S. N. Balagangadhara
Balagangadhara at Rethinking Religion in India 2008
|Born||January 3, 1952
|Region||Western & Indian Philosophy|
|School||Vergelijkende Cultuurwetenschap, Comparative Science of Cultures|
|Main interests||Religious Studies
History of ideas
South Asian Studies
|Notable ideas||Explanatory Intelligible Account,
S.N. Balagangadhara (aka Balu) (ಎಸ್. ಏನ್. ಬಾಲಗಂಗಾಧರ in Kannada) is professor at the Ghent University in Belgium and director of the Research Centre Vergelijkende Cutuurwetenschap (Comparative Science of Cultures). He was a student of National College, Bangalore and moved to Belgium in 1977 to study philosophy at Ghent University, where he obtained his doctorate under the supervision of Prof. Etienne Vermeersch. His doctoral thesis (1991) was entitled Comparative Science of Cultures and the Universality of Religion: An Essay on Worlds without Views and Views without the World. Prof. Balu has been researching the nature of religion. His central area of inquiry has been the study of Western culture against the background of Indian culture. His research programme is called in Dutch "Vergelijkende Cultuurwetenschap," which translates into "Comparative Science of Cultures." Prof. Balagangadhara has held the co-chair of the Hinduism Unit at the American Academy of Religion (AAR) and gives lectures to a wide audience, from the European, American and Indian classrooms, through the scholarly conference halls, to the Hindu temples.
From the 1980s onwards, S.N. Balagangadhara has developed the research programme Vergelijkende Cultuurwetenschap (Comparative Science of Cultures) to study cultural differences. On the one hand, he analyses western culture and intellectual thought through its representations of other cultures, with a particular focus on the western representations of India. On the other, Balagangadhara attempts to translate the knowledge embodied by the Indian traditions into the conceptual language of the twenty-first century.
In his first work, The Heathen in his Blindness... (1994), Balagangadhara focused on religion, culture, and cultural difference. He is mainly known for the controversial claim that religion is not a cultural universal. According to the author, Christianity had a profound influence on western culture. Balagangadhara argued that the analytical tools with which the West has understood other cultures like India, are therefore, intrinsically shaped by Semitic and Christian theology. The Semitic doctrine that God gave religion to humankind, Balagangadhara argued, lies at the heart of the ethnographic belief in the universality of religion:
In the name of science and ethnology, the Biblical themes have become our regular stock-in-trade: that God gave religion to humankind has become a cultural universal in the guise that all cultures have a religion; the theme that God gave one religion to humanity has taken the form and belief that all religions have something in common; that God revealed himself to humankind is sanctiﬁed in the claim that in all cultures and at all times there is a subjective experience of religion which is fundamentally the same; the idea that God implanted a sense of divinity in Man is now a secular truth in the form of an anthropological, speciﬁcally human ability to have a religious experience ... And so the list goes on, and on, and on. Theme after theme from the pages of the Bible has become the ‘but of course!’ of intellectuals—whether Jew, Muslim, Dinka, or Brahmin (1994: 226-27).
Balagangadhara proposes therefore a novel analysis of religion, the Roman ‘religio’, the construction of ‘religions’ in India, and the nature of cultural differences. His second major work, Reconceptualizing India Studies, appeared in 2012 and argues that post-colonial studies and modern India studies are in need of a rejuvenation. After Said's Orientalism (1978), post-colonialism, as a discipline, has not contributed much to human knowledge. A strange form of unproductive self-reflection and impenetrable jargon has come to stand for and replace theory building and knowledge production. The book attempts to chalk out a potential direction for the social-scientific study of Indian culture. Stressing the need for an alternative understanding of Western culture, Balagangadhara argues that Hinduism, caste system, and secularism are not colonial constructs but entities within the Western cultural experience. He argues that the so-called facts about India and her traditions are a result of colonial consciousness.
