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Video: Meera Nanda on "Science and Hindu Nationalism: How Postmodernism Aids Vedic Science", Daniel Thorner Lecture, 2004, Paris

14 September 2014

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Science and Hindu Nationalism
How Postmodernism Aids Vedic Science

by Meera Nanda

Daniel Thorner Lecture

Maison des Sciences de l’homme, Paris

October 28, 2004

[Short transcript of the first few moments of the lecture ]


I consider it a great honor to be invited for this year’s Daniel Thorner conference. At the first glance, the questions I am going to raise about such matters as postmodernism and Vedic science may seem far removed from the largely agrarian issues that engaged Daniel Thorner all his life. But the abiding strength of Daniel’s and Alice’s scholarship lies in their commitment to scientific rigor and their avoidance of easy, politically-correct answers. In their essay, Shaping of Modern India, Daniel and Alice highlighted the many critical junctures in India’s struggle for freedom when mixing up religion with politics led to a corruption of politics. It is in the same spirit that I want to examine how mixing religion with science is corrupting politics, science, and religion in India today.


This is a time of great hopes and great challenges for India. The hope that the democratic process can rein in religious fanaticism comes from the electoral defeat of the BJP and likes of Murli Manohar Joshi, who engineered the Hinduization of science under the BJP rule. The challenge comes from the realization that the overthrow of the BJP does not mean an end of the ideology of Hindutva that the BJP and its allies succeeded in infusing into India’s civil institutions: the defeat of Joshi does not mean the defeat of Joshism.

Clearly, then, the partisans of secularism in India cannot afford to rest in the afterglow of the recent elections. We have to continue to engage with the content of Hindutva ideology in order to refute and discredit its core ideas. We will have to challenge the easy, self-glorifying myth, widely accepted by the educated middle classes, including scientists themselves, that orthodox Vedantic Hinduism is compatible with the methodological norms and content of mainstream, modern science of nature. Indeed, we will have to go a step further and engage with Hinduism itself and challenge the dominant idealistic conceptions of nature and knowledge within it. [. . .]