Review: The God Market- How Globalization Is Making India More Hindu, By Meera Nanda

Written by January 21, 2010 8:02 am 34 comments

Introduction:

Every so often when reading books of non-fiction written by great thinkers you come across one that you find yourself hoping is wrong about the multitude of depressing facts it presents. Line after line, this is the emotion that Meera Nanda’s latest book, “The God Market: How Globalization Is Making India More Hindu”, evokes. Beginning with post-independence India, Nanda walks us forward in time, pausing at influential points in the story to build a bullet-proof case for her central assertion that- in her words- “Globalization has been good to the Gods in India”. While it is a fast and thoroughly engaging read with all references relegated to the back pages, the sheer quantity of facts is still overwhelming at times.

Since my position on Nanda’s work is familiar to most followers of this website, I will present this review in an unconventional format. I will first describe the structure and content of the book. Then I will present some popular criticisms.

Overview:

The book has five parts, each part a self-contained thesis from start to finish.

1. After a brief description of neo-liberalism, Nanda breaks down the history of post-independence India into three time periods and takes us through the political and religious events that transpired during these periods. The story begins with creation of the modern welfare state, the foundation of the democratic process and the emergence of new nationalistic and ideological movements after independence in 1947. After going through a badly bungled experimental phase, neo-liberalism arose as the dominant economic model in India towards the end of the century. To end the chapter, Nanda writes about the privatization of society under the guise of ‘swatantra’. She provides evidence to show that “…privatization is not just turning higher education into a business; it is opening it up to the business of God and god-men as well.” The ideology of the ‘neo-Swatantrites’, according to Nanda, is that “the state has to have a minimal role in economic affairs, but a maximum role in propagation of Hinduism”.

2. In the second section of the book, Nanda explores the alarming increase in religiosity among the middle classes. This is unintuitive, to say the least, but the evidence presented is solid again. Despite the growing affluence and numbers among the middle classes, religion has increased its grip on society in India. Particularly noteworthy is Nanda’s assertion that this increased religiosity is more fervent and reactionary than ever before. Nanda borrows a phrase from Neill Macfarland, ‘the Rush Hour of the Gods’, to describe this growth of religiosity in India in the context of globalization and the resulting economic opportunities and “socio-psychological needs”.

Point by point, Nanda builds up her case to show how the new-found religiosity among young urban Indians goes hand in hand with a process of gentrification of the rituals and beliefs, adapting them to the new global economy. There is a new form of Hinduism taking root, one that is as comfortable in the boardroom as it is in the mandir. This section ends with a look at the “new gurus” such as Mata Amritanandamayi, Swami Dayananda, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, and Swami Ramdev, who have cornered the burgeoning market in techie religiosity.

3. Having built up the case for how both neo-liberalism and religion have come to dominate the current social climate of India, Meera Nanda defends her central thesis in the third section of the book. To do this, she brilliantly adapts her argument from a popular way of describing the coevolution of two or more mutually dependent institutions. Nanda’s term for the resulting collusion between the dominant institutions in India is the “State-Temple-Corporate Complex”.

The subject of government involvement in religious affairs is often a cause for contention among the Hindu masses that are led to believe that the government treats Hindus unfairly by targeting them and not the other religions. Nanda’s work discredits these arguments. She writes in detail how the current nexus between government and Hindu groups was initiated not by the government, but on the urging of Hindu elites. In essence, not only have Hindus managed to gain from this relationship that they forced onto the state, but they now use this nexus as propaganda claiming that the government unfairly targets Hindus!

Nanda follows the money trail, discrediting the popular arguments that attempt to portray Hindus as victims of government discrimination. The state-temple-corporate complex is in business, and business is booming. The last few pages of this chapter look at the effects of this union on culture- in particular, education and religious tourism. Nanda portrays an alarming increase in government endorsement, both financially and politically, for numerous religious and religion-related beliefs and practices. She draws examples from around the country to portray this increase in religious influence on education, both in unconventional training schools and in the accredited schools, colleges and universities.

The state-temple-corporate complex has encouraged an amalgam of nationalistic and religious emotions that the masses are drawn towards. Here is a particularly poignant quote from Nanda:

“Whereas the ‘religions of the book’, that is, Islam and Christianity, bind the faithful by demanding obedience to the letter and the spirit of their revealed dogmas, Hinduism deploys familiar rituals, festivals, myths and observances- the kind of things children learn on their mothers’ knees- to knit a many-stranded rope that binds the faithful to the faith with so many little ties, at so many different points that one loses sight of the ideological indoctrination that is going on. Ordinary worshipers and the three partners described above- the state, the temples, and the corporate or business interests- perform a choreographed dance, as it were, in which each element merges into another smoothly and effortlessly. The net result is a new kind of political and nationalistic Hinduism which is invented out of old customs and traditions that people are fond of, and familiar with.”

