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Religion And Politics In India Essays About Education

Religion and Politics

The relation between religion and politics continues to be an important theme in political philosophy, despite the emergent consensus (both among political theorists and in practical political contexts, such as the United Nations) on the right to freedom of conscience and on the need for some sort of separation between church and state. One reason for the importance of this topic is that religions often make strong claims on people’s allegiance, and universal religions make these claims on all people, rather than just a particular community. For example, Islam has traditionally held that all people owe obedience to Allah’s will. Thus, it is probably inevitable that religious commitments will sometimes come into conflict with the demands of politics. But religious beliefs and practices also potentially support politics in many ways. The extent and form of this support is as important to political philosophers as is the possibility for conflict. Moreover, there has been a growing interest in minority groups and the political rights and entitlements they are due. One result of this interest is substantial attention given to the particular concerns and needs of minority groups who are distinguished by their religion, as opposed to ethnicity, gender, or wealth.

This article surveys some of the philosophical problems raised by the various ways in which religion and politics may intersect. The first two main sections are devoted to topics that have been important in previous eras, especially the early modern era, although in both sections there is discussion of analogs to these topics that are more pressing for contemporary political thought: (1) establishment of a church or faith versus complete separation of church and state; and (2) toleration versus coercion of religious belief, and current conflicts between religious practice and political authority. The second pair of sections is devoted to problems that, for the most part, have come to the fore of discussion only in recent times: (3) liberal citizenship and its demands on private self-understanding; and (4) the role of religion in public deliberation.

Table of Contents

  1. Establishment and Separation of Church and State
  2. Toleration and Accommodation of Religious Belief and Practice
  3. Liberalism and Its Demands on Private Self-Understanding
  4. Religious Reasons in Public Deliberation
  5. Conclusion
  6. References and Further Reading

1. Establishment and Separation of Church and State

While the topic of establishment has receded in importance at present, it has been central to political thought in the West since at least the days of Constantine. In the wake of the Protestant Reformation, European societies wrestled with determining exactly what roles church and state should play in each other’s sphere, and so the topic of establishment became especially pressing in the early modern era, although there was also substantial discussion in the Middle Ages (Dante, 1995). The term “establishment” can refer to any of several possible arrangements for a religion in a society’s political life. These arrangements include the following:

  1. A religious body may be a “state” church in the sense that it has an exclusive right to practice its faith.
  2. A church may be supported through taxes and subject to the direction of the government (for example, the monarch is still officially the head of the Church of England, and the Prime Minister is responsible for selecting the Archbishop of Canterbury).
  3. Particular ecclesiastical officials may have, in virtue of their office, an established role in political institutions.
  4. A church may simply have a privileged role in certain public, political ceremonies (for example, inaugurations, opening of parliament, etc.).
  5. Instead of privileging a particular religious group, a state could simply enshrine a particular creed or belief system as its official religion, much like the “official bird” or “official flower.”

Note that these options are not mutually exclusive—a state could adopt some or all of these measures. What is central to them is they each involve the conferral of some sort of official status. A weaker form of an established church is what Robert Bellah (1967: 3-4) calls “civil religion,” in which a particular church or religion does not exactly have official status, and yet the state uses religious concepts in an explicitly public way. For an example of civil religion, he points to Abraham Lincoln’s use of Christian imagery of slavery and freedom in justifying the American Civil War.

Contemporary philosophical defenses of outright establishment of a church or faith are few, but a famous defense of establishment was given by T. S. Eliot in the last century (1936, 1967). Trained as a philosopher (he completed, but did not defend, a dissertation at Harvard on the philosophy of F. H. Bradley) and deeply influenced by Aristotle, Eliot believed that democratic societies rejected the influence of an established church at their peril, for in doing so they cut themselves off from the kind of ethical wisdom that can come only from participation in a tradition. As a result, he argued, such a society would degenerate into tyranny and/or social and cultural fragmentation.

Even today, there are strains of conservatism that argue for establishment by emphasizing the benefits that will accrue to the political system or society at large (Scruton, 1980). According to this line of thought, the healthy polis requires a substantial amount of pre- or extra-political social cohesion. More specifically, a certain amount of social cohesion is necessary both to ensure that citizens see themselves as sufficiently connected to each other (so that they will want to cooperate politically), and to ensure that they have a common framework within which they can make coherent collective political decisions. This cohesion in turn is dependent on a substantial amount of cultural homogeneity, especially with respect to adherence to certain values. One way of ensuring this kind of homogeneity is to enact one of the forms of establishment mentioned above, such as displaying religious symbols in political buildings and monuments, or by including references to a particular religion in political ceremonies.

Rather than emphasizing the distinctively political benefits of establishment, a different version of this argument could appeal to the ethical benefits that would accrue to citizens themselves as private individuals. For example, on many understandings of politics, one of the purposes of the polis is to ensure that citizens have the resources necessary for living a choiceworthy, flourishing life. One such resource is a sense of belonging to a common culture that is rooted in a tradition, as opposed to a sense of rootlessness and social fragmentation (Sandel, 1998; MacIntyre, 1984). Thus, in order to ensure that citizens have this sense of cultural cohesion, the state must (or at least may) in some way privilege a religious institution or creed. Of course, a different version of this argument could simply appeal to the truth of a particular religion and to the good of obtaining salvation, but given the persistent intractability of settling such questions, this would be a much more difficult argument to make.

Against these positions, the liberal tradition has generally opposed establishment in all of the aforementioned forms. Contemporary liberals typically appeal to the value of fairness. It is claimed, for example, that the state should remain neutral among religions because it is unfair—especially for a democratic government that is supposed to represent all of the people composing its demos—to intentionally disadvantage (or unequally favor) any group of citizens in their pursuit of the good as they understand it, religious or otherwise (Rawls, 1971). Similarly, liberals often argue that fairness precludes devoting tax revenues to religious groups because doing so amounts to forcing non-believers to subsidize religions that they reject. A different approach for liberals is to appeal directly to the right to practice one’s religion, which is derivable from a more general right to freedom of conscience. If all people have such a right, then it is morally wrong for the state to force them to participate in religious practices and institutions that they would otherwise oppose, such as forcing them to take part in public prayer. It is also wrong, for the same reason, to force people to support financially (via taxation) religious institutions and communities that they would not otherwise wish to support.

In addition, there are liberal consequentialist concerns about establishment, such as the possibility that it will result in or increase the likelihood of religious repression and curtailment of liberty (Audi, 2000: 37-41). While protections and advantages given to one faith may be accompanied by promises to refrain from persecuting adherents of rival faiths, the introduction of political power into religion moves the state closer to interferences which are clearly unjust, and it creates perverse incentives for religious groups to seek more political power in order to get the upper hand over their rivals. From the perspective of many religious people themselves, moreover, there are worries that a political role for their religion may well corrupt their faith community and its mission.

