S. N. Balagangadhara
S. N. Balagangadhara
|Region||Western & Indian Philosophy|
|School||Vergelijkende Cultuurwetenschap, Comparative Science of Cultures|
History of ideas
South Asian Studies
|Explanatory Intelligible Account,|
S. N. Balagangadhara (aka Balu) is a professor at the Ghent University in Belgium, and director of the India Platform and the Research Centre Vergelijkende Cutuurwetenschap (Comparative Science of Cultures).
Balagangadhara 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 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.
Balagangadhara 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". He has held the co-chair of the Hinduism Unit at the American Academy of Religion (AAR). He also gives lectures to the general public in Europe and India on issues such as the current (mis)understanding of Indian culture and the search for happiness.
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.
In 2014, Manohar publishers brought out a condensed and shortened version of The Heathen in his Blindness... (1994), entitled Do all Roads Lead to Jerusalem? The Making of Indian Religions (2014).
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.
A recent review of his work points out that "Balagangadhara's work establishes how little we understand Western culture. Speaking a Western language does not mean we understand what it is." This task of understanding the West, "is necessary in order to clear the ground before the contribution of Indian culture can be assessed. It is made necessary because, over the last few hundred years, systems of knowledge worldwide, certainly in academic contexts, have been dominated by questions that Europe has asked of itself and about the rest of the world."
A review in the American Anthropologist claims his arguments 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. The historian 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."
Recognition and awards
He was the co-chair of the Hinduism Unit at the American Academy of Religion (AAR) from 2004 to 2007.
On 1 October 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.
- 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). "The Heathen in his Blindness..." Asia, the West, and the Dynamic of Religion. Leiden, New York: E. J. Brill. p. 563. ISBN 978-90-04-09943-2. | (Second, revised edition, New Delhi, Manohar, 2005, ISBN 81-7304-608-5) | Preview at Google Books | Find in libraries near you
- Balagangadhara, S. N. (2012). Reconceptualizing India Studies. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-808296-5. | 
- Balagangadhara, S. N.; Jhingran, Divya (2014). Do All Road Lead to Jerusalem?: The Making of Indian Religions. New Delhi: Manohar. ISBN 978-93-5098-061-3. | 
- Balagangadhara, S. N. & Claerhout, Sarah (2014) "De antieken en het vroege christendom: een heidense visie uit India" in D. Praet & N. Grillaert (Eds.), Christendom en Filosofie. Gent: Academia Press, pp. 51–82
- Balagangadhara, S. N. & De Roover, Jakob (2012) "The Dark Hour of Secularism: Hindu Fundamentalism and Colonial Liberalism in India" in R. Ghosh (Ed.), Making Sense of the Secular: Critical Perspectives from Europe to Asia. New York: Routledge, pp. 111–130
- Balagangadhara, S. N. (2010) "Orientalism, Postcolonialism, and the 'Construction' of Religion" in Bloch, Keppens & Hegde (Eds.), Rethinking Religion in India: The Colonial Construction of Hinduism. New York: Routledge, pp. 135–163
- 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, pp. 45–60
- 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. Berlin: Lit Verlag, pp. 145–182.
- Balagangadhara, S. N. (1991) "The Reality of the Elusive Man?" In Nispen & Tiemersma (Eds.), The Quest of Man: The Topicality of Philosophical Anthropology. Assen: von Gorcum, pp. 112–116
- Balagangadhara, S. N. & Pinxten, R. (1989), "Comparative Anthropology and Rhetorics in Cultures". In Maier, Robert (Ed.), Norms in Argumentation. Dordrecht: Foris, pp. 195–211.
- Balagangadhara, S. N. (2014). "On the Dark Side of the "Secular": Is the Religious-Secular Distinction a Binary?". Numen. 61 (1): 33–52. doi:10.1163/15685276-12341303. hdl:1854/LU-7124830.
- De Roover, Jakob; Sarah Claerhout; S. N. Balagangadhara (2011). "Liberal Political Theory and the Cultural Migration of Ideas: The Case of Secularism in India". Political Theory. 39 (5): 571–599. doi:10.1177/0090591711413545. hdl:1854/LU-1870111.
- Gelders, Raf; S. N. Balagangadhara (2011). "Rethinking Orientalism: Colonialism and the Study of Indian Traditions". History of Religions. 51 (2): 101–128. doi:10.1086/660928. hdl:1854/LU-946907.
- Balagangadhara, S. N.; Jakob De Roover (2010). "The Saint, the Criminal and the Terrorist: Towards a Hypothesis on Terrorism". The Journal of Political Philosophy. 18 (1): 1–15. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9760.2009.00336.x.
- 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. hdl:1854/LU-429418.
- Balagangadhara, S. N. (2008). "Comparing India and the West" (PDF). ASIANetwork Exchange. XVI (1): 57–63.
- Balagangadhara, S. N.; Sarah Claerhout (2008). "Are Dialogues Antidotes to Violence? Two Recent Examples from Hinduism Studies" (PDF). 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. hdl:1854/LU-364874.
- 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. (1990). "The Origin of Religion: Why is the Issue Dead?". Cultural Dynamics. 3 (3): 281–316. doi:10.1177/092137409000300303.
- Balagangadhara, S. N. (1990). "Understanding and Imagination: A Critical Notice of Halbfass and Inden". Cultural Dynamics. 3 (4): 387–405. doi:10.1177/092137409000300403.
- Balagangadhara, S. N. (1988). "Comparative Anthropology and Moral Domains: An Essay on Selfless Morality and the Moral Self". Cultural Dynamics. 1 (1): 98–128. doi:10.1177/092137408800100106. hdl:1854/LU-735393.
- Balagangadhara, S. N. (1987). "Comparative Anthropology and Action Science: An Essay on Knowing to Act and Acting to Know" (PDF). Philosophica. 40 (2): 77–107. ISSN 0379-8402.
- Anantharaman, Sudha (9 December 2007). "In search of new idioms". The Hindu. Retrieved 13 September 2014.
- 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).
- Shah, Prakash (April 2014). "Critiquing the Western Account of India Studies within a Comparative Science of Cultures". International Journal of Hindu Studies. 18 (1): 67–72. doi:10.1007/s11407-014-9153-y.
- Shah, Prakash (4 April 2014). "Cultural Difference as Epistemic Difference: A Review of Two Books by S. N. Balagangadhara". Manushi. Retrieved 29 June 2014.
- 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.
- [AAR News] (March 2007). "Religious Studies News" (PDF). 22 (2): 5. Retrieved 1 March 2014.
- Vorel, Petr. "LAUDATIO: Prof. Dr. S. N. Bálagangádhara Ráo" (PDF). 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.
- "A documentary about the Centre". Retrieved 1 February 2015.
- 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
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