The State of the Humanities and the Arts in India

Through December 18, 2019
UChicago Center in Delhi

Dec. 17

The symposium aims to explore pressing issues motivating and foreclosing research and practice in the humanities and the arts in contemporary India. The humanities in India have been shaped by the history of colonialism, mass migration following the partition, the establishment of a secular democratic state in 1947, and debates concerning the role of citizen-subjects. The secular ideal of the newly-independent nation-state gave rise to disciplinary formations that shared some characteristics of the modern disciplines established during the period of the secularization of the universities in Europe and America in the nineteenth century. But these formations also diverged in interesting ways as the new nation began to come to terms with its unique location in Asia at the height of the Cold War. The country’s democratic socialist foundations led to the establishment of large state-funded universities that were primed to educate its citizens in science, technology and the social sciences, with the humanities often featuring as an option or an afterthought.

The issues that have informed debates in the humanities over the past seventy years include the status of religion and its relation to philosophy, historiographies of ancient and medieval India and their relation to the modern republic, India’s centuries-long literary cultures, its aesthetic, linguistic and performative traditions that shape the arts, and more recently, sexual politics and the environmental crisis. The existence of twenty-two official languages, and hundreds of other regional tongues and dialects, along with English as the lingua franca, have drawn particular attention to the politics and practice of translation, both among Indian languages, and in relation to English and other world languages. Particular histories of modernist internationalisms, of the non-aligned movement, of large diasporic enclaves in the West, the rise of India as a global power, as well as the presence of one of the world’s largest film industries and global-scale literary and arts festivals, have generated distinct concepts of the world that, in turn, inform the humanities on the subcontinent today.

The recent threat to academic freedom and critical thinking in India has fuelled concerns about the institutions of democracy, the role of universities and the content of humanistic education. Histories of a diverse subcontinent are being rewritten to suit a monolithic majoritarian nationalism. This symposium will bring together some of India’s most distinguished scholars, writers, artists and public intellectuals so that our organization has an opportunity to learn about the intellectual and political landscape of the country as it pertains to humanistic knowledge, democratic cultures and academic freedom.

This event is by invitation only.