New Delhi, Jan.22 : The first day of the conference Rethinking Religion in India at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts on Monday started on a promising note with experts discussing the question--Are there native religions in India?
The first speaker David N.Lorenzen, historian and the author of Kabir Legends, said: "Be it Hindu or Muslim yogis (in India), all of them have recognised that there are differences in their expressions of beliefs or approach. But still there is some commonality to find the God.
David talked about Kabir, the mystic poet of India, whose literature has greatly influenced the Bhakti as well as Sufi movements of India.
He said: "If you look at mystic poet Kabir's poems or hymns like: Moko Kahan Dhunde Re Bandey Main To Tere Paas Hoon (O man! Where are you searching me as I am already close to you), his belief or interpretation about God's identity lies about his personal experience of Him in his heart."
David said the great mystic poet Kabir uses Ram and Allah as the same thing. He doesn't pay much attention to their external appearances or projections," he added.
Other participants of the Platform session included, Prof.Timothy Fitzerald, Prof.Naomi R. Goldberg, and Prof. Balagangadhara of the Belgium University.
Prof. Fitzgerald is stated to have been challenging the legitimacy of the domain of religious studies and the very use of the category of 'religion' for over a decade. Prof. Balagangadhara is known for his argument that there are no native religions in India and entities like Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. do not exisit in India but in the western universities and in the commmonsens of the West and teh western educated intelligentia.
Professor Naomi of the University of Ottawa said: "The question "Are there native religions in India?" holds enormous significance to the religious studies as a whole and also the way the governments (across the world) are thinking about the aids or the allocation of aids and aid sources."
Naomi said that all this has enormous importance upon the religious studies in the North America and Europe.
"If the category of religion is questioned and shown historically constructed and contingent in India, the same will also be shown to be contingent in North America, Europe and the world. And, the whole scholarly enterprise of studying religion, as a supposedly innate quality of human experience and society, will be thrown into question as well. And, the religion everywhere will be revealed as an entirely political construct," Naomi added.
"I think the governments should support groups studying religions so that they can do more scholarly research on religion. It may create scholarships to create religious identities," she added.
The main focus of the four-day conference that is part of 5-year conference cluster lies on the debates and discussions, rather than on presentations.
There are three distinct conference modules-- Platform sessions, Roundtable sessions and Parallel Paper sessions--which approach the ten themes and their questions with different emphases on discussion and interactions.
The chosen speakers are not just well-known in the domain but are also influential proponents of major arguments, which are said to have the potential of changing the face of religious studies as presently known, if they carried out to their conclusions.