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The Enchantment of Science in India

Author(s): By Shruti Kapila
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Source: Isis, Vol. 101, No. 1 (March 2010), pp. 120-132
Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of The History of Science Society
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the power of science is here understood in the context of the politics of religion and rationality. 101:120 –132 ©2010 by The History of Science Society.The Enchantment of Science in India By Shruti Kapila* ABSTRACT In critiquing methodologies of the “global” as a spatial unit of analysis or a receptacle for influence across the planet. in the high noon of colonialism. science in India neither declared the death of God nor became “spiritualized” via religion. Jawaharlal Nehru seized this opportunity physically to inscribe the potential of science and planning in the wake of the unprecedented violence and human suffering that had marked the moment of decolonization. I am grateful to Sujit Sivasundaram and other participants at the workshop held in Cambridge in May 2009 and especially to Simon Schaffer for his constructive comments on an earlier draft. see Stanislaus von Moos. Existing imperial histories of science that are primarily fixated on the eighteenth century cast science as a site of exchange and dialogue.72. in turn. In a synoptic overview. Isis. Cambridge CB2 1RH. described here as “insurgent.” It argues that science in India was a form of enchantment. the city’s location is a confident announcement of India’s national modernity. including Chandigarh. and religion. I N THE FOOTHILLS OF THE WESTERN HIMALAYAS lies Chandigarh. Cambridge University. 0021-1753/2010/10101-0007$10.00 120 This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192.168. 2007). this essay positions India so as to assess the role and forms of science in the modern world. This specific relationship accounts for the “soft landing” of science in India and its usurpation in the service of an unapologetic national modernity. 2010. 26 Nov 2012 15:31:40 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . thus replicating the narrative of European expansion overseas. United Kingdom. 1 On Le Corbusier’s life and work. By taking the mid-nineteenth century as a moment of departure. under what conditions. and contrary to orientalist positions. sk555@cam. the signature city of the twentieth century’s most celebrated architect.231 on Mon. and to what effects Indians accepted science. but not biomedicine. Unlike in Europe. science inflected it asks why.1 Searching for a capital for the partitioned Punjab. Instead. The Art of Architecture (London: Vitra Design Museum. while religion had become a form of disenchanted but rational knowledge. the essay assesses the archaeology of science and the blurred practices between religion and science. All rights reserved. facilitated a rational mediation between science and man. Situated as it is on the site of a historical frontier. Instead. It is striking that several hundred villages were expropriated * Corpus Christi College. Le

231 on Mon. Photo by James Burke. the local or the historical. Jawaharlal Nehru addressing the audience at the dedication of the new city of Chandigarh. 26 Nov 2012 15:31:40 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions F O C U S . 101 : 1 (2010) 121 Figure 1. which planned everything from streets to neighborhoods to the powerful seats of learning and government—and indeed every pebble and plant—aimed for a disciplined This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192.72.168. immediately after independence in this unabashed celebration of the baldly novel. the presence of Chandigarh as a living metaphor for a postcolonial future requires explanation. Reproduced by permission of Time-Life Pictures/Getty Images. As one of the richest cities in contemporary India. (See Figure 1.) Given the powerful hold of historicism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. toward the experience of freedom as a promise of scientific modernity.FOCUS—ISIS. it represents in its singularity a turning away from imperial pasts. Time-Life Pictures and Getty Images. with no concession to the vernacular or the classical. and Nehru’s own fidelity to liberal historicism. 1 January 1955. The architectural style.