2. Toleration and Accommodation of Religious Belief and Practice

As European and American societies faced the growing plurality of religious beliefs, communities, and institutions in the early modern era, one of the paramount social problems was determining whether and to what extent they should be tolerated. One of the hallmark treatises on this topic remains John Locke’s A Letter Concerning Toleration. A political exile himself at the time of its composition, Locke argues (a) that it is futile to attempt to coerce belief because it does not fall to the will to accept or reject propositions, (b) that it is wrong to restrict religious practice so long as it does not interfere with the rights of others, and (c) that allowing a wide range of religious groups will likely prevent any one of them from becoming so powerful as to threaten the peace. Central to his arguments is a Protestant view of a religious body as a voluntary society composed only of those people who choose to join it, a view that is in sharp contrast to the earlier medieval view of the church as having authority over all people within a particular geographic domain. It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that the limits of Locke’s toleration are coextensive with Protestantism; atheists and Catholics cannot be trusted to take part in society peacefully because the former do not see themselves as bound by divine law and the latter are beholden to a foreign sovereign (the Pope). Still, Locke’s Letter makes an important step forward toward a more tolerant and pluralistic world. In contrast to Locke, Thomas Hobbes sees religion and its divisiveness as a source of political instability, and so he argues that the sovereign has the right to determine which opinions may be publicly espoused and disseminated, a power necessary for maintaining civil peace (see Leviathan xviii, 9).

Like the issue of establishment, the general issue of whether people should be allowed to decide for themselves which religion to believe in has not received much attention in recent times, again because of the wide consensus on the right of all people to liberty of conscience. However, despite this agreement on liberty of belief, modern states nevertheless face challenging questions of toleration and accommodation pertaining to religious practice, and these questions are made more difficult by the fact that they often involve multiple ideals which pull in different directions. Some of these questions concern actions which are inspired by religion and are either obviously or typically unjust. For example, violent fundamentalists feel justified in killing and persecuting infidels—how should society respond to them? While no one seriously defends the right to repress other people, it is less clear to what extent, say, religious speech that calls for such actions should be tolerated in the name of a right to free speech. A similar challenge concerns religious objections to certain medical procedures that are necessary to save a life. For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that their religion precludes their accepting blood transfusions, even to save their lives. While it seems clearly wrong to force someone to undergo even lifesaving treatment if she objects to it (at least with sufficient rationality, which of course is a difficult topic in itself), and it seems equally wrong to deny lifesaving treatment to someone who needs it and is not refusing it, the issue becomes less clear when parents have religious objections to lifesaving treatment for their children. In such a case, there are at least three values that ordinarily demand great respect and latitude: (a) the right to follow one’s own religion, not simply in affirming its tenets but in living the lifestyle it prescribes; (b) the state’s legitimate interest in protecting its citizens (especially vulnerable ones like children) from being harmed; and (c) the right of parents to raise their children as they see fit and in a way that expresses their values.

A second kind of challenge for a society that generally values toleration and accommodation of difference pertains to a religious minority’s actions and commitments which are not themselves unjust, and yet are threatened by the pursuit of other goals on the part of the larger society, or are directly forbidden by law. For example, Quakers and other religious groups are committed to pacifism, and yet many of them live in societies that expect all male citizens to serve in the military or register for the draft. Other groups perform religious rituals that involve the use of illegal substances, such as peyote. Does the right to practice one’s faith exempt one from the requirement to serve in the military or obey one’s country’s drug policies? Is it fair to exempt such people from the burdens other citizens must bear?

Many examples of this second kind of challenge are addressed in the literature on education and schooling. In developed societies (and developing ones, for that matter), a substantial education is necessary for citizens to be able to achieve a decent life for themselves. In addition, many states see education as a process by which children can learn values that the state deems important for active citizenship and/or for social life. However, the pursuit of this latter goal raises certain issues for religious parents. In the famous case of Mozert v. Hawkins, some parents objected for religious reasons to their children being taught from a reading curriculum that presented alternative beliefs and ways of life in a favorable way, and consequently the parents asked that their children be excused from class when that curriculum was being taught. Against the wishes of these parents, some liberals believe that the importance of teaching children to respect the value of gender equality overrides the merit of such objections, even if they appeal directly to the parents’ religious rights (Macedo, 2000).

Similarly, many proposals for educational curricula are aimed at developing a measure of autonomy in children, which often involves having them achieve a certain critical distance from their family background, with its traditions, beliefs, and ways of life (Callan, 1997; Brighouse, 2000). The idea is that only then can children autonomously choose a way of life for themselves, free of undue influence of upbringing and custom. A related argument holds that this critical distance will allow children to develop a sufficient sense of respect for different social groups, a respect that is necessary for the practice of democratic citizenship. However, this critical distance is antithetical to authentic religious commitment, at least on some accounts (see the following section). Also, religious parents typically wish to pass on their faith to their children, and doing so involves cultivating religious devotion through practices and rituals, rather than presenting their faith as just one among many equally good (or true) ones. For such parents, passing on their religious faith is central to good parenting, and in this respect it does not differ from passing on good moral values, for instance. Thus, politically mandated education that is aimed at developing autonomy runs up against the right of some parents to practice their religion and the right to raise their children as they choose. Many, though not all, liberals argue that autonomy is such an important good that its promotion justifies using techniques that make it harder for such parents to pass on their faith—such a result is an unfortunate side-effect of a desirable or necessary policy.

Yet a different source of political conflict for religious students in recent years concerns the teaching of evolution in science classes. Some religious parents of children in public schools see the teaching of evolution as a direct threat to their faith, insofar as it implies the falsity of their biblical-literalist understanding of the origins of life. They argue that it is unfair to expect them to expose their children to teaching that directly challenges their religion (and to fund it with their taxes). Among these parents, some want schools to include discussions of intelligent design and creationism (some who write on this issue see intelligent design and creationism as conceptually distinct positions; others see no significant difference between them), while others would be content if schools skirted the issue altogether, refusing to teach anything at all about the origin of life or the evolution of species. Their opponents see the former proposal as an attempt to introduce an explicitly religious worldview into the classroom, hence one that runs afoul of the separation of church and state. Nor would they be satisfied with ignoring the issue altogether, for evolution is an integral part of the framework of modern biology and a well-established scientific theory.

Conflicts concerning religion and politics arise outside of curricular contexts, as well. For example, in France, a law was recently passed that made it illegal for students to wear clothing and adornments that are explicitly associated with a religion. This law was especially opposed by students whose religion explicitly requires them to wear particular clothing, such as a hijab or a turban. The justification given by the French government was that such a measure was necessary to honor the separation of church and state, and useful for ensuring that the French citizenry is united into a whole, rather than divided by religion. However, it is also possible to see this law as an unwarranted interference of the state in religious practice. If liberty of conscience includes not simply a right to believe what one chooses, but also to give public expression to that belief, then it seems that people should be free to wear clothing consistent with their religious beliefs.

