January 26, 2008
Debaprasad Bandyopadhay and Avishek Ray talks about the [in]commensurability between religion and popular culture. The discussion kickstarts with engagement of ethics with religion. Bandyopadhay talks about the dichotomy between perceiving religion as spirituality, as converse to secularism and dharma in the non-western thought. He sees religion as a site to buttress the insecurity faced by the Truth-seeking post-Enlightenment subject and shows how the ‘traditional’ practice of Sati (widow immolation) in Bengal was being debated with argumentations – both for and against – surprisingly cited from the same Shastras. On Ray’s clarification on the spacio-temporality of the subject, Bandyopadhay problemetizes the aspect of transience in ‘ethical justice’ having prevailed in a post-Nietzschean God-less world(view). While Ray pitches in the question of ‘culture’ – that of the hierarchy between the ‘high’ and the ‘low’ – and its impact upon religion and vice versa, he cites hosts of examples to establish the bi-way reception and hence points to the indeterminacy in evaluating who/what impacts whom/what.
Bandyopadhyay however reminds of the omni-present religiosity in the form of ritualistic fundamentalism that concerns all forms of social/moral policing, censorship, political/religious allegiance etc. even after the post-modern ‘atheistic’ turn. In face of all such ‘symbolic violence(s)’ that dismisses/discounts the ‘other’ he sheds light on Jaina philosophy of Anekantavada, a doctrine encouraging celebration of plurality and heterogeneities of all sorts. Ray insists that celebration of plurality too is not outside the matrix of power relations, there is no ‘outside’ of hierarchy. Bandyopadhyay sees possibility of plurality being fore-clossed firstly, in ‘masters of the universe’ apparently retaining all powers at the top of the ‘chain’ while appeasing us merely by multiplying consumer choices as we are graduating from monopoly to multi-national capitalism and secondly, in the (Indian) state insinuating secularism as a ‘forced official religion’ imagined to be an advancement (from being religious) in the linear progression of modernity. He adheres to the Marxian logic in seeing money as a hyper-real sign that equalizes or neutralizes all things unequal. He talks about religious figures, healers, shrines and institutes and their nexus with capital.
For Bandyopadhayay, fundamentalism assumes an atomic ‘pure’ origin(ality) of a(ny) knowledge system. In this context Ray detours to the question of the ‘culture’ of science or scientificity. Ray draws attention to the monolithicity in the disciplinary regime of the ‘science’ in terms of its quest for objective truth based on the ‘empirical’ and pushes the discussion towards the culture of spirituality or lack thereof involved therein. Bandyopadhyay prefers ‘sciences’ to ‘science’ for the latter, according to him, has violently reduced (non-)humans to experimental guinea pigs en route achieving systematized law-like generalizations through inductive experimentation. This objective truth-claim is inherently fundamental(ist) and the obsession with ‘Reason’ (cf. Foucault) is but spirituality of another kind that loses sight of different sets of ‘truths’ (as opposed to the Truth). As an alternative, he stresses on the idea of age-old Jaina Anekantavad as a discursive practice of being hospitable to the plurality of the ‘other’, the differences in the ‘other’.
Towards the closure Ray expresses his anxiety in Post-modernism desperately struggling to come to terms with the all-pervasive meta-religious spirituality having nothing to do with religion per se but concerning one’s inflexibility in a growingly intolerant world, with the ethical justice involved in projecting one(’s)-self to the ‘other’ in the face of the collapse of all grand narratives. Bandyopadhyay however keeps faith in Anekantavada as to instill the tolerance needed to acquire in order to be able to engage in a dialogue with the ‘other’ despite non-acceptance of his/her views [cf. the Derridean idea of accepting the unacceptable, forgiving the unforgivable etc.]. This is how, he believes, hierarchies can be done away with which is the pre-condition for a ‘heterotopic’ and pluralistic future.
Note: Downloadable document is in Bengali.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 11
Keywords: popular, folk, mass, high culture, fundamentalism, Anekantavada