“Religious studies and Archaeology don’t mix!”

Let’s get this out of the way today.

Religious Studies as a specialized area of study pertains to the critical analysis of religion, and to be confused with theological learning. Religious Studies takes into account philosophy, literarture, anthropology and other allied approaches to study a (or more) religion(s). Archaeology, broadly speaking, is the study of ancient material remains. These can be in various forms such as bones, inscriptions, ancient cities and architectural edifices, sculptures, tools, pottery, or even some flakes from a stone!

You might think that the title to this piece is apt: these two branches of study do not, nay, cannot mix. One is a an arts subject, while the later is science, and so on. But let me tell you this: these branches of study need to be put in conversation to make better sense of the past and the living world. One is the stepping stone for the other!

My previous training in archaeology makes many people wonder why I opted for the study of religion, and that too with an anthropological or ethnographic approach. As I traversed from a degree in History to Archaeology, it was clear to me that the underlying order in ancient and modern societies goes unaccounted for, in many of the studies in either history or archaeology. This is not to say that religion alone drives the world, but many walks of human life are deeply influenced by religious leanings of various communities, groups and kin network. Does this mean that nothing os secular? No, I would not say that. However, I would like to propose a way to look at “different secular” in various regions of the world. Wh…What? “Different Secular”?

“Different Secular” for me is the varied spectrum of secular leaning behaviour, tangible objects and the manner of being or, way of life. Broadly speaking, being secular is not alignment with any religion, in the modern sense of the term. However, what if this was not conceivable in some epoch in the by-gone era? We have annals to note that if an individual is not of one religion, they are aligned with some other. Many have spilled ink over apologetic texts between the Pagans and Christians, Jews and the heathen, and so on. To focus on South-Asian example, if someone was not Hindu, they were Buddhists, or Jain, or Muslim, or Sikh, or Bahaa’i… The concept of self-identification as an atheist is novel. And the material expression from these leanings, naturally manifests itself as something (rather than nothing; ie. aetheism). In the myriad of these different secular(s), I propose to broaden the lens that we look through.

Since I started looking at various interpretations of history and society around me, I was taken aback by the stark insertion of religous commentary at various stages. Sometimes we go on living without being aware of a particular narartive enveloping us. And to peel the layers of these narartivised histories, I resort to the combined study of the tangible and the intangible.



Published by Kalemighty

Penned thoughts from South Asian culture. Follow for thoughts on Archaeology, Anthropology, and Pedagogy around the world

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