Role of religion in narratives of nationhood and the rising tensions between Hindus and Muslims in India

Presentation author(s)

Kaveri Sarkar ’20, New Delhi, India

Majors: International Relations; Psychology


As part of my International Relations senior seminar thesis, I examine how the role of religion in narratives of Indian nationhood has led to the ever-increasing rise of religious tensions between Hindus and Muslims from 2015 to 2020 in India. I review three theoretical approaches to nationhood–primordialism, modernism, and ethno-symbolism–to conceptualize Indian nationhood. Primordialism considers nations to have been present in different epochs of human history as it conflates ethnies with nations. Modernism, on the other hand, views nations to be more recent, and epiphenomenal to the processes that led to the period of modern development. Ethno-symbolism uses historical, cultural, and sociological lenses to offer an approach that combines the previous two to show that nations are essentially ethnic groups that over time become nations through social processes.

My research methodology relies on discourse analysis of narratives of nationhood –shared traditions, symbols, myths– that a social group can derive a sense of belonging and identity from. I pay close attention to key events that are interpreted as symbols of religious nationalism today in these narratives. These events include colonial British rule prior to Indian independence in 1947, the Partition of 1947, the rise of Hindu nationalist groups, featuring of the Hindu epic Ramayana on state television channels, the Babri Masjid (mosque) demolition, and the role of the current government in power. Religious tension is operationalized in terms of inter-group violence, physical and verbal, with data collected from political and public forums.


Pablo Toral

This site uses cookies to improve your experience. Read our Web Privacy Policy for more information.

Got it! ×