Sikhism, India, Postcoloniality, and the Politics of Translation
Arguing that intellectual movements, such as deconstruction, postsecular theory, and political theology, have different implications for cultures and societies that live with the debilitating effects of past imperialisms, Arvind Mandair unsettles the politics of knowledge construction in which the category of "religion" continues to be central. Through a case study of Sikhism, he launches an extended critique of religion as a cultural universal. At the same time, he presents a portrait of how certain aspects of Sikh tradition were reinvented as "religion" during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
India's imperial elite subtly recast Sikh tradition as a sui generis religion, which robbed its teachings of their political force. In turn, Sikhs began to define themselves as a "nation" and a "world religion" that was separate from, but parallel to, the rise of the Indian state and global Hinduism. Rather than investigate these processes in isolation from Europe, Mandair shifts the focus closer to the political history of ideas, thereby recovering part of Europe's repressed colonial memory.
Mandair rethinks the intersection of religion and the secular in discourses such as history of religions, postcolonial theory, and recent continental philosophy. Though seemingly unconnected, these discourses are shown to be linked to a philosophy of "generalized translation" that emerged as a key conceptual matrix in the colonial encounter between India and the West. In this riveting study, Mandair demonstrates how this philosophy of translation continues to influence the repetitions of religion and identity politics in the lives of South Asians, and the way the academy, state, and media have analyzed such phenomena.
"Overall, Mandair's broad temporal, spatial, and intellectual perspectives make this a very interesting volume. By exploring Sikhism from the perspectives of deconstructionist, postcolonial, and postsecular theory, he fills in an important gap in Sikh philosophy and charts out provocative new directions." — Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh, History of Religions
"In Religion and the Specter of the West, Arvind Mandair discusses the central theme of 'religion' through the study of the specific tradition of Sikhism, raising a series of unsettling questions that touch upon a variety of different fields of inquiry. There is no doubt that this publication will be considered a substantial and most significant contribution not only to the field of Sikh studies but also to the more general area of the study of religions." — Cosimo Zene, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
"What is most impressive about this book is the authority and passion with which Arvind Mandair writes about Sikhism. It demonstrates his ability to bring a sensibility and dexterity otherwise unparalleled in contemporary Sikh Studies. I have little doubt this book will make an important contribution not only to Sikh studies but also to the general study of religion. In terms of postcolonial theory, it is a long overdue contribution." — Pal Ahluwalia, University of South Australia
"It is rare indeed to come across a book that combines such incisive analysis, breadth of range, and depth of specificity. Arvind Mandair provides a tour de force across many areas and disciplines. His book is at once a groundbreaking treatise on Sikh studies, a major intervention in postcolonial theory and the debates over theory and method in the study of religion, and an insightful excursion into the realm of contemporary political theory. If that were not enough, Mandair also engages in an extremely high-powered analysis of some of the most important giants of European intellectual thought. His book is an example of interdisciplinary philosophizing at its very best." — Richard King, University of Glasgow, and author of Orientalism and Religion
Part I. "Indian Religions" and Western Thought
1. Mono-theo-lingualism: Religion, Language, and Subjectivity in Colonial North India
2. Hegel and the Comparative Imaginary of the West
Part II. Theology as Cultural Translation
3. Sikhism and the Politics of Religion-Making
4. Violence, Mysticism, and the Capture of Subjectivity
Part III. Postcolonial Exits
5. Ideologies of Sacred Sound
6. Decolonizing Postsecular Theory
Glossary of Indic Terms