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Alatas Religion and Reform Two Exemplars for Autonomous Sociology in the Non Western Context

Alatas Religion and Reform Two Exemplars for Autonomous Sociology in the Non Western Context

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Published by: lewis_cynthia on Jul 19, 2012
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Religion and Reform: TwoExemplars for AutonomousSociology in theNon-Western Context
Syed Farid Alatas
A global survey of course syllabi for thehistory of social thought as well as socio-logical thought will reveal a number of characteristics of Eurocentrism. These arethe subject–object dichotomy, the dominanceof European categories and concepts, andthe representation of Europeans as the soleoriginators of ideas. In most sociologicaltheory textbooks or writings on the history of social theory, the subject–object dichotomyis a dominant, albeit unarticulated principleof organization. Europeans are the ones thatdo the thinking and writing, they are thesocial theorists and social thinkers, whatwe might call the knowing subjects. If non-Europeans appear at all in the texts they areobjects of study of the European theoristsfeatured and not as knowing subjects, that is,as sources of sociological theories and ideas.If we take the nineteenth century as an exam-ple, the impression given is that during theperiod that Europeans such as Marx, Weber,Durkheim and others were thinking about thenature of society and its development, therewere no thinkers in Asia and Africa doingthe same.The absence of non-European thinkers inthese accounts is particularly glaring in caseswhere non-Europeans had actually influencedthe development of social thought. Typically,a history of social thought or a courseon social thought and theory would covertheorists such as Montesquieu, Vico, Comte,Spencer, Marx, Weber, Durkheim, Simmel,Toennies, Sombart, Mannheim, Pareto,Sumner, Ward, Small and others. Generally,non-Western thinkers are excluded.It seems fitting, therefore, to provideexamples of social theorists of non-Europeanbackgrounds who wrote on topics and theo-rized problems that would be of interest tothose studying the broad-ranging macroproc-esses that have become the hallmark of clas-sical sociological thought and theory.The social thinkers under considerationhere, ‘Abd al-Rah.m-an Ibn Khald-un (732–808
1332–1406) and José Rizal (1861–96), were both highly original thinkers. Theyare both examples of non-Western thinkerswho theorized about the nature of society inways not practised by their Western coun-terparts. Ibn Khald-un theorized about thedynamics of the pre-capitalist societies of histime in terms of two types of modes of socialorganization, the nomadic and the sedentary.These do not correspond to concepts usedby Karl Marx, Max Weber or other Westerntheorists. In fact, neither Marx nor Weberwere able to explain the dynamics of whatthey called Asiatic, Oriental or patrimonialsocieties. Indeed, it was the static nature of these societies that they emphasized. IbnKhald-un was unique in that he theorizedaspects of social change not done so byWestern scholars. Furthermore, he was thefirst to systematically articulate the natureof society in an empirical fashion and did soseveral hundred years before the emergenceof the social sciences in the West. His theoryof social change was at the same time atheory of religious revival.Rizal is interesting because he lived duringthe formative period of Western social scien-ces but provides us with a different pers-pective on the colonial dimension of theemerging modernity of the nineteenth cen-tury. Rizal raised original problems andtreated them in a creative way. An exampleis his discussion on the issue of the indolenceof the Filipinos.
The Filipino thinker and activist, José Rizal,was probably the first systematic social thinkerin South-east Asia. While he was not a socialscientist, it is possible to construct a socio-logical theory from his thoughts, a theorythat focuses on the nature and conditions of Filipino colonial society, and the require-ments for emancipation.Rizal was born into a wealthy family. Hisfather ran a sugar plantation on land leasedfrom the Dominican Order. As a result, Rizalwas able to attend the best schools in Manila.He continued his higher studies at the Ateneode Manila University and then the Universityof Santo Thomas. In 1882 Rizal departedfor Spain where he studied medicine andthe humanities at the Universidad Central inMadridRizal returned to the Philippines in 1887.This was also the year that his first novel,
 Noli Me Tangere
(Touch Me Not) was pub-lished. The novel was a reflection of exploit-ative conditions under Spanish colonial ruleand enraged the Spanish friars. It was a diag-nosis of the problems of Filipino society anda reflection of the problems of exploitation inFilipino colonial society.His second novel,
 El Filibusterismo
