Sunday, March 02, 2014

Breaking the chains

Went to Princeton today for a symposium on a book about religion and nation in contemporary China and India. The author claims that "colonial modernity" decisively affected the emergence of India's pluralist secularism as well as China's atheist secularism. To see what's going on one has to realize that the 19th century didn't just see the invention of religion, secularism and the nation, but what he calls the "syntagmatic chain of religion-magic-secularity-spirituality," terms which mutually define and condition each other. I'm sympathetic to this kind of argument (though I found I was missing "materialism" in the set, and "science"), but the "syntagmatic chain" was lambasted by an impetuous young scholar for being no more than a "bandaid," covering up where an argument should have been. What kind of claim was this, and what mechanism was being proposed (problems I'm aware my own approach has too)? Other problems arose too around issues of translation and evidence, but the most interesting intervention came from a sociologist of China who wondered if even a vague "syntagm" was inadequate to illuminate phenomena animated by a "sinic" understanding of categories, not oppositional or nondual merely but a yin yang-inspired form of both-and. I don't get what he was talking about yet, not really, but I sure want to find out!

No comments: