Sunday, April 20, 2014

In Honor of Easter Sunday: Time to Write Something Inflammatory about Religion

I tried to briefly make a connection between racism and religion in class the other day, and after being quickly shut down I decided to reread the material (Mamdani) and take another stab at it from a slightly different perspective. I kept being reminded of historical events catalyzed by religion while reading and discussing Mamdani's propositions about race and genocide. I think, after further consideration, that the comparison I'm really trying to make is between religion and political identities. Mamdani argues that political identity is often said to be a mere derivative of cultural identity but is in fact its own separate identity (21). I would argue that religion is the yet another "forgotten" identity, often linked to culture and overlooked as its own entity. Along with political, cultural, and market identities, religious identities have their roots in the way we have chosen to organize ourselves. Where political identities are a "direct consequence of the history of state formation" (22) and cultural identities are based in the "development of communities that share a common language and meaning" (22), religious identities are a product of the many different sects, denominations, etc. that form, and by nature of forming, also separate from one another. Mamdani also goes on to say that cultural and political identities are different in that the former is rooted in a "common past" and "historical inheritance", where the latter seems to have a "common project for the future". I believe that religion is a combination of these two, of past history and future plans, but also of culture and politics––and it is all the more powerful for that.  (Here begins my inflammatory section, as promised) Religion, with its strong ties to both the past, present, and future, is a driving force in a lot of what goes on in the world (to quote Marx it's "the opiate of the masses"). Like all of these identities––cultural, political, market––religion has the power to unite a great many and has often incited some of the bloodiest events in history. I would even go so far as to argue that it is the most powerful of all the identity types in it's ability to cause discord. The other identities usually adopt one religion, but can and have been in the past divided by religion too. I have to wonder why Mamdani makes no reference to religion in his discussion of identity here.


  1. p.s. if I'm not in class tomorrow it's because I was smited for writing this.

  2. p.p.s. who knew smited wasn't a word?

  3. Wooh, nicely said! The only reason I can think of that Mamdani doesn't mention religion is because his case study is in Rwanda and is more specific to the ethnic divide that present there, not a religious divide. I think ethnicity and religion could both fall under the category of "cultural identity" but Mamdani choose to focus on the ethnic side of it because it was moer prevalent in Rwanda or just because it seems slightly more straight forward. It is like you said: religion is a part of past, present, and future community. With ethnicity, Mamdani is able to look at the civil identity and the ethnic identity with a little more distinction between the two.


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