South Asia

Organized Panel Session

1 - The Usage of “Spirituality” and “Secularism”and their Development in Modern India

Saturday, July 7
12:10 PM - 1:40 PM
Location: Jacaranda II, First Floor

This paper explores the ways in which Indians exerted agency in shaping modernity by focusing on the usage of the English terms “spirituality” and “secularism” in modern Indian discourse.


Spirituality and secularism are both key notions in the context of modern global religiosity. They seem to neatly fit into the common dichotomy between “the religious” and “the secular,” but these seemingly opposite terms are, in fact, often used in a similar way. That is, they function to mediate and bridge differences in culture and values in the modern world. Like opposite sides of the same coin, they form a conceptual pair that expresses modern universalism. Interestingly, this new use of these terms was not a product of the modern West exported to the rest of the world but was in fact independently developed by Indians. The Indian usage may have even preceded and influenced the appearance of the new use of these terms in the West.


Spirituality and secularism have become almost cliché terms when discussing India and may seem like the offspring of modern Western Orientalism. However, examining the usage of these terms in the context of modern India, we can find that these English words were deployed in a more unique and active way than often assumed. I take these developments to not signify how India is “different,” but rather that what we perceive as “modern” is at least partly the product of the agency and participation of the non-Western world.

Send Email for Kana Tomizawa (Kitazawa)


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1 - The Usage of “Spirituality” and “Secularism”and their Development in Modern India



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