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Illustrated by Jeongin Lee

TASHAN Hosts Discussion on Religious Fundamentalism

TASHAN hosts a panel on religious fundamentalism in South Asia. We talked to TASHAN’s Vice President Kainat Zakarya to find out more about this pressing political issue.

Nov 8, 2020

On Oct. 30, NYU Abu Dhabi’s Student Interest Group TASHAN — The Association of South Asian Cultural Understanding — invited a panel of scholars to discuss the rise of religious fundamentalism in the region.
As part of its semester events, TASHAN hosts a panel on political issues of the region. For Fall 2020, receiving inputs from the student body, they decided on religious fundamentalism. The panel included academics and professionals representing various countries in the region and was moderated by TASHAN’s Executive Board.
The invited panelists were Samina Ahmed, Senior Asia Adviser at International Crisis Group, Mahendra Lawoti, Professor of Political Science at Western Michigan University and Salila Kulshreshtha, Adjunct Professor of History at NYUAD.
“We particularly chose religious fundamentalism because when you look at South Asia, when authoritarian leaders are rising to power, they often end up manipulating religious groups to create a vote bank,” explained Kainat Zakarya, Class of 2023 and Vice President of TASHAN.
Panelists first contextualized religion within their home countries, followed by a moderated discussion and Q&A session.
During the event, professor Kulshreshtha pointed out that the different religions in South Asia used to coexist peacefully, as evident in similar architectural styles in their places of worship. Despite this, Kulshreshtha explained that history is being manipulated politically by different governments, such as in the dispute between Nepal and India regarding Hindu deity Ram’s birthplace.
“There’s the government who is always going to manipulate religion and try to gain political advantage out of it, and on the other hand there’s people who identify with these religions and they’re always going to get aggravated if the political parties choose to do that,” Zakarya said, summing up the issue.
“Religious fundamentalism is a big thing for South Asia,” Zakarya noted. “It’s kind of like every region has their own social or political dynamic, like matters of race or racial discrimination [in the US]. Religious fundamentalism is one of them [for South Asia]. It was important to have this discussion.”
The virtual panel was attended by over 20 students, a successful event for TASHAN and a testament to the changes brought on by the coronavirus restrictions.
Charlie Fong is Deputy News Editor. Email her at
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