and nationalism see Srirupa Roy. 7 For two opposing positions see John Mackenzie. travel. have “embalmed this chronology” as an explanation and as evidence of the global nature of science itself. without much resistance. herbariums.C. 101 : 1 (2010) utopia.168. Conn. 1997). the acrimonious contours of debate in such studies revolve around the relative “agency” of Europeans and others. 156:611– 622. Basalla’s model.7 Finally. and exchange as the central frame of reference. informed by modernization theory. travel. Press. N. and the interpretative purchase of the word “global” to be appraised here. Theory. In this approach.” 21–22 May 2009. rather. the nation of India. Pushing the chronology back to the late eighteenth century.4 One of the main emphases of the more recent imperial histories of science has been to critique and overthrow George Basalla’s tripartite model of the “diffusion” of science from the West (or the core) to the East (or the periphery). and modern continuities but./London: Yale Univ.231 on Mon.5 The critique of Basalla has taken three dominant directions. 4 For a critical appraisal of this issue and for the distinction between the “global” and the “universal” see Simon Schaffer. exploration. or insects of the European gentleman overseas. “science” and cultural difference. 26 Nov 2012 15:31:40 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . a circumstance that was explained in terms of a chronological lag. colonial. networks. Moreover. 3 For a robust and critical appraisal of Nehru’s ideas about planning. since the focus of inquiry tends to be either the clash of. while the issues of governance and control are elided. Whether expressed in James Cook’s voyages or in the painstaking collections of curiosities. 2007). This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. especially in relation to the life of science outside the “province” of Europe. Beyond Belief: India and the Politics of Postcolonial Nationalism (Durham. which harks back to the imagined past as an architectural utopia for industrial and capitalist society. on how and why the “new” comes to be accepted as part of the present. or the accommodation between. Press. Imperial and national history. Seventeenth to Nineteenth Centuries (Delhi: Permanent Black. further viewed non-European societies as passive recipients of science. 6 Kapil Raj. 5 George Basalla. Chandigarh exemplifies the problematic concerning the question of science.72. Press. one method has privileged encounter. more often than not. 2006). “Enlightened Knowledge and Global Pathways. 1992).” Science. 1995). together with the history of science. The second approach of the new imperial and “global” histories of science takes mobility.: Duke Univ. the enterprise of science in those societies was interpreted as a mutant of its “original” European version. did Indians accept science in the high noon of colonialism? INHERITED QUESTIONS AND THE EVENTUALITY OF SCIENCE The eighteenth century has long held the position of privilege in the historiography of science. The Fall and Rise of the Stately Home (New Haven. See Peter Mandler. Le Corbusier chose a low-rise building style for Chandigarh.3 This essay poses one fundamental question: Why. the city compels us to reflect not so much on the layering of precolonial. and contact zones. circulation.6 These two are not contradictory approaches but deeply related ones. “The Spread of Science. science. Relocating Modern Science: Circulation and the Construction of Scientific Knowledge in South Asia and Europe. In the shadow of Edward Said.122 FOCUS—ISIS.” paper presented at the British Academy for a conference on “Writing the History of the Global.2 In short. Orientalism: History. unlike the high-rise concrete buildings that became dominant in postwar Europe. and Mary Louise Pratt. and the Arts (Manchester: Manchester Univ. the question of the instrumentality of science for empire 2 Consider the counterexample of modern Britain. 1967. and encounter have formed the colorful canvas of the “global” nature of science. Strikingly. cities (be they Calcutta or London) and the “periphery” are singled out as sites of the making of science. Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (London: Routledge.

Nature’s Government: Science. Press. the last two decades have accounted for science in terms of its power— either minimal or at its maximum— beyond Europe. This period has been interpreted as one of relative “openness” that facilitated a context of exchange—whether of knowledge or of commerce—for a range of actors. “Science and the British Empire. It is insufficient and teleological to posit the late eighteenth century as a period of exchange that was followed by racial and colonial inequalities in the nineteenth century. 10 Shruti Kapila. 2005). In the British-Indian context.. 1989). the late eighteenth century was—to take one example—marked by the systematization of race theory precisely in the context of the circulation of ideas. Press. Press. including scholar-officials.” Isis.” Modern Asian Studies. knowledge.12 Further. 9 But see Richard Drayton.J. The synoptic survey offered here will focus instead on the mid-nineteenth century as a critical moment of departure. if any. and merchant-entrepreneurs who were dependent on local informants and intermediaries. the institutional relations of power in India were fundamentally recast in favor of a distant government that stripped off the residual powers of Indian intermediaries. 12 Sudipta Sen. Headrick. Press. 11 Thomas Metcalf. India and Beyond. there are several unresolved problems in the current global narrative of science that privileges circulation and dialogic exchange while it seeks to counter narratives of science as histories of power. Press. Ideologies of the Raj (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. missionaries. the Mutiny of 1857–1858 in India was the single largest and most violent episode of anti-imperial resistance in that century. A. Imperial Meridian (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. and C.10 The hold of the late eighteenth century on historical thinking has been salient because it intersects with changing representations of the chronology of the nature of imperial expansion overseas. It is strange. 2005.: Princeton Univ. While much new material has been brought to bear here. Since at least the “reform” decade of the 1830s. this transformation is associated with the imperial ideological shift from “orientalism” to “Anglicism. to identify dizzy connections and nodal points in the traffic of ideas while omitting the history of capital from consideration entirely. 1994). 2007. On the contrary. resemblance to those 8 See. with the aim of disrupting the given chronological framework. The Tools of Empire: Technology and European Imperialism in the Nineteenth Century (New York/Oxford: Oxford Univ. recent historians of science have simply restated and worked strictly within the existing chronology of empire. This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. e.8 In summary. it remains unclear how networks and the exchange of ideas. and Jennifer Pitts. 26 Nov 2012 15:31:40 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions F O C U S .9 Moreover. 41:471–510. the mid-nineteenth century has been viewed as a time of the entrenchment of exclusive imperial policies that overthrew earlier relations. A Turn to Empire: The Rise of Liberal Imperialism in Britain and France (Princeton. then.FOCUS—ISIS.g. 2000). The “drift of time” surely cannot be an adequate explanation. Bayly. networks of imperial institutions.168. 2002). social and economic processes bore little. and the “Improvement” of the World (New Haven/London: Yale Univ.”11 In this sense. or science relate to the coterminous centralization and statization of national and imperial politics within which science itself became dominant. There was a dramatic shift in political and economic contexts in this period. 96:56 – 63. On the debate about the “command” of science see Mark Harrison. Beyond the political landscape. with a view to recasting colonial societies along more strictly European lines.231 on Mon. N. Daniel R. Imperial Britain. and the inequity of power relations. Distant Sovereignty: National Imperialism and the Origins of British India (London: Routledge. Conversely. 1981). “Race Matters: Orientalism and Religion.72. Exchange and circulation are concepts that emanate from the examination and study of capital. 101 : 1 (2010) 123 and the colonial state has been an enduring field of inquiry.

