Tamils - a Trans State Nation..

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Home  > Tamilnation Library  > Nations & Nationalism > Chosen Peoples: Sacred Sources of National Identity - Anthony D. Smith, 2004

TAMIL NATION LIBRARY: Nations & Nationalism

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About the Author: Anthony D. Smith is Professor of Ethnicity and Nationalism at the London School of Economics, vice-president of the Association for the Study of Ethnicity and Nationalism. He has spent over three decades exploring a variety of aspects of nationalism, and this book represents the culmination of a lifetime's work on the subject. His publications include Nationalism (1994) and Ethnicity (1996) (both co-edited with John Hutchinson) from the Oxford Readers series, The Ethnic Origins of Nations (Blackwell, 1986), National Identity (Penguin, 1991), Nationalism and Modernism (Routledge, 1998), Myths and Memories of the Nation (OUP, 1999), The Nation in History (University Press of New England, 2000), and Nationalism (Polity, 2001).

From the Conclusion

"...While a sense of common ethnicity provided a potent basis for the subsequent task of nation-definition and formation, that sense alone has been insufficient to propel the members of an ethnie into a reinterpretation of their community as a cultural and political nation, and into an active commitment and devotion to the ideal of nationhood. This new kind of cognition, emotion, and action has, instead, drawn upon other, sacred sources, which derive from traditional religions -though these have often been entwined with a long-standing sense of common ethnicity...

Four kinds of cultural resource and sacred foundation, drawn from earlier religious belief-systems, have been of particular importance in this regard:

1. a myth of ethnic election, the conviction of being chosen for a covenant or mission, or both, by the deity;

2. a long-standing attachment to particular terrains regarded as
sacred and as belonging to the community, and it to them;

3. a yearning to recover and realize the spirit of one or more golden ages, epochs of communal heroism and creativity;

4. a belief in the regenerative power of mass and individual sacrifice to ensure a glorious destiny, and the importance of commemorating and celebrating the community and its heroes....

....  on the basis of what has been said, we could go on to propose that the more of the different kinds of sacred foundations a given nation possesses, and the richer and more varied their cultural resources, the more persistent and adaptable to change is the corresponding national identity likely to be.

The members of those present-day nations that can boast a rich heritage of such cultural resources in relation to community, territory, history, and destiny are more likely to retain their sense of national identity and ensure the survival of their national community, despite the increasing pressures for radical change and cosmopolitan assimilation.

Conversely, those present-day national communities that cannot boast such a rich heritage, or have only one or two of the sacred foundations and cultural resources underpinning their sense of national identity, are less likely to withstand the pressures for change and hence to ensure the resilience and inner strength of their sense of national identity.

There are, of course, many other reasons for the success and resilience of particular nations, ranging from demography and economic resources to geopolitics and leadership. In any overall assessment, these need to be given their due. But, if we concentrate on the issue of national identity, and the degree and manner of the members' sense of themselves as a distinctive community, then we shall need to focus on the sacred foundations of a nation and the quality and extent of its cultural resources.

Where the different kinds of resources have become superimposed over time, and are regarded as sacred and canonical, there we may expect to find a relatively high degree of national identification and consciousness�though not necessarily of national cohesion or unity, with which identity is often confused.

Where a given community manifests a clear sense of itself as 'chosen' for a task or covenant, where its members are firmly attached to homeland and soil, where they seek to emulate the virtues of past golden ages, and where their members are prepared to make personal sacrifices, if not of life, then of time and effort for the future of the community and the yet unborn, there we may expect to find a lively sense of national identity, one able to withstand the dangers and temptations of rapid change in a more interdependent world. There, too, we can expect that sense of national identity gradually to evolve and change, through constant discussion and reinterpretation of the basic pattern of its heritage of symbols, memories, myths, and values.

We speak readily of an age of nations and national states succeeding one of feudal or tribal kingdoms and superseded by one of continental unions or of globalization. But these are blanket evolutionary terms, extrapolated from one region of the globe to others, which fail to differentiate between different examples and varied cultural areas of 'strong' and 'weak' national identities, just as they tend to over generalize the extent and depth of continental or global interdependence.

We need more discriminating research tools, which will enable us to point to the many cases and areas that fall outside the usual categories, and which call into question our gross evaluations of secular trends. Above all, we need to reconsider the place of the sacred in a secularizing world, and the ways in which it still defines communities and remains attached to their foundations and to the resources on which they continue to draw. As long as some human communities remain wedded to the quest for authenticity and autonomy, as long as they regard their distinctive heritage as, in some sense, sacred and usable, so long will we continue to witness the persistence of nations and national identities."



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