(TheRevolution), published in 1891, examinedthe possibilities and consequences of revo-lution. As Rizal’s political ideas becameknown to the authorities he and his familysuffered many hardships. His parents weredispossessed of their home and the malemembers deported to the island of Mondoro.Rizal himself was finally exiled to Dapitan,Mindanao from 1892 to 1986, implicated inthe revolution of 1896, tried for sedition andexecuted by a firing squad on 30 December1896, at the age of thirty-five. He lived ashort life but was an extremely productivethinker, unsurpassed by anyone in South-eastAsia, perhaps even Asia. He wrote severalpoems and essays, three novels, and con-ducted studies in early Philippine history,Tagalog grammar, and even entomology.
Rizal’s Sociology 
If we were to construct a sociological theoryfrom Rizal’s works, three broad aspects canbe discerned in his writings. First, there isthe critique of colonial knowledge of thePhilippines. Second, we have his theory of 
colonial society, a theory that explains thenature and conditions of colonial society.Finally, there is Rizal’s discourse on themeaning and requirements for emancipation.In Rizal’s thought, the corrupt Spanishcolonial government and its officials oppressand exploit the Filipinos, while blamingthe backwardness of the Filipinos on theiralleged laziness. But Rizal’s project was toshow that in fact the Filipinos were a rela-tively advanced society in pre-colonial times,and that their backwardness was a product of colonialism. Colonial policy was exploitativedespite the claims or intentions of the colonialgovernment and the Catholic Church. In fact,Rizal was extremely critical of the ‘boastedministers of God [the friars] and
 propogatorsof light 
(!) [who] have not sowed nor do theysow Christian moral, they have not taughtreligion, but rituals and superstitions’ (Rizal,1963b: 38). This position required Rizal tocritique colonial knowledge of the Filipinos.He went into history to address the colonialallegation regarding the supposed indolenceof the Filipinos. This led to his understandingof the conditions for emancipation and thepossibilities of revolution.
The Critique of Colonial History 
During Rizal’s time, there was little critiqueof the state of knowledge about the Philippinesamong Spanish colonial and Filipino schol-ars. Rizal, being well-acquainted withOrientalist scholarship in Europe, was awareof what would today be referred to asOrientalist constructions. This can be seenfrom his annotation and re-publication of Antonio de Morga’s
Sucesos de las IslasFilipinas
(Historical Events of the PhilippineIslands) which first appeared in 1609. Morga,a Spaniard, served eight years in the Philippinesas Lieutenant Governor General and CaptainGeneral and was also a justice of the SupremeCourt of Manila (
 Audiencia Real de Manila
)(de Morga, 1991[1890]: xxxv).Rizal re-published this work with his ownannotation in order to correct what he saw asthe false reports and slanderous statementsto be found in most Spanish works on thePhilippines, as well as to bring to light thepre-colonial past that was wiped out from thememory of Filipinos by colonization (Rizal,1962[1890]: vii). This includes the destruc-tion of pre-Spanish records such as artefactsthat would have thrown light on the nature of pre-colonial society (Zaide, 1993: 5). Rizalfound Morga’s work an apt choice, as it was,according to Ocampo, the only civil historyof the Philippines written during the Spanishcolonial period, other works being mainlyecclesiastical histories (Ocampo, 1998: 192).The problem with ecclesiastical histories,apart from falsifications and slander, was thatthey ‘abound in stories of devils, miracles,apparitions, etc., these forming the bulk of the voluminous histories of the Philippines’(de Morga, 1962[1890]: 291, n. 4). For Rizal,therefore, existing histories of the Philippineswere false and biased as well as unscien-tific and irrational. What Rizal’s annotationsaccomplished were the following:
1. They provide examples of Filipino advances inagriculture and industry in pre-colonial times.2. They provide the colonized’s point of view of various issues.3. They point out the cruelties perpetrated by thecolonizers.4. They furnish instances of hypocrisy of the coloniz-ers, particularly the Catholic Church.5. They expose the irrationalities of the Church’sdiscourse on colonial topics.
While space does not permit us to discuss allof these points, an example would suffice toillustrate Rizal’s position with regard to thereinterpretation of Filipino history: on thepoint of view of the colonized, in a sectionwhere de Morga discusses piracy perpetratedby the Moros of Mindanao, Rizal notes that:
This was the first piracy of the inhabitants of theSouth recorded in the history of the Philippines.We say ‘inhabitants of the South’: for beforethem there had been others, the first ones beingthose committed by the Magellan expedition,capturing vessels of friendly islands and evenof unknown ones, demanding from them largeransoms.

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