Syncretism in the Hindu Right as Intentionally Incomplete Proximity

Felix Pal

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    Religious syncretism can function as an instrument of inter-group control and domination. Rather than consistently promoting cross-religious forbearance and knowledge, syncretism enables a proximity that allows forms of violence otherwise inaccessible to religious majoritarian groups. By choreographing performances of syncretism between themselves and a subordinate religious community, organizations like the Indian Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) produce an intentionally incomplete proximity. This proximity draws close minority groups like the RSS’ Muslim wing, the Muslim Rashtriya Manch, but without allowing final inclusion or incorporation. Muslim proximity to the RSS becomes a spectacle of humiliation and domination rather than a measure of inclusion into the Hindu right. Muslims must perform Hindu nationalist religious rituals, while denigrating mainstream Islamic tradition. Drawing on extensive interview-based fieldwork with the RSS and the Manch, I argue that syncretism can function as domination because it reinforces ethnic hierarchies, but that this domination is not a form of hierarchical encompassment. Rather, subordinate religious groups are kept in a perpetual humiliating limbo as a way to reify the superiority of a dominant religious group.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)27-47
    JournalPacific Affairs
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2022


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