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The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence, and India's Future [Hardcover]

Martha C. Nussbaum

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Book Description

June 14 2007

While America is focused on religious militancy and terrorism in the Middle East, democracy has been under siege from religious extremism in another critical part of the world. As Martha Nussbaum reveals in this penetrating look at India today, the forces of the Hindu right pose a disturbing threat to its democratic traditions and secular state.

Since long before the 2002 Gujarat riots--in which nearly two thousand Muslims were killed by Hindu extremists--the power of the Hindu right has been growing, threatening India's hard-won constitutional practices of democracy, tolerance, and religious pluralism. Led politically by the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Hindu right has sought the subordination of other religious groups and has directed particular vitriol against Muslims, who are cast as devils in need of purging. The Hindu right seeks to return to a "pure" India, unsullied by alien polluters of other faiths, yet the BJP's defeat in recent elections demonstrates the power that India's pluralism continues to wield. The future, however, is far from secure, and Hindu extremism and exclusivity remain a troubling obstacle to harmony in South Asia.

Nussbaum's long-standing professional relationship with India makes her an excellent guide to its recent history. Ultimately she argues that the greatest threat comes not from a clash between civilizations, as some believe, but from a clash within each of us, as we oscillate between self-protective aggression and the ability to live in the world with others. India's story is a cautionary political tale for all democratic states striving to act responsibly in an increasingly dangerous world.


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This is an extraordinarily interesting book on a very difficult subject. Martha Nussbaum's commanding familiarity with culturally related political issues across the world, past and present, combines immensely fruitfully here with her involvement and understanding of India. (Amartya Sen, Harvard University)

This impressive and important book grapples with the problems and consequences of religious extremism. Nussbaum's brilliant analysis of the controversy over religion and democracy in India effortlessly moves between political history, philosophy, and law, to give us a powerful and compelling narrative of the political world of the Hindu Right. It is a must-read for all those interested in understanding the dangers of religious extremism and of what preserves democracy and pluralism in the face of tensions and conflicts within. (Zoya Hasan, Jawaharlal Nehru University)

Preoccupation with the purported clash between civilizations has masked the clash within democracies. This passionate, engaged book has much to teach an American audience about the vulnerability and resilience of Indian democracy. Perhaps it will also stimulate reflections about similar clashes within American democracy. (Amrita Basu, Amherst College)

Once more, Martha Nussbaum has applied her profound philosophical intelligence to a challenging question in the practical world. In thinking through the dangers raised by the Hindu right, she teaches us a great deal about the dangers of dogmatism everywhere. (K. Anthony Appiah, Princeton University)

Few contemporary philosophers in the West have reckoned with India's complex experience of democracy; and even fewer have engaged with it as vigorously as [Nussbaum] does in The Clash Within...[A] strongly felt and stimulating book. (Pankaj Mishra New York Review of Books 2007-06-28)

Martha Nussbaum's The Clash Within presents a powerful analysis of the Hindu Right in contemporary India that is insightful and penetrating...She weaves a rich tapestry of how Hindu thought has been reshaped and distorted...She is correct to say "the clash within" that we find in India lies everywhere...The Clash Within is another remarkable achievement from the most exciting political philosopher of our age. I cannot recommend it highly enough. (Thom Brooks Times Higher Education Supplement 2007-06-29)

Nussbaum is an informed outsider looking in...Nussbaum takes one incident--the 2002 Gujarat riots that followed the burning of a train carrying Hindu activists in Godhra--and builds a grand narrative of Hindu nationalism...Nussbaum sees lessons in India's democratic achievements for the rest of the world, particularly America. Her thesis supports Ghandi's claim that "the real struggle that democracy must wage is the struggle within the individual self, between the urge to dominate and defile the other, and a willingness to live respectfully on terms of compassion and equality." (Salil Tripathi New Statesman 2007-08-06)

Nussbaum sounds a wake-up call to those who may have been unaware of the ugly nature of events in India in recent times, and the hate-filled ideology that informs them...As further evidence of the undemocratic danger that India now faces, Nussbaum turns to the attempt of the Hindu Right to hijack history and rewrite the Indian past to demonize Muslims and glorify Hindus. (David Arnold Times Literary Supplement 2007-08-24)

At a time when India is claiming more of the world's attention, the philosopher Nussbaum offers an informatively rich and sophisticated analysis of democracy and religious extremism there. (Lucian W. Pye Foreign Affairs 2007-09-01)

The Clash Within has a salutary message for crusading secularists as well as for lovers of India. (David Goodall The Tablet 2007-08-25)

