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Solved by verified expert:Write two paragraphs each attached file. 300 word response for each. Briefly reflect on something that surprised you in a particular reading. You may reflect on anything at all, but you must be specific. Must provide occasional quotation, with a page number Pick two or three examples from the text and elaborate on them. Be very specific, do not be broad. Do not simply describe or summarize the video. Show how it changed or solidified a perspective of yours.
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“Smash Temples, Build Schools”: Comparing Secularism in India and China
University Press Scholarship Online
Princeton Scholarship Online
The Modern Spirit of Asia: The Spiritual and the
Secular in China and India
Peter van der Veer
Print publication date: 2013
Print ISBN-13: 9780691128146
Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017
DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691128146.001.0001
“Smash Temples, Build Schools”: Comparing Secularism in India and China
Peter van der Veer
DOI:10.23943/princeton/9780691128146.003.0006
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter discusses secularism as a political project with its own utopian elements.
Secularism refers to the growing importance of scientific knowledge that is not constrained by
religious authority. Religion is sometimes taken to be an obstacle for scientific progress and
secularism demands its removal for the benefit of societal development that is guided by
scientific discovery and technological innovation. Secularization was seen by sociologists as an
intrinsic and inescapable part of the modernization of Western society, with the assumption that
this was something all societies had to go through. An alternative to post-Weberian arguments in
sociology about religion and secularity is offered by theories that emphasize individual, rational
choice in religious markets.
Keywords: secularism, secularization, scientific knowledge, religious authority, technological innovation,
sociology, religion, Western society
Page 1 of 21
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“Smash Temples, Build Schools”: Comparing Secularism in India and China
The concept of secularism is not less elusive than that of religion, or spirituality, or magic, with
which it forms a syntagmatic chain. Often it is unclear what is meant by “the secular.” At one
level the term refers to the separation of state and church. This makes sense only in the West,
where one has the Christian church. Even in the West, however, this separation takes different
shapes in the United States, in Britain, in France, in Holland. In Asia religions are not organized
in churches, and that simple fact already creates confusion about what is meant by “the secular.”
At another level it refers to the marginalization of religion in society. Again, this seems to be
occurring in some societies in Europe, but certainly not in the United States. There is therefore
also not a clear causal connection between level 1 and level 2. Finally, there is a third level,
which is that of the growing irrelevance of religion as a source of knowledge. This refers to the
growing importance of scientific knowledge that is not constrained by religious authority.
Religion is sometimes taken to be an obstacle for scientific progress and secularism demands its
removal for the benefit of societal development that is guided by scientific discovery and
technological innovation.
Much sociological attention and imagination has gone into first the development of the
secularization thesis and more recently in its dismantling. Secularization was seen by
sociologists as an intrinsic and inescapable part of the modernization of Western society, with
the assumption that this was something all societies had to go through.1 Jose Casanova has been
at the forefront of the dismantling of this thesis with his important book Public Religions.2 He
has argued that the three propositions of the secularization thesis—namely, the decline of
religious beliefs, the (p.141) privatization of religion, and the differentiation of secular spheres
and their emancipation from religion—should be looked at separately in a comparative analysis.
Most of the research on secularization is focused on an opposition of Western Europe and the
United States. Casanova argues that comparative historical analysis allows one to get away from
the dominant stereotypes about the United States and Europe and to open a space for further
sociological inquiry into multiple patterns of fusion and differentiation of the religious and the
secular across societies and religions. This means moving away from teleological understandings
of modernization. Or perhaps better, it means a questioning of that telos by recognizing its
multiplicity and its contradictions. Casanova’s intervention can be understood as building on the
Weberian project of comparative and historical sociology, but going beyond it by avoiding the
examination of civilizations and focusing instead on nation-states. He shows that religions can
play a major role in mass mobilization around political issues in modern polities that have a legal
separation of state and church. The political significance of religion is enduring in large parts of
Europe, Latin America, and certainly also in the United States. In India one finds a secular
separation of religion and state, but at the same time politics is full of religion. In China one
finds a communist regime that is bent on removing religion from the political arena, but is now
faced with revival of religion at all levels of society. Post-Weberian comparative sociology
approaches the vast array of secularisms from a historical study of the trajectories of nationstates.
