Anxieties of Reason: Colourful Cosmopolitanism and the Emergence of Modernity in India (Jointly supported by Religious Studies, Asian & Middle Eastern Studies, and CCP at Duke)
Abstract: India’s tryst with modernity was complicated by colonialism. English-educated Indians, beset by an anxiety to prove their worthiness, staked their claims to modernity primarily through the nationalist project, which was their answer to the depredations of colonialism. On the one hand, they resorted to cultural and civilizational tropes to assert their difference from the modern West. On the other hand, by embracing rationality, science, and several Enlightenment values, they also attempted to avow how deserving they were of liberty, dignity, and equality. Crucial to the emergence of modernity in India was not only the idea of a pre-colonial, worthy past, but also a vision of a pluralistic post-colonial alter-nation, different from nations in Europe and elsewhere. The vision of such a nation and, what is more, of an alternative world order, was articulated by what may be termed “colourful cosmopolitanism.” Referring to the work of key thinkers and change agents such as Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi, and Sri Aurobindo, this talk tries to offer a new way of understanding the making of modern India.