In The Clash Within, a passionate look at the crisis of democracy and religious violence in India, Martha Nussbaum provides a detailed reconstruction of the genocide she says occurred in Gujarat. She shows that the violence had been planned well in advance, and she chronicles the failures of the state to prosecute the accused Hindu-right activists or their mentors in the Bharatiya Janata Party...Nussbaum says the main purpose of her book is to inform European and American readers about a "complex and chilling case of religious violence that does not fit some common stereotypes about the sources of religious violence in today's world." She does that well. (Basharat Peer The Nation 2007-11-19)

This is a humanistic and psychological study that traces the [Hindu] Right's rage to reaction against both the Muslim and British conquests of India, which humiliated and shamed Hindus...Instead of the "clash of civilizations," Nussbaum sees a clash within each culture, but her book could serve as a Huntington case study of the roots and rise of Hindutva (Hinduness). (M. G. Roskin Choice 2007-10-01)

Martha Nussbaum is a distinguished American philosopher, whose formidable corpus of academic work is the more remarkable for her enlisting of philosophy in the service of her commitment to a more just and rights-respecting world. Nussbaum is also a passionate Indophile who has collaborated, with Amartya Sen, on the capabilities approach to human, and especially women’s, development. This book—written chiefly for an American audience—is an expression of her deep personal engagement with the challenges of pluralism in Indian democracy. (Niraja Gopal Jayal Outlook India 2007-07-16)

The Clash Within is a book of and for our time. It will profoundly change the way we think about religio-national violence and about pluralism and democracy. Nussbaum’s persuasive tour de force makes clear that cultural diversity is a source of innovation and creativity and that a national identity that is layered and multiple, rather than exclusive or exclusionary, leads to cosmopolitan thinking and cultural innovation. Her command of the ethical, legal and sociopolitical problems that a political reading of religion poses for a multicultural plural democracy makes this work essential reading for anyone interested in the role of religion and the future of the nation-state. , (Tulasi Srinivas Harvard Divinity Bulletin 2008-01-01)

In an age of academic specialization, [Nussbaum] is one of the few modern renaissance scholars...The Clash Within should be read not only by those interested in India's present and future, but by anyone seeking to understand the processes by which even the most complex and sophisticated societies can navigate their way into a morass of violent intolerance. (Irfan Yusuf Weekend Australian 2008-08-16)

About the Author

Martha C. Nussbaum is Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 2.8 out of 5 stars  18 reviews
13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A bit surprised Dec 2 2008
By Paul Scott - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I am a bit surprised by all of the misplaced animosity towards this book. I think Nussbaum is a very intelligent human being and I agree whole heartedly with most of her positions. I don't think she is portraying Hindus in any particular way. She clearly points out an intellectual trend that is on the rise (actually being revived) in India. I'm giving the book two stars only because I think the book is poorly written and seems to be a rehash of stuff other people have written before and written better. You can tell that her opinions are all second hand and I was truly convinced of this when she commented on the 600 hour Television series Ramayana which I am pretty sure she never watched (It seems unlikely to me that she would). Not to mention the series didn't seem at all full of any sort of propaganda (I unfortunately saw all of it). She could have done so much more such as looked more carefully at the rise of the movement, looked at it in a historical context, or many other ways. But then again I don't think she is exactly an expert on India and is perhaps poorly qualified to do so. The section on the constitution (her expertise) is very good however but certainly not worth the price of this book. I suggest one go elsewhere for infirmation on this subject.
5.0 out of 5 stars A must-read for anyone interested in understanding contemporary India or religious extremism Oct. 31 2013
By Kenneth Koo - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I ordered this book as a reading assignment for a college-level course on religion and violence in Asia. My students - many from Asian countries plagued by religiously motivated violence - and I were deeply moved by what Professor Nussbaum had to say about the rise of Hindu extremism in India. She offers a thorough historical account of Indian democracy as intended by the country's modern founders, and compares it to the present-day reality in India where those early ideals are increasingly being challenged by Hindu extremists in disguise of mainstream politicians. She interviews major Indian thinkers of the day, closely examines the national political landscape, analyzes the legal code especially in the realm of personal laws, and details controversies over history textbooks, all in order to draw a compelling picture of how the battle against democratic principles is being waged by India's Hindu right. Her language is clear, forceful, and accessible, making the book an enjoyable read for both scholars/students and the general public.

