Getting beyond the nerd understanding of religion

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Since about 2006 I’ve had to write the same post again and again due to the nature of my audience: religion is not the purview of technically oriented nerds, and technically oriented nerds just don’t “get” it intuitively. This is something that is relevant to me personally, because I am myself a technically oriented nerd, and I just don’t “get” religion.

A few years ago I was asking a co-worker whey he believed in ghosts, and he stated: “because I’m human.” This is actually a good response, as all societies have the sorts of supernatural beliefs that we might categorize under beliefs about gods, spirits, and demons. This is the cognitive raw material of religion, which is a universal feature of human cultures.

Do you believe this stuff???

A minority of people lack such intuitions. At least with any strength. I am definitely one of those. My realization that I was an atheist occurred when I was eight, as I thought for a few moments about the idea that God might not exist. At that moment I realized I did not think God existed, and, I also realized I hadn’t really thought about it before because religion was simply something I never really gave much thought to.

When I began to give more thought to religion when I was a teenager in the 1990s it was due to its cultural salience. By this, I mean two things. First, the rise of Islamic terrorism and political violence. Second, the emergence of the Christian Right in the United States. In my personal and private life, I had many conservative Christian friends and would engage them in the discussion from my atheistic vantage point.

Between 1995 and 2005 I went through a “Richard Dawkins” phase. As it happens, I met Dawkins casually in 1995 at a talk and had been reading his biology works. I was not particularly interested in his religious commentary. Rather, I read books such as Atheism: A Philosophical Justification or relevant portions of Summa Theologica. I plumbed the depths of ontological, teleological, and cosmological arguments. I engaged with the works of men such as Norman Malcolm and Richard Swinburne.

In the period after 9/11, an understanding of religion seemed very relevant and important due to Islamic radicalism.

But this reading program convinced me ultimately that I had “got it all wrong.” I had recreated religion in my own image, rather than understanding what it was in its own terms. I had turned the beliefs of illiterate and unintellectual masses of people into contingency tables and model logic! Rather than understand religion, I ended up arguing with something I could comprehend on a deep level.

What is religion? It is many things, but let me quote Blaise Pascal, polymath, prodigy, and fanatical religious believer:

FIRE.

GOD of Abraham, GOD of Isaac, GOD of Jacob not of the philosophers and of the learned. Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace. GOD of Jesus Christ. My God and your God. Your GOD will be my God. Forgetfulness of the world and of everything, except GOD. He is only found by the ways taught in the Gospel. Grandeur of the human soul. Righteous Father, the world has not known you, but I have known you. Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy.

That fire does not burn in me, but it burns in some.

This sort of mystical fanaticism is not general or widespread, but it’s a more much important modality than quibbling over how Malcolm’s ontological proof is so much superior to St. Anselm’s. Another modality is mass rituals. What some cognitive anthropologists call “imagistic arousal”. I’ve illustrated this with Turkish dervishes. Most humans will recognize what’s going on here on some level. Dance, trance, and music, to honor the divine are pretty universal. Even among Salafis, the chanting of the Koran sells well as a replacement for conventional music.

Why is this relevant? Because mysticism, collective rituals, and the communal identity which emerges out of that, is the raison d’etre of religion, and why religions are universal and share broad family resemblances. What about theology? What about the details of scripture? These are things religious professionals care about, but religious professionals are a function of complex stratified societies that emerged over the last several thousand years. Martin Luther was historically important, but his theological obsessions were really not.

Religious professionals though are the individuals that technically oriented nerds often go to to “understand” religion. This gives us a skewed and misleading view, and it means we misunderstand large aspects of history.

For the context of this readership, this matters when it comes to the interaction between Dharmic religions and Abrahamic ones, and more precisely Hinduism and Islam. From the Muslim perspective, some are wont to say that the message of Islam is what was appealing to benighted Hindus, the egalitarianism, the simplicity of belief, the texture and richness of shariah. The Hindu will respond with the tolerance and multivalent aspects of the Dharmic tradition, which is congenial to many moderns. Some will point out that the historical Muhammad was a barbaric sexual pervert.

This is neither here nor there. Joseph Smith is a far more historical figure than Muhammad and a confirmed sexual pervert of renown and infamy. And yet modern-day Latter-Day Saints are often paragons of monogamous probity. Why? Because what Mormons do has only a weak connection to the historical origins of the religion and its theoretical beliefs (which are literally polytheistic and materialist in metaphysic!). And Mormons are a group that matured in an America of widespread literacy, mass culture, and populism. How much “theoretical Islam” do you think illiterate peasants who never left their village internalized?

To understand the impact of Muslims on the Indian subcontinent one must ignore the message for once. The sophistication of Neoplatonist Ismaili theology in comparison to Advaita is immaterial in a literal sense. What is material is the role that Turkic warriors and Sufi religious orders played in transforming the Indian religious landscape through the services and status provided.

Muslims say that Islam’s egalitarian ethos appealed to Indians, especially downtrodden groups. Some Hindus agree, arguing that most Muslims descend from Dalits, reflecting their caste/jati prejudices to dismiss Muslims not because of their beliefs but their blood lineage. What do the data say?

Historically we know of cases of Dalit and “low caste” communities converting to Islam during the 19th and 20th centuries (e.g., the proportion of Muslims in northern Kerala increased partially through the conversion of depressed castes). But on the whole, it seems to be the case that Muslims in any given region reflect the genetics of the “general population.” By this, I mean the skew does not seem to have been incredibly strong in any particular direction.

When I have looked at the paternal lineages of putative “Syeds” (descendants of the Prophet Muhammed’s lineage), a surprisingly large number carry R1a1a, which is not the Y chromosomal haplogroup of the Quraysh (there are exceptions, Ali Rizvi carries the Quraysh haplogroup!). Some of these individuals, who presumed they had ashraf (West Asian) ancestry, seem to be substantially steppe-enriched for the region where they are from. The inference then is that in some cases “high caste” Hindus were conferred false Syed status after their conversion to Islam, so as to maintain their high rank within the new religion.

