Politics and Time in Indian Intellectual History

AHA Session 294
Society for Advancing the History of South Asia 8
Sunday, January 8, 2017: 9:00 AM-10:30 AM
Mile High Ballroom 1B (Colorado Convention Center, Ballroom Level)
Kyle Gardner, University of Chicago
Sudipta Sen, University of California, Davis

Session Abstract

Politics and Time in Indian Intellectual History
This panel responds to an emergent scholarship around the force of ideas in Indian history, aiming in particular to articulate an agenda around the concept of time and its relationship to power and politics in twentieth-century South Asia. Drawing on a shared interest in the study of historicity - the variant and often contested imaginings of the relationship between past, present and future - the panel will raise questions about methodology and archival practice by focusing on a number of key case studies. Colonial India has been a crucial interlocutor in the development of an emergent body of scholarship now being called, albeit not without contestation, “global intellectual history (Sartori 2008, Kapila 2010, Bayly 2011, Devji 2012, Sartori and Moyn 2013). Building upon these efforts, yet focusing specifically upon experiences and understandings of time and its relationship to politics, we aim to demonstrate the distinct potential of the Indian context for wider debates in the philosophy of history and in current and critical work on temporality. Even as history became an, if not the, authoritative form of knowledge under colonialism, Indian thinkers and political practitioners grappled with the extent to which history both opened up and sutured potential futures. Some, like Jawaharlal Nehru, reconstructed and excavated the past as the key to the future, conceiving political action as a fraught form of temporal mediation. Others, as discussed in Zaman’s paper on Muslim thought in India, explored projects of radical futurity based on the very sense that a certain kind of past had been, in fact, exhausted. And as Moffat’s paper demonstrates, questions over the relationship between anti-colonial pasts and a post-colonial present continue to inform political life in India today. In bringing these papers together, this panel seeks to advance the discussion around both the specific temporal demands of the twentieth century on its actors and that century’s confrontation with history itself (Badiou 2007; Kapila 2014).
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