Crucial to this discussion of the effect of public policy on religious groups is an important distinction regarding neutrality. The liberal state is supposed to remain neutral with regard to religion (as well as race, sexual orientation, physical status, age, etc.). However, as Charles Larmore points out in Patterns of Moral Complexity (1987: 42ff), there are different senses of neutrality, and some policies may fare well with respect to one sense and poorly with respect to another. In one sense, neutrality can be understood in terms of a procedure that is justified without appeal to any conception of the human good. In this sense, it is wrong for the state to intend to disadvantage one group of citizens, at least for its own sake and with respect to practices that are not otherwise unjust or politically undesirable. Thus it would be a violation of neutrality in this sense (and therefore wrong) for the state simply to outlaw the worship of Allah. Alternatively, neutrality can be understood in terms of effect. The state abides by this sense of neutrality by not taking actions whose consequences are such that some individuals or groups in society are disadvantaged in their pursuit of the good. For a state committed to neutrality thus understood, even if it were not explicitly intending to disadvantage a particular group, any such disadvantage that may result is a prima facie reason to revoke the policy that causes it. Thus, if the government requires school attendance on a religious group’s holy days, for example, and doing so makes it harder for them to practice their faith, such a requirement counts as a failure of neutrality. The attendance requirement may nevertheless be unavoidable, but as it stands, it is less than optimal. Obviously, this is a more demanding standard, for it requires the state to consider possible consequences—both short term and long term—on a wide range of social groups and then choose from those policies that do not have bad consequences (or the one that has the fewest and least bad). For most, and arguably all, societies, it is a standard that cannot feasibly be met. Consequently, most liberals argue that the state should be neutral in the first sense, but it need not be neutral in the second sense. Thus, if the institutions and practices of a basically just society make it more challenging for some religious people to preserve their ways of life, it is perhaps regrettable, but not unjust, so long as these institutions and practices are justified impartially.

3. Liberalism and Its Demands on Private Self-Understanding

In addition to examining issues of toleration and accommodation on the level of praxis, there has also been much recent work about the extent to which particular political theories themselves are acceptable or unacceptable from religious perspectives. One reason for this emphasis comes from the emergence of the school of thought known as “political liberalism.” In his book of that name, John Rawls (1996) signaled a new way of thinking about liberalism that is captured by the idea of an “overlapping consensus.” An overlapping consensus refers to reasoned agreement on principles of justice by citizens who hold a plurality of mutually exclusive comprehensive doctrines (a term that includes religious beliefs, metaphysical positions, theories of morality and of the good life, etc., and may also include beliefs such as theories of epistemic justification). Rather than requiring citizens to accept any particular comprehensive doctrine of liberalism, a theory of justice should aim at deriving principles that each citizen may reasonably accept from his or her own comprehensive doctrine. Thus, the consensus is on the principles themselves, rather than the justification for those principles, and as such the conception of justice offered is “political” rather than “metaphysical.” This view of liberal justice marked a break with Rawls’s earlier “metaphysical” liberalism as expressed in A Theory of Justice, although debate continues among commentators about just how sharp a break political liberalism is and whether or not it is an improvement over the earlier view. The aim, then, for a political conception of justice is for all reasonable citizens to be able to affirm principles of justice without having to weaken their hold on their own private comprehensive views. However, some writers have argued that this is impossible—even a “thin” political conception of justice places strains on some comprehensive doctrines, and these strains might be acute for religious citizens. One such argument comes from Eomann Callan, in his book Creating Citizens. Callan points to the role played in Rawls’ theory of “the burdens of judgment” (see Rawls, 1996: § 2): fundamentalists will not be able to accept the burdens of judgment in their private lives, because doing so requires them to view rival faiths and other beliefs as having roughly equal epistemic worth. If Rawlsian liberalism requires acceptance of the burdens of judgment, then the overlapping consensus will not include some kinds of religious citizens.

A different way that liberal citizenship might conflict with a religious person’s self-understanding is if the former requires a commitment to a kind of fallibilism while the latter requires (or at least encourages) certitude in one’s religious belief. Richard Rorty has been read as arguing for the need for liberal democratic citizens to privatize their faith (1999) and to hold their beliefs at an “ironic” distance—that is, provisionally, and with a healthy skepticism about the extent to which they decisively capture reality (1989). But this kind of irony is not possible to maintain along with authentic faith, at least as the latter is understood in many religious traditions that emphasize the importance of certitude in one’s belief and totality of one’s commitment to God.

Thus, a religious citizen could feel an acute conflict between her identity qua citizen and qua religious adherent. One way of resolving the conflict is to argue that one aspect of her identity should take priority over the other. Witness the conflict experienced by the protagonist in Sophocles’ Antigone, as she buries her brother in defiance of Creon’s decree; in doing so, she acknowledges that her religious duties supersede her civic duties, at least in that context. For many religious citizens, political authority is subservient to—and perhaps even derived from—divine authority, and therefore they see their religious commitments as taking precedence over their civic ones. On the other hand, civic republicanism has tended to view a person’s civic role as paramount because it has seen participation in politics as partly constitutive of the human good (Dagger, 1997).

In contrast to these approaches, the liberal tradition has tended to refuse to prioritize one aspect of an individual’s identity over any other, holding that it is the individual’s task to determine which is most important or significant to her; this task is often seen as the reason for the importance of personal autonomy (Kymlicka, 2002). But this tendency makes it more challenging for liberals to adjudicate conflicts between religion and politics. One possibility is for the liberal to argue that the demands of justice are prior to the pursuit of the good (which would include religious practice). If so, and if the demands of justice require one to honor duties of citizenship, then one might argue that people should not allow their religious beliefs and practices to restrict or interfere with their roles as citizens. However, not even all liberals accept the claim that justice is prior to the good, nor is it a settled issue in the literature on political obligation that norms of justice can successfully ground universal duties of citizenship (see “The Obligation to Obey Law” and “Political Obligation”).

4. Religious Reasons in Public Deliberation

One recent trend in democratic theory is an emphasis on the need for democratic decisions to emerge from processes that are informed by deliberation on the part of the citizenry, rather than from a mere aggregation of preferences. As a result, there has been much attention devoted to the kinds of reasons that may or may not be appropriate for public deliberation in a pluralistic society. While responses to this issue have made reference to all kinds of beliefs, much of the discussion has centered on religious beliefs. One reason for this emphasis is that, both historically and in contemporary societies, religion has played a central role in political life, and often it has done so for the worse (witness the wars of religion in Europe that came in the wake of the Protestant Reformation, for example). As such, it is a powerful political force, and it strikes many who write about this issue as a source of social instability and repression. Another reason is that, due to the nature of religious belief itself, if any kind of belief is inappropriate for public deliberation, then religious beliefs will be the prime candidate, either because they are irrational, or immune to critique, or unverifiable, etc. In other words, religion provides a useful test case in evaluating theories of public deliberation.