4. In the next chapter, the belief among Indians of our cultural superiority over others is described. Nanda writes “Indians rank number one in the world in thinking that we are number one in the world”. This statement is backed by evidence from internationally recognized polls. Meera Nanda presents the data on this subject in the context of group dynamics specific to post-colonial societies that are emerging from poverty. She extends this thought to the Hindutva explanations for the IT revolution, pointing to how Hinduism is now used to justify everything from democracy to the number of science graduates in India. She says, “A great many computer professionals, important scientists and well-respected intellectuals have bought into this idea that Hinduism predisposes Indians to become great software engineers”. Nanda places these arrogant notions of Hindu superiority beside objective measures of India’s science and engineering accomplishments, demonstrating that the numbers tell a completely different story.

The last part of this chapter is concerned with the development of what Nanda calls the “Theology of Hatred”. Here she describes the “intellectual the-god-market-meera-nandawarriors” of the Hindutva army as resorting to “designer fascism”, whereby they claim tolerance of other religions while claiming that this tolerance arises due to the virtues of Hinduism alone. There is a powerful movement of Hindu intellectuals, such as those behind the Voice of India publishing house, who have made an art out of Hindu triumphalism while presenting Islam and Christianity as outsiders to be feared and challenged. Nanda closes the chapter with an appeal to celebrate the secular achievements of India as progress that was made independent of Hindu influence.

5. The final section of the book is concerned with global trends in religiosity and secularism. After presenting examples to demonstrate that religious influence has increased and not decreased over the past half-century of free-markets and globalization, Nanda gets down to pinning down the nature of secularism as a cultural institution. There are, she points out, differences in the Indian view of secularism. She places India’s struggle with religion in the context of this global trend towards increased religiosity and decreased secularization, and asks the reader to step back and try to understand how the two forces of globalization and secularization have affected each other in their evolution.

Quoting Peter Berger, whom she also quotes in other places in the book, Nanda shows that religion and the state are competitors for cultural capital. As reason begins to assert itself in a society, leading to more influence by the state over civilian activities that were once controlled by religion, the religiosity of the people also falls over time. Conversely, by the removal of the powers of the state towards influencing culture an available niche is created for religion to fill. Over and over Nanda points out, using Berger’s work, how this new surge in religion is actually of the supernatural kind, not the more benign rational form commonly associated with globalization.

Nanda presents an analysis of the correlation between religiosity and economic conditions, mentioning studies that show clearly how the most religious societies are either extremely poverty stricken or are the most unequal in terms of their wealth distribution, thus creating an underclass ripe for religious indoctrination. She writes about supply-side theory, which states that in the global market religions will compete and there will be new religious movements- a boom and bust cycle of religious beliefs. Nanda presents evidence from a larger scale model that overrides the smaller market trends and shows that a steady long-term decline of religion is feasible if the cultural need for supernatural beliefs fades away. Nanda closes by laying out the implications of the models of secularization theory on India, with an appeal towards building a secular future.

“There is no bigger challenge for India today than to create meaningful secular spaces and a secular public culture”

Criticism:

There is much criticism of Meera Nanda from all denominations of educated Indian society. I will list a few here.

1. Hindu Hater: Nanda is often accused of focusing only on Hindus and allowing other religious groups to get off easy. This accusation is meant to preclude intelligent conversation, even when it is advanced by the Western ‘showcase intellectuals’ who are often placed on the front lines to defend Hinduism. Nevertheless, Nanda has stated previously why her focus is on Hinduism. Hers are not unlike the reasons why a Pakistani secularist would likely direct the bulk of his or her ire at Islam, or an Italian freethinker at Catholicism.

2. Christian/Islamic Apologist: When people perceive things as black or white, they are likely to place others in one of those two categories. There may be something in the religious mind that prevents such people from understanding the merits of reaching for objective thought, free of cultural bias.

3. Islam is so much Worse than Hinduism: This argument makes the fallacy of irrelevance, or simply, it is a red herring.

4. Nanda is Anti-Business: No, she is not. The prevalence of this accusation is evidence for a populist reactionism against Nanda’s work. Nanda’s positions on economics are reflective of one who calls for measured use of the potential for competition in business, in order to create innovation and progress in society. In the book, she criticizes the Indira Gandhi administration’s top-down policies, making it clear that she believes that by that stage of development, at that time in history, the government should have ceded some areas of industry that were under its control to be developed further by regulated private enterprise. India, she states, was ready for business. The work done through the Nehru years had created enough local infrastructure to begin privatization.

5. She sees all Hindus as Right-Wing Ideologues: In the book, Nanda catalogs the evolution of the Hindutva movement beginning with the foundations of the philosophy of Integral Hinduism when the prevailing mood within the movement was suspicious of both the state as well as the capitalist system, to today where Hindus have figured out ways of exploiting the current right-of-center political climate. There were left-leaning philosophical underpinnings in the beginning, and perhaps some remain, but the driving force today is the god market.

There are many other arguments raised against Nanda’s work by a particular online contingent. The religious and superstitious IT community that Nanda comes down on in her book are not exactly her biggest fans. Internet message boards, blogs and forums are filled with right-wing Hindutva hate speech directed at Nanda. Much of their criticism is not worth addressing individually. None of the criticism addresses Nanda’s evidence. This is quite understandable since, after all, there is no arguing against demonstrable facts. Much of the comments on these sites are studies in logical fallacies, containing everything from ad hominen attacks to straw-men arguments and ad absurdum reasoning. The motivation to defend their religion is so strong in these people that they do not, for an instant, let reason get in their way.

