Today, there is increasing dissatisfaction with the progress of the social sciences and humanities across the globe. Even though many academics are at work in the relevant disciplines and... (Read More....)
Today, there is increasing dissatisfaction with the progress of the social sciences and humanities across the globe. Even though many academics are at work in the relevant disciplines and more and more books and articles are published every year, we have seen no fundamental breakthroughs in our understanding of human beings, societies, and cultures during the past decades.
This is also evident in the study of India. Centuries-old accounts about ‘Hinduism’ and ‘the caste system’ continue to be told as though they are true descriptions of Indian culture and society. Yet, these accounts emerged from the attempt of Western intellectuals to make sense of their experience of India. Indian intellectuals have adopted these Western accounts. Generally, they engage in the reproduction of discourses from Europe and America, which do not make intuitive sense to them. As a consequence, debates in the social sciences are all too often hijacked by ideological fights between different political tendencies in society.
|Challenges and opportunities
· No growing understanding of Indian culture and society in the academic study of India.
· Presenting centuries-old Western accounts as valid descriptions of India.
· Increasing sense that social sciences are not progressing as they should.
· Times of crisis: reluctance to invest in the social sciences and humanities.
· Decline of social sciences and humanities: barren reproduction of ideas from the West.
· Conceptual framework distorts, trivializes and denies access to Indian cultural experience.
· Initiating a paradigm shift: radically new theories and perspectives are emerging.
· The rise of India and calls for a cultural renaissance à potential investment in social sciences and humanities.
In the 21st century, however, India is beginning to generate new and exciting attempts to reconceptualize the social sciences and humanities. To make sense of their experience and their culture and society, some Indian intellectuals are not only challenging the dominant accounts but also developing alternative theories. This development holds the potential to initiate a paradigm change, which will offer radically different perspectives on India and the West.
The Focus Group Social Sciences and Humanities is at the forefront of these new developments. It works with a new research programme for the study of culture and society called ‘Comparative Science of Cultures’, which was developed by the India Platform director Prof. Balagangadhara during the last four decades. Over the last ten years, this has gained foothold in India. In 2007, a new research centre – the Centre for the Study of Culture and Society – was established in Karnataka, with 3 professors and 6 doctoral students. Today, more than one-hundred researchers and volunteers are part of groups involved in the research programme in Karnataka alone. Under the guidance of Prof. Balagangadhara, they now play a dominant role in giving shape to intellectual debates in the media and academia across Karnataka.
Generally, in 2013-2014, the work of the last decade began to take a sustainable institutional form: new institutes, courses, and research groups are under construction in India and in Europe.
In Europe, the academic year started with the granting of a doctorate honoris causa to Prof. Balagangadhara by the University of Pardubice in the Czech Republic. There is a close collaboration with its Department of Religious Studies, which is the driving force behind the creation of a Czech India Platform. Several members of the IP team also gave lectures for a broad audience in different parts of Europe. At Ghent University, the team taught a course on the comparative study of religion and is now initiating the development of a new MA in India Studies.
In India, important steps were taken to develop a network of research groups and new institutes and educational modules in the social sciences and humanities. In Bangalore, for instance, the Aarohi group has constituted a group of postdoctoral and doctoral scholars – faculty at different universities and colleges – who work in the framework of the research programme Comparative Science of Cultures. All together they organized more than 20 close reading sessions, workshops, and lecture courses.
Different colleges in Karnataka– BMS College of Engineering, Alva’s College, and the SDM Colleges – decided to commit a number of faculty positions so that Prof. Balagangadhara could develop new social sciences and humanities courses and research at their institutions: several full, associate and assistant professorships and PhD scholarships. In addition, a series of activities were organized during this year: the annual conference in Sirsi in Karnataka with academics and local intellectuals; workshops and lectures by the Karnataka and Ghent University teams.
In September 2014, there were major developments. Prof. Balagangadhara had a series of meetings with major politicians and leaders in Delhi and Bangalore, who showed great interest in his proposals for rethinking the social sciences and humanities in India. In other meetings, the plan to launch a conference series Rethinking the Social Sciences crystallized. At the English & Foreign Languages University in Hyderabad, its Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Sunaina Singh, agreed to take the initiative in developing a new curriculum in India Studies and involve the government in this endeavour. This will also include rejuvenating the Centre for Critical Indian Studies at the EFL University.
All these developments should allow the focus domain of Social Sciences and Humanities to transform the work of the India Platform of the past years into the required long-term institutional structures for decolonizing the social sciences and humanities in the future.
Events in the focus domain of Social Sciences and Humanities (more specifically, Comparative Sciences of Cultures are listed below.