evolution. 84:91–102. in contrast to biomedicine. though its emphasis and theoretical foundations 13 While I am cognizant of the difficulties of the term.231 on Mon. and astronomy. both prior to and after the mutiny of 1857–1858. An equal concern was the prospect of European colonization of India—the success of which. Mass. science—in the sense of the abstract. The 1840s witnessed an unprecedented worldwide crisis in the economy. 101 : 1 (2010) of the prior period. 1993. experimental. The printing press. 1993). and economic materialism had emerged as key organizing principles. In short.: Harvard Univ. could be guaranteed only through a vigorous implementation of colonial biomedicine. Prior to the mutiny. cultural. For a critical appraisal see Paolo Palladino and Michael Worboys. psychoanalysis.14 This is not to assert that there was no adaptation or internal debate within disciplines such as chemistry. 26 Nov 2012 15:31:40 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . Despite the fact that some Indian elites were sympathetic to biomedicine and colonial officials propagated modern hygienic measures. or “pure” sciences—was accepted without much resistance. first. The widening gap between the colonial state and the “public” sphere from the mid-nineteenth century onward was reflected in the divergence between the lives of biomedicine and of science in India. Gandhi and many Indian public men up to the present day have denounced it.168.” Isis. To clarify: there is a negative explanation for the divergent fortunes of science and biomedicine in India that has been investigated thoroughly by historians in the last two decades. California Press. Colonizing the Body: State. If the beginning of the nineteenth century was mesmerized by tropicality. It notes. This crisis of “free trade”—indeed. Unlike biomedicine. science held a considerable power of enchantment for Indians. This legacy was enduring. On the nature of colonial power see Ranajit Guha. the argument here is that. which were already entirely accepted and increasingly normalized within Indian public and academic life. required efforts to create a body politic by controlling the productive and deviant aspects of the Indian body. offer a critical juncture in the mutual enchantment of science and empire. rather than the eighteenth century. 14 David Arnold. that the entrenchment of the colonial state. While the colonial state became potent but distant from Indian society. Dominance without Hegemony: History and Power in Colonial India (Cambridge. had become a powerful site for dissemination and debate in various vernacular languages. mathematics. in the 1890s and 1900s. and Epidemic Disease in Nineteenth-Century India (Berkeley/Los Angeles: Univ. Medicine. “pure” science is here simply a shorthand for disciplines such as physics.13 The sphere of biomedicine—whether it found expression in vaccination programs at the beginning of the nineteenth century or in the sanitized practices of bubonic plague management at its end— became a site for the eruption of social.124 FOCUS—ISIS. there was an explosion of the power of the printed word. the issue of “white death” and the health of the East India Company army necessitated many biomedical policy interventions to direct and segregate Indian bodies from those of the Europeans. there were riots against its application.72. exploration. Press. even Western-educated liberals rejected biomedicine. From the 1830s. The 1840s and 1850s. then by the end of the same century race. physics. and political contestation around the Indian body. 1997). This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. and chemistry. which arrived late on the Indian scene. of capitalism itself— both in the center and in the colonial peripheries coincided with the disappearance of meta-organizing concepts in imperial science and politics. it was thought. This intermediate period witnessed two divergent social and ideological processes in the Indian context. biomedicine failed to achieve hegemony. and Smithian political economy. travel. “Science and Imperialism. let alone dominance. Yet the critical point of distinction remains that these debates were internal to bodies of scientific knowledge.

