Open Discussion – Session 1
Through his talk, KV Akshara attempted to point out the need for non-experts to engage in the debate on science and religion. In this approach, a new aspect of the debate is revealed: the layperson’s view of both science and religion, and the way in which they are accommodated together in everyday life. Akshara chose to use the word ‘faith’ rather than ‘religion’, since the latter is a distant, de-personalized concept. For the layperson, faith is a much more resonant idea than religion. By grounding himself in this space, Akshara argued that since scientific discourse is dominant in current times, common sense privileges science and scientific rationality over faith or religious belief. ‘Faith’ is therefore defined in opposition to science rather than in its own terms. He pointed out that while the scientist might think of religion as ‘the other’, the common man’s faith seems to be more “epistemologically democratic”. Faith seems to allow some space for science in a way that science does not seem to do, for faith. Through this discussion, Akshara argued for the need to “inject more faith into science in order to make it more democratic and open”.
There are two problems that become immediately visible in this, each tying into the other. The first is the lack of historicity in Akshara’s discussion and the second is the inchoate definition that has been given to ‘faith’. Through history, religious complexes and temples were centres of knowledge. In India, the layman’s ability to reconcile science with faith seems to be part of a larger tradition of lack of contradiction between the two. The science/religion binary is a Western notion that was adopted by India in the colonial period. By not defining ‘faith’ in any concrete terms, we run the risk of conflating religious thought or belief with indigenous knowledge systems. In doing this, the debate is no longer about science and faith, but about the clash between two cultures and their systems of knowledge. In this case, the question is not anymore about blurring the boundaries between faith and science, but about overthrowing the hegemony of particular notions of science.