Another group of people who are highly insulted by Nanda’s thesis is the section of the rationalist community that is ideologically pro-globalization- unapologetically so, even in the face of evidence that a balanced approach is needed in certain areas of social and economic health. Very often I have seen comments from such folk attacking Nanda’s thesis simply because it offends their aesthetic sensibilities. They often contend that it could not possibly be true that free-markets have actually increased religiosity in India. It seems too obvious to them that, since they have come to reason through the internet (and cultural globalization), reason must be the beneficiary of any such socio-economic development model. Often such folks, even rationalists, will not even take the time to actually read the arguments and check the evidence, preferring to further advance their confirmation bias by deliberately ignoring that which makes them uncomfortable.

Conclusion:

Meera Nanda’s book is an eye opener for any Indian who values human rights, science, and secularism and wishes to advance these in India. The rationalist movement, despite the herculean efforts of a dedicated few, has been floundering in the sea of religious belief that surrounds it. Nanda’s work needs to be read and discussed in rationalist settings around the country, with a view towards developing strategies that are in tune with the vastly different world in which religions operate today. With this book, Nanda joins the likes of Romila Thapar as someone who speaks the unblemished truth about our country in the face of much public resentment. “The God Market” is a testament to Meera Nanda’s ability to cut through the noise and tell us the story, the complete story, and how it relates to what she has not yet begun to speak of.

This post was written by:

- who has written 62 posts on Nirmukta.

34 Comments

    • Thank you, Ralph!

      • I think Ralph wrote this in hurry. Your review may be good but Meera does not seem to be enjoying a great reputation of being an unbiased commentator –

        Hinduism, Environmentalism and the Nazi Bogey

        A preliminary reply by Dr. Koenraad Elst to Ms. Meera Nanda

        (12 August 2004)

        http://koenraadelst.bharatvani.org/articles/politics/bogey.html

        Dr. Koenraad advises Meera Nanda to overcome her hatred, and hopes that she will be able to make impartial assessments of glorious past of India.

        Hate and how to outgrow it

        There are more points in Ms. Nanda’s paper which are worthy of further discussion, but for now I will conclude with an observation on what seems to be her sincere declaration of interest. Among the points that “worry” her, she mentions this as the final one: “The more prominence Hinduism gets abroad, even for wrong reasons like the new age and paganism, the more prestige it gains in India.”

        Here, she really lays her cards on the table. It is very good that, unlike many other “secularists”, she does not try to be clever and claim to speak for “true Hinduism” against a “distorted Hinduism” of the Hindu revivalists. Instead, she clearly targets Hinduism itself, deploring any development which might make Hinduism “gain prestige”. Let us see if I can translate that correctly: wanting something or someone to suffer rather than to prosper is what we call “hate”. She hates Hinduism, and her academic work is written in the service of that hate.

        To me, that is not the end of the matter. As a Catholic, I was taught never to give up hope, one of the great Christian virtues along with faith and charity. And under the influence of Socrates, I understand that deplorable attitudes are merely the result of ignorance. So, I don’t despair and I look forward to the day when Meera Nanda will go out and acquaint herself in person with some of the people whose positions she has now been misrepresenting. Or at least she may start reading the authors whom she criticizes. Once she comes to acquire more knowledge about her subject-matter, she may reconsider her opinion.

        • Dr. Koenraad advises Meera Nanda to overcome her hatred, and hopes that she will be able to make impartial assessments of glorious past of India.

          Dr Koenraad is not advising anyone, he is expressing his point of view using ad hominem attacks instead of logical refutation of Dr Nanda’s positions. Why? Could it be because he has no real argument?

          There is a straw man in there. Dr. Nanda is well aware of India’s past. Hinduism is a corruption of India’s ‘glorious past’. We do not need anyone else, Hindu or otherwise, to tell us about India. What Koenraad does here is the same old trick that I have explained in my other article on Hinduism- equating Hinduism with India. This is a dastardly lie. Yes, I am calling Koenraad a liar. Hinduism is a viral belief system. India is a vast cultural entity that encompasses much more. Unfortunately it also harbors this disease of Hinduism.

          Hate and how to outgrow it

          Ad hominem attacks and their irrelevance:

          Instead, she clearly targets Hinduism itself, deploring any development which might make Hinduism “gain prestige”.

          Duh? Apparently the definition of secularist/rationalist/freethinker has escaped Koenraad. If I identify a destructive virus, the objective from there on is pretty obvious to anyone who cares about people.

          wanting something or someone to suffer rather than to prosper is what we call “hate”. She hates Hinduism, and her academic work is written in the service of that hate.

          Do you ‘hate’ the AIDS virus? Are all the scientists who work on getting rid of the AIDA virus ‘haters’? This is childish thinking. Koenraad is nothing but an apologist for a repressive and destructive religious label. In defending it he is resorting to silly name-calling.

          The thing to remember here is that there is a huge difference between the virus and the host. The virus must be destroyed. The host is to be protected and defended. People like Koenraad are confused about this part. They are defending the virus. People like Dr Nanda are the ones whose work defends the people of India because they are able to objectively identify the virus.