Press. intervening in their intellectual construction and also. and British Imperialism in India. this was a tradition that was incorporative in its approach to new ideas.16 By contrast. The Event of science was not constituted simply by its ritualized contestations over disciplinary exclusivity. practices of exclusivity defined the boundary-drawing exercise of much scientific and professional activity. where knowledge was accumulated and aggregated rather than hived off into competing sections.” science had led. 2007). and the first institutional and legal measures in India paralleled British processes of institutionalizing this new science. the relations between religion and science in Europe and India were mirror images of each other. In other words. and authority broadly construed as the Enlightenment tradition. national. if any. 17 Sheldon Pollock. in India science was no Event. As David Arnold has forcefully argued. 101 : 1 (2010) 125 were reoriented after 1857. 32:381– 411. facilitated the deepening and refashioning of India’s ecumenical tradition. 2007). the specific eventuality of science in Europe was ultimately constituted by a confrontation between man and God. see esp. That is. 19 Akeel Bilgrami. rather. Indians rejected psychiatry altogether. on the place of psychoanalysis and psychology see Shruti Kapila.168.72.FOCUS—ISIS. significantly. It is a striking historical fact that the birth of psychiatry in India was coterminous with that of its British counterpart. 26 Nov 2012 15:31:40 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions F O C U S . 18 Seema Alavi. new world of the print media. existing parallels in the Indian context. Whether this involved his “death” or his “exile. as opposed to biomedicine. Climates and Constitutions: Health. 1999). and Sudipta Kaviraj. However. and Selfhood in Late Colonial India. 2003). despite the dissenting tradition within the Enlightenment. California Press. Race. “Freud and His Indian Friends: Psychoanalysis. the connection between the colonial state and biomedicine created a context for cultural.19 By contrast. is related to the nature of knowledge and intellectual life in India itself. 16 Muzaffar Alam and Sanjay Subrahmanyam. Islam and Healing: Loss and Recovery of an Indo-Muslim Medical Tradition. to a categorical disenchantment with God. Megan Vaughan (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. ed.” in Psychiatry and Empire.17 By the mid-nineteenth century this ecumenical tradition was reformulated in the public. Conversely. they were enchanted by psychoanalysis and psychology. the essays by Pollock.15 By contrast. the discovery of the germ theory and a more sure-footed colonial state together made the association between biomedicine and the governmental increasingly imperative. Religion. both Hindu and Muslim. Such exclusivity had few. religion. 1600 –1900 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. in that it was a rupture in the preexisting arrangements between knowledge. the positive explanation for the acceptance of science. 2007). Literary Cultures in History: Reconstructions from South Asia (Berkeley/Los Angeles: Univ. 2006. though competitive.18 This arena proved to be productive for debating the fundamental nineteenth-century question of the relationship between science and religion. During the colonial era. The neighboring disciplines of psychiatry and psychoanalysis illustrate the division of the Indian reception of biomedicine and science. “Occidentalism.” Critical Inquiry. and indeed physical resistance to the expansionist realm of colonial biopolitics. institutional. Press. ed. Indo-Persian Travels in the Age of Discoveries (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ.231 on Mon. The emergence of science in Europe was an Event. Environment. biomedicine was deeply associated with control and colonial governmentality. 1600 –1850 (New Delhi/New York: Oxford Univ. The presence and persistence of a powerful and systematic rational tradition. the Very Idea: An Essay on Enlightenment and Enchantment. This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. bringing these disciplines into the public discourse of modernity. Muzaffar Alam. In short. As a newspaper correspondent remarked in 15 On the perceived importance of biomedicine for European colonization of India see Mark Harrison.. which was then territorialized as separate scientific disciplines in the West.

C. the issue of cultural difference and its reification emerged as an outcome of and operated within the historical logic of the ascendancy of universalism and an expansive capitalism. “Secular Education in India. Arguably. this historicist preoccupation was recanted in the universal framework that nourished the confidence and promise of science to transcend cultural difference. it is nevertheless pertinent to remind ourselves here that the long nineteenth century was the British imperial century. of course. Historicism made India into a civilization that exemplified the range of humanity. Culture. even in the European world. indeed. the argument here is that the work of science was to reformulate religion and to bring man back into converse with God. 1989). thus fueling imperial competition. 26 Nov 2012 15:31:40 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . Statistics and the German State. A. the global is subordinated to the question of the human.168.23 To extend Tooze. and Market Governance in Late Colonial India (Durham. From the works of the early orientalists to latter-day nineteenth-century political and scientific writings. 1997). Instead. India. be it science or political thought. conceptually. in the first instance. specifically.231 on Mon. 2004). Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (Minneapolis/London: Univ. the argument here is that India gave a specific salience to the global in that the two were historically and mutually co-constitutive. in fact. The perspective here is.: Duke Univ. however. 22 Andrew Sartori. in India.”20 The acceptance of science in India. Neither the exile nor the death of God could ever be declared—that is to say. A. Stages of Capital: Law. and Ritu Birla. Press. as recent works have argued. At the economic level. Britain was made complete by India. Bayly. I have chosen this perspective on the “global” not merely because perspective must come from somewhere (as opposed to everywhere and nowhere). Arjun Appadurai.72. and from. Bengal in Global Concept History (Chicago: Univ.21 As opposed to the methodology of the global as a spatial rubric or as a receptacle for the spread of influence. scientifically. 