That being said, the “average Muslim” seems to be a Sudra/OBC. Outside of a few rare exceptions in the far northwest of the subcontinent signatures of West Asian ancestry are exceedingly rare. Contrast this with the Mongolian ancestry in 8 million Afghan Hazaras (about ~10% of Central Asians carry the Borgijin haplogroup).

Muslims argue that the egalitarianism of their message appealed to the depressed castes, but the average Muslim seems sampled out of the whole distribution of Hindus, and some “ashraf” Muslims look suspiciously like Brahmins or are part-Brahmin genetically. Clearly there is the kernel of egalitarianism in the message of Islam, but the chasm between this core ideal and the elaborated practice was enormous.

Another hypothesis Hindus present is mass genocide and terror resulting in massive conversion (or demographic replacement, though the above refutes that). There is genocide, and there is genocide. Frank McLynn’s biography of Genghis Khan gives a good overview of the demographic and ecological footprint of the Mongol conquests. Not only did the mass die-off across much of Eurasia result in “nature healing,” but the genetics of much of the region was re-patterned.

First, I want to note that before the invention of automatic rifles and industrialization genocide was often more a matter of disease and famine than death by the sword. It is simply not physically possible to kill as many people as the Mongols are reputed to have killed with arrows and swords. What really happened is farmers driven off their lands, nomads whose stock was killed, and the city-dwellers driven out of their homes, starved to death in a precarious Malthusian world (burning down cities would be an industrial genocide method available in urban areas dominated by wood-construction).

Second, genocide is often accompanied by rape and later intermarriage. In a pre-modern world genuine “folk migrations” were arduous undertakings, and not conducive to lightning strikes.  Rather, on the Eurasian steppe, the all-male military Warband was a common cultural feature, invented and deployed many times across. many peoples (traditionally, Mongol women tended the home flocks). The genetic data so far suggests that the gene-flow of steppe ancestry was mostly male-mediated. Even non-nomadic migrations, such as that of the Parsis or Bene Israel Jews to India, were male-mediated (Parsis are ~25% Gujurati, with no distinctive Indian Y chromosomes, but ~50% distinctive Indian mtDNA; Bene Israel are 75% Gujurati, and overwhelmingly Indian mtDNA).

The conclusion from this is that the magnitude of the killing of Indians by the Turkic Muslims was not exceptional within India. Unless you presume the Turk were congenitally repulsed at the thought of raping Indian women, or, they were celibates. The main caveat I would offer is that Iranian and Turanian Muslim observers comment that the cities of Afghanistan were “filled with blacks” (Indians) in the late 900s and early 1000s. The genetic impact seems minimal, indicating to me that this follows the pre-modern template of many slave populations not reproducing themselves. The rise of Islamic polities seems to have supercharged the African slave-trade, so I think it is reasonable to posit that the genocidal impact of the Indian slave trade was qualitatively different with the rise of the Islamic empires, who were more efficient and effective at “suctioning” human chattel out of the subcontinent.

So why did 35% of Indian subcontinentals become Muslim? I have written extensively elsewhere on this topic, so I will not explore it in detail. The question is not why some became Muslim, but why most did not become Muslim. In contrast to the primitivism exposited by Salafis and the reduction of the religion to the Koran presumed by some non-Muslims, the religion emerged out of a complex sophisticated civilization. The Ummayyad Caliphate was a post-Roman successor polity. Islam offers up an excellent legitimizing ideology, as is clear in its rapid spread without conquest in much of Africa and in Inner Asia (the northern reach of Islam into Siberia has been obscured by the spread of Russians and Orthodox Christianity after 1600).

Islam’s lack of total success in South Asia is likely telling us that there were legitimating ideologies that were already present, and attractive. Islam’s success in northwest and northeast South Asia may suggest weaker legitimating ideologies in those regions, or, the stronger demographic shock of West Asian Muslims (though East Asian Turkic ancestry is far thinner in Pakistani samples than in places like Iran, it is detectable in a way it is not in India proper or Bangladesh).

Today, with widespread literacy and mass communication, there is a strong communal identity of belief and practice. For Muslims, this is partially a function of “reform” during the early modern period. But really, the reform entailed the spread of elite Muslim practices and beliefs to the masses. Muslim elites always adhered to the shariah, which was focused on the lifestyle of urban elites. In contrast, rural peasant Muslims were by definition often “not good Muslims” because their economic mode of production may not have aligned with shariah (e.g., peasant deployment of female labor does not dovetail with traditional Islamic elite norms of female modesty and isolation). An analogy here to “Sanskritization” seems pretty obvious, or the reform of Christianity after the Reformation, which demoticized many beliefs and practices previously the purview of the elite.

To understand the way the shape of the present came about, one must understand the genealogy of the past. This was a fundamentally different time. But even in the present, the hyper-rational nerd is not the modal human. The hyper-rational nerd is just the modal human on comment boards.

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70 Replies to “Getting beyond the nerd understanding of religion”

  1. Sudras/Sudrai is actually IA tribe name. In coming centuries the name became obscure.
    The way I have started to understand religion(olden times) as a power to legitimatize their incorrect deeds or give a founding ground.
    In current scenario, when I see people with PhD(highly educated/literate) so inclined towards religion(astrology) is that they have deeper sorrow which they are trying hide behind it.
    Since all are lives are not perfect picture from outer cover which is generally portrayed.
    Religion becomes the cult and appropriation for current deeds.

  2. Good flow of ideas, a nerdish view of history.
    It is difficult for Islam to disentangle from Mohammed’s personality and that makes it maladaptive in industrial and knowledge societies which require equality of races and sexes, and non-religious solutions to problem of social organization

    1. “It is difficult for Islam to disentangle from Mohammed’s personality and that makes it maladaptive in industrial and knowledge societies”

      agree. not only islam, but all religions emanating from a single founder are deeply colored by the personality of their founders, and forever destined to remain tied to the “founder effect”.

      islam had the added nuance of being a political ideology as well as a religion since its inception. so knowing and pontificating on muhammad’s character and conduct became a useful political tool to aquire power. the result was that muhammad’s life story was recorded in painstaking details, and adhering to his conduct became the “sunnah”, i.e. the approved tradition.

      even trivial things like sartorial choices of some muslims, like wearing the pants ankle high, or spotring beards but shaving off mustache can be traced to muhammd’s utterances. this may appear nonsensical to outsiders, but it goes on to show the extent of impact of founder personality on the religion.

      another factor to be considered is that the personality of the founder becomes a reference point for the followers to be consulted in sticky situation. like what would muhammad/jesus/buddha do in a similar situation? so the personality of the founder finds resonance centuries later.