          The last part of Koenraad’s diatribe is nothing but the vain ramblings of a sophist. All it consists of is dishonest pity wrapped in irrelevant BS. Let me try the same thing: Socretes said “deplorable attitudes are merely the result of ignorance “. So all Koenraad needs to do is read the accounts of the great Earl of Aesop to realize that fairies and hobgobblins do indeed reside in our underwear. Not very convincing, is it? Its called the Courtier’s Reply. Read this: http://richarddawkins.net/articles/463

          • Just to add to this, I have already mentioned the ‘Hindu Hater’ argument in the review. As mentioned in the review, this argument is meant to preclude intelligent conversation.

            To demonstrate, let me turn it back on you.

            You HATE reason. Your academic work is in the “service of hate” because you do not agree with us. So there.

            It’s also amusing that you did not see that this section of the review where I address the ‘Hindu Hater’ idea was specifically meant for Koenraad. In other words, when I said “This accusation is meant to preclude intelligent conversation, even when it is advanced by the Western ’showcase intellectuals’ who are often placed on the front lines to defend Hinduism”, I was talking about the very person whom you now quote. Very amusing indeed that you would quote someone saying the very thing that I have dismissed that person for saying.

  • “Point by point, Nanda builds up her case to show how the new-found religiosity among young urban Indians goes hand in hand with a process of gentrification of the rituals and beliefs, adapting them to the new global economy.”

    Could you elaborate on this? What is this process of gentrification? How is this causing young Indians to adapt to the global economy? Are you(and may be Dr. Nanda) using “adapt” in the same sense as in evolutionary biology, like “an organism adapting to its new environment”?.

    If the new-found religiosity and the process of gentrification are leading young Indians to adapt to the global economy, is it not, on balance a good thing?

    • Krishna, thanks for your insightful question, as usual.

      I’m afraid you’ve misunderstood the section you quote! If you read the sentence carefully, I say “gentrification of the rituals and beliefs, adapting them to the new global economy”. You misinterpret this to lead you to say, “process of gentrification are leading young Indians to adapt to the global economy”.

      There is a big difference here. Meera Nanda is talking about the gentrification of the gods. This helps Hinduism adapt to the new cultural landscape. You have misrepresented this to mean adaptation of the young Indians. The process of gentrification of the gods does not necessarily help “young Indians to adapt to the global economy” as you have suggested. That was not the suggestion at all.

      I had not intended on drawing an analogy with evolutionary biology, lest we take this analogy too far, but let me do so now on your behest. We are talking about “adapt” in the cultural sense, so we are talking about memes. Daniel Dennett’s example of a parasite, or the more common example of a virus can be used to complete the analogy. If a new antibiotic becomes popular and is prescribed a lot, the virus adapts to the new evolutionary landscape. In other words, it learns to survive in the new landscape, causing as much harm as before. This adaptation is most accurately analogous to the process of gentrification of religion that Nanda refers to. This adaptation is by no means “on balance a good thing” for the victim/host.

      Thanks.

  • Ajita,Hats off! Excellent review. Honestly, I could have written the book myself!! How true! Just yesterday my wife returned from India. She was awestruck by the religio-political atmosphere even in small towns. For example, in Udupi, during the “Paryaya” event of local Mutts, hundreds of politicians, State and Central ministers descended on to Udupi to seek blessings of Swamis! Gayatri Mantra is blaring all over the town: in the bus, in hotels, in restaurants, in market places!!!Chief Minister of Karnataka, a BJP leader who never goes any place without a huge “Nama” is busy touring temples rather than meeting with citizens.

    All I can say is, God Save India! Oops!!!

    KPS Kamath

    • Thank you!
      The involvement of politicians in these large public religious ceremonies has come to be accepted as normal in India.

  • Regarding Nanda’s observation, “Indians rank number one in the world in thinking that we are number one in the world”.

    Here is what Al-Biruni, a great Indophile, wrote around 1030 A. D.

    “In the fifth place, there are other causes, the mentioning of which sounds like a satire –peculiarities of their national character, deeply rooted in them, but manifest to everybody. We can only say, folly is an illness for which there is no medicine, and the Hindus believe that there is no country but theirs, no nation like theirs, no kings like theirs, no religion like theirs, no science like theirs. They are haughty, foolishly vain, self-conceited, and stolid. They are by nature niggardly in communicating that which they know, and they take the greatest possible care to withhold it from men of another caste among their own people, still much more, of course, from any foreigner. According to their belief, there is no other country on earth but theirs, no other race of man but theirs, and no created beings besides them have any knowledge or science whatsoever. Their haughtiness is such that, if you tell them of any science or scholar in Khurasan and Persis, they will think you to be both an ignoramus and a liar. If they travelled and mixed with other nations, they would soon change their mind, for their ancestors were not as narrow-minded as the present generation is…. Now such is the state of things in India.

    Al Biruni, 1030 A. D.

    I recommend every Indian to read this book. You will be amazed how time has stood still in India for a thousand years. Al-Biruni writes in minutest details about India and Indians. If Al-Biruni visited India today, he would feel quite at home. There is a lesson to be learned from his observations: Can anyone guess what it is?