1907. who have posited the global as a dominant historical and cultural process. “In India. the inevitability of science did not have the same political or religious consequences outside Europe and. much of the recent literature has taken the global as a unit of space and as a self-evident category. N. religion in 20 Anon. sociologists. and anthropologists. The Sublime Object of Ideology (London: Verso. a small island state such as Britain “needed” India to make a continental empire— economically. with India as its centerpiece. historicism emerged as a central concept. Historians. 2001). Contrary to approaches advanced by Arjun Appadurai and C. while the exile or death of God may not have been inevitable. have sought to insert the global perspective as either a postnational stage in human history or as a way of circumventing the imperial order of things. but mainly because India has been pushed and pulled into the globalizing world of empire and capital. For Zizek. historians such as Adam Tooze have recently argued that modern economies were continental in scale and imagination. 2008). 21 This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. for a critique of the global from a more recent philosophical tradition.22 While it is stating the obvious.24 As I will discuss. Bayly. This is not to assert the orientalist position that has posited the inherently spiritual nature of Indian civilization in contrast to the materialism of the West. primarily that of. it was never part of the possible. whether to be decried or celebrated. 2009). Yet. 1900 –1945: The Making of Modern Economic Knowledge (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Chicago Press. More often than not.. 24 See Slavoj Zizek. Birth of the Modern World (London: Blackwell. In other words. The slippage between the global and the universal has proven to be notoriously difficult to disentangle. though. and. defied the European terms of reference. the discoveries of modern science never had to run the gauntlet of pious prejudice. Press. 23 Adam Tooze. 101 : 1 (2010) 1907.126 FOCUS—ISIS. Minnesota Press. 4 Jan.” Bengalee. though on an entirely new footing. and C.

at the same time. 1978). At the other end of the spectrum. The object of study—namely. 1999). Astronomy and psychoanalysis are two disciplines at the furthest ends of the historical arch of scientific enterprise. Troll. a high degree of consensus could be achieved between the Indo-Muslim gentry and the colonial practitioners who were scouring India for precisely that kind of knowledge and information in the mid-nineteenth century. through either relativism or social constructivism. mid-nineteenth-century conjunctural period of crises forced the enchantment of all manner of relations anew and cast a long shadow well into the twentieth century. the example of Sir Sayyid Ahmed Khan.: Princeton Univ. This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192.27 Equally. or politics that require attention from historians. religion became the site of a disenchanted rationality. is significant but by no means atypical. The intermediate.: Harvard Univ. at one level.168. directly. less attention has been given to the complex and variegated archaeology of knowledge that mediated the presence of science in India. 26 Nov 2012 15:31:40 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions F O C U S . otherwise we run the risk of collapsing the history of science into cultural history. My aim. More generally. Press. THE BODY OF SCIENCE Two illustrations of scientific disciplines in the colonial period will enable us to specify the work of science in India.25 While historians have been focused on the power of science. The effect was that psychoanalysis and psychology became hermeneutic and public sites for a deep and necessary reconnection between religion and science. psychoanalysis is very much a discipline born after the hegemony of European science and empires had begun to be challenged. 1997). Dispatches from the Freud Wars (Cambridge.FOCUS—ISIS. has had a vexed and defensive career in terms of its status as a science. nor was it that science was spiritualized. though.26 The relative abstraction of astronomical knowledge in terms of agreed mathematical theorems and common astronomical observations meant that. colonial. n. While astronomy was central to pre-European empires and knowledge systems. see John Forrester. Examining distinct disciplines and their relationship to religion will help address the question of the politics of rationality that engulfed the world in the nineteenth century. Rather. Mass. among other things.231 on Mon. the figurehead of nineteenth-century Muslim reform who was himself drawn from a Delhi ashraf (gentry) family versed in astronomy. The reenchantment of relations between Britain and India that was built in the context of unprecedented economic extraction was transfixed by the revision of religion and the promise of science. 27 C. is not entirely to displace the normative power of science. to the nature of social and cultural debate that such profound transformations necessarily entailed. The relatively easy and uneventful transition of astronomical knowledge between the precolonial.J. 101 : 1 (2010) 127 India did not emerge as a site for the reprieve or critique of science. Indian psychoanalysts and psychologists engaged early. at Queen’s 25 Gyan Prakash. culture. and national epochs points both to the virtuosity of Indian intellectual life and. Sir Sayyid Khan: A Reinterpretation of Muslim Theology (Delhi: Vikas. Press. It is the set of relations between the normative or coercive and the persuasive or consensual power of science in relation to society. 15). Another Reason: Science and the Imagination of Modern India (Princeton. N. “Freud and His Indian Friends” (cit. science as an authoritative body of knowledge—must be held in firm view.72. and critically with these new disciplines of the mind. Here. Psychoanalysis is the quintessential twentieth-century discipline that. 26 Kapila.

