ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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'Understandings of Violence'

The Weight of Violence: Religion, Language, Politics edited by Saitya Brata Das and Soumyabrata Choudhury, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2015; pp xxi + 271, Rs 895.

This volume renders a valuable service in putting together the papers presented at an international conference in Shimla at the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, held in April 2012. The volume also has two essays especially written for it. The conference attempted to examine the assumptions, presuppositions and prejudices that underlie our understanding of violence. For, if violence is the destruction of our “sense for and of existence,” then we must ask: “why it exists at all in the world?” (p x). This is not so much a sociological or historical question relating to its modes and manifestations but a metaphysical one, concerning its existential nature, meaning and purpose.

Another question that gets raised is: is pacifism as a counter-movement or an alternative discourse possible? (p x). In our increasingly violent globalised world, brought together and pulled apart by capital accumulation and mass consumption, genocide and wars, and much else, what role do religion, language and politics play in legitimising such violence? Religion (religare) was meant to bind people in a common consensus and language was meant for communication, strengthening the bond between people. Yet both these are used by politicians to construct divisive, totalising and aggressive individual and collective identities. How do religion and language come to legitimise violence?

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