    Extract from INDIA by Al-Biruni
    Edited by Qeyamuddin Ahmad
    National Book Trust, India

    KPS Kamath

  • I suggest you follow Dr. K’s link and read his reactionary twaddle from start to finish, if you can keep from vomiting all the way through.

    • I have actually read it before, Ralph. I had to swallow it back down a couple of times when reading it. The strategy is very similar to that of most postmodern critics of science and reason. The arguments are so many, so flawed and so circuitous, that just as you start to answer one fallacy you find that it leads to many more, each leading to more than the one before it, and so on until you’re hit by the shit tsunami.

  • Point 4:
    “Nanda’s positions on economics are reflective of one who calls for measured use of the potential for competition in business, in order to create innovation and progress in society.”

    Ah, but who measures, who controls, who regulates? Pardon me for being skeptical, but I don’t want a Mullah or Pandit telling me how to think or what to believe or how to run my business, neither do I want the state in that space.

    I would posit the converse of your thesis – Meera Nanda is partially symptomatic of failed leftist-statist ideology trying to seek space in the errors of absolutist market-ism of the last couple of decades. A “God-of-the-gaps” but with the state replacing God.

    I’m not convinced she’s made the case for a causal relationship between globalization and the resurgence of religion and superstition, as a I commented elsewhere. Perhaps you can elaborate the argument?

    Yes, a good correlation exists, but that’s not enough. There’s a good correlation between the decline of pirates and global warming, as the FSM-ites never tire of pointing out.

    What is needed is simply for the state to stop patronizing religion – both majority and minority. She’s absolutely right there. From Ramlilas to Kumbh Mela to Haj to Godmen and Mullahs, there’s just too much state patronage of religion. The market and globalization are red herrings.

    I’m more sympathetic to the argument that religion has rushed in to fill some of the space the state has vacated recently. That needs to be combated by building a secular culture and more importantly, *secular support systems*. Those with leftward inclinations tend to overemphasize culture and philosophy over practical issues (strange, because Marx was as materialist as they come). A good public healthcare and unemployment benefit system, and free or subsidized public education system would do wonders to reduce religion. Now that’s a space I’ve no problem with the state entering.

    • Ah, but who measures, who controls, who regulates? Pardon me for being skeptical, but I don’t want a Mullah or Pandit telling me how to think or what to believe or how to run my business, neither do I want the state in that space.

      How you want the economic system to be run is not the issue here. That is opinion. I don’t have the time or patience to go into a debate on economics with you. If you are interested you can address some of my ideas on the fallacy inherent in the libertarian position here: http://www.culturalnaturalism.org/2009/06/naturalism-in-economics-part-1.html
      Bear in mind the above article is just concerned with one issue where “free-market” ideology is wrong. There are other areas where it is wrong.

      Meera Nanda is partially symptomatic of failed leftist-statist ideology

      After I have specifically pointed out that she seeks a middle ground, you make the above statement. This only shows that you are an ideologue committed to unrealistic economic beliefs and not to evidence based rationalism.

      I’m not convinced she’s made the case for a causal relationship between globalization and the resurgence of religion and superstition, as a I commented elsewhere. Perhaps you can elaborate the argument?

      Too bad you are not convinced. Perhaps the reason you are not convinced is because you are not taking the time to read her book. It is not my job to list in detail the evidence supporting Nanda’s positions. That was what the book was for. The job of the reviewer does not cover presenting a complete defense of the entire thesis of the book being reviewed.

      Yes, a good correlation exists, but that’s not enough. There’s a good correlation between the decline of pirates and global warming, as the FSM-ites never tire of pointing out.

      I do not need a lecture on causation. Would you like to discuss causation from an epistemological or an ontological point of view? I’m pretty sure I will be able to keep up, so don’t hesitate to blow me over.

      If you have read the book and then were criticizing the exact causal mechanisms that Nanda has provided replete with case studies and chronological data, then I could understand that you are coming from a place that deserves a proper response.

      If you took the time to study the mentioned models of secularization theory that fit the evidence the best, and then criticized those models that support the ideas in the book, then perhaps we can have an intelligent and thoughtful conversation.

      Instead, you come in swinging with no gloves on and balloons for fists.

      Science works with the evidence at hand, concurrent with the gathering of new evidence. Simply seeking to dismiss available evidence that clearly provides a naturalistic explanation for a phenomenon, without even bothering to look at that evidence, is characteristic of religious ideologies and not of rational thinkers. This is akin to the anti-evolutionists’ tired old arguments that there is no evidence for evolution in the face of overwhelming evidence, simply because they are so emotionally turned off by the implications of the truth of evolution that they refuse to study the evidence.

      Only a fool keeps reiterating his biases without bothering to listen to what the other side is saying.

      Those with leftward inclinations tend to overemphasize culture and philosophy over practical issues (strange, because Marx was as materialist as they come).

      If you don’t understand philosophy, it is better to remain silent about such issues. Marx’s dialectical materialism was the philosophy that led him to his “leftward inclinations” in economics. Many philosophers, including I dare say Meera Nanda, would describe themselves as describe themselves as materialists when it comes to natural phenomena. However, normative statements of opinion are inherently part of describing non-natural phenomena such as economic ones. Therefore, most philosophers of science including, including Nanda, would reject that materialism itself can lead to any practically applicable economic theory. This is the nature of the naturalistic fallacy. Of course, the religious believers resort to the supernaturalistic fallacy. Both are not logically defensible.