      1. \impact of founder personality on the religion\

        I would say the impact of the founder and founder’s psychological script is not only in religion, but also nations ( Jinnah, Jose Marti) ), large industrial corporations like Ford, Rockefeller or Reliance or Zaibatsus. This is my intuition. It operates not consciuously (“consulting”) but a cloud of ideas accepted pre-conciously. Founder influence may esp come to the fore during emergencies.

        1. second that. the effects of “founder personality” are perceptible in realms beyond religion.

          1. both of you know so little history compared to me it’s not even funny.

            but yes, offer your opinions. just be clear i’m going to point out both of you know very little to the ppl who are even more ignorant than you (most of the commenters unfortunately).

            (the original post was triggered by your nerdy if ignorant comments)

            i get the cognitive origin of the religions part. yes, some humans are hardwired to believe in supernatural. yes, there is universal tendency to believe in unseen powers that can have benevolent or malevolent impact on their lives. yet the religions manifest in such fundamentally different appearances. why? because the understanding of what pleases the supernatural is different in different religions. aztecs believed that sacrificing humans is what pleased their gods; jains believe protecting lives is what makes their gods happy.

            the aztecs were a late neolithic society. we don’t know why, but most ‘complex’ societies make the transition from human (and even blood [animal]) to symbolic sacrifice. please read the book *big gods* to get a sense of what you are talking about (actually, you don’t need to, i doubt you care, your own casual observation suffice to allow you to spout off)

      2. islam had the added nuance of being a political ideology as well as a religion since its inception. so knowing and pontificating on muhammad’s character and conduct became a useful political tool to aquire power. the result was that muhammad’s life story was recorded in painstaking details, and adhering to his conduct became the “sunnah”, i.e. the approved tradition.

        1) most of the political aspects in term of ideology come from the sassanians and emerged during the early abbassids. crone writes extensively about this

        2) the sunnah are mostly made-up and emerged centuries later. there are books on the topic. but yes, just believe the muslims and take them at face value. that’s the extent of your curiosity

        (it’s like i’m talking to 15 year old atheists here)

        1. let me be more charitable with you guys despite the fact that your ignorance clearly annoys the shit out of me because i was saying the same ignorant things you are saying before 2005. the issue isn’t the nature of Muhammad as founder, which is almost certainly largely a retcon. the issue is that Islam as a religious ideology emerged precisely to serve as imperial legitimating ideology.

          the ‘problem’ with this argument is that every higher religion that gets popular gets coopted in this way. it’s not distinctive of Islam. christians sometimes say that the separation of church and state is built into their religion, but the reality is that it was only ‘discovered’ in the text widely in the 18th century. it’s pretty clearly an interpretation that’s congenial to not have to relive the wars of religion again.

          1. \the issue isn’t the nature of Muhammad as founder, which is almost certainly largely a retcon. the issue is that Islam as a religious ideology emerged precisely to serve as imperial legitimating ideology.\

            I also think of emergence of islam in this way and no problem with that. However, having invested heavily in a particular retro “vision” of the prophet and the book, how can anyone make a 180 deg turn.

  3. The way I have started to understand religion(olden times) as a power to legitimatize their incorrect deeds or give a founding ground.

    this is a very small part of it.

  4. It is difficult for Islam to disentangle from Mohammed’s personality

    why? muhammad had sex with a 9 year old. lots of muslims now think it’s immoral.

    jesus was a wimp. but the military is filled with hardcore christians.

    these assertions are superficial and exhibit no deep thought.

    and Islam isn’t maladaptive. muslims have high fertility. as hindu nationalists love to. say, at the current rate everyone will be Muslim in 1,000 years

    1. sex with 9 yr old is least of the issues – that was the norm of those days. There is a consistant record of intolerance, warlordism and genocide and his revelations are embedded with these. The ultimate proof and validity of Islam in the eyes of it’s followers was and is military victories over non Muslims. When that record has been broken more than 200 yaers back, they feel lost and unable to come to terms.

      1. Your historically ignorant. Your reflecting “the child’s first book of Islam ” written for islamskeptic audiences. I know more and reject this reductionist just like I reject kabirs childish assertions about hindu nationalism.

        I understand many of u will never read beyond what confirms your initial impressions. Just don’t expect me to let falsity pass without comment

    2. “muhammad had sex with a 9 year old. lots of muslims now think it’s immoral.”

      i strongly refute this. no sincere, practicing muslim thinks of muhammad as immoral. at best they act as an apologist for muhammad and justify his acts on feeble grounds. (like saying, “muhammad’s times and milieu were different”, or may be the hadiths are not authenticate, and such.

      the only muslims who will openly call muhammad’s conduct as immoral are the one’s who are explicitly atheists, or convert to other religions. one can’t be a practicing muslim and think of muhammad as immoral. these are fundamentally contradictory positions.

      1. In Pakistan or other Muslim countries if you hold the view i.e. say it in public , in Facebook or blog , Blasphemy can be slapped on you and death sentence will follow

  5. But really, the reform entailed the spread of elite Muslim practices and beliefs to the masses. Muslim elites always adhered to the shariah, which was focused on the lifestyle of urban elites.
    Wouldn’t this mean that, increasingly, Indian Muslims are conforming themselves to the nerd understanding of Islam?

  6. Wouldn’t this mean that increasingly, Indian Muslims are conforming themselves to the nerd understanding of Islam?

    sort of. by ‘nerd’ i mean more the orthodoxy and what can be entailed by that. really that’s of interest to very few. most muslims can speak intelligibly of tawhid.

    what is going on here is *orthopraxy*, which is much more important in Islam than Christianity. but the issue with Islamic, like rabbinical jewish orthopraxy, is it’s not as easy if you are a fisherman or peasant. but easier if you are an urban dweller. shariah was invented and exposited by ulema who were often urban dwellers in the middle east

    i do think that the sharper non-syncretistic element of religion across the developing world is a function of modernization, popularization, and spread of elite norms/views to the masses. you see this even in a place like taiwan or Singapore, where daoism and Buddhism are starting to be separated by lay congregations of educated people.

    the ‘nerd’ understanding often takes religion as an axiomatic system of propositional logic. read the bible. read the koran. from that all entails.

    the reality is stuff like shariah or halakah develops organically. causistry really

    (outside of shia Islam, theology is not emphasized in Islam anyway)

  7. With more Muslims adopting the beliefs and practices of the Muslim elite, do the ideas in Islamic scriptures become more important? Similarly for Hindus?

  8. With more Muslims adopting the beliefs and practices of the Muslim elite, do the ideas in Islamic scriptures become more important? Similarly for Hindus?

    let’s be clear on something: for most religions individual scripture reading is a new thing. it’s particularly relevant and emerged from reformed Christians. other Christian groups, even Catholics, have imitated it. there are ‘koranists’ in Islam and ‘karaites’ in Judaism which reject both reject the accumulated hadith and talmudic wisdom in Islam and Judaism. but these were traditionally heretics.

    the vast majority of muslims don’t read the koran with any understanding. it’s in pretty obscure arabic, and most muslims can’t understand arabic anyhow. the power of the koran is in the words, not in the meaning (it’s the word of god). even Christian protestants don’t read the bible. it’s pretty obv when you do biblical literacy surveys. and sola Scriptura has limits. the most radical protestants rejected the trinity since it wasn’t in the scripture. but the vast majority of protestants rejected this scriptural fundamentalism violently.

    religionists always tell you the scipture guides them. but it’s not math. it’s literature. which means they always interpret it.

    i do think the spread of literacy and mass media means that religionists conform more. and have clear and crisp identitiies.

  9. Right, I think it’s innate to humans (most humans) to believe in the supernatural. I know quite a few secular (American definition) physicians who talk about astrology, and others who label people as “white clouds” and “black clouds” (meaning they bring good or bad luck to a team on a call day.) Probably a good chunk of it is a joke. All of it? Probably not.

    That’s before I get into the staunchly religious international crowd. On that note, there are many Hindus with science/engineering backgrounds who had horoscopes made for our marriages, myself included!

    Humans are good at compartmentalizing things. The New Atheist crowd insist on pure scientific materialism in all things. But most humans are more complex, and switch back and forth between materialism and the supernatural without much issue.

  10. in cognitive psych there is an idea of an ‘alief’, an ‘innate idea’ in classical philosophy.

    you can be a materialist, but be ‘spooked’ by walking in a cemetery. why? rationally you don’t believe in ghosts, but the deep cognitive modules are triggering and firing off.

    i’v always been way less scared of cemeteries than my friends, so perhaps suggests my agency detection module is tuned down to ‘low’

    1. Right. I think I’m sort of in a middle ground.

      I did cause some trouble once when I went to the OBGYN floor for a consult and remarked “seems like you guys are having a quiet night.”

      One of the nurses became very angry said I “jinxed it” and “now the babies will start coming.” I told her that was nonsense, but she was still very upset!

    2. I think there are even deeper biases baked in to the human experience. So deep that we we just take for granted.

      For eg. A “sense of free will” is one of them.

      Was strange watching Sam Harris discuss this with an evolutionary biologist on his podcast. The biologist had some very strange explanation that seemed to defy the laws of physics and couldn’t come to an understanding.

  11. I don’t know about the rest of South Asia, but in Punjab most of the “high caste” tribes (wealthy, major land owners, rulers, warriors, etc) converted to Islam, and its the Punjabi Hindus who skew majorly to the Dalit side. The same is probably true for other regions (parts of UP, Hyderabad, Gujarat).

    There are no doubt places where the opposite occurred. On average, like you say, probably not too different from the average Indian.

    1. “I don’t know about the rest of South Asia, but in Punjab most of the “high caste” tribes (wealthy, major land owners, rulers, warriors, etc) converted to Islam”

      IMO the impact of literal ‘conversion’ in Punjab is overstated.

      It seems to me more a case of founder effect + high TFR due to the initial convert communities being rural (bolstered by British investment in rural areas)

      Most upper caste Hindus right up to partition were urban and had significantly lower TFR.

      “and its the Punjabi Hindus who skew majorly to the Dalit side.”

      Punjabi Hindus seem to have a barbell distribution, where they were over-represented both at the top (professionals, academics, business owners, money lenders etc) and at the bottom.

      “Jatts were considered low-caste right up until the modern period, despite owning all the land…”

      This is the case throughout India. Brahmins and upper castes generally are not large land owners (exceptions being Thakurs and Bhumiars). Land owning cultivator castes usually slot in somewhere in the middle like Jatts, Patidars, Marathas etc.

  12. I don’t know about the rest of South Asia, but in Punjab most of the “high caste” tribes (wealthy, major land owners, rulers, warriors, etc) converted to Islam, and its the Punjabi Hindus who skew majorly to the Dalit side. The same is probably true for other regions (parts of UP, Hyderabad, Gujarat).

    current pak punjab is biased because the hindus who stayed (mostly Christian now but these are recent converts) after partition were low caste. i think there was a similar tho milder bias in east pakistan/bangladesh. before partition there were lots of hindu khatris in modern pakistan.

    i have read in east bengal the Muslim population comes mostly from the middling peasant castes. the upper castes and depressed castes for whatever reason stayed hindu? (my own genetic pattern is notable only for being more e asian than usual, though my mother’s side has some kayastha and father’s mother’s side bengali brahmin; i assume the rest is the ‘middling peasant’, albeit we seem to have had landholdings of some size for several centuries).

    1. Yeah I mean before partition. Punjabi Muslims and Sikhs skewed “high caste”, Hindus low caste.

      I’m putting these things in quotes because its difficult to talk of “caste” in Punjab (and probably Bengal as well). Jatts were considered low-caste right up until the modern period, despite owning all the land and being the most Steppe-shifted. Brahmins, despite being neither rich, land-owning, or martial, were considered high-caste.

