Gerald D. Feldman Travel Grants for Transnational Study

Advanced PhD students working on transnational/transregional topics may be interested in applying for a Gerald D. Feldman travel grant. Areas for study include: China, Egypt, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Lebanon, Poland, Russia, Senegal, Turkey, USA. The supporting institutions explain as follows:

Once a year, supported by the Peters Beer Foundation, part of the Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft (Donors’ Association for the Promotion of Humanities and Sciences in Germany), the Max Weber Foundation (MWS) confers Gerald D. Feldman Travel Grants to young academics with an international focus.

The travel grants are meant to improve the career opportunities for humanities and social science academics in their qualification phase. The scientists conduct a self-chosen research project in at least two and at most three host countries which are home to MWS institutes and branches or at the Richard Koebner Minerva Center for German History. The total term of funding shall not exceed three months. Placements (at most one month per host country, shorter stays are possible) are to be used for research, especially in libraries and archives. Academics are expected to produce transnational and transregional studies, providing research with new and original ideas. The research placements should ideally be completed within 12 months, or at most 24.


Funding is based on the rates of Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft and covers:

  • documented travel costs for travel to the foreign institute and back (least expensive route);
  • daily rates between €  27.00 and € 58.00 depending on the host country;
  • lodging in one of the institute’s inexpensive guest rooms depending on the host country chosen and on availability.

Countries and Regions

China, Egypt, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Lebanon, Poland, Russia, Senegal, Turkey, USA.

Applications for the country of the applicant’s main place of residence will not be considered.

Conditions for Applications

All application papers must be submitted in German or English. A complete application will comprise the following information:

  • completed application form;
  • a detailed presentation (max. 3-5 pages) of the intended research project, stating the sources which justify the stay in the specific host countries or at the institutes;
  • copies of certificates (examinations, PhD certificate)
  • list of publications
  • a reference opinion from an expert which should provide information on the applicant’s status and the progress of work and be sent directly to the Max Weber Foundation’s central office
  • a letter confirming supervision by the host institution in Germany, if applicable.

The next deadline for applications is 13 October 2017.

Please e-mail your application to using the required form (see: “Further information” on the website

Information can be obtained from Hanna Pletziger by e-mail at or by phone on +49 (228) 377 86-38.


CFP: European Architectural History Network (Tallinn, Estonia, June 2018)

Researchers working at the intersections of global history and architectural history may like to participate in the fifth European Architectural History Network International Meeting to be held in Tallinn, Estonia during June 2018 by the European Architectural History Network. Please find the detailed call for session and paper proposals for the various sessions below:

Abstracts are invited for the fifth European Architectural History Network International Meeting, in Tallinn, June 2018. Please submit your abstract by 30 September 2017 to one of the sessions and round tables listed below. Abstracts of no more than 300 words should be submitted straight to the session convenor(s). Include your name, affiliation, title of paper or position, a C.V. of no more than five pages, home and work addresses, e-mail addresses and telephone numbers.

Sessions will consist of either five papers or of four papers and a respondent with time for questions and dialogue at the end. Each paper should take no more than 20 minutes to present. Abstracts for session presentations should define the subject and summarize the argument to be made in the presented paper. The content of that paper should be the product of well-documented original research that is primarily analytical and interpretive rather than descriptive.

Round tables will have no more than six participants plus chairs and an extended time for dialogue, debate and discussion among participants and their public. Each discussant will have 10 minutes to present a position. Abstracts for round tables should summarize the position to be taken.

Papers may not have been previously published, nor presented in public. Only one submission per author will be accepted. All abstracts will be held in confidence during the selection process.

Session and roundtable chairs will notify all persons submitting abstracts of the acceptance or rejection of their proposals and comment upon accepted ones no later than 31 October 2017. Authors of accepted paper proposals must submit the complete text of their papers to their chairs by 15 February 2018. Chairs may suggest editorial revisions to a paper or position in order to make it satisfy session or round table guidelines and will return it with comments to the speaker by 15 March 2018. Chairs reserve the right to withhold a paper or discussion position from the program if the speaker has refused to comply with these guidelines. It is the responsibility of the chair(s) to inform speakers of these guidelines, as well as of the general expectations for both a session and participation in this meeting. Each speaker is expected to fund his or her own registration, travel and expenses to Tallinn, Estonia.

