DS08 - Sociétés innovantes, intégrantes et adaptatives

The Indian Subcontinent's Shared Sacred Sites: Religious Interactions and Relations with the Other – I-SHARE

Submission summary

In these times of cultural and ideological tensions across the world, the coexistence between followers of different faiths is a burning issue. South Asia is no exception to this global trend: over the past decades, every country of the region has witnessed tensions and sometimes open conflicts between religious communities. While strengthening politico-religious organizations, these conflicts have polarized every society, putting their cohesion under severe stress. However, South Asia also has a long record of intermingling between religious communities, which to this day remains epitomized by the sharing of various kinds of sacred sites: saints’ tombs, temples, churches, street shrines as well as natural features serving as places of worship. These shared sacred sites, which carry all the polysemy of the notion of sharing (ranging in significance from indifferent co-presence to deeper interpenetration, not to mention the notion of division the term also includes), provide rich insights into the dynamics of religious interaction.

This project aims to study these sacred sites shared by different religious communities by asking two sets of questions. First, what does the sharing of these sites tell us about the fabric of plural societies in times of rising religious and ethnic nationalisms? How exceptional are these places of worship? Do they reproduce or transcend religious and other fault lines prevailing in the larger society? All too often, studies of religious pluralism tend to pit coexistence against conflict, as if the too were mutually exclusive. On the contrary, I-SHARE aims to test empirically and elaborate theoretically a conception of coexistence as a tensile equilibrium. In this perspective, shared sacred sites appear to be social laboratories where various communities experiment with the possibilities inherent to pluralism, while coping with its dangers. Provided these sites are no zones of exception, is the knowledge about cohabitation produced there transferable to the larger society, and if so, through which canals and with which adaptations?
Second, the focus on shared sacred sites will lead us to reflect upon the politics of belonging, as the existence of such shared spaces questions the boundaries between groups and between religions, if not the very notion of “religious community” itself. We shall try to determine the logics behind going to a place which, at first glance, does not belong to one’s own religion. This will lead us to critically examine the theoretical apparatus mobilized by scholars to think through religious interactions. Further, it is the very notion of "religion" and its centrality in the processes of border crossing considered here that we aim to reassess. South Asian shared sacred sites are particularly conducive to such investigations, as several other markers than religious identity frame the contacts between their visitors. This is the case, in particular, of caste, whose effects manifest themselves at the intersection of gender, age, place of residence or language.

Project coordination

Aminah Mohammad-Arif (Centre d'Études de l'Inde et de l'Asie du Sud)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


CEIAS Centre d'Études de l'Inde et de l'Asie du Sud

Help of the ANR 207,049 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: February 2018 - 48 Months

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