerful than the BJP. The Shiv Sean was just a Maratha chauvinist party.

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  5. “I think what’s underappreciated is that hindu nationalism is partly caused by the collapse of the caste system.”

    @Mohan

    I am curious how do you claim that caste system has collapsed (or collapsing). Do we have any hard data that inter-caste marriages are more common now than say, before the 90s? ( I regard crossing of caste barriers for marriage as the ultimate proof that caste is collapsing, for Indians have always wined and dined with people of different castes without much fuss in modern era).

    This of course does not mean I am contesting the claim that hindu nationalism is in the ascendant. It is too pervasive to be denied.

    I tend to think Kargil war changed India. Before that Indians really didn’t care about their soldiers. Periodic terror attacks in major cities also caused polarization.

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    1. “I tend to think Kargil war changed India. Before that Indians really didn’t care about their soldiers. Periodic terror attacks in major cities also caused polarization.”

      Neither Kargil helped BJP (won same number of seats in 1999, in immediate aftermath) nor Mumbai attacks doomed Congress (Congress-NCP won all seats in Mumbai itself the very next year, something which had never happened from the late 80s)

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    2. @Scorpion Eater

      Collapse is perhaps a strong word but the changes in the last 30 years have been tectonic in my view.

      I’m a Nair from Kerala. When I was a 10-year old boy, ‘lower’ caste adults addressed me as “Thampuran” which literally translates to Lord or God as I later found out. Eating was strictly separate – we all ate under the shade in our dining area/veranda and the workers on our field all ate on the lower ground.

      Marriages I witnessed were even more ludicrous. Nairs from the northern half of Kerala wouldn’t even consider marrying a Nair from the south. Even various Nair subcastes wouldn’t intermarry – brahmin associated nairs vs feudal nair vs menon/ets – the list went on and on.

      Cut to 30 years later, Nair itself is the category – your subcaste and region don’t matter nearly as much. Nobody is eating on the lower ground anymore – everyone eats on the same dining table, same utensils,etc. And certainly no one gets addressed as Thampuran anymore.

      I’ve personally witnessed multiple Nair-Ezhava weddings and multiple Nair-Namboodiri weddings. And these are happening a LOT more frequently than before. Parents in cities are basically at this point even ok as long as the kid marries a Hindu period.

      I haven’t witnessed a Nair – Pulaya wedding yet, though have heard of a couple. But I suspect that’s more to do with economic circumstances of the Pulaya that basically doesn’t put them in the social setting for such relationships to potentially occur more often. But yes – that would be the sign of a collapse.

      And finally its not just that I’m seeing more inter-caste marriage… its the RATE at which those marriages are growing year-on-year that’s the surprise.

      Anyways hope that answers your questions. Maybe other people with different experiences can chime in.

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      1. I think you are generalizing a bit. Inter caste marriages within the 3 broader echelons (UCs ,OBCs, Dalits) were happening for a while. At least in Urban and middle tier towns. Brahmin-khsatriya, Yadavs-Kurmis, Mushahar-Jatavs . Even some intermediary marriages upper OBCs-Upper castes or Lower OBCs-Dalits were there. My own parents are one of them. I guess Nair-Brahmin is one of them too.Of course with time this has grown more common. But the strict boundaries (dalit-brahmin) outside this structure are still few. And many couples have faced terrible consequences for this step.

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        1. “I regard crossing of caste barriers for marriage as the ultimate proof that caste is collapsing, for Indians have always wined and dined with people of different castes without much fuss in modern era”

          Marriage rates are a very lagging proxy for attitudes around caste. Mainly because of a lack of dating culture and consequent lack in dating skills among people.

          Some of my friends, who are well-to-do yuppies with all the freedom in the world, are having arranged marriages because they could never find women for themselves.

          In such situations, parents take over. Which means the potential pool of candidates is reduced to caste-members and proximate socio-economic groups only.

          “But the strict boundaries (dalit-brahmin) outside this structure are still few.”

          Might this have got more to do with class than caste in urban India?

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      2. Yep, the diaspora is similar. As I said on the podcast, the rules are “No Blacks, No Muslims.” Some of my friends also grew up with a “No Latinos” rule (my family did not have this.)*

        I later found out that the rule against Blacks is NOT categorical, but a result of people believing Blacks make generally unsuitable partners. This rule could be overridden if you brought compelling evidence that a given Black person would be a suitable mate.

        In contrast, the rule against dating/marrying Muslims is categorical.

