Sanam Roohi shares insights on the current situation in India

Solidarity protest at University of Erfurt

Against CAA and police brutality on protesting students in India

By Sanam Roohi

On Friday, 20 December 2019 some 40 people including students of University of Erfurt and Fachhochschule Erfurt, members of the Max Weber Kolleg, and other concerned citizens and students from Thuringia gathered in solidarity with the protestors and students of different universities and educational institutes who were protesting against the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019 and were met with brutal police violence on 15 December 2019. Those gathered unequivocally condemned the highhandedness of the government of India and this police brutality on protesters, in the spirit of solidarity with the students and protestors in India.

Why protest CAA?

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019 was passed by the two houses of Indian Parliament and became an Act on 12 December 2019. The Act amends the existing Citizenship Act of 1955 to explicitly make ‘illegal’ migrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian religions who came to India prior to 2014 as eligible for Indian citizenship. It ostensibly leaves out of its purview persecuted Muslims from these countries, the Rohingyas from Myanmar and Tamils from Sri Lanka. The Act is highly discriminatory and arbitrary at best, violating secular ideals of the Indian constitution. Yet, if taken together with NRC or National Register of Citizen, it will be devastating for the social fabric of the country.

What is NRC?

India’s Home Minister Amit Shah has reiterated time and again that the Citizenship Amendment will be followed by the nationwide implementation of NRC by 2024 to throw out ‘infiltrators’ or illegal immigrants. Once adopted, every person living in India will have to prove with documents that they are a citizen of the country to have their names included in this register. If they do not have requisite documents, they will be deemed living illegally and stripped of their citizenship and thrown in detention camps. We learn this from the limited enrolment of NRC in the North East Indian state of Assam between February 2015 and August 2019 after which almost 1.9 million people failed to get their name registered in the NRC and many were put in camps.

Many poor citizens in India do not have proper documents like birth certificate and because many have not finished school, they do not have their school leaving certificates too. Not only will NRC be an administrative nightmare for the bureaucracy it will create unparalleled fear among Indian citizens. While Hindus too can be excluded from the NRC, the Citizenship amendment act indicates that Hindus will get citizenship even if they are illegal or without documents. But Muslims, unable to prove their citizenship will be deemed illegal!

Taken together with the anti-Muslim sentiments prevalent in India since the ruling right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014 and again in 2019, it has created a lot of fear among the Muslim citizens of the country.

Protests and police brutality

The passing of the bill to an Act was followed by widespread protests from Indian citizens who argued that it goes against the principle of secularism enshrined in the Indian constitution and the Fundamental Rights guaranteed to everyone irrespective of their religion. Students joined in the protest at some universities – prominent among them were Jamia Milia Islamia University in Delhi and Aligarh Muslim University in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh. On the night of 15 December, the police stormed into these university campuses, entered canteens, girls and boys hostels, prayer rooms and libraries and physically assaulted students, including those who were not protesting, to instil fear. Students were flushed out and campuses were vacated in the middle of the night, some were arrested and the whereabouts of a few Aligarh students is unknown. These incidents of police brutality inspired other universities across India and abroad to join in the protest. Apart from attacking university spaces, the police in large parts of central and Western Uttar Pradesh, Mangalore in Karnataka and Assam opened fire killing more than 30 people, most of them in the state of Uttar Pradesh within 24 hours between 20-21 December 2019. The state government also arrested more than a thousand protestors to instil fear.

Despite police brutality, the protests have not stopped but spread from one city to another in the last one and a half months. These protests are unprecedented in the history of independent India. It is for the first time Muslim women, many of them wearing hijab have come out to the streets to protest in large numbers, joined in sizeable numbers by anti-right groups, left organisations, student bodies, lawyers groups, Sikh community members and ordinary citizens who stand against the CAA and NRC. Shaheenbagh area in Delhi has become a symbol of this non-violent resistance of the current right-wing government. Women of Shaheenbagh have come out to protest against the CAA and NRC and have shown exemplary spirit in taking care of each other in turns as others sit out to protest. Women of other cities like Kolkata and Mumbai have followed suit.