      Finally,

      who measures, who controls, who regulates?
      Now that’s a space I’ve no problem with the state entering.

      Do you see the contradiction in your own statements above? This is characteristic of someone who is coming from an ideological position and will argue anything to uphold his/her ideological inclinations.

      You do what everyone else does when it comes to economics- pass subjective judgment. It may soothe you to believe that there is some objectively existent line that helps you make these determinations, but you are just as ideological as the worst or the best of them. Depending on the values of the person doing the justification, many levels of state/business/religious/communal/familial control over individual freedoms can be justified.

      Economics, like politics is replete with these normative values-based cultural beliefs. The tools of science are the sharpest we have in dissecting the natural world. But there lies the boundaries of objectivity.

      • Marx never subscribed to the philosophy developed later and dubbed “dialectical materialism”. And he was not an “economist” per se. But his thinking on historical materialism and later his critique of political economy grew out of his engagement with the Hegelian legacy and involved dialectical thinking of some sort. In any case, Marx was not a “statist”, and his method and research were open-ended, not a closed system. I know little of the Indian Marxist tradition, but I’m guessing it was excessively influenced by Soviet Marxism.

        • Thanks Ralph. Although Marx was not a direct ascendent to that school, his reasoning is most closely associated with it now. Any you are also right that he was not an economist by profession (and I don’t claim that he was). What he did do was use the process of dialectics to derive a political theory that was in essence economic in at its core. Therefore philosophers have made the argument that Marx’s dialectical materialism led him to derive his socioeconomic philosophy.

          I definitely agree that Marx was not statist. That is, as you have pointed out, a populist misunderstanding of Marxism. You are spot on when you describe Indian Marxism. It is extremely populist and Marx would be abhorred by how his name is being abused today. In fact, many middle-class Indians are unaware of Marx’s actual writings and choose to ascribe interpretations of Stalinistic communism to Marx himself. This, no doubt, stems from the years of American propaganda about Marx, and the modern neo-liberal climate we are in.

        • Ralph, I went back and checked my sources and I will revert back to my hard stance on Marx. He can be called a dialectical materialist. In fact, he was the first to be called one.

          By the way, Marx’s historical materialism, which you correctly pointed out as arising from his adoption of Hagelian dialectics, was also developed and dubbed as such later. He never used either term. He was a dialectical materialist, and more specifically a historical materialist within the tradition of dialectical materialism.

          I concur with everything else you have said.

        • By the way, I don’t think that calling Marx a dialectical materialist automatically puts him in the same camp as Lenin. The principles of dialectics are too general to be directional in that way. In any case, this whole dichotomy is a distraction, admittedly arising from my use of the term above.

  • Your review is better then the one published in outlook by Dalrymple. The first line of the post is very apt and conveys my own feelings.

  • V.Muthuswami

    Nanda’s analysis is interesting. However, the basic fact is that “Hinduism” is not a doctrine-based “religion” and is more of a compendium of philosophical thoughts and reflective analysis over ages. It is really a way of life based on the fundamental truth that this universe is ONE, manifest in different forms and names. The basic lesson of this “way of life” is to understand cognitively (not just as book or mental knowledge)this “oneness” and how the self and the rest of the world (universe) is related and make the life’s journey meaningful. What we see in the name of so called Hindu religion is a kind of distortion/aberration of the values – be it in personal life, corporate, societal or community attitudes and behaviours. There are reasons historical as well as contemporary. These are the real reasons for the present day inequalities (based on belief systems, caste, creed, cultural variations, economic status and even based on colour and sex). Unfortunately, our present political system tends to accentuate these superficial differences and variations though it claims to assure social justice, fairness and justice. What the globalization has done to India is its ability to make great economic strides, despite all the problems we continue to face internally.
    What we need most are the social scientists and thinkers to help solve the problems of inequity and injustice. When these get solved one can really see a true “Hindu” who thinks and acts as “one in all & all in one” and has no quarrel with anyone on this planet.

  • astrokid.nj

    Indians rank number one in the world in thinking that we are number one in the world

    How true this is. Oh the Hypocrisy of it.. here are some instances from my relationships-life that illustrate this point
    1) My ex-father-in-law, a staunchly religious man, would say ‘India is karma/punya bhoomi, US is Bhoga bhoomi’ and yet would want his daughter to be married off and live in the US and enjoy all the “comforts”.
    2) I was “dating” an Indian woman in the US, and she was pretty keen that she wanted to bring up her children in the Hindu way, no matter what the ethicity of person she got married to.

    And all this AFTER we have seen how the developed nations in the world have progressed after the Age of Enlightenment. India has hardly contributed to the improvement of the human condition (a.k.a scientific progress), or any other significant collective endeavour, of the world over last few centuries.. (for crying out loud, even a failed state like North Korea has made it to the Soccer World Cup finals in 2010). What makes one think that “practices of the past” are working or be proud of them and blow their horns?

