Rina Verma Williams

Assistant Professor, Political Science
University of Cincinnati, U.S.A.

"Hinduism and Democracy: Through the Lens of Gender" 
The stunning—and largely unpredicted—electoral victory by the Hindu nationalist BJP in India last year raises critical questions about the intersection between Hinduism and democracy. As the overwhelming majority religion in India, was it inevitable that in a democracy, Hinduism was eventually going to take political power? In other words, is the politicization of religion inevitable in a democracy? In this chapter, we examine the evolution of Hindu nationalism (as politicized religion) in Indian democracy over time, distinguishing it from Hinduism (as religion), through the lens of gender. We undertake close reading and interpretation of two different literatures—the general literature on politicized religion and democracy, and the literature on women in Hindu nationalism in India—reading them against each other to determine where they overlap and diverge. We find the case of Hindu nationalism in India does not suggest that politicized religion is inevitable in a democracy, for two reasons: first, Hinduism must be distinguished from Hindu nationalism; instead (and second), the politicization of religion is a process that must be assiduously constructed over time—as Hindu nationalism has been. These findings also suggest that democracy alone may be insufficient to check the rise of religious majoritarian politics.

Rina Verma Williams (Ph.D. and A.M. Harvard University; B.A. and B.S. University of California at Irvine) is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Cincinnati, where she is also Affiliate Faculty in Asian Studies and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies. Prior to coming to Cincinnati, she taught at the University of Houston and the University of Virginia. Her research and teaching interests focus on comparative politics of the developing world; Indian politics; religion, law, and nationalism; and gender, the state, and identity politics. She is the author of Postcolonial Politics and Personal Laws: Colonial Legal Legacies and the Indian State (Oxford University Press) as well as numerous articles, book chapters and book reviews on these topics. Her current book project examines the changing role of women in religious nationalism in Indian democracy and political parties over time; she has also begun a new, multi-method collaborative research project on the relationship between gender and methodological choice in political science as a discipline.