Much of the literature in this area has been prompted by Rawls’ development of his notion of public reason, which he introduced in Political Liberalism and offered (in somewhat revised form) in his essay “The Idea of Public Reason Revisited.” His view is not as clearly expressed as one would wish, and it evolved after the publication of Political Liberalism, but the idea is something like this: when reasonable citizens engage in public deliberation on constitutional essentials, they must do so by offering reasons that do not appeal to any comprehensive doctrine. Since citizens have sharp disagreements on comprehensive doctrines, any law or policy that necessarily depends on such a doctrine could not be reasonably accepted by those who reject the doctrine. A prime example of a justification for a law that is publicly inaccessible in this way is one that is explicitly religious. For example, if the rationale for a law that outlawed working on Sunday was simply that it displeases the Christian God, non-Christians could not reasonably accept it.

Rawls makes important exceptions to this norm of public discourse, and he seems to have gradually softened its requirements somewhat as he developed his views on public reason, but his intention was to ensure that democratic outcomes could be reasonably accepted by all citizens, and even in his theory’s latest manifestations he seemed to view “public” reasons as those which could reasonably be accepted by everyone rather than explicitly drawing on comprehensive views.

A different explanation of “reasons which could be reasonably accepted by everyone” comes from Robert Audi, who argues that the set of such reasons is restricted to secular reasons. Since only secular reasons are publicly accessible in this way, civic virtue requires offering secular reasons and being sufficiently motivated by them to support or oppose the law or policy under debate. Religious reasons are not suitable for public deliberation since they are not shared by the non-religious (or people of differing religions) and people who reject these reasons would justifiably resent being coerced on the basis of them. However, secular reasons can include non-religious comprehensive doctrines, such as particular moral theories or conceptions of the human good, and so Audi’s conception of public deliberation allows some views to play a role that would be excluded by conceptions that restrict all comprehensive doctrines.

Proponents of the idea that the set of suitable reasons for public deliberation does not include certain or all comprehensive doctrines have come to be known as “exclusivists,” and their opponents as “inclusivists.” The latter group sometimes focuses on weaknesses of exclusivism—if exclusivism is false, then inclusivism is true by default. Others try to show that religious justifications can contribute positively to democratic polities; the two most common examples in support of this position are the nineteenth-century abolitionist movement and the twentieth-century civil rights movement, both of which achieved desirable political change in large part by appealing directly to the Christian beliefs prevalent in Great Britain and the United States.

A third inclusivist argument is that it is unfair to hamstring certain groups in their attempts to effect change that they believe is required by justice. Consider the case of abortion, an example Rawls discusses in a famous footnote in Political Liberalism (243-244) and again in “The Idea of Public Reason Revisited” (169). Many—though not all—who defend the pro-life position do so by appealing to the actual or potential personhood of fetuses. But “person” is a conceptually “thick” metaphysical concept, and as such it is one that is subject to reasonable disagreement. Consequently, on some versions of exclusivism, citizens who wish to argue against abortion should do so without claiming that fetuses are persons. But for these citizens, personhood is the most important part of the abortion issue, for the ascription of “person” is not simply a metaphysical issue—it is a moral issue, as well, insofar as it is an attempt to discern the bounds of the moral community. To ask them to refrain from focusing on this aspect of the issue looks like an attempt to settle the issue by default, then. Instead, inclusivists argue that citizens should feel free to introduce any considerations whatsoever that they think are relevant to the topic under public discussion.

5. Conclusion

Although secularism is proceeding rapidly in many of the world’s societies, and although this trend seems connected in some way to the process of economic development, nevertheless religion continues to be an important political phenomenon throughout the world, for multiple reasons. Even the most secularized countries (Sweden is typically cited as a prime example) include substantial numbers of people who still identify themselves as religious. Moreover, many of these societies are currently experiencing immigration from groups who are more religious than native-born populations and who follow religions that are alien to the host countries’ cultural heritage. These people are often given substantial democratic rights, sometimes including formal citizenship. And the confrontation between radical Islam and the West shows few signs of abating anytime soon. Consequently, the problems discussed above will likely continue to be important ones for political philosophers in the foreseeable future.

