Sociology Of Religion And Social Movements—A Dialogue
Maidul Islam
FAITH AND SOCIAL MOVEMENTS: RELIGIOUS REFORM IN CONTEMPORARY INDI by Anindita Chakrabarti Cambridge University Press, New Delhi, 2017, 242 pp., 595
March 2019, volume 43, No 3

This book is a rigorous ethnographic study of religious movements in contemporary India. The author has focused upon two faith-based movements, namely, the Svadhyaya and the Tablighi Jamaat. Anindita Chakrabarti had spent several years doing ethnographic research in Gujarat, Mumbai and Delhi. As a sociological study, it states its aims very clearly. It wants to create a dialogue between the broad sub-discipline of sociology of religion with the theories of social movements and collective action. Chakrabarti argues that there is a ‘theoretical lag’ in understanding the resurgence of religion in a post 9/11 context on the one hand and the rise of Hindutva on the other in contemporary India. The author has correctly identified that the available theories of ‘Sanskritization’ and ‘Islamization’ are although dated but are still dominating academic sociology. However, such dated theories have serious limitations in analysing the role of religion in the ‘modern’ and ‘disenchanted world’. In effect, when sociologists have been largely concentrating on the processes of secularization and debates around the idea of secularism, the existing conceptual and methodological tools are unable to make us understand the complex world of religious and faith-based movements with its dynamics of beliefs, piety, rituals, and mobilization. Chakrabarti quite persuasively argues that traditions are neither ‘static’ nor ‘invented’. Rather, they ‘emerge in continuous tension between belief and practice; the ideal and the real, in conversation with their resources as well as in interaction with the wider socio-political forces’ (p. xi). Since both modernity and religion are also dynamic, any visions of change in the domains of modernity and religion have their own ‘soteriology’—the doctrine of salvation.

Divided into two parts, Part I consists of four core chapters covering the ethical aspects and voluntarist spirit of the Svadhyaya movement. The primary field investigation for the Svadhyaya movement was carried between 1999 and 2003. Part II features two core chapters that reflect upon the Tablighi Jamaat’s call for ‘self-reform’. While doing fieldwork on the Svadhyaya movement the author finds the Tablighi Jamaat by tracing the reverberation between their tenets. In doing a detailed field investigation among the followers of Tablighi Jamaat in a village in Surat, the author had repeatedly gone back to the village in 2000-2001, 2003, 2004 and 2009. The Introduction engages with the existing theoretical literature on religious movements and academic studies on civil society in the West and India while the conclusion makes a comparative analysis of Svadhyaya and Tablighi Jamaat about the issues of secularity, religion and social movements. Chapter 1 reflects upon theologies of self-reform in the Svadhyaya movement by highlighting the ethical teachings of the Svadhyaya’s religious reformist project. In effect, it deals with the articulation of a theology of praxis that is expressed through a peculiar religious pedagogy of the Svadhyaya movement. Chapter 2 interrogates the metaphysical notions of ‘re-birth’ and ritualistic practices of the Svadhyaya community. Chapter 3 illustrates the everyday organizational activities and strategies of the movement. From such everydayness of the movement, chapter 4 further analyses the story of succession dispute and the legal conundrum within the Svadhyaya family with regard to a court case on the issue of temple entry for a section of Svadhyaya devotees. This is followed by a discussion on the Tablighi Jamaat and the process of ethical perfection of the individual. It delineates the idea of adab (right comportment) among the preachers of Tablighi Jamaat, which has similarities with the idea of sanskar (refining rights) among the members of the Svadhyaya community. Chapter 6 discusses the networks of the Tablighi Jamaat and the role they played in rehabilitating the victims of post-Godhra riots in 2002.

Continue reading this review