1770 –1880 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. 1996). Critically. nor were they institutionalized. reformist and liberal thought alike had an ambiguous if not hostile relationship to them. It was in this everyday arena. that shadowy and dark twin of astronomy. that the expanded world of cheap print media found its expression.28 The nature of this convergence was determined by the existence of rational and testable hypotheses.72. or what I have called. did not merely coexist with reformist and scientific ideas but shadowed them and. This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. Dodson.231 on Mon. theosophy 28 Michael S. an instance of “insurgent knowledge. another equally potent level on which astronomical knowledge operated in the Indian world. 26 Nov 2012 15:31:40 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . these practices were fundamentally unstructured and thus posed a challenge for liberal and reform-minded publicists and elites. but the fact that these practices were also widely deployed to forge a relationship between the realms of spirituality (adhyatm) and science (vigyan). The latter made it possible for Indian intellectual elites to claim priority in astronomical science in India. It is in this context that astrology. They were insurgent precisely because that term captures the range of ideas that were related to. Bayly. 2007). following Michel Foucault. The orientalist aim was to classicize and freeze this knowledge in Oxbridge and London libraries. Moreover. This. this arena witnessed conflict. the claim to original and prior Indian authorship was proleptic and in turn announced a claim to a rational future. The main argument at stake here is not that Europe failed to experience a like fascination with such blurred disciplines as mesmerism. however.128 FOCUS—ISIS. Not only were they popular. Insurgent practices. on the other. on the one hand. religion. An eclecticism of approach informed these popular reinterpretations of established debates. 1780 –1870 (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. particularly in the second half of the nineteenth century. at the same time these practices traversed and shared the agenda of a rational modernity. 101 : 1 (2010) College in Benaras in the 1850s–1860s there was a relatively easy convergence between Sanskrit-trained pundits and their orientalist paymasters.29 Equally. and an emergent Indian historicism. There was. then.”30 In the colonial public sphere of print. Such knowledges. On the contrary. deaths. Empire. was an invitation to a heated debate because of the nature of astronomy as a discipline dependent on observation in the present. or nation. the established and normalizing domains of science. “Race Matters” (cit. and the practices that stood between science and religion. it was not only an ambivalent attitude to science that informed jyotish. Indeed. Prior knowledge was a claim to authorship. were not ordered into particular disciplines. 29 C. Orientalism. and. reemerged as jyotish-shastra. births. Press. 10). n. they belonged to the popular politics of rationalism and the making of modern identity. This was the quotidian aspect in which marriages. like quicksilver. and other such practices. but could not easily be disciplined into. 30 Kapila. and indeed the anointing of kings and declarations of war and peace were understood as announcements from the heavens. They could not easily be incorporated into either the domain of science or that of religious reform. Empire and Information: Intelligence Gathering and Social Communication in India. however. and National Culture: India. this reconfiguration at times collided directly with elite or established disciplines. In contrast to its more scholarly counterpart. spilled into domains not necessarily contained by them. samudrik. A. indeed. contestation.168. astrology. and adaptation of the differing means for the validation of authoritative astronomical knowledge. These practices interrupted and intersected all these domains but were imperatively not constitutive of them.

This is not to say that religion and science were not consistently opposed to each other but to emphasize the difference in the degree of relative conflict in the European as opposed to the Indian context. Swami Vivekanand. 1890 –1920. Rather.32 Instead. for instance. Spencer’s notion of organic evolution from the simple to the complex could be used to reengage religion with science and also to appropriate and domesticate science as a dimension of Indian civilization.” Modern Intellectual History. This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. Evolutionism was highly hospitable to late nineteenth-century Indian social. In accepting evolution.FOCUS—ISIS. including the iconic Vivekanand. I will briefly discuss the uses of Darwin and Spencer in Indian public debate in the late nineteenth century. 33 Shruti Kapila. 1987). Press. religious. 26 Nov 2012 15:31:40 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions F O C U S .. Spencer. that 31 Alison Winter. Science was to nourish and condition the transformation of religion. Mesmerized: Powers of Mind in Victorian Britain (Chicago: Univ. The Origins of Agnosticism: Victorian Unbelief and the Limits of Knowledge (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. an agenda that was effected through vigorous propaganda in the latter half of the nineteenth century and beyond. and Swaraj: Nationalist Thought and Critiques of Liberalism.g. the reestablishment of astronomy. the rational temperament of science became the cornerstone for the reform of religious practices. who wanted to disassociate from them and purge modern Hinduism of such practices. under scientific modernity did not kill off astrology in India or drive it underground. 8th ed. To reiterate. creating thereby a kind of Comtean Darwin. which in Europe by this time had generally come to despise or denigrate these so-called pseudo-sciences. Hindu-dharm ke pakh mein [In Defense of Hinduism]. Schematically speaking. (Benaras. Chicago Press.231 on Mon. THE POLITICAL LANGUAGE OF SCIENCE Between the endpoints of astronomy and psychoanalysis on the arch of the scientific enterprise lay the very wide ground of evolutionary theory. 