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Comparing nationalist actors in South Asia

On 14 and 15 April, the School of Social Work, in collaboration with SASNET, hosted a workshop on nationalisms in South Asia. The convenors were Frank Korom from Boston University, Jan Magnusson from the School of Social Work and the Director of SASNET, Andreas Johansson.

Group photograph of the participants in the workshop on nationalisms in South Asia held at Sasnet, Lund University, 14 April 2018

The core idea of the workshop was formed in opposition to a generation of scholarship which argued that nationalism was strictly a Western affair. Bengali Nobel Laureate in Literature, Rabindranath Tagore, for example, stated that his homeland India never developed nationalism. However, in his book Religious Nationalism (1994), Peter van der Veer provides an important corrective. Van der Veer argues that while Asia might not have had secular nationalisms, it most certainly produced religious nationalisms.

A mythical past, the deification of folk heroes, the anointing of sacred geographical sites, and the composition of epic poetry are all vehicles for a religious ideology constructed for nationalistic purposes

There parallels between nationalist actors in different South Asian countries in terms of symbolic resources. A mythical past, the deification of folk heroes, the anointing of sacred geographical sites, and the composition of epic poetry are all vehicles for the expression of a religious ideology constructed for nationalistic purposes throughout South Asia. Moreover, such religious ideologies, once constructed, are used to foment divisive ethnic politics, which often lead to widespread communal violence (as in the case of India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka). The workshop explored whether such a comparative model is a more productive way of thinking about religious nationalism in South Asia than analysis driven by methodological nationalism in which one single nation or culture is excised from the global or regional context for the purpose of analysis.

The workshop included paper presentations by the three convenors, Peter Van Der Veer (Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Göttingen), Boris  Wille (Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg), Susan A. Reed, (Bucknell University), Mari Miyamoto (Keio University), Mara Malagodi, (City Law School, University of London), and Jürgen Schaflechner (University of Heidelberg). Discussant was Ted Svensson from the Department of Political Science at Lund University.  

The workshop was generously funded by the Crafoord Foundation.

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