After graduating from Smith School with a level in non secular research and English, Anna Bigelow had the chance to check for 3 months in India, a rustic that had captivated her curiosity as a pupil.
In 1992, Bigelow, now an affiliate professor of spiritual research at Stanford, joined a Buddhist research program housed in a Burmese monastery in Bodh Gaya, positioned in central northern India, the place her days consisted of language, philosophy and anthropology lessons and studying Buddhist meditation methods.
Towards the top of that program, some of the cataclysmic occasions in Indian historical past occurred. The Babri Masjid mosque was torn down by Hindu protesters who claimed that the mosque, which had stood because the sixteenth century, had been constructed over the birthplace of the Hindu god Rama.
The violent confrontation prompted different clashes all through the nation between Hindu nationalists and Muslims over non secular websites. One occurred simply 2 miles away from the place Bigelow was staying.
These occasions lingered in Bigelow’s thoughts lengthy after she returned residence and would come to form not solely her graduate research however the remainder of her scholarly life.
Finding out non secular pluralism
Upon returning to the US, Bigelow started a grasp’s program at Columbia College, the place she found considerable scholarship rising concerning the riots that had enveloped India whereas she was there. A lot of the analysis centered round why riots occurred in sure locations, however Bigelow was notably struck by what wasn’t being mentioned – specifically, what it takes to maintain the peace, notably in a shared sacred area. In any case, numerous websites in South Asia have been locations of peaceable communal worship for hundreds of years.
“For a few years even the Babri Masjid mosque had been shared,” stated Bigelow, who joined the School of Humanities and Sciences in 2019. “That struck me as fairly outstanding on condition that it’s not one thing you see lots within the U.S. context.”
Fascinated by the thought of shared sacred areas and spiritual plurality, Bigelow returned to India in 2000 as a doctoral pupil on the College of California, Santa Barbara, to delve extra deeply into the complicated relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims within the northern Indian area of Punjab. She was notably keen to look at Muslim tradition in India, as a result of, on the time, most scholarship on Muslim life was targeted on the Center East.
It was on this journey that she was launched to the Muslim-majority city of Malerkotla – a neighborhood the place non secular plurality is deeply ingrained into its historical past. Within the early 18th century, the area was at struggle when the 2 youngest sons of a Sikh guru had been seized by the opposing Mughal forces. A Muslim ally of the capturing pressure who was the ruler of Malerkotla tried to avoid wasting them from execution.
Though the hassle was unsuccessful, the Sikh guru heard of it and blessed the Muslim kingdom. In keeping with native lore, it’s that blessing that protected Malerkotla in 1947, throughout India’s partition from Pakistan and the following violence, and continues to guard it in the present day.
Brotherhood and concord
Bigelow’s analysis at Malerkotla throughout her year-and-a-half there laid the muse for her later work and continues to be a spotlight of her scholarship in the present day. “I grew to become very within the non‑occasion of violence and what makes this specific city so resilient,” she stated.
What she discovered was a dedication to creating peaceable pluralism a precedence by way of a set of shared understandings, identities, non secular views and spiritual websites. That preliminary analysis led to her first ebook, Sharing the Sacred: Practising Pluralism in Muslim North India (Oxford College Press, 2010). “There was a collective id structured round this concept of being a city based mostly on brotherhood and peace and interreligious concord,” she stated.
Bigelow is at present engaged on her second ebook, which is a comparative examine of shared sacred websites in India and Turkey. A visit to each international locations to proceed her analysis was postponed as a result of COVID-19 pandemic.
“There are many native church buildings in Turkey that Muslims go to fairly often, as a result of they’re the locations you go to wish for sure issues,” Bigelow defined. That is very true of church buildings dedicated to Mary or St. George, who’s related with the holy determine in Islam often called Hizir or Khidr.
“Most people have the identical issues and wishes as different people, no matter their faith. These locations are likely to deliver folks collectively throughout class, gender and faith,” Bigelow stated. “In India, equally, there are broad intersections of people that consider that there’s something particular there. That God is listening in these locations extra fastidiously than elsewhere.”
Spiritual pluralism in the present day
Bigelow’s examine of what makes non secular pluralism profitable has taken on extra urgency currently as Turkey’s and India’s governments have moved to advertise their majoritarian religions.
For instance, India’s Citizenship Modification Act, handed final yr, made it doable for migrants from sure international locations and religions to obtain fast-tracked citizenship – with the exclusion of these working towards Islam. Throughout India, rallies and protests have taken place in opposition to the act.
Malerkotla, the city that impressed Bigelow’s lifelong curiosity in interreligious cooperation, has additionally been within the information once more.
“Malerkotla has now turn out to be a regional middle of activism in opposition to a few of these anti‑Muslim insurance policies and occasions,” Bigelow stated. “There are websites the place Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims are gathering collectively and having demonstrations, protests, poetry readings, road theater, and every kind of artistic and adaptive methods through which they’re resisting the forces of polarization.”
For her half, Bigelow continues to be impressed by Malerkotla’s dedication to its historical past and the hassle it takes for the neighborhood to take care of its id in a altering world. “They’re reminding themselves about their very own historical past of pluralism and multicultural brotherhood,” she stated, noting that the city’s dedication continues to resonate in her work all these years later.
“I’m impressed by how folks take this critically as requiring effort. It’s not simply one thing you’ll be able to take as a right,” Bigelow added. “It’s important to maintain working at it if that is the society you need. That’s been fairly humbling and spectacular to see and heartwarming additionally.”
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