Saturday, September 26, 2015

Dialectical Tradition: The Quintessence of India

Nilanshu Kumar Agarwal

Article 19 (1) (a) of Indian Constitution lays down the right to freedom of speech and expression. This fundamental right permits an individual to hold an opinion which might be diametrically opposed to the prevalent and popularly dominant world view. This democratic and liberal right guaranteed to us by the founding fathers of the Constitution is built on the premises of Indian cultural tradition, marked by the dialectical spirit of discursive dialogue, loquacious discussions, erudite arguments and counter arguments.

The Upanishadic dialogical tradition of debate is continued through the mazes of Indian history.  The conceptualization of 'Neti Neti' as enshrined in our ancient philosophical texts denies any limiting definition of Timeless and infinite Truth. It is beyond the limited periphery of time and space. Human endeavour to define/depict the ultimate reality only presents the half truth. Jains have advanced the theoretical formulations of 'Syadvada' or 'Anekantavada' through the example of some blind men touching a giant sized elephant. The perception of the blind men is partially true; in Indian system there is always the scope for the alternative dissenting perspective or the multiple exposition of the truth.

It is the liberal ethos of dialecticism that allowed the co-existence of six theist philosophical systems (Samkhya, Nyaya, Yoga, Vaisheshika, Meemansa and Vedanta that believed in the existence of the Vedas and formulated the concept of the transmigration and rebirth of the soul) along with the atheist ideological group of Charvaka, who rejected the profound sublimity of the other sects and propagated the materialistic Epicurean pleasure. Perhaps it is the only country which provides enough room even for the atheists and infidels like the followers of materialistic Charvaka school of philosophy.

In this cauldron of ancient Indian thought system, Jainsim and Buddhism (further divided into sub-sects of Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana) also challenged the monolithic ritualistic traditions of the Brahminical order. With the passage of time, numerous other faiths (including Islam, Christianity, Sikhism and Jainism along with their sub-branches) joined Indian mainstream and in this process of blending, mixing and juxtaposition of varying streams, ideal of composite culture evolved and became the focal point of India. During the medieval period, melodious songs of the Sufi and Bhakti saints indicate this evolution of the cultural confluence. The tolerance towards different religions is best seen in the Religious Parliaments held on various occasions in the past. Special mention may be made of such conferences organized during the regime of two great kings Ashoka and Akbar, where differing percepts of multiple religions were intellectually discussed and debated without any ill-will, prejudice and bias. The dynamism of Indian civilization is seen in this growth and development of different religious sects.

On account of this dialectical spirit of accepting, accumulating and assimilating the arguments and counter-arguments of 'the significant other', Indian civilizational ethos has always been ready to accept the social and cultural evolution and given ample space to the ideology opposed to the dominant worldview of the day. Syncretic Indian culture has never been static but dynamic and on account of its kinetic nature, it has accepted all without the considerations of class, creed or regions. (However, the caste based discriminations have existed since the ages and have been legally, socially and divinely sanctified. The youth of contemporary India should come forward to eradicate this highly stratified hierarchy of the endogamous caste-system.)

India, being a multi-lingual, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural country, diverse cultural traditions and radically different social customs along with varying intellectual arguments collide, converge and create a new order. Out of the convergence of thesis and anti-thesis, a dialectical synthesis emerges. It is only by awakened questioning of the established order and not by stooping low to the tantrums of traditional orthodoxy that new ideas come to the fore.

No idea can claim absolute, objective, categorical and universalized form of certainty. Rather, all social/cultural values, customs and mores are relative to time and space. This formulation of relative truth is the very praxis on which the foundations of Indian society and culture exist. What is ideal or perfect for one group of people can be substantially counter-productive for the persons belonging to different social background.

Besides, India has been considered to be the cradle of pious Oriental mysticism and this Eastern brand of pantheistic ideological stand, as enshrined in the holy texts like the Vedas, Upanishads and the Bhagwadgita, advocates the renunciation of temporal, transitory and ephemeral worldly joys for the seekers of divine bliss and extra-sensory salvation. The other side of the coin is the fact that we also have the marvels of architectural aesthetics displayed at the temples of Khajuraho, emancipatory Ghotul (tribal dormitories where adolescent boys and girls come and meet) practices amongst various tribes, revolutionary and eclectically vigorous Kamasutra by Vatsyayana and elaborate application of Shringar Rasa in the oeuvre of Kalidas, Jaidev and Bihari. Metaphysically transcendental asceticism and liberating aesthetics of arts have found equal recognition here in India. Clearly, multiple world-views have co-existed in our system and there had been no effort to impose one's understanding of the truth on the other. We have been a very tolerant and liberal country and hence may be likened to 'a salad bowl' of differing ideologies.

The Preamble of the Constitution too declares this country to be 'a Sovereign, Socialist, Secular, Democratic Republic'. Any attempt by the cultural/religious fanatics, fundamentalists and lunatics to disturb this syncretic social fabric and to impose the obscurantist, irrational, illogical, dogmatic and non-scientific agenda or absurd theatrics of extremely tabooed orthodoxy must be resisted by all and sundry. It is only by respecting the thoughts of all that we can provide 'Justice, Liberty and Equality' to the citizens. Come, let us build a nation shorn of all animosity towards the dissenting voices and spread the rigours of empirical, reasoned, dispassionate, objective, judicious, unbiased, unprejudiced, logical, rational and scientific approach to life. In place of relying heavily on superstitious dogmas, let us promote the ideals based on free will and the message relating to 'the unity of all religions'.

