Rethinking Religion

Arup Kumar Sen

In our younger days, many of us witnessed the following fragmentary quotation of Marx's understanding of religion, adorning the walls of Kolkata in the 1970s: "Religion is the opium of the people".

Actually, Marx's understanding of religion is not so simple. In his treatise, A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right (1844), Marx wrote: "Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people".

Among the Western Marxists, it was Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Marxist thinker, who seriously explored the role of religion in the life of the people, and highlighted the fact that the same religion carries different meanings to different segments of the population. It may be mentioned in this connection that Gramsci was imprisoned by the Italian Fascist regime in 1926 and he died in 1937 shortly after being released from prison. Gramsci observed: "Every religion, even Catholicism…is really a multiplicity of religions that are distinct and often contradictory: there is a Catholicism of the peasant, a Catholicism of the petty bourgeoisie and urban workers, a Catholicism of women, and a Catholicism of the intellectuals".

In any programme of counter-hegemonic politics against the dominant discourse of Hindu nationalism being preached by the BJP and its allies in contemporary India, diverse meanings of religion in the minds of the people should be explored, and the role of religion in public life should be re-thought.


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Vol. 52, No. 5, Aug 4 - 10, 2019