        *One of my friends who grew up with this “No Latinos” rule married a physician from Colombia! I wish I could have been a fly on the wall when he went against his family.

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        1. In contrast, the rule against dating/marrying Muslims is categorical.

          if hindus were more self-confident they would not be so stressed. muslims kind of have it…but muslims also think it’s a “win” when you get a hindu to convert, so it’s kind of OK. hindus don’t do the conversion thing too much so it’s a lose.

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          1. Tbh there’s not much to be confident about…Hinduism tends to be the faith that disappears in mixed marriages (Islam or not). Hell, in the West, it often disappears by 2nd/3rd gen even in Hindu-Hindu marriages! Not sure if India will follow in that vein.

            Agree with you that Hinduism will have to change if it wants to avoid being wiped out. How it changes…well that’s not up to me. But let’s see what happens.

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          2. One of the interesting features of the way of life in India is that every ideology that entered the geography was digested and yet 80% of the population still practices some form of ancestral faith. If you contrast this with Europe, Africa, or the Middle East, you’ll see the religious reversi board flip very rapidly when a centralized religion with political authority entered.
            What has been homogenized as “Hinduism” doesn’t actually have a head to cut off. The word Hindu denoted a geographical reference until literature from the colonial era arrived. My guess is that this decentralized quality is responsible for sustaining the way of life in India through invasions/colonial expansions. No one knows the future but since we’re already seeing mega movements that are caste indiscriminate like Art of Living/ISKON, I believe people will keep HODLing.

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  6. in my opinion, religious conflicts or hatred has little to do with the religion itself. these type of conflicts are more of a tribal or merely identity conflict.
    for example, a person born to a family or society with “muslim” label will naturally be considered “muslim ” no matter how much practicing he is. if u notice carefully, u will see that a lot of non muslims pretend as if muslims are an ethnicity or as if they belong to any particular race. (media stereotype muslims as south asian/indian looking medium brown person may be bcz most “muslims” are south asian in terms of percentage ). Zinnah is a good example. he was not any good muslim in the truest sense but he saw himself as a member of the “muslim” tribe bcz destiny caused him to have the “muslim” label(such labels are hereditary) on him and he became part of the “muslim” tribe.
    i think that there are hardcore hindutva fanatics who are not really very believing or religious but destiny caused them to be part of the “hindu religious” tribe. so they see themselves as hindu and take pride in hindu religion and offending the religion means offending his identity and the tribe.
    there are Americans who will hate a small child born with a “muslim” label bcz according to them “muslims are a crazy community who harm others and any person with “muslim” label should be eliminated.” some americans because of media influence see muslims as an “enemy” of their race (despite the fact that many Muslims in the middle east and other parts of the world are actually white and look very European )
    i knew a “hindu” person who was probably agnostic/irreligious but he will get offended and angry if u say something bad about hindu religion.
    these conflicts are psychological issues and not all ppl see a thing the same way. i find these things very interesting and there should be disciplines to study the psychosocial issues behind such conflicts.

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    1. \Zinnah is a good example. he was not any good muslim in the truest sense but he saw himself as a member of the “muslim” tribe \

      In the case of Jinnah, ‘Islam’ it was just more than some social badge. He began to talk of 2 conflicting civilizations, Hindu and Muslim, hence two different nations, etc. From the 1930s, he wrote and issues many statements which were highly prejudiced against Hindus. Jinnah was a primarily an opportunist.

      All this notwithstanding the fact that , his grandfather was a hindu

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      1. how will u define civilization? definitely “civilization ” has to do with something tribal. he may or may not be an opportunist..idk . whether his grandfather had the “hindu” label or not, zinnah got the “muslim ” label as a heritage and so he became part of the “muslim” tribe

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    2. i knew a “hindu” person who was probably agnostic/irreligious but he will get offended and angry if u say something bad about hindu religion.


      You are not describing any rare species. There are tons of this kind (i.e. atheist/agnostic hindus). Probably half the urban hindus fall under this description. I used to think that atheist/agnostic muslim is a somewhat rare species, but after frequenting this blog for some time even that misconception is put to rest.

      Blame it on all these popular science channels and magazines, which leave little room for God to live in peace. However, really wise ones tend to be agnostic rather than incontrovertibly atheist, because they know that mysteries of quantum physics still allow tantalizing possibilities of “spooky action at a distance”..

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  7. these conflicts are psychological issues and not all ppl see a thing the same way. i find these things very interesting and there should be disciplines to study the psychosocial issues behind such conflicts.

    yes, cog sci of religion studies this.

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