Entanglements of Law and Religion in South Asia

Entanglements of Law and Religion in South Asia April 28-30, 2017 Organisers: Karuna Mantena, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science & Chair, South Asian Studies Council Phyllis Granoff, Lex Hixon Professor of World Religions, Department of Religious Studies Rohit De, Assistant Professor, Department of History Recently, a number of high profile court cases in Indian have demonstrated the deep entanglement of law and religion in South Asia. From adjudicating on the Jain ritual of Santhara, to questions of animal sacrifice and cruelty, and the court has been drawn into defining religion, ritual, and superstition. More generally, from the debate on the Hindu code bill, the status of Muslim personal law, to repeated calls for a uniform civil code, legal issues around religion have been amongst the most explosive sites of political contestation. In this workshop we want to take stock of the existing work in the field of law and religion but push the debate beyond questions of codification. In particular we would like to focus on the legal processes and institutions – such as modes of adjudication – that have brought courts into decision-making on matters of religion well beyond the domain of personal law codes. As recent scholarly work on secularism has highlighted, the attempt to define

As recent scholarly work on secularism has highlighted, the attempt to define arenas of public life as secular necessarily forces the courts to decide upon and define the line between the secular and the religious. In making judgments on an astonishing array of religious theology and ritual practices, they also continually define and redefine religion and religious practice. In this workshop we want to closely analyze this process by considering: 1) the textual sources the courts use – how they are read and interpted, why these texts become important; 2) the social and political context in which these disputes become subject to legal dispute; 3) the religious actors and institutions that take part in or are implicated in the cases. Substantively, we would like to focus on two key

Substantively, we would like to focus on two key arenas where the courts define and demarcate religion and religious practices as they mark out the space for judicial and political intervention. Firstly, we highlight the legal history of the caste question. In the late colonial era, the question of what aspects of caste count as religious – and therefore arguably outside the purview of state intervention – produced

Firstly, we highlight the legal history of the caste question. In the late colonial era, the question of what aspects of caste count as religious – and therefore arguably outside the purview of state intervention – produced caste as a particular kind of social disability, namely one that was seen as primarily ritual rather than social-economic. These definitional shifts and ambiguities have had important legacies for current understandings of the legal regulation of caste, from the charged category of caste atrocity to the scheme of caste reservations. The policy of reservations has also forced the courts to adjudicate on the markers of caste identity and if and how they are changed in marriage and/or conversion. Cases dealing with religious conversions and intermarriage have a long history in the courts across the subcontinent. Secondly, in South Asia, courts are frequently asked to decide on various rights linked to religious functions and bodies. Their decisions can have a far-reaching impact on rituals and on religious specialists, and contribute to redefining religious categories and practices. For instance, animal sacrifice, which is of significant cosmological and sociological significance in Hinduism, is becoming an object of law. It has been opposed on various grounds (non-violence, ‘compassion’, ‘animal rights’, prohibition of all ‘cruelty’, ‘fundamental duties’,

Secondly, in South Asia, courts are frequently asked to decide on various rights linked to religious functions and bodies. Their decisions can have a far-reaching impact on rituals and on religious specialists, and contribute to redefining religious categories and practices. For instance, animal sacrifice, which is of significant cosmological and sociological significance in Hinduism, is becoming an object of law. It has been opposed on various grounds (non-violence, ‘compassion’, ‘animal rights’, prohibition of all ‘cruelty’, ‘fundamental duties’, ideals of progress and modernity, standards of hygiene) and is become subject to a controversial legal ban. These arguments against animal sacrifice have attempted to define “essential religious practice” from “superstition.” Likewise, a recent case against the Jain practice of sallekhana raises the question of whether the voluntary renunciation of food and drink at the time when death nears is a “religious activity” of self-purification or suicide. We propose to bring together a broad range of scholars from different countries to explore the imbrication of law and religion across time, place and religious affiliation in South Asia from multiple disciplinary perspectives. What are the consequences of the increasingly legal regulation and adjudication of religion? How are we to understand its historical roots as well as its current dynamics? How has this imbrication shaped conceptions of religion? In turn, how as the interaction shaped legal practice and the understanding of law’s role in society? The conference proposes to address these issues by combining historical approaches with

We propose to bring together a broad range of scholars from different countries to explore the imbrication of law and religion across time, place and religious affiliation in South Asia from multiple disciplinary perspectives. What are the consequences of the increasingly legal regulation and adjudication of religion? How are we to understand its historical roots as well as its current dynamics? How has this imbrication shaped conceptions of religion? In turn, how as the interaction shaped legal practice and the understanding of law’s role in society? The conference proposes to address these issues by combining historical approaches with contemporary analysis in different South Asian countries with differing religious and legal traditions, and concerning major religions (Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism) as well as minority religions (Jains, Parsis, Christians).

The conference is supported by the Yale MacMillan Center – South Asian Studies Council, The Edward J. and Dorothy Clarke Kempf Memorial Fund, Nopany Fund for South Asian Studies.

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