6. References and Further Reading

  • Audi, Robert. Religious Commitment and Secular Reason. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
    • Much of this book is an expression of Audi’s position on public deliberation, but there is also discussion of the separation of church and state.
  • Audi, Robert, and Nicholas Wolterstorff. Religion in the Public Square: The Place of Religious Reasons in Political Debate. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1997.
    • An accessible, well-reasoned exchange between an inclusivist (Wolterstorff) and an exclusivist (Audi), with rebuttals.
  • Bellah, Robert N. “American Civil Religion.” Daedalus: Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 96.1 (1967): 1-21.
  • Brighouse, Harry. School Choice and Social Justice. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.
    • Portions of this book deal with education for autonomy and religious opposition to such proposals.
  • Burtt, Shelley, “Religious Parents, Secular Schools: A Liberal Defense of Illiberal Education” The Review of Politics 56.1 (1994): 51-70.
  • Callan, Eomann, Creating Citizens: Political Education and Liberal Democracy. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997.
    • An exploration of civic education in light of Rawlsian political liberalism.
  • Carter, Stephen L. The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion. New York: Basic Books, 1993.
  • Clanton, J. Caleb. Religion and Democratic Citizenship: Inquiry and Conviction in the American Public Square. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2007.
  • Coleman, John A., ed. Christian Political Ethics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007.
    • A collection of essays on political topics from a wide array of Christian traditions.
  • Cuneo, Terence, ed. Religion in the Liberal Polity. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005.
    • A collection of essays on religion, rights, public deliberation, and related topics.
  • Dagger, Richard. Civic Virtues: Rights, Citizenship, and Republican Liberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.
  • Dante. De monarchia. Tr. Prue Shaw. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
    • Book 3 of this work concerns the relation (and division) between Church and State.
  • Eberle, Christopher J. Religious Convictions in Liberal Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002
    • A thorough critique of the varieties of exclusivism.
  • Eliot, T. S. “Catholicism and International Order.” Essays, Ancient and Modern. London: Faber and Faber, 1936.
  • Eliot, T. S. “The Idea of a Christian Society” and “Notes Toward the Definition of Culture.” Christianity and Culture. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1967.
  • Gaus, Gerald F. Justificatory Liberalism: An Essay on Epistemology and Political Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.
  • Gaus, Gerald F. “The Place of Religious Belief in Liberal Politics.” In Multiculturalism and Moral Conflict, edited by Maria Dimova-Cookson. London: Routledge, 2008.
  • Greenawalt, Kent. Religious Convictions and Political Choice. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.
  • Greenawalt, Kent. Private Consciences and Public Reasons. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.
  • Gutmann, Amy. Democratic Education. Rev. ed. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999.
  • Gutmann, Amy. Identity in Democracy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003.
    • Includes a helpful chapter on religious identity in politics.
  • Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. Ed. Edwin Curley. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Co., 1994.
  • Kymlicka, Will. Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.
  • Kymlicka, Will. Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
    • A fine introduction to the field, useful for beginners but detailed enough to interest experienced readers.
  • Larmore, Charles. Patterns of Moral Complexity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.
  • Locke, John. A Letter Concerning Toleration. Ed. James Tully. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Co., 1983.
  • Macedo, Stephen. Diversity and Distrust: Civic Education in a Multicultural Democracy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003.
    • Contains extensive discussion of religion and liberal civic education.
  • MacIntyre, Alasdair. After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory. 2nd ed. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984.
    • An influential critique of modernity and the philosophies which (he argues) have given rise to it.
  • Mozert v. Hawkins County Board of Education. Nos. 86-6144, 86-6179, and 87-5024. United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit. July 9, 1987.
    • Landmark federal case concerning parental religious objections to particular forms of education.
  • Neuhaus, Richard John. The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B Eerdmans, 1986.
    • An influential book among religious conservatives and neoconservatives.
  • Okin, Susan Moller, Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women? Ed. Joshua Cohen, Matthew Howard, and Martha C. Nussbaum. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999.
    • Parts of the discussion in this book concern the status of women in religious minorities.
  • Perry, Michael J. Under God?: Religious Faith and Liberal Democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
  • Rawls, John. A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1971.
  • Rawls, John. Political Liberalism.New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.
  • Rawls, John. “The Idea of Public Reason Revisited.” The Law of Peoples. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999.
  • Rorty, Richard. Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.
  • Rorty, Richard. “Religion as Conversation-stopper.” Philosophy and Social Hope. New York: Penguin Putnam, Inc., 1999.
  • Sandel, Michael J. Democracy’s Discontent: America in Search of a Public Philosophy. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1996.
  • Sandel, Michael J. Liberalism and the Limits of Justice. Rev. ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
    • A thorough critique of Rawlsian liberalism from a broadly communitarian perspective, although Sandel has tended to resist that label.
  • Scruton, Roger. The Meaning of Conservatism. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1980.
  • Stout, Jeffrey. Democracy and Tradition. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003.
  • Talisse, Robert B. Democracy After Liberalism: Pragmatism and Deliberative Politics. London: Routledge Press, 2004.
  • Weithman, Paul J., ed. Religion and Contemporary Liberalism. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1997.
    • This collection of essays concerns many aspects of the intersection of religion and politics.
  • Weithman, Paul J.. Religion and the Obligations of Citizenship. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
    • Argues that religion has positive contributions to make toward civic ends.
  • Wisconsin v. Yoder. Nos. 70-110. United States Supreme Court. May 15, 1972.
    • An important case concerning the right of Amish parents to exempt their children from the requirement to attend school up to a specified age.

Author Information

Christopher Callaway
Email: ccallaway@sjcme.edu
Saint Joseph’s College of Maine
U. S. A.

Caste, Religion and Ethnicity in Indian Politics

India is pigeonholed by more ethnic and religious groups as compared to other countries of the world. Many intellectuals viewed that India is a captivating country where people of many different communities and religions live together in harmony. Indian Population is polygenetic and is an astonishing merger of various races and cultures. Besides, numerous castes, there are eight "major" religions, 15-odd languages spoken in various dialects and a substantial number of tribes and sects.

Politics is the science of government and that part of ethics which has to do with the regulation and government of a nation or state, the preservation of its safety, peace, and prosperity, the defense of its existence and rights against foreign control or conquest, the augmentation of its strength and resources, and the protection of its citizens in their rights, with the preservation and improvement of their morals.

Politics as a notion generally applied to the art or science of running governmental or state affairs, including behavior within civil governments, but also applies to institutions, fields, and special interest groups such as the corporate, academic, and religious segments of society. It consists of "social relations involving authority or power" and to the methods and tactics used to formulate and apply policy. Modern political discourse focuses on democracy and the relationship between people and politics. It is thought of as the way people choose government officials and make decisions about public policy.

All over the world, the political processes have ascended out of social environment. Tribes, clans, castes, classes have existed around a social organization. Economy, polity, religion, family and kinship networks have operated under a social structure. Famous philosopher asserted that man is a political animal. He had in mind the social element. When elaborating the Indian society, it is multi-ethnic as well as multi-religious. Indian religions are pantheistic in which the nature is visualized as a manifestation of theology. There is an immense significance of Politics in India such as to run the country more efficiently, to manage the country with good rules and norms, to look in the internal affairs about the development of the country, to represent the country to the outside world, to issue different policies for the country.


In contemporary Indian scenario, caste mobilisation has become an important factor in determining Indian politics. According to Risley Caste, is a collection of families bearing a common name, claiming a common descent from a mythical ancestor, divine or human and professing to follow same hereditary calling and regarded by those who are competent to give an opinion as forming a single homogenous community. It is described caste as localized group having a traditional association based on one's birth in a caste, though at times associated with particular occupation (N.D. Arora, 2010). Caste, through a joint effort of its members to assert themselves, has presently intervened in both politics and administration mainly through franchise and institutions like Panchayati Raj. Whether it is the factionalism of Indian political parties or the nomination of candidates and the mode of election campaign, most things can be explained through caste interests and caste balance.

Ideally, caste and democratic political system signify opposite value systems. Caste is hierarchical. Status of an individual in caste-oriented social system is determined by birth. It has religious sanction by various holy texts, reinforced by priests and rituals. Conventionally, upper castes had been given certain privileges not only in religious area but also in economic, education and political spheres. Customary laws differentiate individual by birth and sex. 'That is, certain rules are austerely to women and Shudras and soft to males and Brahmins. Conversely, democratic political system backs freedom to an individual and equality of status. It stands for rule of Law. No one regardless of status is above law. Indian democratic system under the Constitution stands for liberty, equality and fraternity among all citizens. It struggles to build egalitarian social order. There are three consequences of such interaction between caste associations and political parties. One, caste members particularly poor and marginalized who were previously remained untouched by the political processes got politicized and began to participate in electoral politics with an expectation that their interests would be served. Secondly, caste members get split among various political parties weakening hold of the caste. Lastly, numerically large castes get representation in decision-making bodies and strength of the traditionally dominant castes get weaken. This explains the rise of middle and backward caste representations in most of the state assemblies.