Prof. Nussbaum convincingly demonstrates that extremism is not the exclusive preserve of Islam and that democracy is a fragile institution. I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone interested in knowing more about contemporary India or religious extremism in general.
53 of 82 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A remarkable book June 21 2007
By Aaron P. Rester - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Having studied Indian history and the Hindutva movement for many years, I must disagree entirely with the first reviewer. Nussbaum's descriptions of the violence in Gujarat, and the state and national government's complicity in it, are well backed-up by official sources, interviews with prominent Indian public figures, and the Sangh Parivar's own texts. Moreover, the point of the book is not to provide a history of this dark incident in India's recent past -- though it does so ably -- but to understand what motivates people to inflict such violence on their own neighbors and countrymen. In doing so, Nussbaum displays a remarkable empathy for Hindutva activists and sympathizers without condoning actions and beliefs that she sees as deplorable. Believing (as did her heroes Tagore and Gandhi) that understanding and caring about one's fellow human beings is essential to a nations's political and ethical well-being, she argues that Gujarat represents "a failure of the moral imagination" that allows humans beings to recognize the humanity of others, and that the furious pace of economic development in India should be matched by the development of humanist ideals that have been abandoned in the last two decades.
7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An unpleasant read Oct. 25 2010
By Wayne A. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Given the credentials of the author I expected something a bit more professional, objective, and informative--scholarly, if you will--especially since there is not much material on the subject of disturbing social and political reactionary trends in the Indian/Hindu world. I also expected much better writing.

Instead, this is an extremely subjective and overly personalized account characterized by inadequately worked out ideas and unconvincing psychological and anthropological speculations. This leads me to believe the author was frequently working outside of her areas of expertise. In an earlier attempt at a review of this book (it's hard to review something that has too many problems)I expressed the belief that she was viewing the non-Western world through the fog of the American Culture War, which is a peculiar and modern form of Eurocentrism. Her repeated attempts to suggest links between what is happening in India and what is happening in the United States are forced and, incredibly, even naive. They are also one-sided.

My sense is that the author is trapped in the cognitively dissonant political/intellectual world where the Progressive agenda is constantly battling with Multiculturalist program. She doesn't seem to understand that the Progressive agenda is often seen as the true Western Cultural Imperialism in socially conservative developing nations. She tries to resolve this by replacing the idea of Clash of Civilizations with, effectively internal Culture Wars. However, if the internal Culture War--the Clash Within--is between Progressives working largely with Western ideas of rights, and traditionalists of various extremes, then we're right back to a Clash of Civilizations. This is so obvious it's amazing the author didn't catch it. But the author's thinking is probably so compartmentalized and, again, Eurocentric, she probably has a very large blind spot.

All in all an extremely unsatisfying book. I learned more about the current problems with American academia than I did about modern India.
41 of 65 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars a badly written book with no redeeming value Sept. 25 2007
By Mark bennett - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is a difficult book to review because it is very bad in so many different ways. Its a book full of ignorance. Its a book where the author plays favorites based on her politics and her romantic daydreams about a place. Its a book where emotion and political biases take the place of fact. Finally the writing style of the book is so self-indulgant and amaturish that no editor should have accepted it and no publisher should have published it.

First, I am no particular fan of the BJP or their ideology. I'm not interested in defending India either. India has good and bad in it like every country. And it has problems like every country.

The problems in the book start in the introduction which is a useful window into the self-loathing of many in the American elite. She explains her hatred for herself and how through identifying with the cause of the downtrodden in America, she is somehow liberated from what she is. America was not a big enough stage for self-hate and so she decided to extend her ideas into another culture (India). But in the end for all her talk, she comes across in the book as a reborn Victorian Imperial woman come to India to wag her finger in displeasure and to set its injustices right.

She claims to have written this for Americans to show them the supposed voice of the "real india" that is being suppressed. Strange thing is, the only real voice in the book is her own. Its more her telling her friends in America what to think about India than telling them about India.

The second problem with her book is that she an absurd romantic attachment to all things she considers Bengali. She incessentaly promotes Tagore over and over in the pages of the book. She tells us how much India needs a Tagore. But her attraction and promotion of him seem tied up in her belief of the superiority of Bengali underdogs within India. She tries to transform him into something he never was in life. She seems in the end to want to teach Hindu India to hate itself in the same way she admits she hates her own American WASP background.

Finally, the book itself is terribly written. Its written in a rambling amaturish style with the author looking down from the judge's seat at the people of India. The many errors and misunderstandings about India in the book are easily attributable to the fact that she is less writing what she knows than writing what people are her are telling her. Aside from her romanic daydream superficial fasicnation with Bengal, I really wonder what she knows about India.

And then there are the interviews. The style of writing used for the interviews is absolutely despicable. If she likes the person, they are a radiant almost superhuman entity bringing the reader wisdom. But if she doesn't like the person, she is sure to tell you how sinister they look, how they are obviously troubled persons in need of a course of mental therapy. She almost wants us to feel sorry for them in the same way that a nurse or a teacher feels sorry for a child that fails.

In the end this book has nothing useful to say about India. It amounts to the disorganized ramblings of an American with almost no self knowledge of India. What it does have to say is fatally flawed by bias and the author's theories/biases. In the last few years there have been many decent books published on India. Find one of them and don't bother with this one.
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