Who am I – a Hindu, a Jain, a Sikh, a Muslim or what, you decide? – Guest Author Sulekh Jain, Ph.D.
When we are born, we all have our unique physical identity (Physique, facial and body features, and color of the skin, etc.) but none of us are born with a religion. There is no DNA for religion. Your family, looks and physique are from DNA but not religion. As we grow up, we acquire our beliefs, faith and religious identity from parents and the environment around us.
Later on, in addition to one’s given name (by the parents), caste, religion, ethnicity, various kinds of titles (thru education and skills such as Ph.D., M.D., etc.), society bestowed titles (such as Sir, Padma Shree, Nobel Prize, etc.) become all part of one’s identity.
Out of many facets of identity, for many, religious identity too becomes very strong and prominent. As such people will say that I am a Hindu, or a Jain, or a Muslim, or a Sikh or a Buddhist or a Christian and so on and many times this identity becomes so strong that nothing else matters.
Since religious identity is not cast in any one’s blood, depending upon the new or changed circumstances it too can change. As an example, a child born to Hindu parents may be adopted by Sikh parents and will be raised so and will then be called a Sikh, not a Hindu. Also, during one’s life, based on reflections and gyan (knowledge and understanding), one may change his/her religion or declare to have and belong to no religion at all. It does happen quite often particularly a Christian becomes a Jew and Vice Versa. Thru marriage; one may change his/her religious identity as well.
According to Wikipedia, the definition of religion is a controversial subject. Scholars have failed to agree on a definition of religion. There are however two general definition systems: the sociological/functional and the phenomenological/philosophical. Emile Durkheim defined religion as “a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden – beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a church ( place of worship), all those who adhere to them.
Max Lynn Stackhouse, defined religion as “a comprehensive worldview or ‘metaphysical moral vision’ that is accepted as binding because it is held to be in itself basically true and just even if all dimensions of it cannot be either fully confirmed or refuted”.
Thinkers such as Daniel Dubuisson have doubted that the term religion has any meaning outside of western cultures, while others, such as Ernst Feil even doubt that it has any specific, universal meaning even there.
Let us examine this religious identity scenario in the particular context of the Indian Diaspora here in the USA. Let me just share my own personal case.
In Jainism, historically there are four major sects and in India, affiliation or belonging to one of the four is generally somewhat rigid but not so here. In our case, my wife and I belong to the two different sects of Jainism. Now you decide and tell me, which one of the two is the specific religious identity of my children? Here we just call them only Jain; no sect.
Going further, my son who has a Jain identity married a Hindu Brahmin Girl. Now, what should be the identity of our grandchildren; a Hindu or a Jain? In our case, we raised them learning the beauty of both.
Within the Indian diaspora here, inter-caste and inter-religion marriages have started taking place quite often. Personably I have seen and participated wherein Jain boys and girls marrying Sikh, Hindu, Christian and Jewish spouses.
So, my friends, what we think of a strict and rigid religious identity is crumbling so very quickly here. In reality, it is already shifting sand on a slippery slope and it will continue doing so in this American melting pot.
Dr. Sulekh C. Jain is the Past Secretary and President of the Federation of Jain Associations in North America (JAINA). Dr. Jain also authored a book An Ahimsa Crisis: You Decide, which can be accessed as an eBook free of charge at www.isjs.in Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. He got his B.S. and M.Tech. in Mechanical Engineering from India, and earned a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Birmingham, England in 1965. Later Dr. Jain completed Post-Doc from the University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Jain retired from General Electric Aircraft Engine Division and settled in Henderson, NV.
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