Meanwhile, the government has not only continued with the CAA, it has also started rolling out NRC in Uttar Pradesh and in Karnataka.

Book Launch in context of ‚Akademische Jahresfeier’ of the Max-Weber-Kolleg

Religious Individualisation: Historical Dimensions and Comparative Perspectives

ed. by Martin Fuchs, Antje Linkenbach, Martin Mulsow, Bernd-Christian Otto, Rahul Parson und Jörg Rüpke, Berlin: de Gruyter 2019, 2 Vol., 1416 pages

Presenters during the book launch were Jörg Rüpke and Martin Mulsow as speakers of the Kollegforschungsgruppe ‘Religious Individualisation in Historical Perspective’, and Martin Fuchs and Antje Linkenbach as long-term participants in the project. Bern-Christian Otto and Rahul Parson were unfortunately unable to participate in the event.

Jörg Rüpke introduced both the topic of the KFG and the publication. Following this Martin Fuchs, Antje Linkenbach and Martin Mulsow gave a summary overview of the key theoretical and comparative aspects of the publication.

Martin Fuchs

Starting point of the KollegforschungsgruppeReligious Individualisation in Historical Perspective, which came to an end in December 2018 after ten years of intensive work and discussion, and of the book publication launched today[1] has been the combined critique of modernization theory and of Western-centrism still prevailing in conceptualizations in both, the Social Sciences and Religious Studies. Individualization is not a privilege of the West, or even the modern West. This implies that, instead of regarding individualization as a drawn-out, linear and teleological process which reaches its climax in the modern, post-Christian West, we have taken the lens of individualization instead to uncover, and look closely into, a plurality of different processes, across several world-regions and across various religions. From a historical perspective, religious individualization appears as a discontinuous development, covering processes of short- or medium-term durée, and processes that are reversible.

The concept of “religious individualization” can thus be described as a polythetic umbrella term, a heuristic tool that permits engaging with multi-facetted phenomena. Dimensions covered include: the enhancement of religious self-determination, the pluralisation of religious options (or the emergence of spaces of choice); the facilitation of religious deviance; the development of elaborated notions of the self; or the realisation of intense experiences.

Such experiences can denote an inner strength, which allows voicing outspoken critique of social besides religious conditions that affect one’s life, or they can give the strength to mobilise and organise for a betterment of such conditions. Such elements of critique are not exclusive to modern, and meanwhile often non-religious forms of individualization. We actually do encounter moments of critique, of dissatisfaction with religious regulations and dogmas, or with social rules and practices in a wider sense, as well as with the structures of power within religious as well as political contexts, in many modern as well as pre-modern settings; and we regularly discovered that processes of critique connect with increases in religious individualization.

We should perhaps specify our procedure here in two ways: Firstly, individualization should not be mistaken for individualism, or even methodological individualism. One rather has to differentiate between the ideal of individualism; the ontogenetic process of individuation (as the flipside of socialization); and historical processes of individualization. Secondly, individualization refers to more than just individual cases of deviance and difference. What is particularly interesting, as it can also become paradoxical, are the diverse modes of institutionalisation of religious individualisations. This includes the institutionalization of (social or cultural) imaginaries as well as behavioural patterns (patterns of bodily, emotional, spiritual self-practices), but also institution building: modes of conventionalization; processes of group formation; of standardization and ritualization of certain ways of communication, including communication with something beyond direct human grasp; establishing textual canons and traditions; or even the establishment of ‘regimes’ of religious individualisation. Thus, individualization can have paradoxical consequences, can result in its contrary, de-individualization. Or one can see both forms side by side. But, one also encounters cases of creation of forms of sociality or community that provide relatively unconstrained social (including religious) spaces for enabling the development of personal options or paths’.