The link between caste and politics has been analysed at two levels:

  1. How caste affects politics.
  2. How politics affects caste.

The interest and mindfulness of various castes in politics may be studied in terms of four factors: interest of castes in politics, political knowledge and political awareness of castes, identification of castes with political parties, and influence of castes on political affairs. Rajni Kothari (1970) scrutinized the relationship between caste and politics through evaluating the issue as to what happens to political system because of the vote of castes. He found that three factors such as education, government patronage, and slowly expanding franchise have entered the caste system because of which caste system has come to affect democratic politics in the country. Economic opportunity, administrative patronage, and positions of power offered by the new institutions and the new leadership drew castes into politics. This involvement (of castes in politics) resulted in two things: the caste system made available to the leadership the structural and the ideological basis for political mobilisation, and leadership was enforced to make concessions to local opinion and organise castes for economic and political purposes.

The caste system, which is based on the philosophies of purity and pollution, hierarchy and difference, has despite social mobility, been overbearing towards the Shudras and the outcastes who suffered the disgrace of ritual impurity and lived in abject poverty, illiteracy and denial of political power. The basis of confrontational identity politics based on caste may be said to have its origin on the issue of providing the oppressed caste groups with state support in the form of protective discrimination. This group identity based on caste that has been reinforced by the advent of political consciousness around caste identities is institutionalised by the caste-based political parties that acknowledge to uphold and protect the interests of specific identities including the castes. Subsequently, political parties have the upper caste dominated BJP, the lower caste dominated BSP (Bhaujan Samaj Party) or the SP (Samajwadi Party), including the fact that left parties have implicitly followed the caste pattern to extract distance in electoral politics. The Aggregate result of the politicisation can be precised by arguing that caste-based identity politics has had a twin role in Indian society and polity. It comparatively democratised the caste-based Indian society but simultaneously destabilised the development of class-based organisations.

When reviewing historical facts, caste politics became noticeable in India in the beginning of 1990s after the National Front government under then Prime Minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh decided to implement the recommendations of the Mandal Commission, a government panel established in 1979 that called for a fixed quota (reservation) of jobs for the OBCs in the public sector.

Historical data indicated that Caste-based discrimination and domination have been a malicious aspect of Indian society and after independence, its implications with politics have not only made it possible for previously oppressed caste-groups to be accorded political freedom and recognition but has also raised consciousness about its potential as a political capital. In fact, Dipankar Gupta has emotionally exposed this ambiguity when he elaborates the differences between Ambedkar and Mandal Commission's view of caste. While the former designed the policy of reservations or protective discrimination to remove untouchability as an institution from Indian social life and polity, the latter considered caste as an important political resource. Actually, the Mandal commission can be regarded as the intellectual inspiration in transforming caste based identity to an asset that may be used as a basis for safeguarding political and economic gains. Though it can also be said that the upper castes by virtue of their major position were already occupying positions of strengths in the political and economic system, and when the Mandal intensified the consciousness of the 'Dalits' by recognising their disadvantage of caste-identity as an advantage the confrontation ensues.

The initiative of The National Front government was to reserve an additional 27 percent of seats for the OBCs led to dangerous clash between pro and anti-reservation supporters, and the government fell. For, there existed 15 percent of quota in the government jobs and the educational institutions for the Scheduled Castes (Dalit) people, and an additional 7.5 percent for Scheduled Tribes or tribal (aborigine) people.

After two decades, in April 2006, the ruling UPA government announced the OBC quota, and once again there was a strong opposition by sections of the non-reserved category people. The government's decision was challenged in the court of law. In May 2008, the Supreme Court of India agreed to the quota. However, there are far less protests as compared to 1990 which indicates that in the last 18 years, almost all parties have built their caste-based votebanks. This is also revealed in the fact that many OBC leaders have emerged as prominent politicians, such as Mulayam Singh Yadav from the SP, Lalu Prasad Yadav from the RJD, and Nitish Kumar from the JD-U.

It is appraised that after Independence, some caste associations were established with political objectives to compete in elections. In Gujarat, some of the leaders of the Kshatriya Sabha anticipated in the early fifties to form the party of the Kshatriyas. They soon repeated that they could not muster enough support to contest elections only on the strength of the Kshatriyas. Likewise, political elite of the Kurmis. Yadavas and Koeris encouraged the Bihar State Backward caste Association in 1947 to contest elections. During the 1950s, B. R. Ambedkar disparaged the use of caste as a political board. He expected the limitations of using caste as a political resource and instead emphasized eliminating the concept of caste from Indian society.

The Mandal Commission was formed in 1979 by the Janata Party government under Prime Minister Morarji Desai with a directive to "identify the socially or educationally backward". The Commission was set up to consider the question of seat reservations and quotas for people to redress caste discrimination, and used eleven social, economic, and educational indicators to determine "backwardness." In 1980, the commission's report confirmed the affirmative action practice under Indian law whereby members of lower castes (known as Other Backward Classes and Scheduled Castes and Tribes) were given exclusive access to a certain portion of government jobs and slots in public universities, and recommended changes to these quotas, increasing them by 27% to 49.5%. L R Naik, the only Dalit member in the Mandal Commission rejected to sign the Mandal recommendations, as he afraid that well-to-do OBCs would corner all the benefits of reservation.

In 1990s, several parties like Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the Samajwadi Party and the Janata Dal started appealing that they represent the backward castes. Many such parties, relying primarily on Backward Classes' support, often in association with Dalits and Muslims, emerged as powerful in Indian states. At the same time, many Dalit leaders and intellectuals started realizing that the main Dalit oppressors were so-called Other Backward Classes, and formed their own parties, such as the Indian Justice Party. The Congress (I) in Maharashtra long relied on OBCs' backing for its political success. Bharatiya Janata Party has also showcased its Dalit and OBC leaders to prove that it is not an upper-caste party. Bangaru Laxman, the former BJP president (2001-2002) was a former Dalit. Uma Bharati, former CM of Madhya Pradesh, who belongs to OBC caste, is a BJP leader. In 2006, Arjun Singh cabinet minister for MHRD of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government was alleged to play caste politics when he introduced reservations for OBCs in educational institutions all around. In Tamil Nadu, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party rose to power under the rumour of "Brahmin oppression". Many upper-caste Brahmins have criticized of reverse discrimination, alleging that Tamil Brahmins (Iyers, Iyengars) have left the state, due to a "hostile atmosphere" predominant against upper castes in the region.