    2. It makes more sense spatially too as High castes were already working with the prior states i.e. they were situated in the cities or states while villages were far off & tribes lived in forests {Hence in folk religion we find mix between local, Hindu or Islamic in rare cases}. So coverts were groups which were already integrated into city life or had large land holdings in villages & thus their conversion fits in the larger scheme of things.

  13. INDTHINGS, we can make it clearer if we put it on the west eurasian-AASI cline. but yeah, everything is imperfect.

    basically in societies where most people are Muslim, by definition, most high caste ppl will be too. sometimes, like in egypt, it seems jizya regime meant there was a long-term erosion due to poorer people who wanted to avoid the tax (leaving the richer people as copts), but that’s not India, where group conversions are the norm.

    the bigger point, which i think is now clear, is that conversion to Islam wasn’t driven by its egalitarian ethos. other factors were much more important.

  14. I find it very interesting that many South Asian Syeds carry R1a1a haplogroup. Either they were high caste Hindu converts to Islam under Muslim rule to ensure their privileged status, or they are offsprings of Hindu women raped by Muslim invaders carrying R1a1a haplogroup. But how do we know that prophet Muhammad did not carry R1a1a haplogroup? There is almost 2000 years of variance between the life of prophet Muhammad and the migrations of the R1a1a carrying steppe Eurasians into South Asia and Southwest Asia. How do we know that some R1a1a carrying people did not settle in Arabia diring those 2000 years? Arabia experienced booming trade during that period such as those of frankincense. Currently about 9% of peninsular Arabs carry R1a1a haplogroup. What are your thoughts?

  15. But how do we know that prophet Muhammad did not carry R1a1a haplogroup?

    I PUT LINKS IN THE POSTS FOR A REASON!!!! READ THEM IF YOU WAT TO KNOW AND STOP SPECULATING!!!

    there are many modern arab clans and dynasties with descent back to muhammad’s lineage (it’s through ali usually). a very specific mutation, J1-P58-L147, is modal across all these lineages. that’s indicative of a genuine descent from the common ancestor.

    or they are offsprings of Hindu women raped by Muslim invaders carrying R1a1a haplogroup.

    you sound dumb here. i am assuming you understand that Muslim males can marry non-muslim women? (though traditionally hindu would have to nominally convert)

  16. “there are many modern arab clans and dynasties with descent back to muhammad’s lineage”

    This logic is as flawed as using today’s Syeds haplogroup to determine prophet Muhammad’s haplogroup (though the Arab geographic/ethnic affinity makes it more believable). How do you know that the present day so called Hashemites et al are not just false family tree claims, or even some possible illegitimate offsprings in secrecy 😉 Has there been any DNA analysis on prophet Muhammad skeletal remains or on his immediate family?

    “you sound dumb here”

    I was just trying to give Hindu nationalist representation for the sake of the argument 😉 You are rude, btw

  17. This logic is as flawed as using today’s Syeds haplogroup to determine prophet Muhammad’s haplogroup (though the Arab geographic/ethnic affinity makes it more believable). How do you know that the present day so called Hashemites et al are not just false family tree claims

    stop talking about shit you don’t know about. it’s not just the hashemites (eg royal family of morocco, others). since you are ignorant you may not know that peninsular arabs are very lineage obsessive, so many non-quarysh lineages that date back to before 600 AD as well. the quarysh lines seem pretty robust, it is more probable that Muhammad was a cuckoo’s egg.

    You are rude, btw

    stop saying dumb things.

  18. “ stop talking about shit you don’t know about. it’s not just the hashemites (eg royal family of morocco, others). since you are ignorant you may not know that peninsular arabs are very lineage obsessive“

    Since you have nothing to backup your flawed claims you resort to personal attacks. Btw, many of the R1a1a carrying Syeds are also lineage obsessive.

    1. Since you have nothing to backup your flawed claims you resort to personal attacks. Btw, many of the R1a1a carrying Syeds are also lineage obsessive.

      i think you have a low IQ and are very ignorant (you don’t know much). so i banned you

  19. Golwalkar and his peers make the argument- Places which were more Sramana (Buddhist/Jain) were easy targets for Islam to convert than places where Brahmanical orthodoxy was ascendant. It can be argued based on the North east and East (Bengal/ Bihar) were more Buddhist around 10th century than rest of the country. I am not very convinced by this argument for intuitive reasons more than concrete reasoning.
    It could also be argued Buddhism/Jainism needed state support more than Advaita/Folk/other Hinduism and hence these traditions succumbed rapidly with the ascendancy of Islamic states in North and East. The fall of these state supported “Panthas” made them easy target of proselytizing Sufis or Coercive Ulema (Jizyas) than their Hindu peers.

    Razib – you say that genetics of Bengal sort of align with this explanation right ?

    1. i think this is a reasonable hypothesis. there is a more general rule of thumb that elites in ‘march lands’ are more open to novel and progressive ideologies because the social matrix is more fluid. eaton makes the argument that east bengal’s Islamic nature is due to demographic expansion under the mughals, so that Muslim notables sponsored the settlement of peasants who switched religion.

      genetically east bengalis are curiously ‘non-stratified’. they look ‘well-mixed’ as if there’s no caste memory (Pakistan is not the same). we know 1,500 a massive tibeto-burman admixture happened there too, so we know endogamy had limits.

  20. I have myself made a transition from Dawkins/Hitchens atheism (Nerdy atheism) in my early twenties to a more cautious/plural (Hindu) atheism in my late twenties.

    some of the portions of God delusion appear deluded to even me – especially the binary reading of evolution of religions & their interactions with society on whole.

  21. “It could also be argued Buddhism/Jainism needed state support more than Advaita/Folk/other Hinduism and hence these traditions succumbed rapidly with the ascendancy of Islamic states in North and East. ”

    The Hinduism of 9th-10th century was as elite driven as Buddhism/Jainism. Perhaps not as dependent but still close. That’s the reason even Hindus of Punjab/Bengal/Sindh converted 2 Islam as well. Same reason folks kept donating to Sun temple at Multan deep in hostile territory. Same reason they kept on building Somnath even after each destruction.