- Dr. Nilanshu Kumar Agarwal is Associate Professor of English at Feroze Gandhi College, Rae Bareli.

Copyright ©2015 Nilanshu K. Agarwal – All Rights Reserved

Friday, September 11, 2015

Science and Literature Commission / DHST
Fall 2015 Newsletter
Dear friends and colleagues,
I hope this emails finds you well. As summer passed fast and fall is already here I would like to communicate with you sending some information about the current and future activities of CoSciLit.
a) 25th  International Conference of History of Science and Technology ,  Division of History of Science and Technology, International Union of History and Philosophy of Science, Rio, Brazil 2017.
The Commission of Science and Literature was established in 2013 in Manchester during the 24th International Congress of History of Science, Technology and Medicine. Therefore our participation in one or  more symposia  in the 25th International Congress, which will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil from 23 to 29 July 2017,  ( )  will be the first “appearance” of our Commission in such a great event for the community of the historians of science and technology.
We welcome proposals for thematic symposia and/or stand-alone papers to incorporate in our symposia until 31st March 2016. Each symposium has to secure at least three presenters. Please have in mind that according to the policy of the Congress only one paper can be given by each individual participating in the Conference.
b) Workshop on “Science  Fiction. Jules Verne and 19th century science”, Athens 17-18 December 2015.

In connection with several activities concerning the celebration of 2015 as international  year  of Light Coscilit organizes a two-days’ workshop on “Science Fiction. Jules Verne and 19th century science”.
We welcome papers for oral presentations of about 20-30 minutes on subjects (indicatively)  related with Jules Verne, his scientific knowledge, the scientific innovations of his time that inspired him, other futuristic novels of that time which had a scientific background, and the influence of Jules Verne for the development of science and technology.  Papers which will discuss other subjects and dimensions of science fiction are also welcome.
Deadline for the submission of the papers: 30 October 2015
Registration fees: 80 Euros
Registration fees for young scholars, postgraduate and graduate students: 30 Euros
c) Special issue of Almagest on science fiction.

We have arranged that the next issue of Almagest (published by Brepols) will be a special issue on science fiction in the framework of science and literature studies.
Guest editors will be John Holmes, Valerie Stienon, George N. Vlahakis and Kostas Tampakis.
We welcome papers on the subject from 6000 to 8000 words following the Almagest guidelines. (
Deadline for the submission of the papers 15th December 2015.
d) Elections for the Commission on Science and Literature Council Board.

Members of the Commission willing to serve in the Council Board may submit their nominations until October 30th. Elections will take place electronically until 15th November and the results will be announced officially during the workshop about Jules Verne and 19th century science in Athens in 19th November.
Nominations are welcome for the following positions:
Regional officers for Asia, Australia, North America, South America, Africa and Europe
Young scholar – Ph.D. candidate Member of the Council
We accept nominations for the Council Board submitted by two members of the Commission, including self-nominations. A short CV (200 words max.) and a photo if possible have to be submitted as well in order to inform the members of the Society for the academic activities of the candidates.   Nominations may be submitted  to Prof. John R. Holmes
Elections will take place through emails to a Committee of three members who are not canditates for the Council Board.
e) The site of the Commission will be gradually transferred to as the Hellenic Open University kindly agreed to host it in its server. 

f) New publications.

New book about science and literature published in Catalan by Xavier Duran:
"La ciència en la literatura. Un viatge per la història de la ciència vista per escriptors de tots els temps"
Universitat de Barcelona Publicacions i Edicions
Collecció Catàlisi
363 pàges.
ISBN 978-84-475-4233-8
g) Forthcoming events.
BSLS Winter Symposium
Museum of English Rural Life and University of Reading’s Special Collections, Saturday 14th November 2015
Archival research has long been a mainstay of literature and science as a discipline, challenging the boundaries of what can be read as text and excavating long-submerged concepts and connections. The recent growth in collaborative doctoral awards and collections-based PhDs, alongside research strands such as the AHRC’s Science in Culture, however, demonstrate a need to consider more fully the implications of this kind of investigation. The BSLS’s Winter Symposium therefore provides an opportunity for literature and science researchers, at all points in their career, to reflect and build upon the successes and challenges of finding ‘Science in the Archives’.
The majority of us use special collections and archival materials in the course of our literature and science research, but we are not always encouraged to reflect upon the ramifications of doing so. This symposium will provide an important opportunity to stimulate and facilitate much needed discussion of the challenges as well as successes of finding science in the archives.For this event, we have adopted a different format from the standard academic twenty-minute conference paper, and will ask speakers to present in a more informal tone and for different lengths of time depending on the session. These shorter, less formal presentations will minimise preparation time for speakers as well as increasing discussion time for all participants. The organisers warmly seek a limited number of 10 minute position papers about methodologies and approaches to literature and science in the archives, from a range of time periods and from speakers at all stages of research or career.

h) For any further information  and application for membership  please send an email to  and