Americans think they have to deal with religious conflict, and truly important debates take place in this country. At the same time, it can be sobering to read the news from a country like India, where religious conflict is thickly woven into every aspect of political life.
The factions in India are broken down according to religious identity: Hindu, Muslim, Christian. The political elites affiliate with one of the groups and push its interests. Secular elites are forever finding ways to use the state to reduce the conflict, but in unhelpful ways. For example, there are debates concerning hiring quotas and programs to encourage inter-caste marriage.
Such programs tend to backfire by encouraging resentments against the use of power. Government has no business pushing reform programs to alter an institution (i.e., marriage and the family) that precedes the state. If India is to overcome its religious conflicts, it won’t be through means of forced association.
Certainly, American history provides an excellent example of overcoming such conflict. Highly sectarian communities in colonial times discovered that they were mutually better off by trading their wares and services with each other. They learned to think of each other as valuable human beings rather than the enemy to be combated.
In this way, the advent of capitalistic modes of production contributes to social peace in societies with religiously heterogeneous populations. Incidentally, countries with centrally planned economies tend to have a very high degree of religious conflict. There, people with starkly different beliefs have no reason to get along, and planners win elections when they isolate groups and cater to their special interests.
Perhaps, then, the best method for countries like India to foster religious peace between groups will be to further liberalize the economic sector.
This is only one of the many ways that economics and religion are conceptually related.
The Acton Institute is dedicated to further exploration of such issues, and your help is greatly appreciated in making that possible.
Rev. Robert A. Sirico,
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