ETHNICITY ~ RELIGION & IDENTITY
No living religion is an island, which exists in isolation. Religions survive in the society by reacting, responding and reinforcing other phenomena in the context in which they function as a living faith. This is very well taken into consideration in the academics arenas such as sociology, theology, and anthropology. For instance the influence of culture and traditions on religions is well documented in the above-mentioned disciplines. On the same line of thought a few sociologists and anthropologists have begun to investigate the influence of religion on ethnicity and vice versa.
In this regard the following explanation given by F. Yang and H.E. Ebaugh. is capable of highlighting the complexity and importance of this issue. First is “ethnic fusion,” where religion is the foundation of ethnicity, or, ethnicity equals religion, such as in the case of the Amish and Jews. The second pattern is that of “ethnic religion,” where religion is one of several foundations of ethnicity. The Greek or Russian orthodox and the Dutch reformed are examples of this type. In this pattern, ethnic identification can be claimed without claiming the religious identification but the reverse is rare. The third form, “religious ethnicity,” occurs where an ethnic group is linked to a religious tradition that is shared by other ethnic groups. The Irish, Italian, and Polish Catholics are such cases. In this pattern, religious identification can be claimed without claiming ethnic identification.
In this study these three categories of nexus between religion and ethnicity are used as initial stimulators to begin analysis of the Sri Lankan issue of Christianity and ethnicity. For this study, first of all, as background knowledge it is useful to comprehend the categories created by other religions on ethno religious line. The first category, ethnic fusion, can be seen among Muslims in Sri Lanka. Although the majority of them speak Tamil with slight variations they don’t ethnically identify with the Tamil ethnic group. They maintain a Muslim identity for both ethnic and religious categories. The majority of Sinhala Buddhists and Tamil Hindus maintain the pattern of ethnic religion where they consider religion as one of the foundations of their ethnicity.
There are minorities of Buddhists and Hindus in Sri Lanka who are adherents of the category of religious ethnicity and believe that their religious identity can be claimed without ethnic association. The above generalisation is possible with the fact that almost all the Buddhists and Hindus belong to the Sinhala and Tamil ethnic groups respectively. This kind of generalisation has become intricate on Christians in Sri Lanka mainly due to two reasons. First of all the colonial and imperial origin of Christians has made matters complicated as they were forced to shift their loyalties from a colonial ethnic identity to a local one. Secondly the almost equal composition of Sinhala and Tamil ethnic groups in the Christian community in Sri Lanka in the context of the mono-ethnic association of Sinhala Buddhists and Tamil Hindus has created a complex scene of ethno religious identities of Christians in Sri Lanka. Whether it is secular, religious or a mixture of both, people create categories of the aforementioned nature to maintain their identities in society.
Therefore in the framework of this study it is necessary to have a definition for identity for analysis and evaluation. For this research this framework is created on the following statement by Mol from his extensive research on identity model of religion. The term “identity” may refer to individual identity, group identity, or social identity. On all these levels identity has something to do with a tendency toward “sameness” or stability, with a tendency toward “wholeness” or integration of traits, or with a strengthening of boundaries around the unit in question. Hence in this research, on this definition, the boundary maintenance and change handling of Christians who belong to various ethnic groups are taken into consideration with their identities such as group or social in the society.
With the creation of these identities tension often develops among the groups with a sense of relative deprivation. With the group identities people from various categories feel deprivation in a variety of ways. In the analysis of this study it is appropriate to apply the theory of relative deprivation. According to the interpretation of scholars such as Dion, Palmer, and Vaughan & Hogg, the mindset in which people feel that in relation to others they have less than what they are entitled to is called relative deprivation. To apply this to various groups living in the same society Dion has come out with two forms of relative deprivation, which are beneficial for this study. According to her, these two forms are egotistic and fraternalistic.
Explaining this, Dion has said that the feeling of individuals who consider they have been deprived in relation to others in their own group can be called egotistic relative deprivation. Dion states ‘on the other hand, fraternalistic relative deprivation occurs when an individual’s ingroup is perceived to be at a disadvantage compared to an outgroup’. In the present post-modern era with intense external and internal migrations when various religions and cultures meet in the same market place more than ever, there is an expectation that gradually people integrate into a melting pot where people create a “new identity for civic unity”.
But in his research Warner has found that instead of creating a melting pot, people have been strengthening their respective identities to define who they are in the society. In this new identity creation, according to him, ethnicities and religions have become vital and decisive. Under these circumstances where people try to recreate their ethnic and religious traditions, invention of tradition , introduced by Hobsbawm, becomes evident. In this regard Hobsbawm has noted, But Hobsbawm made it clear that also much more small-scale and perhaps less dramatic novelties qualify as 'invented traditions'. He mentioned not only adaptations and new uses of old traditions for new purposes, but also the re-use of ancient elements in new contexts.
'Extinct' traditions too can become '(re)invented traditions', when they are revived According to Hobsbawm this “invented tradition” is not confined to general adaptations like the use of old languages for new purposes as in the case of preaching the Christian gospel in Sinhala, the language of the majority of people in Sri Lanka (about 72%). In this case old elements, which may be extinct, have been reinvented to revive various elements of their identity.