    Re: Hindu Hater
    Of course, the crictism is an ‘argument of irrelevance’ and has no bearing on the main argument. But.. why do they even have a beef with atheist religion haters? Well.. I am a religion hater for sure, coz it has done immeasurable damage over centuries. But I havent let that cloud my senses and spill into violence. It is religious people that get into violence all the time (such as the Gujarat killings).

  • Is anyone still monitoring this post? Would like to continue the conversation.

    I just found this site, Meera Nanda’s work, and the surveys the book is based on (I haven’t been able to order it in the USA).

    However, after reading the surveys, it clearly says that Hindus are the least religious group of people in the country. Only 39% of them claim to be “very religious” while similar numbers for Muslims, Sikhs, and Christians are all in the 50% range.

    The increase is also smaller for Hindus. Only 27% of Hindus increased their religiousity while the other three all increased between 40-50%.

    The decrease was also much larger for Hindus. 11% of Hindus said they had become less religious in the five years between 2004-2009. While Muslims, Sikhs, and Christians all decreased between 7 and 9%.

    There’s a lot of other information that can be gleaned from CSDS surveys but I don’t think any of it points to the pervasive, malignant ideas that Meera Nanda is talking about.

    I think Hinduism as a religion is on its way out considering the huge amounts of Christian evangelism going on.

  • How about you use reason to explain why certain beliefs develop a hold on people ? What is the weakness in humans that allow the virus as you call it to spread ? Certainly every advanced society has it and actively promotes it in some form or the other. What could be the reason behind that ?

    IMHO neither reason nor religion is sufficient for humans
    to completely grasp the complexity of the world around them.
    So humans have created a patchwork of beliefs to make their worldview more complete and free from repeated questions about
    our origins and our future and to harness our energies more effectively as a community. This patchwork of beliefs combines religion and science in the ratio that each individual or community decides for itself.

    Before calling it a virus, it would be good to be sure it is not the vaccine instead for some other virus.

    • How about you use reason to explain why certain beliefs develop a hold on people ? What is the weakness in humans that allow the virus as you call it to spread ? Certainly every advanced society has it and actively promotes it in some form or the other. What could be the reason behind that ?

      If you really want to learn, then you should read the book ‘Breaking the spell: Religion as a natural phenomemon’
      It traces the evolution of religion.. based on raw materials such as Agency detection (HADD) and biological evolution principles.

      Here’s a video, but I highly recommend the book. (video starts with Part 3.. but thats fine.. the earlier parts were for a different speaker).
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KWfbN1-aJ4I&NR=1

    • “How about you use reason to explain why certain beliefs develop a hold on people ?”

      As Astrokid pointed out, science can indeed look at religion as a natural phenomenon and subject the notion of belief to investigation by the scientific method. There are many scientists working on these questions, and there is much written on the nature of belief that one can read, if one takes the time to do so.

      “What is the weakness in humans that allow the virus as you call it to spread ?”

      What you call “weakness” may be an evolutionary adaptation for a different purpose that has been hijacked by the religion virus. There are multiple factors involved. I’ve written more here.

      “IMHO neither reason nor religion is sufficient for humans
      to completely grasp the complexity of the world around them.
      So humans have created a patchwork of beliefs to make their worldview more complete and free from repeated questions about
      our origins and our future and to harness our energies more effectively as a community. This patchwork of beliefs combines religion and science in the ratio that each individual or community decides for itself.”

      I’m afraid you are viewing evolutionary history backwards, in today’s context, reversing the sequence of events resulting in circular logic. This is a common problem with evolutionary psychology. But its a good hypothesis for what its worth.

      Scientists stick to objectively verifiable models. This way we can, at least, agree upon a common standard for measuring the veracity of truth claims.

      “Before calling it a virus, it would be good to be sure it is not the vaccine instead for some other virus.”

      You seem to be offended by the use of the word “virus”. Perhaps a little unpacking of this metaphor would help here.

      Ideas as memes are described to be virulent when they spread themselves very effectively in a population, while doing significant harm, Religion is virulent in its ability to infect a person and spread both laterally and downwards from generation to generation. And religion causes much harm to people. Also, in anticipation of one common response, of course there are some good things that come about through religion, but there is nothing in religion that reason cannot provide, including emotional, “spiritual” and social solutions to the problems of living.

      • Well reading another book or video, is giving up one’s own reason, is’nt it ? I would have been happier if you could articulate a couple concrete reasons yourself, in a detached manner.

        Let me give you a hint because this exercise may be more difficult in case of Hinduism, than in case of Christianity, Islam or Sikhism the origins of which are more recent and better documented. By the way my question was more general – for any belief system including science, not just religions.

        Fundamentally, life requires only two things of you – survival and replication. Survival means not getting killed off or oppressed by another party till you get to replicating. Replication means using the only route available for overcoming death which is inevitable to all of us (at least as of current science). This much is objectively verifiable.

        Now perhaps most importantly, since survival/replication both depend on not just on oneself but other individuals around you, society forms and guides these decisions in a way that tries to optimize for the survival/replication of the society. Note that “truth” and science are incidental to survival/replication, which is why they have such low penetration in comparison to belief systems which directly speak to those needs.

        Now if you look through this lens at various religions you’ll find that religions were formed when the very survival of a community was at stake. You’ll find that several religious histories start with a story of persecution – Krishna, Christ, Muhammad. But the recipes that they give in response are often different.