Influences and Criticisms
Balagangadhara published his first work, The Heathen in His Blindness, to a mixed reception. He is widely cited by scholars in the field of religious studies. Richard E. King's Orientalism and Religion (1999) draws from Balagangadhara's analysis of the concept 'religion'. In 2003, Sharada Sugirtharajah’s Imagining Hinduism used Balagangadhara's analysis of the field of religious studies in her discussion of colonial scholarship. South Asia specialist Peter van der Veer similarly refers to Balagangadhara's theory when he raises "the broad, historical question of the ways in which Western modernity has assumed universal importance and, more specifically, how a modern Western category such as religion has come to be applied as a universal concept." References to Balagangadhara's theory also appear in general introductions to Hinduism, and his work has implications on the disciplines of anthropology, political philosophy, cultural theory, classical literature, and feminist theory.
Yet, many scholars remain less than convinced about the method and value of his theory. A review in the American Anthropologist finds his argument to be "circuitous, quarrelsome, and often careless," replete with "[n]on sequiturs, unsupported allegations, ... digressions, [and] writing errors." Similarly, a review in the Philosophy East and West describes the work as "a rambling and repetitious survey of Western intellectual history." Philip Almond and David Loy remain sympathetic to Balagangadhara’s theory but assert that the claims made about Christian influence are exaggerated. Will Sweetman holds that Balagangadhara’s theory is based on a narrow understanding of both religion and Christianity. He argues that there are no reasons to accept the definition of religion as an explanatorily intelligible account of the cosmos as we would have to accept that religion should necessarily involve creeds, beliefs, scriptures and churches. In a footnote that fails to engage with Balagangadhara's theory and arguments but is limited to ad hominem arguments, the eminent historian and leading South Asianist, Sanjay Subrahmanyam characterised Balagangadhara's work as "peculiar" and "confused", and summed up its overall influence to be one that "despite its 'cult' status in some circles, in reality does not advance the discussion".
Reviewing the edited collection arising from the first Rethinking Religion in India conference, Chris Fuller, Professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics, states that "Balagangadhara’s prolix theorizing mixes politically tendentious assertions that Hinduism is a religion of India whereas Islam is not, with spurious arguments that there neither is nor was 'religion' in India, because the very concept is a Western, Christian import and therefore cannot have any valid cross-cultural meaning.... to suppose that it has misled everyone along a false trail laid by Christian notions of 'religion' is nonsense."
On October 1, 2013, University of Pardubice (Czech Republic) awarded him with its honorary doctorate, "doctor honoris causa", and the gold medal for: (a) the outstanding development of the comparative science of cultures and religions, (b) the development of the collaborations between European and Indian universities, and (c) his contribution to the development of the Studies of religions at the Faculty of Arts and Philosophy at the University of Pardubice.
Balagangadhara has invited both the Hindu right and the Left in India for discussion. In 2013, he collaborated on a documentary on Indian culture with the Educators' Society for the Heritage of India (ESHI) and the Hindu Students Council (HSC), both offshoots of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). In the documentary, Balagangadhara speaks about "the two colonialisms" that India has gone through: the British colonisation of India and what he believes to be "the Islamic colonisation" of India. The documentary (Colonial Consciousness and Indian Culture) was released in India on 11 January 2013.
His attempts at institution building in the South Indian state of Karnataka and the associated research on the caste system in India has proved to be controversial among Kannada intellectuals. The controversy is fuelled by Balagangadhara's claim that there is no caste system in India. In his own words, "When 24 per cent of India are Dalit… how can we conclude from just 38 murders that caste discrimination exists in India?”
- The development of the Centre for the Study of Local Cultures (CSLC) at Kuvempu University, India.
- India Platform
- The Academy of Social Sciences and Humanities (ĀSHA).
- The five-year Rethinking Religion in India conference cluster.
- Balagangadhara, S. N. (1994, 2005). "The Heathen in his Blindness..." Asia, the West, and the Dynamic of Religion. Leiden, New York: E. J. Brill. p. 563. ISBN 90-04-09943-3. | (Second, revised edition, New Delhi, Manohar, ISBN81-7304-608-5) | Preview at Google Books | Find in libraries near you
- S.N. Balagangadhara. (2012). Reconceptualizing India Studies. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-808296-5. | 
- Balagangadhara, S.N. (2009) "Spirituality in Management Theories: A Perspective from India" in S. Nandram & M. Borden (Eds.) "Spirituality and Business: Exploring Possibilities for a New Management Paradigm". Heidelberg: Springer.