Additional Guidelines for Paper Sessions:

No paper may have more than two authors. Final presented papers should be no more than 2500 words, although texts of up to 4000 words, including notes, may be included in the proceedings (submission to the proceedings is optional).

Additional Guidelines for Roundtables:

Initial position statements should be no more than 1250 words. Position statements of up to 2500 words including notes will be accepted for the proceedings (submission to the proceedings is optional).


Submissions of paper proposals and roundtable discussions to session chairs: 30 September 2017

Communication by session chairs of acceptance or rejection and comments on accepted abstracts: 31 October 2017

Submission of Final Edited Abstracts to Session and Conference Chairs: 30 November 2017

Submission of Complete Draft of Paper or Position Statement to Session Chairs: 15 February 2018

Comments on Papers and Position Statements to be Returned by Session Chairs: 15 March 2018

Submission of Final Paper or Position Statement to Chair and, if to be included in Conference Proceeding, to Conference Chair: 1 April 2018

Those interested may visit the conference website for further details here:

Human Rights and the Global South: A Conversation with Steven L. B. Jensen

Dr. Steven L. B. Jensen

Human rights are facing perhaps their greatest challenge yet. After a failed military coup in July last year, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has led a purge of the country’s central institutions. A much-contested referendum in April only expanded Erdoğan’s stranglehold on the government. Over a similar timeframe, Erdoğan’s Filipino counterpart, Rodrigo Duterte, has spearheaded a devastatingly brutal antidrug campaign, sanctioning the extra-judicial killing of thousands of suspected drug users and sellers. In Egypt, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has imprisoned members of the political opposition, arrested human rights activists, and outlawed many aid organizations. Meanwhile, the United States—traditionally considered human right’s earliest and greatest champion—has seen the election of President Donald Trump. According to a tally compiled by Amnesty International, in just one hundred days in office, Trump threatened human rights in at least as many ways.

Viewed from today’s perspective, it might seem like it’s only recently that the US has ceded global leadership on human rights. But, as Dr. Steven L. B. Jensen shows in his book The Making of International Human Rights: The 1960s, Decolonization, and the Reconstruction of Global Values (2016), the history of human rights was never simply a story of American or Western hegemony. Moving the locus of study to Jamaica, Ghana, the Philippines, Liberia and beyond, Jensen argues that human rights were as shaped from within the Global South as they were from without. In Jensen’s words, actors from the Global South “gave a master class in international human rights diplomacy to both the Eastern and the Western actors.”

Many scholars struggle to connect with non-academic audiences. In his work and in his writings, Jensen straddles the border between academia and international policymaking with comparative ease. Currently a researcher at the Danish Institute for Human Rights, Jensen is the author and editor of multiple books and articles. Prior to completing his PhD at the University of Copenhagen, he worked in international development: first at the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Department of Southern Africa, and later for the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) in Geneva. His PhD thesis was published as The Making of International Human Rights last year. Since then, he’s been on something of a roll. Most recently, his book received the Human Rights Best Book Award and the Chadwick Alger Prize for the best book on international organization from the International Studies Association.

The Toynbee Prize Foundation was lucky enough to chat with Jensen during a recent visit to Cambridge, Massachusetts. Jensen was in town to attend a workshop on socioeconomic rights convened by Professors Samuel Moyn and Charles Walton at Harvard Law School. Jensen spoke about human rights’ origins in the Global South, how exactly he came to be known as the “Jamaica guy,” and what the future holds for human rights scholarship.

Aden Knaap


These interviews usually end with a question like, what’s next for you? Given you’re in town to discuss your current research, I thought it might be interesting to start with that. What are you working on at the moment?


The project I’m working on right now is a history of economic and social rights after 1945, and how they entered the international human rights framework and shaped wider global politics. It’s very much attempting to find ways to reposition the normative dimension—which is always there in human rights research—by finding creative ways of working around it. I’m interested in getting a sense of the political processes and the messiness of history that shaped the role and significance of economic and social rights in a broader international context. There is a much wider story, well beyond the traditional narratives of civil and political rights versus economic and social rights that has been fitted too neatly into the Cold War East-West framework. I’m trying to track these dynamics and find different processes and historical trajectories.