32 See. astrology and other insurgent knowledges exploded within the print media. much to the consternation of religious reformers. It is instead that the difference remained at the level of the perspective of the intellectual and scientific elite. and political thought. OR. 2007. On this see Bernard Lightman. Spencer (especially) and Darwin (often only by allusion) became central to social and political debates about civilization and nationality in the Indian context.31 It is significant that in the Indian context the dismissal and disavowal of these insurgent forms of knowledge came predominantly from leading religious reformers rather than from the emergent Indian scientific elite. e. to stake a claim to the future—a future that was to realize an Indian and national hegemony. then. which chastises practices such as mesmerism and astrology. These interpretative moves and the “turn to the classical” emerged from a deeper desire to encompass and domesticate or even “provincialize” Europe. in this sense the assumption of modern science in Indian public and domestic life was seamless and indeed Event-less compared with the raging controversies seen in nineteenth-century Europe and America. This explains the importance of the thought of Herbert Spencer for both conservatives and radicals. RELIGION REDUX.33 The selective mining and appropriation of the Sanskrit classical tradition in the search for “origins” of science was a peculiarly later nineteenth-century phenomenon that has been dubbed “Hindu science” by David Arnold and the play of “another reason” by Gyan Prakash. 1921). The aim in seeking prior originality or earlier status was. 1998). 101 : 1 (2010) 129 itself. in effect. 44:109 –127.168.72. Indian public intellectuals generally played down or ignored the idea of natural selection. for Vivekanand and other religious ideologues. We should not be surprised. “Self.

cam. G. as it has been argued. Tilak.72. Persian.168. historicism was the modus vivendi by which a specifically Indian language of politics emerged. 1946). in the stridently reformist Hindu canon of 34 Dipesh Chakrabarty.J. and Jawaharlal Nehru. The Arctic Home of the Vedas (Poona: Kesari. 37 Kenneth Jones. 35 C.” Wiles Lectures (2007). 101 : 1 (2010) national modernity both befriended science and made it purposive as an emancipatory ideology for society and the state under Nehru. On the emergence of Vedanta see Brian Hatcher. This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. G. 1999). It is precisely in this context. Faith of the Modern Vedantists: Rare Discourses from Early Colonial Bengal (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Keep in mind that the Arya Samaj. This is not to say that science did not emerge as hegemonic.35 Above all. A. Tilak.130 FOCUS—ISIS. historicism was deployed to great effect in cultural nativistic claims and cultural nationalism. “Indian Thought in the Liberal Age. encompassing liberals. It is in this context of historicism that science was understood as a new but necessary form of knowledge. N. 36 B. that Vedanta emerged as the central message and form of neo-Hinduism. to take one example) employed evolutionary thought to position Hinduism within the natural and scientific unfolding of the history of mankind itself. In short. The dominant emerging religious traditions might appear to be forms of romantic spiritualism and legatees of orientalist scholarship. rather. Arabic. pointing as it did to the The “soft landing” that science experienced in the high noon of colonialism in India had specific consequences for the life of religion. reduced the variety of Hindu practices to a starkly simple ceremony around a single flame. yet my claim here is that the dominant emerging religious forms in both Islam and Hinduism became highly rational.34 The fascination with the classical as part of a deep historicist claim is not so much about the original content and veracity of science. 1989). while they fully recognized attendant issues of inequity and the loss of control. The real problem for the absorption of evolutionism and historicism within the religious context was the abandonment of a personal savior and atonement necessitated by the theory of natural selection. Provincializing Europe (Princeton. Yet the liberal disavowal of cultural nativism took the form of an emphasis on the universality of the Human. Arya Dharma: Hindu Consciousness in Nineteenth-Century Punjab (Delhi: Manohar. But Indians. by downplaying natural selection. Meanwhile. for the colonized intelligentsia in India these knowledge systems—Sanskrit.: Princeton Univ. 26 Nov 2012 15:31:40 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . 1903). The Discovery of India (Calcutta: Signet. One simple implication is that neither the divorce of God from man nor the death of God was necessary for the hegemony of science in India.36 The acceptance of science under imperial rule was easily transformed into a political consensus around science in the nationalist era. A. and were disciplinary and exclusivist in their practices. Orion. www. a Bunsen burner in the laboratory of religion.37 To a considerable extent this was a world of disenchanted religions. and neoconservatives alike.s-asian. wiles. Bayly has recently argued. radicals. 2007). They became overtly textualized. and Western—were established as analogies in a broader historicist context. or. Bourgeois Hinduism. found it easy to accommodate the idea of God as an evolving omnipresent Being. or. the key reformist rationalist “religious” movement.html. This development did not lead to a simple divide between the orthodox and the reformist because radical nationalists (B. Press. Press. This viewpoint focused on analogous traditions of civilizational knowledge in which Western science was not so much a threat as it was the latest entrant in a long series of forms of authoritative knowledge. were made predictive.231 on Mon. Nehru’s Discovery of India was thus a celebration of this historicism that looked forward rather than backward and paved the way for the nationalist embrace of science. as C.

