There’s an interesting story from RNS on the debate going on in India over whether yoga is or isn’t a religious practice. According to the article, some, particularly Christians and Muslims, are wary of requiring yoga to be taught in primary schools because, as they see it, it is a Hindu* religious practice. It raises interesting questions such as,
- Who gets to decide what is religious? The authorities in the tradition? The “everyday” practitioners? People outside the tradition from whence the practice came? The government? The media?
In practice, of course, it tends to be all of the above. The conflict comes when some the demarcations created by each group don’t converge. And the more activistic of us might be concerned that the power of outside groups, the media, or the government might overwhelm the power of self-definition of minority (or even large) religious groups.
- Can you change a couple features (replace sacred words with non-sacred words, for example) in a practice and make it not religious? And who gets to decide this?
It is, particularly, an interesting example of how practices and “material” (that is, non-interior) religious “things” can take on a life of their own. In this case, it is seen by some Christians not only as a religious exercise but, in potentially forcing it into the schools, as political.
* My colleagues in religious studies will tell you that viewing Hinduism as a religion, indeed as a particular “ism” rather than the way of life of a certain people, is problematic.