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Religion and the demonic form of sacralization: the case of Swami Vivekananda

Mishra, V.ORCID: 0000-0002-0193-9736 (2010) Religion and the demonic form of sacralization: the case of Swami Vivekananda. In: Australian Academy of the Humanities – International Collaborative Workshop: Being Bengali: At home and in the world, 20 August 2010, University of Western Sydney, NSW.


Swami Vivekananda is, along with his master, Ramakrishna Paramhamsa, arguably Bengal’s greatest exponent of non-dualist (Vedantic) thinking. He was barely 40 when he died in 1902 but left behind a huge legacy by way of a Maximum Testamentum, a Universal Gospel for humankind. Vivekananda argued that social reform and politics had to be preached or enacted through the discourses of religion. India was offered to the world as an instance of a nation where religion laid the foundation of ‘the whole music of national life.’ In this exploratory paper I want to examine the limits of an essentially mystical (and exclusionary Indian) version of religious practice and the impossibility of reconciling, against Vivekananda’s own belief in the identity of self and the Absolute, a mystical sense of religion with social, political and, most importantly, ethical responsibility. I use Derrida’s exegesis of Patocka’s warning that demonic rapture (a mystical understanding of belief) is inimical to the idea of ethical responsibility as my entry point into Vivekananda’s ideas on a universal religion. Does Vivekananda in fact offer a ‘demonic form of sacralization’ and in doing so, fail to surpass the orgiastic in his understanding of the links between religion and ethics? Derrida had paraphrased Patocka as follows: ‘religion exists once the secret of the sacred, orgiastic, or demonic mystery has been, if not destroyed, at least integrated, and finally, subjected to the sphere of responsibility’ (The Gift of Death, p. 2). For Patocka (and I suspect for Derrida too) a non-dualistic (Vedantic) system disallows such an overcoming. Can a case be made for an ethics of responsibility from within a demonic form of sacralization? The paper attempts to traverse this difficult terrain and in doing so also assesses Bengal’s contribution to a religiously sanctioned Hindu modernity.

Item Type: Conference Item
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Arts
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