In this publication, ‘self’ stands as a placeholder for the practices, experiences and representations of humans circumscribed in different ways as person, even persona, identity, individual, in part also subject and actor or agent, respectively as ‘patient’ of someone else’s actions. What has to be emphasized: we understand the concept of Self or individual, like the other concept of Religion, as inherently relational:

Regarding religion, talking of religion or religiosity firstly means talking of a relationship people think to have to something else, something beyond, or something felt inside, but in every case something that is not immediately available. At the same time, secondly, no religious individual can neglect his or her relationship to other people, and there are various religious positions that equally give this relationship prominence. Finally, the concern of an individual for him- or herself is often also conceived in relational terms, as ‘self-relation’.

Regarding the notion of “self”: in a way, religious individualization underlines the pragmatist insight into the “primary sociality” of humans, and of selves. What many regard as the very core of religiosity, self-transcendence, is essentially relational. We distinguish three dimensions of self-transcendence: (i) Rather conventionally, the experience of something beyond direct human grasp, something often substantialised as ‘the’ transcendent, but something with which individual actors want to connect or feel connected. The beyond (which may be a ‘within’) can be experienced as deepening or widening the (everyday) self, or even as contributing to its actual and authentic formation. (ii) In a wider and at the same time more profane sense, reference is to a self, or the image of a self, that reaches out to the world beyond him- or herself and experiences some powerful connectivity to something larger or broader in which it feels included, but which, on the face of it, can equally denote non-religious contexts – as in cases of ‘collective effervescence’, to employ Émile Durkheim’s much quoted term. (iii) The phrase refers to those social relations of a self that impact and connect him or her directly and inwardly with others, and become in this way adjuncts of a self. Under the last auspices, ‘transcending selves’ then relates in an emphatic sense of the term to what a person or self shares with significant others, what we have included under the concept of “dividuality”.

Antje Linkenbach

When we understand individualisation (here religious individualisation) as contingent possibility of freeing oneself from social constraints and given authorities, we have to acknowledge that there are always moments that counteract individualisation.

Firstly: conditions, which stimulate individualization (often in form of deviance) can – in the long run – solidify and allow for stabilisation and institutionalisation of individualisation. It can even happen that in this process new constraints emerge – in form of new authorities, formation of new traditions, or standardized, stereotyped behaviours, a process that could seriously undermine individualization.

Secondly: Individualization does not mean that we shed away all forms of social bonds or moments of relationality – with fellow beings, things / objects and manifestations of the transcendent, and that we have a clear-cut and one-dimensional identity. Far away from being a closed, a buffered Self – to speak with Charles Taylor – even in modern social constellations the individual person is porous and permeable, as it is also partible. Individuality is always paired with dividuality.

The first aspect was subject of studies engaging in the search for ‘institutionalisation’, “conventionalisation”, and de-individualization (Part III of the publication). Scholars asked: How do processes of religious individualisation in all their multifacetedness gather stability over time and become relevant not just for a select few but for a significant number of people?  Their agenda was to move away from the analytical focus on individual actors in favour of broader social dynamics that indicate processes of enhanced dissemination, stabilisation (e.g., through ritualisation), standardisation (e.g. through the canonisation of texts), or even the establishment of ‘regimes’ of religious individualisation. Of interest were also processes that eventual relapse into de- or non-individualisation. The case studies cover different religious environments and historical scenarios, but also approach the research problem from two different angles.  One part traces the institutionalisation of religious individualisation with a focus on ‘practices’, particularly ritual practices, but also economic and legislative practices. Other studies analyse the institutionalisation of religious individualisation by looking at ‘texts and narratives’, especially taking into consideration the nexus of authorship, texts, and audience.

The second aspect evolves around the concept of dividuality. Dividuality was made prominent in Melanesian anthropology to indicate that persons are multi-authored and composite beings. However, the researchers of the Kollegforschungsgruppe use ‘dividuality’ not in an essentialist way that confronts western and non-western ideas and realities of personhood. Moreover they understand it complementary to the concept of the individual and thus underline the co-existence of relational/dividual and individual aspects of the human Self. Human beings are constituted by both dividual and individual qualities. Therefore, dividuality is an umbrella concept that has an ontological and a historical dimension: The ontological perspective brings the (primary) relational sociality of the human being into focus. Relationality, as conditio humana, implicates openness, partibility and vulnerability of the human subject even in its fully individuated form and in all social constellations, including modernity. The historical perspective brings into focus that dividuality is a lived social reality and concrete social praxis and allows exploring ideas and realities of permeability and partibility on the one hand, of closeness and boundedness on the other, in particular historical and socio-cultural contexts as well as in particular areas of life and particular situations.