- Balagangadhara, S.N.; Bloch, Esther, De Roover, Jakob (2008), "Rethinking Colonialism and Colonial Consciousness: The Case of Modern India." in S. Raval (Ed.), Rethinking Forms of Knowledge in India. Delhi: Pencraft International, pp. 179–212.
- Balagangadhara, S.N. (2007), “Foreword.” In Ramaswamy, de Nicolas & Banerjee (Eds.), Invading the Sacred: An Analysis of Hinduism Studies in America . Delhi: Rupa & Co., pp. vii-xi.
- Balagangadhara, S.N. (2007), "Balagangadhara on the Biblical Underpinnings of 'Secular' Social Sciences." In Ramaswamy, de Nicolas & Banerjee (Eds.), Invading the Sacred: An Analysis of Hinduism Studies in America . Delhi: Rupa & Co., pp. 123–31.
- Balagangadhara, S.N. (2007), “India and her Traditions: A Reply to Jeffrey Kripal.” In Ramaswamy, de Nicolas & Banerjee (Eds.), Invading the Sacred: An Analysis of Hinduism Studies in America . Delhi: Rupa & Co., pp. 429–447.
- Balagangadhara, S.N. (2006), “Secularisation as the Harbinger of Religious Violence in India: Hybridisation, Hindutva and Post-coloniality.” In Schirmer, Saalmann & Kessler (Eds.), Hybridising East and West, Tales Beyond Westernisation. Empirical Contributions to the Debates on Hybridity. (Series Southeast Asian Modernities, vol. 2). Berlin: Lit Verlag, pp. 145–182.
- De Roover, Jakob; S.N. Balagangadhara (2009). "Liberty, Tyranny and the Will of God: The Principle of Toleration in Early Modern Europe and Colonial India". History of Political Thought 30 (1): 111–139.
- Balagangadhara, S.N.; Marianne Keppens (2009). "Reconceptualizing the Postcolonial Project: Beyond the Strictures and Structures of Orientalism". Interventions 11 (1): 50–68. doi:10.1080/13698010902752731.
- De Roover, Jakob; S. N. Balagangadhara (2008). "John Locke, Christian Liberty, and the Predicament of Liberal Toleration". Political Theory 36 (4): 523–549. doi:10.1177/0090591708317969.
- Balagangadhara, S. N.; Sarah Claerhout (2008). "Are Dialogues Antidotes to Violence? Two Recent Examples from Hinduism Studies". Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies 7 (19): 118–143.
- Balagangadhara, S. N.; Jakob De Roover (2007). "The Secular State and Religious Conflict: Liberal Neutrality and the Indian Case of Pluralism". The Journal of Political Philosophy 15 (1): 67–92. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9760.2007.00268.x.
- Balagangadhara, S. N. (2005). "How to Speak for the Indian Traditions". Journal of the American Academy of Religion 73 (4): 987–1013. doi:10.1093/jaarel/lfi112.
- Balagangadhara, S. N. (1998). "The Future of the Present: Thinking Through Orientalism". Cultural Dynamics 10 (2): 101–23. doi:10.1177/092137409801000202.
- Balagangadhara, S. N. (1988). "Comparative Anthropology and Moral Domains". Cultural Dynamics 1 (1): 98–128. doi:10.1177/092137408800100106.
- Balagangadhara, S. N. (1987). "Comparative Anthropology and Action Science: An Essay on Knowing to Act and Acting to Know". Philosophica 40 (2): 77–107. ISSN 0379-8402.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to S. N. Balagangadhara.|
- Website Research Centre Vergelijkende Cultuurwetenschap
- Website Rethinking Religion in India Conference
- YouTube Channel Rethinking Religion in India
- Blog Rethinking Religion in India
- Religioscope on Rethinking Religion in India
- Some of his articles in Kannada
||Constructs such as ibid., loc. cit. and idem are discouraged by Wikipedia's style guide for footnotes, as they are easily broken. Please improve this article by replacing them with named references (quick guide), or an abbreviated title. (July 2010)|
- ANANTHARAMAN, SUDHA (2007-12-09). "In search of new idioms". The Hindu. Retrieved 2009-04-07.
