Religion, ethnicity, democracy

One thing, at least, that marks Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam as world religions is that their adherents come from just about every color, ethnicity, language, and nationality imaginable. What sets Hinduism and Judaism apart as world religions is (in addition) their inseparability from a very specific cultural ethnicity. The other three may have (as they clearly do) holy sites and holy cities, places of historic significance and life-changing pilgrimage; but among the seven major world religions (which is, yes, of course an arbitrary metric) only in Hinduism and Judaism are ethnicity and religion so intertwined that to convert to the religion is to change one’s ethnicity, and yet leaving the religion has no effect at all on one’s ethnicity.

Small wonder, I suppose, that India and Israel have had comparable difficulties negotiating the ideals and practicalities of democracy and ethnicity as modern nation-states. Small wonder, too, perhaps, that in just these two countries nothing seems to bring radical rightwing governments together quite like militant Islamism.

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