BERLIN CHAPTER: House of World Cultures, Berlin
August 11th, 2005
10.00 am – 2.00 pm

Limits of authenticity – Hindutva’s European Entanglements

‘Nativism’, or the claim to defend ‘civilisational’ and ‘ethnic’ authenticity against those who are supposedly alienated from their country’s ‘primordial’ culture is part and parcel of present-day politics of identity – no less in South Asia than in Europe. Such claims prove to be highly efficient tools of political mobilisation in our times of ‘globalisation’ when economies and states appear vulnerable, bonds of society fragile, political cultures nervous and prone to slide into violence. In India, images of political ‘nativism’ are conjured up by various political currents, but most successfully by the stalwarts of ‘hindutva’. Claiming authenticity for a specific modern brand of ‘Hindudom’, the Hindu right of Indian nationalism has conferred legitimacy on highly confrontationist policies of redistribution of economic and political resources. Yet such claims are necessarily anachronistic after two centuries of cross-cultural exchange and entangled intellectual histories of imperial Europe and peripheral South Asia. While political ideas in modern South Asia cannot be understood as simple ‘derivatives’ from Western ideologies and have emerged from specific intellectual traditions and historical constellations, influential ideologies like ‘hindutva’ remain equally incomprehensible if their European entanglements are disregarded. The latter, often neglected aspect will be the present project’s focus of research.

Sumit Sarkar (Delhi) was, until his recent retirement, Professor of History at Delhi University, where he began teaching in 1976. His most recent publication is “Beyond Nationalist Frames: Relocating Postmodernism, Hindu Fundamentalism, History.” Professor Sarkar has been General Secretary of Indian History Congress and Visiting Professor at Oxford, Canberra, Paris and Hawaii.

Respondent: Erhard Haubold (Berlin) journalist, former Asia-correspondent to FAZ


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