André Béteille: Religion and Society
By Abhijit Menon-Sen <email@example.com>
Many years ago, someone sent me the URL to a short opinion piece
The Telegraph, by the
sociologist André Béteille, about how religion and society
cannot be studied independently. I liked it very much, and forwarded it
to many people, but at some point the URL stopped working, and I had to
dig up the text from my archives each time I wanted someone to read it.
Today, I noticed—while preparing to forward the article—that the URL
works once again. Kudos to The Telegraph for bringing it back to life.
Here's an excerpt.
Just over 50 years ago, M.N. Srinivas, who was to emerge as India's
leading sociologist, published his book Religion and Society among
the Coorgs of South India. The book introduced a new approach to the
understanding of Hinduism, and it established its author's reputation as
a sociologist of the first rank. In it he used the distinction between
the book-view and the field-view of society and the contrast between the
Indological and the sociological approaches to religion. It may appear
in retrospect that the contrast was overdrawn; but it expressed an
insight of great significance.
Srinivas became the leading advocate of the field-view and the
sociological approach, by which he meant an approach based on a careful
and methodical examination of observed or observable facts. It does not
treat religion as being either completely autonomous or as invariant,
eternal and unchanging. Religious beliefs and practices vary and change,
and this has to be examined in relation to variation and change in the
structure of society. No religion operates independently of specific
social arrangements, and Srinivas set out to show the two-way
relationship between religion and social structure. This approach does
not always find favour with religious believers who are inclined to
regard religion as pure and society as corrupt.
The believer seeks out what he sees as the invariant and unchanging core
of religion, and when he does not find it, he tends to put the blame on
external material and historical forces for it. The Hindus in particular
have lived with the idea of Kaliyuga since time immemorial, and that has
helped them to explain many things away. The sociologist, on the other
hand, recognizes that religious beliefs and practices are embedded in
the social order, and tries to see how they are refracted by it. For
him, Hinduism is not single and indivisible. Thus, Srinivas spoke of
local Hinduism, regional Hinduism, peninsular Hinduism and all-India
Hinduism. He also showed how religious beliefs and practices were
refracted by the structures of joint family, caste and village.
M.N. Srinivas's book
sounds pretty interesting