Center for Global Development and Sustainability

The Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University

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Religion, Rights and Justice in the South Asian Context: Social Exclusion and Intolerance in Multi-Faith Democracies

Dalit women, Uttar Pradesh, India Religion has played a powerful, emancipatory role in struggles to achieve basic rights, from the African-American Civil Rights movement in the U.S. and Catholic Liberation Theology and social thought in 20th century Latin America, to the Anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa. Religion can also play a negative role when appropriated out of its original intent to promote justice and mercy and into complex cultural and political contexts that seek to reinforce rigid, semi-feudal social orders. In South Asia and in South Asian Diasporas, one of the worst forms is discrimination on the basis of caste that persists despite legal prohibitions in national constitutions. Despite reformist movements and rapid modernization of the Indian economy, untouchability is rampant, especially throughout rural areas.

The Dalit liberation movement has drawn inspiration from inter-faith religious sources while working with reformist dimensions within Hindu culture to address historic forms of marginalization and oppression. Research into the complex relations between religion, development and global public and social policy is on the rise but still at an early stage both here in the U.S. and internationally. This program examines opportunities and obstacles to advance an understanding of the role of religion in aiding or constraining social exclusion and intolerance in multi-faith democracies of South Asia in comparison to other regions of the world.

Knowledge Advancing Social Justice

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