Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Nationalism, Religion and “social imaginaries”

Written by: on April 5, 2013

It was December 6, 1992, a dark and gloomy day in the history of India, one that left the religious, social and political fabric of the country forever tainted.  I vividly recall that day that brought the entire country to a total standstill for almost a week.  I had to remain in my hotel room in Bangalore for the following three days unable to drive back home on account of violence and unrest that had erupted everywhere.

More than 300,000 people had gathered that day in a town called Ayodhya in northern India, sacred to the Hindus since it is believed to be the birthplace of god Rama.  Those who had gathered there came from various places of the country, they were clad in saffron colored clothes symbolizing hindu nationalism.  The mood of this crowd was both celebratory and at the same time violent.  They were there, having been mobilized by their religious and political leaders for a purpose.  The day and everything that happened then was the culmination of over 10 years of serious and deliberate planning.

In a matter of hours, starting at noonday, the saffron crowd razed to the ground a famous mosque called Babri Masjid built by Babar the first Mughal emperor of India in 1528,  replacing it with a foundation for a temple to Rama.  The leaders watched with a sense of accomplishment and contentment over all that was happening cheering the crowd along.  They  managed to turn the Hindu faith which for centuries had been accommodative and all embracing, into an intolerant religio-political force – a force powerful and cohesive enough to attempt erasing more than four centuries of history and rewriting it.  People had been led to believe that the Babri Masjid was built over a temple that originally existed where Rama was born.

In the violence that followed, nearly 2000 people were killed and over 5000 seriously injured over the next four months.  Supporters of Ayodhya claim that it was the liberation of a sacred space of the Hindus and one that unites an entire nation.  CITATION Lud l 1033 (Ludden n.d.)  The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the political arm of hindu fundamentalism that had cleverly organized this gained greater credence among the masses and the middle class as a party that stood for nationalism.

This incident carries all the marks of the social imaginaries that Charles Taylor discusses in his book Modern Social imaginaries.  The “long march” as he describes the evolution of modernity of the West leading to the three central forms of social imaginary: the economy, the public sphere and popular sovereignty are all obvious here.  But there is something drastically different.  What is it?  Why isn’t modernity and social imaginaries in the world’s largest democracy bearing the outcomes that Taylor identifies?  In fact in closing, as he discusses secularity,   Taylor makes the following remark, “And the possibility is ever present of a reinvasion of the political identity by the confessional, as with the rise of the BJP in India.”  CITATION Tay04 p 194 l 1033  (Taylor 2004, 194)

The first social imaginary, the economy that Taylor describes as bringing to life a liberal moral order seems to be working to the contrary in the Indian context.   Rather than being beneficial to all and bringing about social harmony, it seems to be creating a greater divide.

Secondly, similar results are evidenced in the development of the modern public sphere as well. “One reason for the persistence of Hindu nationalism as a force in Indian political life during this century is that its basic tenets have been deployed many times to explain why Hindu-Muslim antagonism and thus communalism is morally correct, inevitable, necessary, and progressive. These ideas circulate widely and freely in the public domain. They have acquired a common sense quality by their institutionalized repetition in textbooks, museum exhibitions, scholarship, and other modern media.” CITATION Lud96 l 1033  (Contesting the Nation: Religion, Community, and the Politics of Democracy in India 1996)

The final form of the modern social imaginary which is popular sovereignty is witnessing a rule of the religious and social majorities and oppression of minorities.  David Ludden rightly points out that “Hindu nationalism defines the Indian nation as a whole, and it is logically antagonistic to all regional and minority movements. In its effort to unify India, its opposition to Islam is top priority.” CITATION Lud96 l 1033   (Contesting the Nation: Religion, Community, and the Politics of Democracy in India 1996) 

Does India stand out as the only country to encounter such turbulence?  No.  It is happening in many other parts of the world.  As Ludden  suggests, “Ayodhya is a window on a world of conflict inside nationalism which came into being in the 1980s, and also onto the global staging of national politics and cultures in the late twentieth century.” CITATION Lud l 1033  (Ludden n.d.) Why is this so?  

Could it be because the social imaginaries of the non western world are built on a different set of pillars and paradigms and have moved towards modernity devoid of the Christian foundation and the underpinnings of the Christian values and ideologies that have shaped the cultures of Europe and America?

I search for answers to the following questions: 

 When those Christian foundations erode gradually and finally disappear, what will the imaginaries be?

b.      In the pluralistic context of my ministry and leadership, how can such a foundation  be established that will create the right imaginaries?

c.       Can the emerging Indigenous church which is still in its infancy be guided to shape its imaginaries?

“Contesting the Nation: Religion, Community, and the Politics of Democracy in India.” 1996. http://www.sas.upenn.edu/~dludden/MakingIndiaHindu.htm (accessed April 4, 2013).

Ludden, David. Ayodhya: A Window on the World.

Taylor, Charles. Modern Social Imaginaries. London: Duke University Press, 2004.

About the Author


Leave a Reply