American University
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Historicism, Hinduism and modernity in colonial India

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posted on 2023-08-04, 16:23 authored by Aparna Devare

This dissertation examines the manner in which modern historicist ideas were negotiated in the lives and thought of three Hindu social and political figures from nineteenth and twentieth century, western colonial India, Jotiba Phule, M.G. Ranade and V.D. Savarkar. Using discourse analysis, I examine the writings and lives through the use of autobiographies and biographies of all three individuals. I argue that while Phule and Ranade both internalized as well as challenged historicist ideas, Savarkar's life and thought marks an uncritical acceptance of a modern historicist world-view. Savarkar viewed the past including ancient Hindu customs, myths and practices solely through a scientific and historicist lens and had little use for religious texts and practices, viewing them as part of an objectified and museumized past. As a believer in the idea of progress, he saw all forms of faith representing a backward and atavistic consciousness. He privileged modern identities such as the nation and state along with an instrumentalist reading of religion and upheld a religious identity while rejecting any form of religiosity. On the other hand, while Phule and Ranade both historicized past Hindu customs, legends and practices, they also used them to fashion a critical consciousness. In their world-views, faith as piety and morality provided alternative critical ways of organizing the past. Anticipating Gandhi, both rejected the history/faith dichotomy prevalent in modern Europeanist thought. Phule unlike Ranade and Savarkar, provided a lower caste critique that challenged the Hindu social order, including its heavy Brahmanical leanings by drawing on modern ideas of history and scientific rationality. Yet he was also deeply steeped in indigenous modes of story-telling, including rewriting myths and practices which challenged notions of historical 'objectivity' and veracity. This dissertation seeks to intervene in contemporary Indian debates about history, religion and nation-hood by positing Phule and Ranade's ideas as critical alternative Hindu and modern Indian visions to that of Savarkar. Both Phule and Ranade provide more pluralistic and humane visions comprising a limited historicism and modernity to that of Savarkar's violent and intolerant totalizing modern historicist world-view.







Thesis (Ph.D.)--American University, 2005.


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