Rethinking Secularism: An Invitation to an Experiment
The Mahesh Chandra Regmi Lecture 2015
1 February 2016, Kailash Hall, Hotel Shanker, Lazimpat, Kathmandu
by Shiv Visvanathan
In India, concepts like ‘secularism’, along with terms like ‘tolerance’, ‘plurality’ and ‘patriotism’ are being subject to constant rereading. For instance, the very Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) regime, which ‘invented’ the idea of ‘pseudo-secularism’, now complains of secularism as the most misused and misunderstood word in politics.
This lecture will re-read the experiment around secularism around four sites. It will explore the fate or the career of the idea in cinema, beginning with Sadat Hasan Manto and moving to the three Bollywood Khans; in science, from the scientific temper debate initiated by Ashis Nandy to the BJP regime’s current idea of science; in literature, by following the debates around the novelist U.R. Ananthmurthy to the death of M.M. Kalburgi; and, finally, in law, by exploring constitutional issues around secularism.
The lecture will argue that a deconstruction of secularism needs a non-Western reading of the history of secularism so that the role of language and translation is also understood. One needs a more playful re-opening of the secularism debate that elaborates the logic of the imagination against the possibilities of the imaginary. For instance, the myth of 1492, i.e., the defeat of Moorish Spain and the end of pluralist west, is also part of the myth of secularism. It needs to be re-invented. This lecture will be an invitation to that global exercise.
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Shiv Visvanathan is currently Professor, Vice Dean and Executive Director at the Centre for the Study of Science, Society and Sustainability at the Jindal School of Government and Public Policy, Haryana, India. He is a trained social anthropologist with a PhD from the University of Delhi. He has taught at the Delhi School of Economics and at the Dhirubhai Ambani Institute of Information and Communication Technology, Gandhinagar. He was a Senior Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi, and served as visiting professor at the University of Maastricht, Holland; Stanford University, California; Goldsmiths College, London; Centre for Science Policy at Arizona State University and Smith College, Massachusetts.
An interdisciplinary thinker, prolific writer and delightfully bold and eloquent orator, Professor Visvanathan’s articles and writings reflect his dissection of diverse issues with a sharp and critical wit. His wide interests range from cognitive justice, urban studies, the sociology of corruption and ethics, the sociology and philosophy of science, history of technology and traditional knowledge, social movements, globalization to the culture and politics of ecology which feature in leading newspapers and publications such as the Economic and Political Weekly and The Hindu. His books include Organising for Science: The Making of an Industrial Research Laboratory (1985), A Carnival for Science: Essays on Science, Technology and Development (1997), Foul Play: Chronicles of corruption 1947-1997 (co-edited, 1998) and The Loneliness of a Long Distance Scientist (forthcoming).