I’m also thinking a lot about the geographies of human rights. I want to really explore this and take it in surprising directions—outside the North or the West—to look at the intersections of South-North and South-East. My focus on economic and social rights is not merely about redistribution, since I think social and economic rights work in a whole range of ways. Of course, redistribution is one element, but my research is also bringing me into writing histories of discrimination, and looking at national development planning in colonial settings toward the end of empire. Social and economic rights have also underpinned democratizing trends in the post-1945 world as well as served as critical enablers for the work to promote and protect civil and political rights. So there are a whole range of issues that pop up. It’s also about tracking the integration of human rights and development at an earlier stage than what’s commonly understood. In a sense, it’s a process of getting lost. Sometimes you have strong research questions—and I do have that—but I’m also just letting myself be led astray, because I think we need to find new ways of narrating these histories. It’s not about filling out gaps; it’s taking elements that have not been fully explored. And from what I’m finding, there’s a solid base for following these uncertain paths. It’s these historical trajectories that I’m interested in, and that I think can be illuminating for a range of other fields and topics of global history as well as national histories. Of course, the new research also builds on my previous work in my first book, and on now having a solid foundation in the human rights historiography.

I think the history of social and economic rights is one of the new frontiers in the whole field of human rights research itself. There is a significant amount of current research on social and economic rights in places like South Africa, India, Latin America, but it has a very presentist-oriented take.


I imagine if you’re really interested in avoiding such a presentist framing, then the periodization of this second project will be really crucial?


Absolutely. Because I do find that some of the contemporary research on social and economic rights is too narrow, focusing on the justiciability of these rights and their constitutional usages in the contemporary era. Of course, some of that research is inspiring for me. But as a historian, I want to look at broader historical transformations, and I think that body of literature would really benefit from being historicized.

One aspect that will be really fundamental or foundational to this work is taking that historical space from after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) up until 1970—a period that is, in so many ways, the “black box” of contemporary human rights history—and exploring that more fully. The link between human rights and decolonization is still underexplored. It is not just a story of global transformation but also a historical space—one that we as historians should try more creatively to inhabit and explore. I’ve done some work on this nexus between human rights and decolonization, and Roland Burke and Fabian Klose have done some work, but there’s still lots to capture there. I’m very inspired by Susan Pedersen’s way of thinking about the change that happened in the international system of states: from a hierarchical empire-based system that, over some years, became this semi-functional system of sovereign states—in other words, in formal terms, a more equal system. That historical transformation fits very well, I think, with the 1950s and ‘60s. Now that’s a transformation of states. Look at Frederick Cooper. He makes a very fine observation when he writes about social rights and the end of empire, and talks about the rights-claiming colonial subjects in the 1940s, who by the 1960s enter onto the world stage as a new category, namely the poor of the world. I think linking the state perspective in Pedersen’s argument with the more people-oriented one that Cooper captures makes sense when you’re a human rights historian thinking about this historical space.

The First World Conference on Human Rights, Tehran, April-May 1968, Source: United Nations Photos.

But I also want to look at how that has influenced later developments: that is, through the ‘70s and ‘80s and potentially into the ‘90s. That’s because a number of the processes I’ve captured will, of course, have failed or proven the shortcomings of the human rights approach. However, I’m also interested in the legacies and subtle impacts that these processes from the past still have today. It is not an either-or—it is a lot more interesting than that. I’m not trying to document the rise and rise of human rights, the perfecting of it. There are many flaws and disruptions in the history of human rights because these are deeply contested and contingent political issues. But at the same time, there are these subtle impacts that I think can illuminate the way we work with later periods by understanding where some of these issues came from. In the final chapter of my book I use a metaphor of a cabinet full of glasses to represent the history of human rights in the twentieth century, explaining that some glasses are “half full, some half empty, some drained dry and some filled to the top; for some, the contents have fizzled out and, for others, they are boiling; and then there are those glasses smashed beyond repair.” It is this plurality and, hopefully, finer granularity that I am also trying to capture in my historical work on social and economic rights.

So that’s why I’m not just jumping to the ‘70s. That’s a difference in my approach that hopefully has informed the field, I think, and added complexity to our understanding.


One way of introducing that complexity is through your choice of periodization. Another is through your choice of geographies. What will the choice of geographies be like for this next project, and how are you going about selecting them?


