The World Religions Discourse in Practice

Picture 6How does the discourse on world religions work?

Well, consider news stories like this one.

Not only have religions — a Latin-based term alien to much of the world until European missionaries and colonial bureaucrats arrived on their distant shores, intent on classifying, sorting, comparing, and governing… — become so real that we now classify their participants as members of a distinct ethnicity (as if ethnic identity is any more tangible and real, but I digress…) but it is difficult to imagine this being headline news without the longstanding assumption not only that (1) some people ought to be classed together as Buddhists but (2) that this means they are apolitical spiritualists quietly meditating, with their curiously shaved heads and colorful robes.

Whether we ought to be concerned to learn about the worldwide implications of socio-political dominance and marginality is one thing, of course; why this particular instance makes our news so frequently is, to my way of thinking, undoubtedly linked to the shock value of learning that, yes, even Buddhists do that too?! And then the debates begin about true and original Buddhism vs. extremist and political Buddhism, all in an effort to deal with this apparent anomaly in our newspapers, all in an effort to restore the notion of disembodied spirituality that we now use as the organizing principle when classing people into groups.

After all, there’s surely many lamentable, international examples of the perils of marginal status than can fit in all our headlines combined.

So why do we read about this one in particular? What led to that editorial choice, NPR?

Listen to the story here.