By contrast. Nehru commandeered science in the service of the national state. This was not. because India was “spiritual” rather than rationalist but.” During the interwar period. 2001). At the same time. To return to the earlier figure of Sir Sayyid Ahmed Khan: we know that Sir Sayyid had an overtly reformist—some would argue a “liberal”—agenda for Islam. By the end of the nineteenth century. Hist. In fact. effectively purged Islam’s mystical dimension. Gandhi and Nehru. Indian religions became forms of disenchanted or scientific knowledge.72. This took the form of his ambition to create a uniquely modern scientific institution—modeled on Trinity College. stressing instead the rationality of the Koran.. It was an element in a developmental project for the emancipation of India’s history both from political enslavement and from “backwardness” in general. science was completely absorbed into the notion of an originary spiritual “big bang. as we know. the dominant Deoband school. 101 : 1 (2010) 131 the Arya Samaj. N. rather. 2007. Orientalism and Race (London: Palgrave. as Barbara Metcalf has shown. Gandhi aimed to rupture history. Sir Sayyid failed to win a social mandate for such a curriculum from his co-religionists. rejecting in their turn Gandhi’s characterization of it as “inhuman. Gandhi made the body into the fundamental resistance trope both against the Raj and against what he saw as the inhuman civilization of science that he believed the empire embodied. and to what effects science came to be absorbed within the Indian context. 26 Nov 2012 15:31:40 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions F O C U S . This was the central message of his seminal tract Hind Swaraj (1909). Thus the argument is deeply antiorientalist. Rather than science becoming a spiritualized religion or faith in India. 1860 –1900 (Princeton. For a critical appraisal of Sir Sayyid see Faisal Devji. but quite tellingly. The aim was to educate young Muslims in the dominant scholarship of Western scientific practices in the English language.” Mod. Ironically. 39 This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. because religion itself became disenchanted. however.J. the best-known icons of Indian modernity.168. Gandhi. “Apologetic Modernity. While it is undeniable that science and empire were mutually co-constitutive.FOCUS—ISIS. Cambridge—in the agrarian heartland of northern India at Aligarh.231 on Mon. 1982). though the material was taught in Urdu and Arabic. they have remained enchanted by the promise of science.Yet nationalist and postcolonial Indians followed Gandhi only up to a point. the emerging and supposedly conservative ulama (jurists) of the Deoband seminary a few miles away from Aligarh had no difficulty in integrating a rigorous scientific education into their curriculum. whereas Nehru remained faithful to the liberal 38 On the racial “origins” of Hinduism see Tony Ballantyne. Indians have remained skeptical of the hegemony of biomedical science. the emphasis here has been to ask why. under what conditions. science serviced religion by effecting a wholesale transformation of practices and dispositions. 4:61–76. made the Indian body the center of his political project of anticolonial and antistate resistance.39 CONCLUSION: POSITIONS OF POSTCOLONIALITY This essay has sought to decenter the late eighteenth century as the moment of the arrival of science in India. In general. Intellect.”38 Equally.: Princeton Univ. as orientalists had proclaimed. Press. On the Deoband seminary see Barbara Metcalf. Thus science became the mode of enchantment for an Indian modernity without banishing God. Islamic Revival in British India. This stance has been caricatured and subsumed as his supposedly wholesale rejection of science and of modernity itself. it has been argued. point to the divergent receptions of biomedicine and science.

26 Nov 2012 15:31:40 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .132 FOCUS—ISIS. or through the newly empowered Silicon Valley “nabobs”—is but an announcement of the competitive and confrontational epistemes and practices that now enchant not just India. however. As such. and ever-renewable acceptance of science in India that has been going on since at least the early nineteenth century. 101 : 1 (2010) historicism of the nineteenth century.231 on Mon.168. the city of Chandigarh displays the arrogance of an unapologetic national modernity. In more recent decades. Nehru’s acceptance of science was part of the continued. non-Eventful.72. science in India has become a spectacular Event. but the Global. The display of scientific prowess—whether in space missions. in secret nuclear chambers. This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. Nehru took science as a tutelary discipline for the newly free citizenry of the Republic of India.