Prophets Facing Backward


This book argues that the secularization of cultural commonsense is the best answer to Hindu nationalist bigotry in contemporary India. It demonstrates how, under a Hindu nationalist regime, the country took a turn towards reactionary forms of modernism, acquiring cutting-edge technologies—including nuclear weapons—while reviving superstition in the guise of ‘Vedic Sciences’. Aggressive modernization in the technological sphere accompanied an assault on modernity in the cultural sphere. Prophets Facing Backward examines the intellectual sources of this reactionary modernism. It shows a convergence between ‘Vedic Sciences’, ‘Hindu modernity’, and postmodernist/postcolonial critiques of science by left-inclined intellectuals and new social movements. Postmodernist despair over Enlightenment legacies, this book argues, has served as a bridge to reactionary modernism. The ideology of Hindutva on the Right is scrutinized alongside social movements on the Left, the latter including alternative science, people’s science, and ecofeminist/post-development movements. Nanda contends that by eroding all distinctions between modern science and other ways of knowing, the postmodernist left has unwittingly aided the growth of reactionary modernism. She asks fundamental questions that tend to be brushed aside: are local knowledges good for marginalized groups? Are there trans-cultural criteria to evaluate the truth-content of local knowledges against modern science? Is modern science a source of Eurocentrism or does it have unfulfilled potential for challenging the political appropriation of traditional Hinduism? Even as she challenges postmodernist critics, Nanda turns to the modernist neo-Buddhist writings of B.R. Ambedkar to locate some of the cultural resources for her critique.
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Meera Nanda

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