Page 2 of 21
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Subscriber: Virginia Tech; date: 20 May 2019
“Smash Temples, Build Schools”: Comparing Secularism in India and China
An alternative to post-Weberian arguments in sociology about religion and secularity is offered
by theories that emphasize individual, rational choice in religious markets.3 Market theories of
religion have developed in the United States, because of the dominance of market ideology in
that country. Moreover, they seem to fit the historical development of secularism in the United
States. The United States has erected “a wall of separation” between state and church,
according to which arrangement the state is secularized, but is required to uphold religious
freedom. (p.142) Historically, especially proselytizing Protestant groups have thrived in the
United States, and they have set an example that is followed by other denominations. Their
competition is made possible by the noninterference of the state and what is sometimes called
the “free marketplace of ideas.” European modernization theorists have often mentioned the
United States as an exception to the rule of secularization, while American market theorists
have argued that Europe was the exception to the rule, since established religions (state
religions) in Europe monopolized the religious economy and took market incentives away.
However, both Poland and Ireland are Catholic monopolies and at the same time are hardly
secularized. One can learn from the debate between these sociologists that one should not strive
for universal models but develop meaningful comparative analysis.
Besides the fact that market theories of religion run into some empirical problems in societies
outside the United States—for instance, in Europe—they have some further theoretical
difficulties. Market theories assume that individuals make a certain kind of “rational choice” and
that they have stable preferences. This allows for description and prediction. The problem,
obviously, is how to demarcate rational and irrational choices. This demarcation problem is
discussed in detail by an influential Swiss sociologist of religion, Jürgen Stolz.4 He argues that
also choices that are seen by the majority in a society as irrational can still be considered
rational, if people have good reasons to believe in their choice given the information that they
have.5 However, one may object that if we equate rationality with understandability, we
effectively replace the actor’s rationality with the sociologist’s rationality, which reconstructs the
“good reasons” that people may have for their beliefs. Moreover, what if people just perform
certain religious acts without putting any emphasis on believing, or do not in general give the
concept of belief central importance in their religious activities?6 The problem sociologists who
follow the economic model of “rational choice” run into is that their definition of rationality is
too one-dimensional to be useful (p.143) for the interpretation of much social behavior. When
they realize this and try to expand the definition of rationality the concept loses its value for
prediction. These problems are not new. In the 1970s they were hotly debated by Peter Winch,
Steven Lukes, Martin Hollis, Ernest Gellner, and others. This debate was largely based on EvansPritchard’s ethnographic work. In his classical study of witchcraft and magic among the Azande
Evans-Pritchard showed that seemingly irrational magic, as a set of concepts, practices, and
techniques, has to be understood within a wider range of moral understandings.7
Stolz wants to reintroduce a Weberian concept of value rationality, but, as we have seen in the
previous chapter, the problem with that is precisely that it makes a distinction between religious
morality (value rationality that can be found in world religions) on the one hand and irrational
magic on the other. This is in Weber’s case (and in that of modernization theory) connected with
an evolutionary view of the disenchantment of the world. It is these assumptions that have
become part of ideologies of modernizing elites and have important social consequences that
need to be critically analyzed by sociologists rather than being taken as the guiding models for
studying religion.
Page 3 of 21
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Subscriber: Virginia Tech; date: 20 May 2019
“Smash Temples, Build Schools”: Comparing Secularism in India and China
The market cannot be understood purely in terms of rational choice. Our current understanding
of actors in financial markets complicates rationality and places more emphasis on greed, on
herd behavior, and on the interaction between actors and electronically embedded models.8 If
this is already the case for financial markets, a central aspect of the economy, it might be more
useful to closely examine the specific understandings of rationality and desire and personhood
that are produced in religious movements rather than assume that we know already what the
individual as a rational human being is. Moreover, there are other aspects of the market that
may be helpful in our analysis of religion, such as advertising in various media, the creation of
social imaginaries (to use Charles Taylor’s term), and fantasies that lead to particular
consumption patterns, branding, and lifestyle, which are neglected by the market theorists. In
principle (p.144) attempts to connect different spheres of social life, such as the market and
religious affiliation, are to be applauded, but to reduce the richness of social life to a narrow
definition of rational behavior is not necessary.
The rejection of market theories of religion that depend on universalistic assumptions of rational
choice brings us to a cultural approach of secularism. The comparison between secularism in
India and China depends on the following steps. The first is that the project of European
modernity should be understood as part of what I have called “interactional history.”9 That is to
say that the project of modernity with all its revolutionary ideas of nation, equality, citizenship,
democracy, and rights is developed not only in Atlantic interactions between the United States
and Europe but also in interactions with Asian and African societies that are coming within the
orbit of imperial expansion. Instead of the oft-assumed universalism of the Enlightenment one
needs to look at the universalization of ideas that emerge from a history of interactions.
Enlightened notions of rationality and progress are not simply invented in Europe and accepted
elsewhere, but are both produced and universally spread in the expansion of European power.
