Modernity, Secularism and the Sacred in Indian Urban Spaces
It has become increasingly apparent, over the past two decades or so, that the relation of modernity and secularization, taken for granted at least since the European enlightenment, is more complicated and less inevitable than had been earlier supposed. Indeed, a global debate has emerged around the notions of secularism and the ‘postsecular’, with some attempts to apply the latter term to what has been called ‘the return of religion’ in public life. In India, however, the debate around secularism never excluded religion from public life: rather it raised the question of how a plurality of religious views and practices could be accommodated both by the state and by civic structures. This has been a pressing concern in Indian urban spaces especially, because of their crowded, heterogeneous and diverse character. In my presentation, I will attempt to explore the multiple implications of ‘modernity’ in the Indian context, and how secularism and the sacred are negotiated in Indian cities. I will discuss these issues both with reference to the emergence of aggressive Hindutva and its claims to the ‘sacred’ cities of Ayodhya, Kashi (Varanasi) or Mathura, and with reference to my recent edited book, Religion and the City in India (Routledge, 2022), which offers a longer historical and sociological view of the field.
Supriya Chaudhuri is a humanities scholar and cultural critic based in Kolkata, India, where she is Professor Emerita at Jadavpur University. She was educated at Presidency College, Calcutta, and the University of Oxford, where she took her 4 graduate and doctoral degrees. Her research interests include English and European Renaissance literature, Indian cultural history, modernism, critical theory, translation and urban studies. Among recent publications are her edited volumes, Religion and the City in India (Routledge, 2022) and Commodities and Culture in the Colonial World (Routledge, 2018); as well as chapters in Machiavelli Then and Now: History, Politics, Literature (Cambridge University Press, 2022); The Form of Ideology and the Ideology of Form (Open Book Publishers, 2022).