In political term, caste has a basic role in the decision making process that even the reorganization of states in India had to struggle with it so that no caste group dominates a particular territory. Although untouchability has been forbidden under the Constitution. Harijans and Adivasis have also been given legal safeguard as a positive measure. Government made an attempt to create economic and social impartiality but these reservations have affected Indian politics in an unpleasant manner. Groups declared backward are now not prepared to relinquish the concessions that accumulate to them by the label of backwardness. Caste has thus become a major hurdle in the establishment of a casteless society and has paved communal connections. Even the politicians are caught in the network. On the one hand, they would like the differences and preferences based on caste to be abolished and on the other, are well aware that these are helpful in securing the vote.

The development role of caste association also play vital role to persuade voting pattern. Even political parties are considering caste as a vote bank. This empowered the lower castes to be politically influential on the basis of numerical preponderance. In selecting candidates for elections, political parties often giving consideration to the caste composition of constituencies. Sometimes, several castes are using politics in their attempt to better their conditions or to accomplish their goal. Reservation policy is another feature in which caste system also influence Indian politics.

It is well recognized that role of caste in elections has two dimensions. One is of the parties and candidates and the second is of the voters. The previous notion seeks support of the voters projecting themselves as champions of particular social and economic interests, the latter while exercising their vote in favour of one party or candidate whether people vote on caste consideration. Different parties accommodate certain castes in distributing party tickets. While nominating candidates parties take into consideration caste of the aspirant candidate and numerical strength of different castes in a constituency. Caste leaders also mobilized their followers on caste lines so that they could show their strength. In the fifties wherever caste associations were able to maintain their unity and did not formally align with ally one party they appealed to their members to vote for their caste fellows irrespective of their party affiliation. For a very insignificant number of respondents, candidate's caste was the main consideration. Some of the respondents might have voted for persons who happened to belong to their caste. But it was not caste voting. They voted for the candidate not because person was of their caste irrespective of his party and ability. They, voted because person was the candidate of the party to which the respondent felt closer for variety of reasons including the feeling that the party would "protect his/her" interests or the party had done good work for the people like him/her. Their main consideration is their perception of their interests. In a given alternative parties candidates, they consider as to who would serve their interests better than others. If the candidate is own caste, which they identify as theirs, they vote for him/her.

In all, caste has become an important determinant in Indian society and politics, the new lesson of organised politics and consciousness of caste affiliations learnt by the previously despised caste groups have transformed the contours of Indian politics where shifting caste-class alliances are being encountered. Total effect of these mobilisations along caste-identities have resulted not only in the empowerment of recently emerging groups but has increased the intensity of confrontational politics and possibly leading to a growing crisis of governability.

Religion: Another type of identity politics is that produced through the development of a community on the shared link of religion. Religion is a collection of belief systems or cultural systems that relate humanity to spirituality and moral values. Many religions may have organized behaviours, clergy, adherence or membership, holy places, and scriptures. The practice of a religion may also include:

  1. - Rituals
  2. - Sermons
  3. - Sacrifices
  4. - Festivals
  5. - Funerary services
  6. - Matrimonial service
  7. - Meditation
  8. - Prayer
  9. - Music
  10. - Art
  11. - Dance
  12. - Public service
  13. - Other aspects of human culture.

Religions may also contain mythology. It can be used to enhance oneself financially or spiritually. It can also be used to manipulate and control others for good or evil ends. It has been used as an effective political and commercial tool as evidenced by the many historic records of religious wars. Religion has great influence on political pattern in Indian society. Politicians use religion as their loopholes. They hide their black money in the names of religion and trusts. Politician use religion to gain success in politics.

Researchers have argued since many years to elaborate the notion of religion. Some highlight the idea that religion is concerned primarily with conceptions of God, divinity and the meaning and order of human existence. Others have asserted the way religion serves to draw distinctions between sacred (that is, transcendent or other-worldly) forms of space and belief and more mundane, or profane, domains of 'worldly' human endeavour. Anthropologist Clifford Geertz (1973), focused on the symbolic power of religion and its ability to influence how people understand their place in the world and also to communicate meaning to the actions they undertake. Some researchers have indicated that the idea of religion as a distinct category or sphere of human activity reflects a specifically Western worldview and historical tradition. Talal Asad (1993) stated that in other cultural traditions, it is not so easy to make a firm separation between religion and other spheres of life such as politics, culture, society and economics.

There are many explanation for the concept of religion. According to anthropologist Clifford Geertz, religion is " a system of symbols which acts to, establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic" (Geertz 1973).

Theologian George Lindbeck asserted that religion is "a kind of cultural and/or linguistic framework or medium that makes possible the description of realities, the formulation of beliefs, and the experiencing of inner attitudes, feelings, and sentiments" (Lindbeck 1984).

Marxist authors such as Louis Althusser highlighted in writing that religion functions as a form of 'false consciousness' which socializes us into accepting as normal certain historically and materially contingent relations of social power (Althusser 2001).

In India, Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, Christianity, and Zoroastrianism are major religions practised by the people. Numerically, the Hindus have the majority, which stimulates many Hindu loyalist groups like the RSS (Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh) or the Siva Sena and political parties like the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) or the Hindu Mahasabha to claim that India is a Hindu State. These assertions create homogenising myths about India and its history. These claims are contradicted by other religious groups who predict the likelihood of losing sovereignty of practise of their religious and cultural life under such homogenising claims. This initiates contestations that have often resulted in communal uprisings.

Religion in Indian politics can be linked to the country since pre-independence periods. It is supposed that the British, who ruled India for more than 100 years around the 19th century, pitched one community against the other to decline the freedom struggle. They especially thrived in pervading a feeling of anxiety among sections of the Muslim community concerning their wellbeing in a country that had a majority Hindu population and emerging Hindu nationalist voices. As a result, the Muslims demanded reserved seats in the legislature and a separate electorate. The British acceded to their demands through legislation, known as the Act of 1909.

In 1915, Hindu nationalists established the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha (All India Hindu Assembly) to counter the Indian Muslim League (a political party) and the secular Indian National Congress, a forum founded in 1885 that afterward became a political party. In 1923, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (popularly known as Veer Savarkar), the Hindu Mahasabha founder, coined the word 'Hindutva' (Hindu-ness) to define who is a Hindu. In 1925, KB Hegdewar, the Hindu Mahasabha vice president, founded the RSS.

The tensions between groups of the Hindu and Muslim societies resulted in the Indian Muslim League demanding a separate nation for Muslims. When the British were to formally depart the country in 1947, the British India was divided into the 'Hindu-majority' India and the 'Muslim-majority' Pakistan. The Partition had dangerous consequences on both the nations. It resulted in a mass migration of 14.5 million people from India to Pakistan and vice versa, and the killing of around 1 million people related to religion of Hindu, Sikh and Muslim in the violent clashes that followed.