- See for instance Balagangadhara, S. N. (2005). "How to Speak for the Indian Traditions". Journal of the American Academy of Religion 73 (4): 987-1013. ISSN 0002-7189
- Balagangadhara, S. N. (1994). "The Heathen in his Blindness..." Asia, the West, and the Dynamic of Religion. Leiden, New York: E. J. Brill
- Balagangadhara, S. N. (2012). Reconceptualizing India Studies. New Delhi: Oxford University Press
- A Review of the book Reconceptualizing India Studies (2012)
- Richard King, 1999, Orientalism and Religion: Postcolonial Theory, India and "the Mystic East" (Routledge, 2009).
- Sharada Sugirtharajah, 2009, Imagining Hinduism: A Postcolonial Perspective (Routledge, 2003). Also see Timothy Fitzgerald (ed.), Religion and the Secular (Equinox Pub., 2007).
- Peter van der Veer and Hartmut Lehmann (eds.), Nation and Religion: Perspectives on Europe and Asia (Princeton University Press, 1999), 4.
- See J. E. Llewellyn, Defining Hinduism: A Reader (Routledge, 2005)
- See Vivek Dhareshwar, "Valorizing the Present: Orientalism, Postcoloniality, Human Sciences," in H. Moore and T. Sanders (eds.), Anthropology in Theory: Issues in Epistemology (Blackwell Publishing, 2006) 546-552
- See Pratap Bhanu Mehta, "On the Possibility of Religious Pluralism," in Thomas Banchoff (ed.), Religious Pluralism, Globalization, and World Politics (Oxford University Press, 2008), 65-88; and L. Cady, "Categories, Conflicts, and Conundrums: Ethics and the Religious/Secular Divide," in P. French and J. Short (eds.), War and Border Crossings (Rowman & Littlefield, 2005), 143-164
- See Joan G. Miller, "Cultural Conceptions of Duty: Implications for Motivation and Morality," in D. Munro, J. Schumaker, and S. Carr (eds.), Motivation and culture (Routledge, 1997), 178-192).
- See D. C. Feeney, Literature and Religion at Rome: Cultures, Contexts, and Beliefs (Cambridge University Press, 1998).
- See Pui-lan Kwok, Postcolonial imagination and feminist theology (Westminster John Knox Press, 2005).
- Guthrie, 1996, 'Theories of Religion" in "American Anthropologist" 98:1, 162-63.
- Larson, 1997, 'The Heathen in His Blindness' in "Philosophy East and West" 47:3, pp. 433-34.
- Almond, 1996, ‘The Heathen in His Blindness?’ in Cultural Dynamics 8, pp. 137-45 and Loy, 1996, ‘…While the Scholar in His Wisdom Bows Down to the Truth’ in Cultural Dynamics 8, pp. 147-60.
- Sweetman, 2003, ‘Hinduism and the History of Religion: Protestant Presuppositions in the Critique of the Concept of Hinduism’ in MTSR 15, pp. 329-53.
- Sanjay Subrahmanyam, “Monsieur Picart and the Gentiles of India,” in Lynn Hunt, Margaret Jacob and Wijnand Mijnhardt, ed., Bernard Picart and the First Global Vision of Religion. Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2010, 214.
- Pacific Affairs, 85/3, 2012, 664.
- Vorel, Petr. "LAUDATIO: Prof. Dr. S. N. Bálagangádhara Ráo". University of Pardubice. Retrieved 9 October 2013.
- "Dokumenty Univerzity Pardubice". Retrieved 9 October 2013.
- "Aktuality". University of Pardubice. Retrieved 9 October 2013.
- "Photos of the Ceremony". University of Pardubice. Retrieved 9 October 2013.
- The official website
- Press note on the website of Dept. of Information, Government of Karnataka
- Info on the University of Gent website
- The Hindu, Online edition of India's National Newspaper, Monday, Aug 13, 2007