The contributions on ‘dividuality’ are compiled in Part II of the publication and engage with the different aspects of the concept: dividuality as relational pre-condition of humanity and human sociality; as partibility, and as porousness or permeability. It covers – as the other parts of the book – debates and practices in different historical periods and geographical spaces – it moves between ancient Rome and Greece, medieval, early modern and modern Europe as well as the Near East, India and the Pacific.

Martin Mulsow

The investigation of the history of religious individualisation is in many cases, as it turned out, an investigation of the history of interconnections, of cultural entanglements, onewhich examines the different ways in which cultural boundaries have been crossed. By ‘history of interconnections’ the KFG means an inquiry in the sense of ‘entangled history’ or ‘histoire croisée’, which analyses the reciprocal interactions and transfers between different cultural contexts, regions, religions, and reference systems. It therefore picks up new developments in history and applies them to our concern with individualisation.

Such an inquiry involves an increased focus on ‘boundary-crossing’ interactions and exchanges, in which diverse cultural and religious traditions encounter one another and in which ideas and practices that strengthen or trigger individualisation processes are transferred. We could see that migrations of ideas and practices created complex interactions with consequences for religion long before the great breakdowns of tradition within and outside Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Seen from this angle, the insights gathered by the KFG can be used to trace the vertical, or ‘deep time’, dimension of these processes of transformation.

In our volume, we consider two types or conditions of interconnections, on the one hand through individuals or groups of cultural brokers and on the other hand by structural relationships of exchange. Cultural brokers can be religiously deviant individuals – in Europe for instance ‘Beguines’, ‘visionaries’, ‘spiritualists’ or practitioners of ‘learned magic’, who were not always aware of the diverse transnational paths that their sources had taken, but also religious entrepreneurs, including missionaries such as the Jesuits in China, Japan, and India, merchants, soldiers and researchers across highly variegated cultures. Such people are found across periods and continents, beginning with ‘Chaldeans’, ‘sorceresses’, ‘magi’, ancient astrologers, entrepreneurial ascetics in India and elsewhere, prominent bhaktas, gurus, or saint-poets. Often they are members of the elite but sometimes also of subaltern classes, like Roman military personnel. Again it is important for our volume that these impulses are by no means to be found only in Europe or from the early modern period onwards, but also in ancient and medieval as well as non-European societies. In the context of religion, such processes emerge above all when they coincide with phases of religious pluralisation. Then these encounters – for instance between the Portuguese Jesuit Monserrate and the Mughal ruler Akbar – provide proofs of the crosscivilisational circulation of ideas, concepts and practices.

As for structural relationships of exchange and interconnection across cultural and religious boundaries, we speak of ‘interconnectional regimes’. That means network structures in which structural conditions like principles, rules, norms, and expectations – on both sides – make long-term interconnections possible. Examples for these structures are religious orders, missionary societies but also imperial formations like the Roman, Ottoman or the Mughal Empire, in which various religious strands, ethnic groups, and also particular officeholders interact.

These are the basic assumptions of our volume. And now we would like to invite you to leaf through the table of contents of the publication. You will surely find topics or aspects that interest you and that you can address with your own questions.

[1] Just to add: this publication is not the only result of the work of the KFG, there are several other publications of the research group.