In 1951, the RSS began a political party, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh or BJS, under its leadership and control. In 1980, the BJS was succeeded by the BJP.

The BJP, which struggled to become a national party and an alternative to India's one and only major party at the time, the Congress, espoused a resolution in June 1989 to build a temple of Rama in Ayodhya (Uttar Pradesh state), which the party claimed as the Ram Janmabhoomi (the birthplace of God Rama). The BJP and Hindu nationalists asserted that Muslim ruler Babur had demolished a temple of Rama to build the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya in the 16th century. In September 1990, BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani undertook a Rath Yatra (procession on a chariot) to promise the construction of a temple of Rama.

The Ayodhya issue intensified the political dividends. In July 1992, Advani, the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha (House of the People), reportedly told the House, "You must recognise the fact that from two seats in parliament in 1985, we have come to 117 seats in 1991. This has happened primarily because we took up this issue (Ayodhya)."

In December 1992, supposed activists of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a sister organisation of the RSS and the BJP, demolished the Babri Mosque. This not only encouraged communal violence in several parts of the country, in which many people died, but also separated people along religious lines. Consequently, the BJP emerged as a major party.

Progressively, the BJP emerged as a dominant party at the national level for the first time in May 1996, but the government lasted for only 15 days. It again gained power in March 1998 as the leader of the NDA and ruled the country till March 2004.

In 1998, the BJP began targeting Christians after Sonia Gandhi, an Italy-born Catholic and wife of late former prime minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi, became the president of the Congress. Presently, BJP is ruling party in India.

The generally acknowledged myths that process the identity divide on religious grounds centre on the 'appeasement theory', 'forcible religious conversions', general 'anti-Hindu' and thus 'anti-India' approach of the minority religious groups, the 'hegemonic aspirations' of majority groups and 'denial of a socio-cultural space' to minority groups. Traditionally, the Hindu revivalist movement of the 19th century is considered to be the period that saw the separation of two separate cultures on religious basis, the Hindus and the Muslims that developed further because of the partition. This division which has become institutionalised in the form of a communal philosophy has become a major challenge for India's secular social fabric and democratic polity. Though communalism for a major part of the last century signified Hindu-Muslim conflict, recently, contestations between Hindus and Christians have often crystallised into communal battle.

The rise of Hindu national decisiveness, politics of representational government, persistence of communal perceptions, and competition for the socio-economic resources are considered some of the reasons for the generation of communal beliefs and their change into major riots. Identity schemes based on religion have become a major source of skirmish not only in the international background but since the early 1990s it has also become a challenge for Indian democracy and secularism. The growth of majoritarian assertiveness is considered to have become institutionalised after the BJP that along with its 'Hindu' constituents gave political cohesiveness to a consolidating Hindu consciousness, formed a coalition ministry in March 1998. However, like all identity schemes the falsifying of a religious community polishes over internal differences within a particular religion to generate the "we are all of the same kind" emotion. Thus differences of caste groups within a homogenous Hindu identity, linguistic and sectional differences within Islam are shelved to create a homogenous unified religious identity.

In post-independence era, India the majoritarian assertion has generated its own antithesis in the form of minority religions assertiveness and a resulting confrontational politics that weakens the syncretistic dimensions of the civil society in India. The process through which this religious assertiveness is being increasingly institutionalised by a 'methodical rewriting of history' has the potential to reformulate India's national identity along communal trajectories.

It can be evaluated that In the Indian culture, religion has significant role. Political leaders realized that to retain unity in India, there is a need to remain secular. Therefore, Gandhiji had been preaching brotherhood among the different religious groups. Nehru was a strong supporter of secularism. Their efforts could not separate religion from politics rather in politics the vested interests started exploiting caste and religion to achieve political advantage. After independence, religious places are used for political publicity and the religious sentiments of the people are excited in order to gain political control of the State. This emergence of religion-political party has endangered the secularism in India. It is dreaded that if it succeeds, there is a possibility that many other political parties with caste and religion as the basis may come up.

Ethnicity: Ethnicity refers to physical characteristics as well as social traits that are shared by a human population. Some of the social traits often used for ethnic classification include:

  1. - Nationality
  2. - Tribe
  3. - Religious faith
  4. - Shared language
  5. - Shared culture
  6. - Shared traditions

Ethnicity denotes to selected cultural and physical characteristics used to categorize people into groups or categories considered to be significantly different from others. In some cases, ethnicity involves merely a loose group identity with little or no cultural traditions in common. In contrast, some ethnic groups are coherent subcultures with a shared language and body of tradition.

Ethnic groups may be either a minority or a majority in a populace. Whether a group is a minority or a majority also is not an absolute fact but depends on the perspective.

For many people, ethnic categorization implies a connection between biological inheritance and culture. They believe that biological inheritance determines much of cultural identity. In 1871, English anthropologist Edward Tylor wrote that cultural traits are entirely learned. Subsequently, a baby can be placed into another culture shortly after birth and can be thoroughly enculturated click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced to that culture, regardless of their skin colour, body shape, and other presumed racial features.

Several political scientist consider that political movement centred on ethnic identity. It is a major source of discordant conflict in the world today. Some researchers argue that the world is in the process of an ethnic revitalization that threatens to wrench apart established systems of order. The apparent increase in ethnicity-based solidarity and political activity is most often attributed to the opportunity presented by recent shifts in the nature of political, economic, and moral authority. There are two ways in which the idea of ethnic identity is used. One, it insiders the creation of identity on the basis of single attribute - language, religion, caste, region. Secondly, it considers the formation of identity on the basis, of multiple attributes cumulatively. Though, it is the second way formation of identity on the basis of more than one characteristics such as culture, customs, region, religion or caste, which is considered as the most common way of development of the ethnic identity. The one ethnic identity is shaped in relation to the other ethnic identity. The relations between more than one ethnic identities can be both harmonious and conflictual. Whenever, there is competition among the ethnic identities on the real or imaginary basis, it uttered in the form of autonomy movements, demand for session or ethnic uprisings.

To summarize, caste, religion and ethnicity is entrenched into Indian politics. Many theorists asserted that caste is a social phenomenon of Indian society. By partaking in the modern political system, caste is now visible to divisive influences and a new form of integration resulting from a new system of universalist-particularist relationships. Caste has gained a powerful position in Indian politics. Religion also has significant role in Indian Politics. Religion and Politics co-exists in India. Religion can guide a politician but a politician prejudiced in favour of one religion, can never be good for all citizens. A politician is the representative of the general people of India, and he/she use the spirit of religion to promote communal coordination. The spirit of religion is an inner revelation, but politics leads to rights of the people. Religion is not opposed to science. Religion binds people with duties to perform.

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