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Let Us Talk About Your Book:
Arvind Pal Singh Mandair - "Religion & The Specter of The West"
Part VII

Q & A with Author by SIKHCHIC.COM




Continued from Last Week ...




Q   Let’s talk about the style of the book. You mentioned earlier that the book’s unconventional style is reflected in the way that its argument develops … that the argument develops in a “rhizomatic fashion”. What do you mean by this?

A   Well, in short, the book’s unconventional style has something to do with the importance I give to the subjective element, that is, to lived existence and the need to contest dominant academic frameworks which normally squeeze the life out of that lived existence by emphasizing total objectivity.

The purpose I had in mind, was to find lived continuities between past and present, but at the same time keep an eye on the future with the desire to break with worn-out reactionary politics and instead release the creative potential inherent within the teaching of the Sikh Gurus.

The living link between past, present and future is subjectivity. That’s where the subjective element comes in …

By bringing the subjective element into contact with conventional objective analysis, I was able to develop a form of writing that allowed me to experiment. And only by experimenting can you innovate with older ways of thinking, irrespective of whether these are scholarly methods, or defunct socio-political frameworks, or religiously entrenched positions.

So, basically, the reason why the style of the book feels so different from other scholarly books, is that the chapters of the book constitute a series of thought-experiments. Now this kind of experimentation does not take a disinterested standpoint, like conventional scientific experimentation, or the standard scholarly exercise (which I happen to know something about since I spent many years as a scientist).

The kind of experimentation I am doing in the book is motivated by my deeply held desire to enable Sikh concepts to operate in a foreign soil, to enable the sovereign Sikh aspect to bloom in a potentially hostile environment which constantly orders it to remain privatized, out of sight, out of mind, depoliticized.

Q   Experimentation? In what way?

  Experimentation sounds complicated but it is quite simple. The word experiment as I use it is based on something more fundamental, namely, experience. You always begin from your own experiences – experiences of the world around you, the society you live in, the world beyond that society, etc., and I would not rule out what some people might call spiritual or mystical experience, although for me these are never separate from the world we live in.

So for me, to experiment is to consciously inherit my lived context, to be conscious of what enervates and energizes that life-world, what makes it worth living, and thus what makes it sovereign. If we have that sovereign perspective in mind it then becomes possible to interrogate whatever dominant reality might undermine it, with a view to be able to effectively respond to that dominant social and political order, which as I’ve mentioned earlier, is a debilitating global consciousness modeled on Western thought forms.

More specifically, I am trying to experiment with ways of thinking that would not simply turn responses into mere reactions. We need to avoid becoming reactionary.

Q   Forgive me for keeping on asking you for definitions. What do you mean by ‘reactionary’?

A   What do I mean by ‘reactionary’? It refers to a form of behavior that is not derived from a Sikh life-world, but from somewhere else, from the rules imposed by the dominant political order, for example.

A good example might be the Public/Private distinction imposed by the dominant political order that most of us live in, namely, the nation-state.

For instance, the law of the dominant nation-state stipulates that:

Sikhs must separate their spiritual aspect from their political aspect, and surrender the political aspect to the law. They must do that because the law defines Sikhs as a purely religious group and its social system as a religion called Sikhism”.

In effect, such a law deprives Sikhs of what constitutes their true potential -- what I call the sovereign aspect. This sovereign aspect is essentially the freedom to be able to determine the nature of the world they live in, to have the freedom to maintain or alter the world they live in, to have sufficient potential not to be constantly subjected to outside forces.

That is, it deprives Sikhi of its political aspect which is conjoined to its spiritual aspect without there being any separation between the two.

Now there are two ways in which Sikhs can respond to this scenario.

They can either accept the basic postulates of the dominant nation-state (whether Western or Indian) and begin defining their essential identity as a religion – in which case they hand over the keys to their sovereign treasure in exchange for a peace provided by the State (but of-course, as we know, the State never really guarantees that peace – in fact it often reneges on that guarantee).

In other words, Sikhs agree to become clones or cronies of the State they live in.

Q   And the second way we can respond?

  Or, we can get fed up, start a riot or a rebellion every now and then, get clobbered by the State which is always vastly more powerful and always legally empowered to use violence, whereas we, being the citizenry, aren’t.

Now both of these modes of behavior are reactionary.

Sikhs simply react to rules that are imposed and they react in the language that the dominant power totally understands and in fact controls (because it makes the rules).

Now, what I am arguing in Religion and the Specter of the West is a way out of this dilemma through experimentation. What Sikhs need to learn to do is NOT to react, but to experiment with the environment they live in, irrespective of whether this is in Punjab, India or the West.

Experimentation involves finding points of instability in the dominant system.

Q   I’m going to ask you to explain ’points of stability’ …

A   Points of instability are points or locations where its discourses are unstable and are liable to be altered, reprogrammed.

At the same time, this experimentation can also involve transforming the nature of the vehicle that Sikhs use to project themselves to the outside world. This vehicle has become utterly compromised by the way that powerful states operate.

So my own experimentation involved remapping the intellectual terrain that Sikhs are involved in. This means working more creatively with the conventional disciplinary framework of the University (especially the humanities and social sciences), and understanding how the politics of knowledge construction works within that system.

For example, despite all the work being done by subaltern groups and intellectuals, the disciplines that we take for granted, such as religious studies, sociology, history, philosophy, etc., continue to reflect the values of the dominant society and its culture, whether this is in the West or in India.

What we need to do with these disciplines is to locate points of instability within them, and then experiment within or at these unstable zones, to change the intellectual environment.

You don’t cause a rebellion or anything like that. Rather you look to couple the energies of the Sikh Gurus’ message with similar energies in the host environment.

My experimentation is one that also works at the level of Media and Academia because these are functionaries of the state It is therefore not like Marxism which simply wants to overturn the state and replace it. Rather, the aim is to help change the nature of the state … which involves creating intellectual alliances with other suppressed or minoritarian groups.

Hence the kind of thought-experimentation that goes on in the book works on behalf of a minority group that has no other recourse.

Experimentation helps it to tap its sovereign resources even in the language of the dominant culture.

And that’s the secret … you must use the language of the dominant culture, and reprogram it so that it stops being oppressive and can be a place to live and thing without giving up the sovereign resources of your own life-world.

To Be Continued Next Week …

March 3, 2014

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Arvind Pal Singh Mandair - "Religion & The Specter of The West"
Part VII"

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