Call for Papers ‚Beyond the timeline: How to write History (for example of the Middle Ages) in different ways‘

It is part of human experience that developments happen from earlier to later stages. Hence, the courses of these developments are usually written from the time that has longer gone to those times that are closer to us. Such a chronologically progressing historiography is generally accepted,though theoretically and methodologically admitted that researching narrating the past always happens from a present by looking backwards into the past. The question then can be raised to what extent it is reflected, that such a chronological account implies a kind of causally determined history of reception inaddition to the impact our own, contemporary viewpoints have. The historian of early Christianity and the medieval times, Markus Vinzent has recently criticised this type of historiography of reception of the past. In his book of the year 2019 ‚Writing the History of Early Christianity. From Reception to Retrospection‘ (Cambridge University Press) Vinzent introduces the perspective of

retrospection as a criticial method of historiography and exemplifies this by several showcases from the‘beginnings’of Christianity. One of the basic ideas of retrospection is that writing history must by necessity be progressive (as all our thinking and writing is progressive),while its (re-)construction is always done in a regressive mode, working anachronologically against the timeline. If this is recognised, continuities and linearities disappear. Vinzent‘s historiographical method of retrospection dissolves the difference between sources (oranoriginal, authoritativereference text) and secondary literature and questions past authorities (auctoritates). Retrospection rather foregrounds the author of the historiographical production as subject of history which targets different objects of the past. Does retrospection mean,we should simply turn back the time line and alter the direction of writing history,or what changes when we approach history deliberately anachronologically? Can we give up–without the loss of a critical instance–the difference between sources and interpretations? Are not timelines and chronologies essential elements of the work of historians?

Beyond a chronologically oriented historiography, the workshop will explore examples from the Middle Ages (not only, however) to discuss several methods and forms of historiography. Potential topics could be: (1)Into which directionof time shouldwe write? What impact does the timeline have in narrating history? Can we,an dif so, how can we alter the direction of writing history?

(2)Beyond the timeline: What is the meaning of time in historiographical concepts? What differences does retrospection make in historiography? How can one write retrospectively? Writing retrospectively, does it lead to novel forms of history (particulary of the Middle Ages)?

(3)Narrativity and time: What additional insights do weget from narrative elements in historiographical productions? What is the meaning of Flashbacks and Flashforwards in narrating history? What do we learn from contrafactual or virtual history? What happens, if historians become agents of history?

The workshop invites contributions from history, literature, cultural studies, philosophy, religious studies, cultural anthropology, sociology and related subjects. We particularly invite young scholars to contribute to the workshop. The workshop will be based on pre-circulated papers. In these contributions which will be distributed to the conference participants at the latest a fortnight before the workshop. During the workshop the papers shall be introduced by their authors and will then discussed. The evening lecture will be given by Prof. Dr. Markus Vinzent who is going to present his new book. Please submit your paper proposal with an abstract (ca. 500 words). Abstracts and papers can be presented in German or English and will be discussed in both languages. We are working towards a third party funding of the workshop.

For more information:

An International Conference is taking place at the Max Weber Kolleg on ‚The Shadow Side of Gratitude‘

The Conference takes place from 3-5 July

The aim of the interdisciplinary conference “The Shadow Side of Gratitude” is to bring together experts from a range of fields to examine the potentially darker side of this everyday social emotion and valued human excellence.

In recent years there has been growing academic interest in the topic of gratitude, in psychology, philosophy and education, amongst other fields. Psychologists have examined the role of gratitude in promoting wellbeing and fostering good social relationships. Philosophers have pondered the conceptual contours of gratitude and have debated whether gratitude is always a virtue, while educationalists have looked at whether and how gratitude should be fostered in the young.

While many experiences of gratitude are life-affirming, the concept may not be as straightforwardly positive as many people have assumed. It is not uncommon for gratitude to be experienced with mixed emotions, such as embarrassment, shame and guilt. Beneficiaries may be suspicious of benefactors’ motivations in bestowing favours, gifts and compliments which could serve an ulterior purpose. It could be argued that gratitude to benefactors serves to keep marginalised groups in their place, and that cultivating gratitude makes a virtue out of an unwanted dependence on others.

For more information:

The social theory & social philosophy-group cordially invites everybody to „social theory movie night“ at the MWK.

We will get together informally and discuss issues of social theory/social philosophy based on movies we watch together. The first Movie Night took place last week with „Battlestar Galactica“ (Canada 2006), season 3.16: „STRIKE“!  It is dealing with labour politics & diversity & conflict  … We hope to see you at our next Movie Night.

For mor information please contact: