Within and beyond modernity: lived experiences and ethical interruptions of the Tablighi Jamaat in West Bengal
This article examines the implications of the growing presence of the Tablighi Jamaat in Joygram, a Muslim majority village in rural West Bengal, India, drawing on fieldwork conducted between 2011 and 2013. The analysis of reformist Islam as a moral regeneration movement embedded in dharma and catalysing an alternative modernity contributes to the scholarship on lived experiences of Islam, modernity, and ethics. The Tablighi Jamaat in Joygram gains popularity in a political economic context of moral degradation and marginalisation, which inspires engagements with globally resonant modern and antimodern models of the self enveloped in the practice, discourse and performance of Islamic reformism. These models mutually interact and conflict with locally particular practices and exclusionary categorisations. On the village level, the drive towards modernity ensues in conflicts over moral personhood and social exchanges. On the societal level, the modern aspirations of Joygrami Tablighis go beyond piety to ‘good culture' and respected citizenship but are embedded in antimodern critiques of the hegemonic categorisations of the secular nation-state, by which they are nevertheless confined. It is suggested that reformist Islam should not be misunderstood as pre-modern, anti-secular or secular, but might better be called postsecular because it encompasses those ideologies in vernacularized forms on the basis of a different ideal conception of society. Islamic reformism in Joygram may resonate with moral regeneration and reactionary movements elsewhere, and this analysis of the Tablighi Jamaat demonstrates the potential challenges social movements face in the transition to alternative modernities.