In India, interactions between law and religion have often culminated in fractious, long-standing disputes. To reconcile this tension, a diluted form of legal pluralism was embraced in the post-Independence period. A delicate balance was struck between ‘universal’ state laws and ‘localized’ religious norms. In recent times, this balance has been upended by a judicial application of the ‘Essential Religious Practices’ (ERP) doctrine – a doctrine whereby protection is conferred on beliefs or practices judged ‘essential’ to a religion. In carving out the essential core of a religion, courts in India have retained only those religious norms that conform to the ‘globalizing uniformity’ of state laws. Surpassing a purely legal or constitutional perspective, this paper investigates the socio-cultural consequences emanating from this essentializing discourse. By employing the methodology of critical discourse analysis, it argues that one of the discursive implications of the ERP doctrine has been to undermine the internal autonomy and normative pluralism of religions. In doing so, it has also disregarded their dynamic nature and universalized dominant cultural norms. Perceiving this as a cautionary tale, this paper theorizes that any potential substitute for the ERP doctrine needs to steer clear of the same shortcomings and accord due weightage to the cultural particularities of religious groups. In this regard, the utility of anthropological expertise in enhancing modalities of socio-cultural fact-finding is discussed.

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Mary Kavita Dominic, 'Essential Religious Practices' Doctrine as a Cautionary Tale: Adopting Efficient Modalities of Socio-Cultural Fact-Finding' (2020) 16(1) Socio-Legal Review 46

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