Education / 13.05.2009

I am perplexed by the Us versus Them phenomenon. Try as I might, I have not been able to explain why it has such a powerful hold on so many of us. Let me try and work through it once again using a thought experiment. I would like you to stay with me as I do and to give me your feedback at the end. I imagine that I am invited to speak to a class of high school students in a city that I have never visited before. I arrive at the school and walk through a corridor into the class. In front to me I find 60 students of both genders wearing the school uniform and no other marks of identification seated in random order.
Reflections / 12.05.2009

By Kabir Altaf Flora: You are an Indian artist, aren’t you? Stick up for yourself. Why do you like everything English? Das: I do not like everything English. Flora: Yes, you do. You’re enthralled. Chelsea, Bloomsbury, Oliver Twist, Goldflake cigarettes, Winsor and Newton… even painting in oils, that’s not Indian. You’re trying to paint me from my point of view instead of yours—what you think is my point of view. You deserve the bloody Empire! (Tom Stoppard, Indian Ink, pg. 43)
Education / 10.05.2009

Two things struck me as being odd in Imran Khan’s article that I had discussed earlier: how he found wisdom and the use he put the wisdom to. Imran describes his narrow escape: “it was a miracle I did not become an atheist. The only reason why I did not was the powerful religious influence my mother wielded on me since my childhood. It was not so much out of conviction but love for her that I stayed a Muslim.” I have just recently read Latika Gupta’s account of what some mothers are doing to their children and so reading Imran’s sentence made me shiver. Imran just turned out be very lucky in having a pious and sensible mother but is it a good idea in general to be shaped by the powerful religious influences of mothers and to believe in something out of love rather than conviction?
Religion / 05.05.2009

The confusions of Imran Khan provide us the opportunity to bring together two themes we have covered recently – the functions of religion and the coherence of analysis. You would enjoy this post more if you took out a little bit of time and read what Imran Khan has to say in his article Why the West Craves Materialism and Why the East Sticks to Religion. But even if you don’t, you will get a sense of the issues and the problems. Imran Khan starts by saying that his generation “grew up at a time when colonial hang up was at its peak.” Islamic studies were not taken seriously and our role models were from the West. When he arrived at Oxford he discovered that not just Islam, all religions were considered an anachronism. Science had replaced religion and the terrible experiences of religious bigotry and conflict had turned the Western mind away from theology. 
Religion / 04.05.2009

By Arun Pillai The South Asian Idea had provided a link to a lecture by Professor Jared Diamond on the functions of religion. One of our readers responds with an extension to Professor Diamond’s argument. We would welcome a discussion on this topic. Professor Jared Diamond lectured on the functions of religion in a number of societies from ancient to modern times. Some of these functions were the providing of explanations of the world around us, the maintenance of political obedience and stability, the teaching of moral precepts, and the justification of wars. For more on each of these functions, I recommend listening to his lecture. 
Modernity / 02.05.2009

In this episode we were scheduled to move into the period of the British encounter with India. But there is nothing inevitable about schedules. We take a step back because we have found another vantage point from which to observe the path and the past that we have already traversed. This step back comes courtesy of Ian Almond who had no white friends till he was sixteen and, growing up amongst South Asians, answered only to the name of badam. Sharmila Sen, who writes about him, picks up on the phenomenon of collective memory and reminds us what an odd thing it can be: “We can remember a collective past that never existed and bring nations, religions, and cultures into existence. We can also suffer from collective amnesia and bring ourselves to the brink of destruction.”
Education / 02.05.2009

Universal Patterns within Cultural Diversity: Patriarchy Makes Men Crazy and Stupid By Robert Jensen Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin. In 2008 he taught a three-week course to a co-ed class at the International Islamic University in Islamabad. Islamabad, Pakistan -- Some lessons learned while spending time in a different culture come from paying attention to the wide diversity in how we humans arrange ourselves socially.  Equally crucial lessons come from seeing patterns in how people behave similarly in similar situations, even in very different cultural contexts. This week in Pakistan, as I have been learning more about a very different culture than my own, I was reminded of one of those patterns: Patriarchy makes men crazy.
Reflections / 25.04.2009

With Reflections we begin a new series on The South Asian Idea in which contributors share their thoughts on their own evolution. How did they become what they are and what were the ideas or books or people or places or incidents that moved them, surprised them, gave shape to their lives, or sent them on completely unexpected trajectories?

On The South Asian Idea we believe that ideas matter. Naturally. But disembodied ideas can become too dry and cerebral. We also need to know where ideas come from, how they find their way into the mind, and how they get to capture the imagination.

And how do we try and communicate our ideas to others? Or do we? And should we? And how do we deal with situations where ideas clash?


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