God, fate, and enemies of reason : the Self Respect Movement in South India




Sockwell Curtiss, Cary E.

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With this dissertation, I investigate the question of how the Self Respect Movement, with its rejection of religion and seeming promotion of atheism, fit into the religious landscape of India in the early twentieth century. I argue that history has failed to appreciate the non-religious dynamics of this movement and the complex role of non-religion in India. South Indian social identities went through many changes in the early twentieth century and are commonly explored through influences such as caste, regionalism, language, politics, religion, and gender. This dissertation calls attention to the lack of study of non-religion, which I consider here as a field of tangible and specific phenomena. I begin by reviewing the conceptual framework for the study of non-religion, followed by historiographical approaches to the study of Indian history and nationalism. This provides context for a discussion of the political reform milieu in which the Self Respect Movement arose. I also review the historiography of the study of religion, secularism, and rationalism as a foundation for the study to follow. I turn to individuals’ published writings in varieties of early twentieth century south Indian journals to investigate the ways that individual authors champion reason and critique the religious culture around them. Considering perspectives that non-religion offers as alternatives to religious lifestyles offers a richer, more contextualized approach to evaluating the status of religion in India, both historically and into the current day. Here, I show that the Self Respect Movement contributed to identity formation through the exposition of specific values and establishment of new normative practices. I argue that to consider the nonreligious aspects of the Self Respect Movement as merely reactionary, inflammatory, or as derivative of western Enlightenment values is reductive and misses the compelling meaning and formative nature that non-religion played for its members.



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