Features Friday, October 10, 2014 - 05:30
The News Minute | September 26, 2014 | 4.12 pm IST With images of “jihadist” fighters taking up arms becoming part of our visual landscape, Karen Armstrong examines the role of religion and politics in history. Writing for The Guardian, Armstrong says that the Western idea of keeping religion separate from the state, as exemplified by the French understanding of the idea of “secularism”, is just around 300 years old.  Westerners have become so habituated to keeping religion in the private domain, that one forgets how Protestants, Catholics fought each other in Europe. But even then, the wars weren’t always about religion, and neither were they always about politics. Armstrong writes: “The words in other languages that we translate as “religion” invariably refer to something vaguer, larger and more inclusive. The Arabic word din signifies an entire way of life, and the Sanskrit dharma covers law, politics, and social institutions as well as piety. The Hebrew Bible has no abstract concept of “religion”; and the Talmudic rabbis would have found it impossible to define faith in a single word or formula, because the Talmud was expressly designed to bring the whole of human life into the ambit of the sacred. The Oxford Classical Dictionary firmly states: “No word in either Greek or Latin corresponds to the English ‘religion’ or ‘religious’.” In fact, the only tradition that satisfies the modern western criterion of religion as a purely private pursuit is Protestant Christianity, which, like our western view of “religion”, was also a creation of the early modern period.”
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