        To take one point Christianity and Islam are converting religions (higher replication) with stronger emphasis on one-ness (stronger community means higher survival via sharper definition of us vs.them). This is because at their origin, their survival was much more at stake than in Hinduism, and in response they articulated an explicit goal to spread to the entire world. Sikhism adopted some of their methods because without it it was difficult to fight them militarily. They each did succeed in capturing India in the last millenium and you would be blind to think that it is not been planned again.

        My point in all this is that what the truth is, is often the last thing that matters in questions of survival, when groups are opposed to each other and military efficiency is what wins the day. Having faith in an outlandish belief and rituals can serve as a more enduring sign of brotherhood than belief in a universal truth. As the video says, these are cultural/social masterpieces that have been designed and evolved. If you want to replace them, you have to aim to offer a better means of survival and replication relative to other groups, rather than just better scientific models of objective reality.

        • Satish Chandra

          Well reading another book or video, is giving up one’s own reason, is’nt it ? I would have been happier if you could articulate a couple concrete reasons yourself, in a detached manner.

          It’s not giving up one’s reason. It’s good time management. Pointing out to read something or watch something is less time intensive on us instead of explaining everything to you. Don’t expect us to tutor you.

          Your questions were answered. You could have stated what you didn’t understand in the answers or what you don’t agree with. But you did something else. Looks like you are only interested in making your point.

        • As Satish said, please address what others are saying in response to your statements. You seem more interested in your armchair analysis of reality than in mutual discourse.

        • “If you want to replace them, you have to aim to offer a better means of survival and replication relative to other groups, rather than just better scientific models of objective reality.”

          And as I had already pointed out, your armchair analysis is simply bad evolutionary psychology because it consists of post hoc guesswork.

          Moreover, you seem to be caught up in your own illusions, forgetting that others might have more complex notions of promoting reason and science than you think. You completely ignored my reference to my post on the science of the evolutionary origins of religion, in favor of repeating your own amateur hypotheses, leading me to think that you probably won’t read this one either.

  • The way you so-called Indian rationalists lose perspective is silly. Sorry yaar, India is a nation on an upswing and we are 1.2 billion strong. We will develop our own paradigms for balancing religion and business and social justice. The Western schemas of religion AND atheism that you see as standard and seek to follow blindly cannot be adopted in India.

    Sorry, but this is not the moment for Indians to embrace your cultural inferiority complex. It is not time for us to embrace the white guilt-ridden cultural relativism of the West. We can do all that when we are the dominant superpower and most dominant civilisation in the world. And unlike your foolish assertions, Indians DONT believe that we are No. 1 in the world. In fact, most Indians still have difficulty accepting that we may actually be in top 10.

    So, you and all JNU/Nanda/Arund***i Roy types, please lay off and let us advance into the future.

    • I’m an Indian. So don’t assume that you are speaking for all Indians when you talk about “paradigms”.

      I am thankful that there exist people in India who fought and still fight for rights of people like me who don’t obsequiously bow down to cultural supremacists like you.

      I will be quiet happy to see humans share this world without the chest thumpings of your kind (“when we are the dominant superpower and most dominant civilisation”).

      At which point, being the apologist automaton you are, I can see the standard response coming up “The Muslims! The Christians! They will destroy India!”. I’m confident that the people who have fought for my rights, will not let anyone destroy this country. And I in turn will give my best to that fight.

      People like you are one reason organizations like Nirmukta exist. If not, you’d quite happily trample upon anyone who don’t share your idea of cultural supremacy (and I daresay, bigotry).

  • psychsatani

    And only 43 government mental hospitals, most of which are in a deplorable state. Where else will a poor person take one’s mentally ill relative but to a faith healer? Mental illness strengthens the faith in the paranormal much more that the physical illnesses.

    http://week.manoramaonline.com/cgi-bin/MMOnline.dll/portal/ep/theWeekContent.do?contentId=11632435&programId=1073755753&tabId=13&categoryId=-177161

  • I would like to read the book. From the review Nanda´s thesis seems strong. However, the argument that religious nations are poorer isn´t true, I think. Historicaly, has not been the U.S.A a nation of very religious people?

  • i have only just started reading this book… having had a tremendous interest in learning about religion, and more or less coming to the conclusion that it is but a very robust meme, for reasons quite well articulated by many (including those who commented above), as a rationalist atheist, i find the origins, spread, and survival of this meme fascinating, though i must confess being revolted by its many negative manifestations over time

    till now, and i have only read less than half the book by the time i write this, i am enjoying her argument and agreeing with a lot of what she says… not to mention that it also explains quite a few things i see around me as an indian born in the early 70s

    having said that, i AM a bit sceptical about her intent, seeing as she is (disclosed quite early on by heeself) funded by the templeton foundation (though she does state that this book specifically has nothing to do with that grant). for me, that is a red flag, and my own scepticism is at a heightened levels of sensitivity due to this disclosure

    other than that, excellent perspective… and yes, a capital review by you, sir. well written and thought-provoking. well done

Leave a Reply


Comments are moderated. Please see our commenting guidelines

Trackbacks