    The explosion of personal god “Hinduism” is post Bhakti movement phenomena. Where Hinduism finally somewhat exited the temples/state into the streets 🙂

    1. Bhakti movement has resulted in a paradigm shift i dont disagree –
      But structures of Brahminical orthodoxy are sparsely documented even before the earliest Bhakti movement (8th century). it could be easily argued that they were diverse and unorganized or related/dependent on temples/institutions.
      So i am not fully on board with”The Hinduism of 9th-10th century was as elite driven as Buddhism/Jainism. Perhaps not as dependent but still close. That’s the reason even Hindus of Punjab/Bengal/Sindh converted 2 Islam as well. Same reason folks kept donating to Sun temple at Multan deep in hostile territory. Same reason they kept on building Somnath even after each destruction.”
      Eg- The Ellora caves and parallel temple construction needed Elite/State support without doubt – but that doesn’t imply that on ground the dispersed Folk/Brahminical inspired
      The devotion to temple sanctity appears important even with Bhakti movement as attested with the tales of Ambabai temple of Kolhapur. There are tales that various idols were stolen with emphasis on re-installation since the time of Alauddin .

  22. “The question is not why some became Muslim, but why most did not become Muslim.”

    Looking into the future how do you predict Muslim society would evolve in the subcontinent in the second half of this century? 30-80 years is a long time and sometimes former generations would never expect how the world would change later on.

    In India, over the last 70 years Muslim society has changed less than Hindu society as the early leaders outsourced the affairs of the former to the reactive Ulema who then provided legitimacy to many feudal rent-seeking politicians. How do you think things will evolve in Bangladesh say by 2050? Or 2080? I realize you haven’t lived there most of your life, but might be interesting to hear any trends or phenomena that you notice.

    1. Muslim-Murphy’s law:

      If there is a bad/illogical decision Muslims (in this case of India) can make, they will make it.

      Hate is orders of magnitude more powerful than love.

  23. @ Razib Why do you think Islamic conversions did not happen in Maharashtra on the same scale as Northern India? Prior to rise of the Marathas, there were the Deccan Sultanates and the Mughals. In my family history, as CKPs a number of my ancestors served Muslim nawabs as diwans, finance ministers, or sometimes lower bureaucrats/administrators etc. There was a social war waged by certain brahmin communities (mainly KoBras) which intensified with rise of the Peshwas partly because of our proximity to Muslim elites and we adopted aspects of Muslim culture including meat eating but we never converted. CKPs were considered elite and equal to Brahmin or at least within the Brahminic ecumene as far back as the 13th century. In general they were employed by Muslim polities for government service. I find it curious as to why my family didn’t convert or CKPs as a whole to Islam given such close proximity? If they converted they could have elevated their status even more, correct? It’s not like they could predict the rise of the Marathas. There were several centuries of Muslim rule in the region and it would make sense as in UP and pre-partitioned Punjab & Bengal for a high caste to convert. Maybe I’m missing something or don’t entirely understand the social impetus for conversion. Do you have any insights?

  24. The “nerd understanding” of religion as you call it is firmly sited within the Abrahamic fold. Is it possible to describe Islam/Christianity or Judaism without a God or a Prophet/Messiah? Impossible, as they do not have a-priori frameworks to enable the understanding of phenomena independently without the existence of a sky-man.

    In Cambodia, there was a judicial case to delineate the meaning of religion. One of the explanations put forward by a Christian NGO was “any communal mode/exertion/activity that seeks to worship a God”. The Buddhist judge riposted, in that case, is Buddhism not a religion?

    The pramana-based approach in Hindu Dharma and Buddhism (as almost every other Indic strand) provides a theist as well as an atheist with a toolkit to approach matters of spiritual philosophy. There is no need for any suspension of rational faculties.

    1. Is it possible to describe Islam/Christianity or Judaism without a God or a Prophet/Messiah?

      you’re a dumbass because you don’t know anything. reform judaism for a while rejected messiah, and reconstruction judaism rejected the necessity of theism. this sounds dumb to me, but it is a fact.

      The pramana-based approach in Hindu Dharma and Buddhism (as almost every other Indic strand) provides a theist as well as an atheist with a toolkit to approach matters of spiritual philosophy.

      you being a nerd you fucking dumbass. this is exactly the problem!

      yes, in the ‘official’ nerd reading these religions are non-theistic. but operationally most buddhists believe in god.

      https://www.gnxp.com/WordPress/2010/11/19/asian-buddhists-are-not-atheists/

      the cognitive anthropology even shows that in sri lanka hindus, Buddhists, and muslims, actually conceptualize the same idea of god.

      this post was written for nerds who take too seriously definitions written and exposited by nerds. not sure you are smart enough to take the next step.

      the obsession with ‘abrahamic vs. dharmic’ on this weblog is due to nerdy males who take categorizes seriously. there’s a reason they exist and they matter. but categories are not everything.. the reason ‘peasant syncetism’ is ubiquitous is that uneducated peasants don’t really have sophisticated beliefs, of all religions

      1. Reform Judaism and Reconstructionist Judaism are American contraptions that have been considered to be heterodox and non-representative of the Jewish faith by the Israeli Supreme Court in the past. They do not enjoy the patronage of several laws, meaning they can be discriminated against, including in the Law of Return. You are mistaking the exception for the rule!

        Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims have the same conception of God? This one is fresh. I am sure all the pantheists, polytheists, panentheists and deists agree on this one!!

    2. “Abrahamic fold”

      The more I read into it, the less convinced I am that “Abrahamic religions” are actually even a thing.
      There’s too much syncretism going on with Zoroastrianism, Canaanite cults, Platonism, mystery religions, etc. Even though the narrative is a linear evolution it seems more like a wastebasket taxon every day.

      I rarely (if ever) see theologists using it either.

  25. You are mistaking the exception for the rule!

    you are a fucking dumbass. your comments are exactly what i’m talking “well ackhually the rabbinate of Israel has said…”

    STOP LISTENING TO THE FUCKING RABBIS!

    Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims have the same conception of God? This one is fresh. I am sure all the pantheists, polytheists, panentheists and deists agree on this one!!

    do u read books? Theological Incorrectness: Why Religious People Believe What They Shouldn’t

      1. I will read that book. But still that is no equivalent for the real experience.

        this is book is based on ethnography. that means that the author interviews and does surveys of real people.

        the ‘real experience’ is that 99% of people don’t know the difference between a pantheist and a deist, 99.9% of people don’t know what the world panentheist at all.

        you’re focusing on ideas in your comments not experience. Buddhism does not necessitate god, but the fact is that most Buddhists in the world say they believe in god(s). you present the intellectual position as if that’s determinative. i reject that.

  26. Razib say
    My realization that I was an atheist occurred when I was eight, as I thought for a few moments about the idea that God might not exist.

    Realized (not formalized/skeptical) I was Agnostic/Atheist somewhere around age 11 (grade 6).

    My maternal family were and still are very very strong Evangelical Christians. So for me not just regular Church, Bible Study twice a week too.

    On a Side note: One of the Churches / Bible Study places (basically a rented house) was right next one of my classmates house. The congregants of the “Church” and “bible study” were far removed by class and social/economic status compared to my classmates house I had to pass, or basically sneak by.

    My parents, specially my mother expected us to treat everyone equally, specially those less fortunate. Evangelical Christians specially were all expected to be treated equal.

    But as I mention about sneaking past classmates house, even when one is young we realize class and economic status, however much parents want to eradicate. Would it have worked, if they sent me to a village school.

    Many thought my parents were well off, my sisters and I went to some of the best schools. My father was non political middle management. My mother insisted on 10% of the salary to go to various church workers. The only reason we were ok, parents sacrificed. Father did not drink or smoke, mother did not want new clothes. Forget about jewellery.

    Back to becoming an atheist: I had started reading my fathers collection of Bernard Shaw and Somerset Maugham around 10.

    Bible Study made me a skeptic. There were so many logical contradictions. I dont think I formalized those in my till decades later.

    So now 62 and any one of these days it will time to go. No reincarnation. Maybe that is Nibbana.

    1. sbarrkum \So now 62 and any one of these days it will time to go. No reincarnation. Maybe that is Nibbana\
      I am now 67, and for nearly 50 years, been an atheist. As I grow older , I feel the brahmincal traditions – my particular family traditions – in which I grew up be given some place in life , my life. I am still million miles away from Bhakthi, prayer or any such things I think I will keep keep some of these, esp Observences.

  27. the cognitive anthropology even shows that in sri lanka hindus, Buddhists, and muslims, actually conceptualize the same idea of god.

    I would reword god as as gods/evil/good spirits , the works.

    Humans need to believe in the supernatural, specially when the downturn happens. What went wrong in our life is due to changes in the stars, the wishes of the gods. When the downturn occurs, almost all will be turning towards astrology, gods you name it.

    Gods good and Evil and Ghosts:
    If you believe in good God, by definition there are evil God/s.

    There are also those who believe in Evil Gods (as defined by believers in other gods), eg Satanism, Kali.

    Whatever you believe, most will be scared of walking around in the dark, alone, without a bright torch. The excuse will be creepy crawlys, i.e snakes.

    In the west the Christians believe God will protect them against evil, i.e. walking in the dark. The same with my mother, sisters and some relatives.

    Curious if any readers here have no fear walking alone with no light in a jungle. Or maybe sleeping alone in a veranda with a lamp.

    Most of my Buddhist friends will not. The only one of my friends who will (and does) is a Christian.

    1. ‘Curious if any readers here have no fear walking alone with no light in a jungle.’

      Snakes? Scorpions? Animals? are not excuses. 81,000 are recorded getting bitten by snakes annually in India, actual number would be much larger.

      Clear the critters and it is not a big deal. Can do it in New-Zealand(no snakes).

      ‘Or maybe sleeping alone in a veranda with a lamp.’

      Not sure why would you think this is a big deal? Maybe I am being overconfident.

      1. ‘Curious if any readers here have no fear walking alone with no light in a jungle.’

        Been to jungles twice in the Amazon. On both visits walked at night without a light and the idea that it could be dangerous first entered my mind when one of my friends asked me if I didn’t fear it because I had dog vision or was I just stupid. I believe it was the second one! Even so, didn’t feel any fear.

        1. Been to jungles twice in the Amazon.

          Would you do the same in India, where all and sundry will scare you about animals, evil lurking.

          Then again it might be generational. I am 62. Would your father do it.

          1. I guess if I, or someone I knew, had a bad experience then I wouldn’t do it. I just never heard any such story so the idea didn’t enter my head. Even when it did, it most likely didn’t seep into my subconscious, which is probably where emotions like fear come from. The lack of fear was due to ignorance.

            Then again it might be generational. I am 62. Would your father do it.

            My grandfather was raised in a village. So I believe my dad grew up hearing stories from him about snakes or other such animals. So he most likely wouldn’t do it. But he forgot to pass on those stories to me!

      2. Snakes? Scorpions? Animals? are not excuses. 81,000 are recorded getting bitten by snakes annually in India, actual number would be much larger.

        ‘Or maybe sleeping alone in a veranda with a lamp.’

        Not sure why would you think this is a big deal? Maybe I am being overconfident.

        Re: Alone with an oil lamp (not an electric torch). Let me know when you do it, or even be allowed to do it in India or Sri Lanka

        In NZ (or US etc) there seems concepts of safer and less evil lurking (other than chain saw types) so South Asians feel safe. That same person is extremely unlikely (or even allowed) to venture into even the edges of the jungles of South Asia.

        Comes back to the belief in good/evil gods lurking at the edges of human habitation.

        81K, odds are better you get knocked down crossing the road.

        However, always the excuse by suburbanites not walking around in rural areas in flip flops.

        1. A couple of night time prowling i remember – was truly terrifying;
          Once in the Western ghats in heavy rains – the rains were so heavy no one could hear the approaching leopard (though no one hears an approaching leopard if the leopard doesnt want us to hear him), Was extremely scared/excited when we came across a Sambar giving out alarm calls. A predator was around.
          During a stay @ Corbett – a Huge Male tiger was prowling/roaring at 10 feet from our guesthouse – almost sniffing at the guesthouse – the thin doors would not be an issue if he had decided he wanted us.

          The moment the moon goes out – things become incredibly scary. Owls swooshing etc.

