Webinar: Exploring Balagangadhara’s Thoughts On Indian Culture

by Srinivas Udumudi - Apr 30, 2020 04:09 PM +05:30 IST
Webinar: Exploring  Balagangadhara’s Thoughts On Indian CultureA webinar on S N Balagangadhara’s thoughts on culture lined up.
  • Indic Academy is holding a webinar on 3 May that will shed light on Prof Balagangadhara’s explorations of colonial consciousness and finding ways to grasp India’s civilisational contributions to the world.

Indic Academy is conducting a unique webinar titled, "An Exploration into S N Balagangadhara's Thought" on 3 May 2020 from 12.30pm to 6 pm IST.

The seminar has three sessions with panel discussions by prominent scholars of “The Ghent School of Thought” furthering research programme launched by Prof Balagangadhara — Dr Jakob De Roover, Dr Sarah Claerhout, Dr Sarika Rao (all from Belgium), and Dr M S Chaitra (and other members from the Aarohi Research Foundation and Centre for Educational and Social Studies or CESS, Bengaluru).

Panel discussions will be led by Prof Balagangadhara (from Belgium) based on questions submitted by registrants from their reading of downloaded extracts of books authored by Prof Balagangadhara.

For more details about the webinar, please log on to this page on Indic Today. Registration page can be accessed here.

For those, who are not familiar with Prof Balagangadhara's work, this article provides a very brief and preliminary note on his work along with references to books and websites with articles by other scholars from this school.

Dr Pingali Gopal from Warangal (India) has written excellent notes summarising several books from The Ghent School of Thought accessible at the IndiaFacts website here.

Prof Balagangadhara, a philosopher by training, has been studying Indian and Western culture over four decades now.

Today, his research programme is recognised as a distinct domain called “Comparative Science of Cultures”. It emerged from a question he posed to Asian intellectuals in 1985: Would the world look different, if we looked it our way?

Prof Balagangadhara's explorations into understanding the West over a period of four decades, have started to radically alter how Indians describe their being-in-the-world, and their past.

His thought, one could also claim, has now made it difficult for the West to continue with its propensity to universalise or claim as facts, its experience of other cultures from its own historically and theologically rooted contexts.

While other post-colonial scholarship just degenerated into meaningless jargon producing no new knowledge, Prof Balagangadhara's explorations, have started making inroads into uncovering colonial consciousness, and finding means of grasping and describing Indian civilisational contributions to the world using terminology and methods which make cross-cultural understanding possible.

Today, various groups in India and Europe conduct the research programme he launched, working in various fields of social sciences — translation studies, literary studies, sociology of caste, Sanskrit studies, political science, etc.

Some prominent thinkers and researchers from this school of thought include — Dr Jakob De Roover (Arts and Philosophy, Ghent University), Dr Prakash Shah (School of Law, Queen Mary, University of London), Dr Sarah Claerhout (Researcher at Center for Comparative Science of Cultures, Ghent University), Dr Martin Farek (Department for Study of Religions, University of Pardubice, Czech Republic), Dr Marianne Keppens (Arts and Philosophy, Ghent University), Dr Rajaram Hegde (History and Archaeology, Kuvempu University), Dr Dunkin Jalki (Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Humanities and Social Sciences (CIRHS), SDM College, Ujire), Dr Sufiya Pathan (Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Humanities and Social Sciences (CIRHS), SDM College, Ujire), Dr M S Chaitra (Aarohi Research Foundation), Dr Sarika Rao (Researcher, Ghent University).

This research programme throws new light on the problematic descriptions of India in social sciences and humanities.

Over a period of time the research that has emerged out of this framework has taken questions from various domains from history, politics, sociology, anthropology, ethics, law, psychology and so on. It analysed the facticity of their underlying assumptions, and found them to be subjective, neither true nor false, but not based on empirical observations for sure.

There have been attempts in these studies to show that the conceptual categories used in these domains are a result of unthinking borrowing from West's description of India's culture based on their own experiences rooted in their own theological and social contexts.

These studies not only show that India's intellectual world today is a Christian world, but also make an attempt to describe the nature of Western culture that has been shaped by Christianity.

Prof Balagangadhara explains in his books and papers:

Colonialism is not merely about conquering territories, ruling over people and extracting revenues. It is a far more inhuman process, involving violence of all sorts: from the purely physical to the purely psychic. Colonialism alters the way we look at the world and, with sheer violence, displaces native ways of experiencing the world.

Subservient from being colonised, and further weighed down by the scientific, technological, economic, and military weight of Western culture, Indians have internalised these Western descriptions to such an extent that even their experience of the world is coloured by these structures which have no real existence in facts — this colonial consciousness.

This research programme sets out to look beyond the screen of the colonial consciousness, and attempts to find new ways and terms to document empirical observations from social and cultural aspects of Indian civilisation.

In the process, it reveals new insights into a range of issues like — unfounded dominance of the language of social justice in description of our society, problematic notions of secularism, issues with literature and public intellectuals, who are found to have no access to their own experience but writing or speaking from a world that is shaped by colonial consciousness, problems with intercultural translations, etc.

The research could provide guidance on how to reflect on issues like the recent Sabarimala judgement.

In addition, it asks basic questions like — Do we really have caste system? Do we understand what varna or varna sankara means? Do we really understand Manu, who has been portrayed as the greatest oppressor that the world has seen so far? How do we even look at stories of Aryan migration? And this list can get quite long.

Well-known books from the school include — The Heathen in his Blindness (1994, Brill) by S N Balagangadhara, Rethinking Religion in India: The Colonial Construction of Hinduism (2010, Routledge) by Esther Bloch, Marianne Keppens and Rajaram Hegde, Reconceptualizing India Studies (2012, OUP) by S N Balagangadhara, Europe, India, and the limits of Secularism (2015, OUP) by Jakob De Roover, Against Caste in British Law (2017, Palgrave Pivot) by Prakash Shah, Western Foundations of Caste System (2017, Palgrave MacMillan) by Martin Farek, Dunkin Jalki, Sufiya Pathan and Prakash Shah.

Most of the papers from this research can be accessed from individual bibliographies of scholars at their respective university websites.

For instance, here is the link to Prof Balagangadhara's bibliography at Ghent University, and at Academia.

Popular blogs with writings by these scholars can be found here and here.

Srinivas Udumudi is the Director of Academics at Indic Academy, a not-for-profit organization established to work towards protection, preservation and promotion of Indic civilizational thought, identity and values.

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