This entails a close attention to the pathways of imperial universalization. Examining secularism
in India and China uncovers some of the peculiarities of this universalization by showing how it
is inserted in different historical trajectories in these societies.
The second is that with all the attention to secularization as a historical process, there is not
enough attention to secularism as historical project. Casanova has in his recent writings rightly
drawn attention to the importance in Europe of secularism as an ideological critique of religion,
carried out by a number of social movements.10 Secularism as an ideology offers a teleology of
religious decline and can function as a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is important to examine the role
of intellectuals in furthering this understanding of history, but also their relation to sources of
power: state apparatuses (prominently the law) and social movements. Secularism frames
religion. As Talal Asad observes, (p.145) “the space that religion may properly occupy in
society has to be continually redefined in society by the law because the reproduction of social
life within and beyond the nation-state continually affects the discursive clarity of that space.”11
Secularism is a forceful ideology when carried by political movements that capture both the
imagination and the means to mobilize social energies. It is important to attend to the utopian
and indeed religious elements in secularist projects in order to understand why many of these
movements seem to tap into traditional and modern sources of witchcraft, millenarianism, and
charisma. Much of this is omitted from discussions of secularization, but the cases of India and
China show us how essential this is for understanding the dynamics of religion and the secular.
Page 4 of 21
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chapter of a monograph in HSO for personal use (for details see www.princeton.universitypressscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy).
Subscriber: Virginia Tech; date: 20 May 2019
“Smash Temples, Build Schools”: Comparing Secularism in India and China
It is imperialism that brings Indians and Chinese to interpret their traditions in terms of the
category of “religion” and its opposition to “the secular.” While there are multiple histories
involved here, it is the imperial context that produces a remarkably similar trajectory that
essentializes Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Daoism, and even Confucianism into
comparable entities, subjects of the new, secular discipline of comparative religion or science of
religion that attempts to emancipate itself from Christian theology. One also has to look carefully
at ways in which European notions of science and its opposite, of progress and backwardness,
capture the imagination of Indian and Chinese intellectuals and how this relates to the creation
of the modern state. In the following I will first deal with secularism in China and then with
secularism in India in order to show what kind of problems secularist projects attempt to
address and what kind of violence their interventions entail.
Secularism in China
“Smash temples, build schools” (huimiao, banxue, 毁庙办学) is a particularly telling slogan that
was used in a campaign against temple cults and religious specialists during reforms in late
Ching at the end of the nineteenth century.12 According to the reformists, (p.146) led by Kang
Youwei (1858–1927) and supported by the emperor, China had to modernize quickly and this had
to be done by promoting education and by getting rid of religious superstition. These two
elements belonged together, since education should train people in modern, rational thought,
while superstition and magical thought should be discouraged. Education is central to the
development of the modern nation-state. It demands that its subjects be disciplined and
educated in a national curriculum. That curriculum contains the basic elements of modern
science, required for educating an adequate workforce, but also basic elements of national
culture, such as language and history. Religion can be regarded as part of national culture, but
in secularist states students are taught to reject that part of culture, see it as a historical
aberration, and become atheist.
Education is also central to religion. To be able to send, receive, and interpret the religious
message one needs to be educated. Despite the Deist claim that religion is natural, it is in fact
culturally acquired.13 One could perhaps compare learning a religion with learning a language,
and indeed ritual communication has often been studied as a form of language. Many religions
have ritual manuals about what to do when and for what purpose, and this practical knowledge
may be more important than the content of what people believe, or their “inner states,” although
some religions, especially Protestantism, do put a lot of emphasis on interiority. The education in
sacred truth, in sacred rituals, in correct behavior is an indispensable element of religions. If we
think of the ways in which we are socialized to understand symbols (religious and nonreligious)
and their relation to practice, it is clear that we have to study not only religions but also how
religious symbols become authoritative in relation to other representations and discourses.14 For
example, if one becomes a Buddhist in a secular state Buddhist symbols are discursively
constructed and understood in relation to the dominant discourse of secularism.
Page 5 of 21
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“Smash Temples, Build Schools”: Comparing Secularism in India and China
Outside the family, the temple and the monastery are throughout history sites of education. In
Europe it is relatively recent (p.147) that they have been rivaled or overtaken by statesponsored schools. It was only in the late nineteenth century that the old universities of Oxford
and Cambridge were loosening their ties with the state church. Still, many of the arrangements
in these universities (and elsewhere in Europe) recall the religious nature of higher learning. In
China Buddhist and Daoist temples and monasteries were also sites of learning, but primarily for
religious education. It is state Confucianism that is central to the state curriculum. The state
required officials to be educate …
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