  28. I would like to agree with all of it, it just seems rational.(I agree with the idea that all religions are polytheism including christianity,judaism,islam).
    I just have some doubts in terms of how to explain persistence of certain taboos and certain fears. Hinduism as a religion is incredibly diverse, it has more ideas than any other. It also has egalitarian ideas as well. It just seems to be the case that it fell into a ditch of its own making on idea of caste and how it ended up being such a pathetic moron . And much worse, it continues to remain so. Also, I think engaging blasphemy in certain regions of India even among Hindus is positively dangerous. I would like to agree with everything in this post, I just have a hard time reconciling it with these taboos and dangers and all this has political implications as well. And this is with respect to Hinduism itself.And I am not even talking about monotheism at all.

    Do you think that had there been no interaction of Islam or west, Hindus would have overcome caste and valued individualism and been able to build just as impressive a civilization as it happened in west?. With no interaction to Islam or buddhism or jainism or atheism etc. This is my genuine question.
    Thank you.

    1. There was indeed a time when there was no interaction with Islam or with the West. But that was the period when Hinduism was locked in a life-or-death struggle with Buddhism/Jaina religions. During this period, there were kings who let all of them flourish, instead of adopting a state religion. But some did and that should give you a clue on how Hinduism would have played out if Islam and the West did not come along.

      Thirugnanasambandar was a saint in the Tamil Saivite tradition that was strongly pursued as almost the state religion by Chola and Pandya kings. He, perhaps, lived in the 7th century AD, just 300 years before the Chola Peak in South East Asia. There was ferment in society, as can be seen from his writings – the people seemed to admire Jaina and Buddhism for their emphasis on ethics and virtue rather than rituals. Thirugnanasambandar himself was a convert twice – from Saiva to Jaina and then back to Saiva.

      His books offer a deep insight into a society that was pre-eminent over a huge landmass and yet untouched by Islam or the West.

      https://www.researchgate.net/publication/326885556_The_Hindu_Confrontation_with_the_Jaina_and_the_Buddhist_Saint_Tirunacampantar's_Polemical_Writings

      1. both make Hindu society susceptible to conquest. Too much division with jati and that causes weakness as well

  29. Why do you think Islamic conversions did not happen in Maharashtra on the same scale as Northern India? Prior to rise of the Marathas, there were the Deccan Sultanates and the Mughals. In my family history, as CKPs a number of my ancestors served Muslim nawabs as diwans, finance ministers, or sometimes lower bureaucrats/administrators etc. There was a social war waged by certain brahmin communities (mainly KoBras) which intensified with rise of the Peshwas partly because of our proximity to Muslim elites and we adopted aspects of Muslim culture including meat eating but we never converted. CKPs were considered elite and equal to Brahmin or at least within the Brahminic ecumene as far back as the 13th century. In general they were employed by Muslim polities for government service. I find it curious as to why my family didn’t convert or CKPs as a whole to Islam given such close proximity? Wouldn’t it make sense to convert if they could have elevated their status even further? It’s not like they could predict the rise of the Marathas. There were several centuries of Muslim rule in the region and it would make sense as in UP and pre-partitioned Punjab & Bengal for a high caste to convert. Maybe I’m missing something or don’t entirely understand the social impetus for conversion. Does anyone have insights?

  30. “… and why religions are universal and share broad family resemblances.”

    as part of the ceremonies of the sacrificial day, the aztecs would lay their human victims on a stone slab. then the head priest would cut open the chest of person being sacrificed with a stone knife, pluck out their still beating heart with his bare hands, and ritualistically raise it to the sky to offer it to their gods in heavens. it is estimated that aztecs sacrificed up to 20 thousand persons every year in this fashion.

    cut to scene two. some of the extra pious jain ladies in india wouldn’t even pour boiling water down the kitchen sink, lest it may kill bacteria in the drainage pipe. they would cool down the water before pouring it in the sink. jain munis famously wear a cloth patch over their mouth to avoid killing airborne bacteria in their mouth.

    how could two groups of humans came to follow two such dramatically different religions – one bloody like a zombie movie, another non-violent to an annoyingly impractical degree.

    the reason is, all religions are NOT same. there are fundamental differences between religions. they give their followers different vantage points to look at the world.

    i get the cognitive origin of the religions part. yes, some humans are hardwired to believe in supernatural. yes, there is universal tendency to believe in unseen powers that can have benevolent or malevolent impact on their lives. yet the religions manifest in such fundamentally different appearances. why? because the understanding of what pleases the supernatural is different in different religions. aztecs believed that sacrificing humans is what pleased their gods; jains believe protecting lives is what makes their gods happy.

  31. yeah for Punjab it seems like mid castes converted more. The Brahmins, Khatris,and Dalits stayed Hindu largely. Jatts, Arains, Gujjars etc. skewed muslim more. Granted greater Punjab really includes Harayana to a large degree and parts of himachal and there the populations remained Hindu.
    But yes. It seems like high castes had more attachment to Hindu identity. The lowers were just undesired so no one bothered. They were just seen as slaves for all practical purposes. The middle had most to gain to convert to what the political elite were without the baggage of attachment to their ancestral idealogy identity.
    Thar desert makes all the difference though. This is off topic but I think Gujarat was mentioned before. Lohanas from Sindh and are a bit mixed. Gujarati Brahmins cluster with other N indian Brahmins, if not a little more West shifted. Gujarati rajputs similarly and vanias (banias as well- Banias of N tend to be more east shifted, including marwaris but guju vanias cluster by hapstance with S Indian Brahmins). Patels have an insane range and are most interesting. Some cluster with Brahmins and some near dalits but the middle seems to be around S Indian Land owning group average, aka around the Reddy mark. Jats are to Punjab as Patels are to Gujarat. The classic Gujarati yeoman is far more E Eurasian shifted.

    Parsis are 75% Iranic their era and 25% mid caste Guju. Khojas, Ismalis, and Bohras are like middle castes but with a non insignificant bit of actual West Asian input that pushes them West on the cline towards upper castes. Bhils like dalits. And other Muslimsz including sizeable Patel Muslim community, like other farmer castes.

  32. When the first census was done Muslim population. In undivided india was 18% in 140 years it has grown to 34%. It is easy to see what 800 years can do

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