Negotiating Plurality – The Indian Civilization Perspective


Aloka Parasher-Sen


This paper is not about why Fukuyama and Huntington chose to ignore India while formulating their respective hypotheses but rather, about identifying and understanding that difference, in the sociological laboratory that is the Indian subcontinent, has over long periods of historical time, and even today in the lived-in experience of the Indian people, been celebrated. As an alternative worldview built on foundational ancient Indian thought, it was perceived that the core of the 'Self' was always changing in a dependant relationship with the perceived difference of the 'Other'. We shall empirically illustrate this model of a hierarchical society that saw cultural identity as not simply ‘Being’ but continuously ‘Becoming’. It is not our intention to argue that there were no tensions or conflicts that pervaded these experiences. Instead, we elaborate how both inclusive tendencies and those defining exclusion evolved the parameters of accommodation, rather than assimilation, to allow for co-existence, which varied in descriptive content over given regional landscapes of the sub-continent. Though Indian society's experience in dealing with cultural diversity was built on philosophical discourses of a kind that we reject today, it needs to be concomitantly recognized that efforts of the modern Indian nation-state to graft a cultural pluralism from within a liberal democratic framework is equally problematic. In fact, the latter imposes from a well defined centre. It denies the organic links that the majority of its people have had with the Indian civilizational ethos and thus, it invalidates their historical experiences. In doing so, it also damages the inbuilt mechanisms of this society to discover and nurture that there were, and are, several cultures/identities that must be allowed the space for negotiation as a continuous process rather than be erased away in time.


She graduated with History Honors [1973] from Delhi University and did her graduate [1974] and doctoral studies [1978] from the University of London. Her teaching career spans three decades primarily located at the Department of History, University of Hyderabad, India. She was DAAD Fellow, (1986-87) and occupant of the Rotating Chair in India Studies (2007-08) at the South Asia Institute of the University of Heidelberg, Germany and Fulbright Scholar and Visiting Professor (1992) at the University of California, Berkeley, USA. She was awarded the Career Award in Social Sciences and Humanities by the University Grants Commission, New Delhi [1989-1991] and nominated Member Indian Council for Historical Research, New Delhi by the Government of India [1994-97].  Her major publications are in the main area of her interest in social history, namely, early Indian attitudes towards foreigners, tribes and excluded castes. Her other work is on different aspects of the history and archaeology of Peninsular India. She has delivered invited lectures and presented papers at Conferences in Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, UK and the USA. She is currently Saroj and Prem Singhmar Chair in Classical Indian Polity and Society, Department of History and Classics, University of Alberta, Canada.

Designed by DelGraph 2009 ©mailto:delgraph@gmail.com?subject=email%20subject

Home    About     Speakers     Conference Program    Registration    Contact    Accommodation    Blog     Photos