By Sandeep Datta
New Delhi, January 24 : The first international conference on Rethinking Religion in India emerged as a good platform offering various interesting insights about traditions, caste-system and religious perplexities of India for research scholars.
Various scholars from Europe, America and South India presented their research studies during parallel paper sessions and exchanged their understanding of religion in India during roundtable sessions for four days here.
Vivek Dhareshwar, one of the members in the roundtable sessions,"Colonialism and Religion in India" and Senior Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Culture and Society in Bangalore, said that after discussing the question whether there is religion in India, he concluded: " That can be settled unambiguously that there is no religion in India."
"But the westerners think that they can carry on with the idea that there is religion for every culture in India, which is not the reality. They need to understand that there can be a culture without religion," he added.
Prof.S.N.Balagangadhara, Director, Researcher Vergelijkende Culturewetenschap, Ghent University and the main organizer, said: "It's been a different from other conferences because for a great deal of time people focused on issues and problems that we had identified. For the first year, I don't think this conference could have achieved more."
Though the first attempt of Rethinking Religion in India was appreciated by almost all participants as a novel initiative, the inadequate Indian representation was a thing that disappointed many scholars attending the conference.
Prof. Scaria Zacharia, School of Letters, Mahatma Gandhi University, said: "The theme introduced was very well. But the mode of discussions could have been much better by introducing more representations of Indian academy like eminent historians, religious scholars, sociologists and cultural practitioners. There are hundreds of intellectuals better than the chosen ones even in and around Delhi."
"The reason why many of us could not participate because of there was lack of proper communication and advertisement about such an event related to Indian religion taking place in India," said Dr.S.C.Goswami from the Indian Association for the Study of Religions.
"Besides this initiative (conference) was thoroughly misplaced for the simple reason that Dharma cannot be translated as religion as understood in the western sense of the term. The whole exercise seems to be an attempt to establish the superiority of Christianity over Hinduism," Dr. Goswami added.
But Prof.Balu dispelled such complaints stating that research papers were invited and the programming committee judged their quality and ensured that these papers must be in the framework of the questions which we had formulated for the conference.
"From next year, in India, I will have people discussing questions in workshop sessions which they can report to the plenary body. That way we can have more people participating in our endeavour," Prof. Balagangadhara informed.
"In India, intellectuals are not producing works on religion which have international impact. So, we are forced to work with what we have which is involving European intellectuals and Americans discussing India and its religion. One of the affects of the conference should be to motivate young Indian intellectuals to be creative in the field of religion," he said.
"If you want each tradition has to find a representation in the conference, we are talking about hundreds of parallel paper sessions, which is not possible financially or at organizational level," he further added.
Also, there was a feeling that more use of modern technology for presenting research papers might facilitate a better understanding of the subjects for all curious individuals beyond research students and university professors.