Again, I use the United Nations as a setting to start from, because it is not a closed ecology; it’s a very dynamic one. It’s also a good entry point for looking at transnational and global links. So the UN still informs the type of geographies that I’m looking at. And, much to my enjoyment, I’m ending up with Jamaica again. Because Jamaica had a really refined way of working with human rights in the 1950s in national development planning. It’s about the way that human rights come to sit within economic planning in Jamaica and looking at planning in a democratic society. Jamaica was pushing the planning agenda, but with a very explicit anti-Soviet philosophy of what state planning entailed. And there’s a very refined articulation that’s linked to the rise of development economics because one of the key actors in this political and intellectual network is Arthur W. Lewis, who’s often credited as one of the shapers of development economics as a research field. So, in a sense, through this project I can also look at the multi-faceted domestic background for Jamaica’s global leadership in human rights in the 1960s, which was partly the subject of my first book.


So in that sense it’s a prequel to The Making of International Human Rights?


Partly. I’ve found incredibly rich material by being back in the archives in Jamaica, so that’s one of the things I’m working on. And then as I’m moving back into the ‘60s, I’m looking at the framings of human rights and international development policy, because while we know more and more about the processes of trade and development—which featured a very economically or technically oriented framing of what development meant—there is this parallel process going on of broader thinking in terms of social development and human rights. I haven’t looked in detail at that, but that will emerge along with some new geographies related to the rise of international development. It will also reveal something about the power relations in defining international public policy as it was other approaches that came to dominate international development policy over the next few decades. Again, the UN is an interesting setting for seeing when these issues get traction, and then working out how you can then capture the type of policy responses that occurred within and outside that system. I think the field of human rights history is really opening up—it is by no means a self-contained field of study.


Histories of development are really opening up, too, I think. Scholars like Daniel Immerwahr (who was previously interviewed on the Global History Forum) are working to flip the orthodox narrative of development: from a story of modernization theory in America looking outwards, to looking instead at how non-Western historical actors engaged with ideas of development.


I got a question on this yesterday when I was presenting, in fact. I cited one of the economic advisors linked to Norman Manley’s Jamaican government, who was reviewing American economist Walt Rostow’s book, The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto in 1960. He predicted how much damage this book was going to do by, among other things, “encouraging complacency in the wrong quarters” and the “great disservice” the book was about to do on a cause Rostow no doubt “sincerely cherished.” So there’s a whole different universe of this field of economics to uncover and contextualize. And, of course, many people are familiar with Arthur W. Lewis, but there’s still more to discover about the political milieus of Caribbean political and economic thought. And that’s just one track. I’m also interested in exploring some new geographies, I’m just not sure specifically where: it could be Ghana, it could be elsewhere, I don’t know yet. But I think this approach in human rights scholarship of working with Cold War Third World archives continues to be very promising.


Speaking of those archives, I want to turn to the focus on the Third World in your first book. In your review of Dr. Samuel Moyn’s Christian Human Rights (2015), you’re very clear in wanting to look at how human rights have purchase in the Global South, that this isn’t a wholly Western narrative. How did you come up with that framing of the Third Word’s impact on human rights for your first book?


My original Ph.D. proposal dealt with human rights, but it was pretty boring looking back. I had no idea that there was this very strong Global South framing for human rights, so I didn’t go looking for it. The original project was about trans-Atlantic dialogues on human rights, European and Americans. I had made 1968 the starting point. I had actually written a book in Denmark about 1968.


So you’re Denmark’s expert on 1968?


In a Danish context, it is fair to say I’m one of the leading experts! I’ve also published one or two things internationally on that. I was struck by a paradox: that I had read so much about 1968 to the extent that I had published a book on it, and yet I had no clue that ‘68 was the UN International Human Rights Year. I couldn’t understand how there was nothing in the literature on 1968 that had made that connection, let alone a reference. And when I looked back I found only one, in historian-journalist Mark Kurlansky’s 1968: The Year That Rocked the World (2004). So I thought I’d begin from that starting point: going back to 1968 and looking at these trans-Atlantic dialogues. But when I went to the UN archives in Geneva something else quickly emerged: there was a different dynamic, what I interpreted as a strong ‘60s framing for human rights. Then, when I was two months and ten days old as a PhD candidate, I went to a seminar in Freiburg in 2010 that Samuel Moyn and Jan Eckel [who has also spoken about this same conference on the Global History Forum] organized. The seminar had quite a profound influence on my approach. I was struck that there were about thirty historians there pretty much agreeing that it was in the 1970s that human rights took off. Even though I’d only worked on this for two months, I was enmeshed enough in these sources to say well, if everyone else is doing the ‘70s, then I’m just going to veer off into the ‘60s. And then Jamaica suddenly popped up.

Official Jamaican stamp in celebration of the 1968 Human Rights Year.


Of course! Since, as you explain in your book, it was Jamaica’s representative to the UN, Egerton Richardson, who pushed for the UN to name 1968 the International Year for Human Rights.


Exactly. In the beginning, I ignored Jamaica, thinking this was really interesting but it was not my project. And then suddenly something lit up and I thought this has to be an angle. And then I pursued that and it opened up more and more perspectives. So I was lucky that early on in my process a new PhD project emerged, which was much more interesting than the one I had set out with. So in a sense I just let myself be guided by the sources. And because I was working with something that was not captured by pre-existing research—I mean Roland Burke looks at some of this but I was looking at very different processes to the ones he was looking at—I eventually needed to do extensive archival work in ten different countries. There were so many things that needed to be mapped out and then validated. It took some work making the historical connections I wanted to make as solid as possible. For example, making the point that the rather well-studied Helsinki process and the human rights coming out of that actually had important roots in Global South diplomacy in the ‘60s. So it was about being really open and taking serious the multi-tonality of the UN system and not just dismissing these actors as not being interesting or having no impact.

Then, when I was talking about the new project just four months in, people were suddenly interested in my research. At one point at a conference, Susan Pedersen read my chapter and said you need to go to Jamaica to do archival work and insisted that there would be stuff there. I was lucky enough to get funding from the Oslo Contemporary International History Network so off I went. And that archival work brought that last element of having much greater depth and nuance regarding the voices of Jamaicans themselves. I felt like this kind of archival work across multiple geographies was necessary because it wasn’t just about documents—it was about validating my arguments with real depth. It wouldn’t be enough to make the argument based on the UN processes because, despite a voluminous record, that would still be a thin source base. I also needed to look at the strategies applied by different countries, and how they linked to other processes. So that was how it evolved. In that sense that Freiburg seminar was really significant for me because I was introduced essentially to the whole field of historians working on human rights, which was obviously an incredible boost for my work—possibly for all of us. But I also realized that there was this niche: that people were concentrating on the ‘70s and that there was something there in the ‘60s to look at. I didn’t know where exactly I was going with it at that point but I knew it was significant.

The first Ad Hoc Working Group (5 international members) established by the UN Commission on Human Rights investigating human rights violations in Southern Africa. Here they are interviewing a witness about the situation in Namibia. This session took place in Dar es Salaam in September 1968. Source: United Nations Photos.

And as well, the chapter in the book on religion was again a complete surprise to me; the fact that you have this process of proposing a Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Religion Intolerance [you can read a blog post by Jensen about the Convention], which I think is the most significant attempt in the twentieth century to make religion a subject of international law and had not previously been studied by anyone across all the disciplines involved in human rights research. That surprised me.


And again, I suppose that relates to the presentist framing of much early human rights scholarship.


Yes, because this is a field that very much started with legal scholars, who are mostly interested in conventions or legal documents that created standards from which you can do legal interpretation or base jurisprudence. When you have a failed project that leaves such an unclear or hidden legacy, it’s not as interesting to legal scholars. But for historians, failed projects can be really illuminating, if we can document that they were significant and the ways that they were significant. So this project also made me reflect on what we do as historians compared to other disciplines and what it is that we bring in. It was also about taking failures seriously and taking actors that have been excluded seriously.


There’s a compelling synchronicity between your book’s argument—which upends Cold War distinctions between East and West but also between North and South, and argues against seeing human rights as a story of Western imposition—and how this maps onto its methodology. You insist that we can’t just look at the UN archives, we also have to track this process outside the UN system.


It’s also about acknowledging the nuance in the agendas of Third World actors. Because I think in the human rights field the Third World has been grouped together too much. It’s about bringing out these unique histories. This is not a Third World agenda, but it’s an agenda carried forward by a group of states from the Global South. So you get this nuancing or differentiation between them, which I think is an important point. These countries have their own national histories, their own contributions, just like Denmark or other Western countries have.


You’ve talked about how the source base brought you to this history. What theoretical works aided the framing of your argument? Or did that come later? The book’s footnotes reference a great diversity of historical scholarship—E. P. Thompson, Frederick Cooper, Matthew Connelly, to name just a few.


Well that’s an interesting question, because I realized that some of the things I had to do with this work was in a very conservative mode of being a historian. I had to go back and really take chronology very seriously. And that was linked also to thinking about agency: who are the actors and what are they shaping, because they really had an impact both on the historical trajectory and also on the contents of the human rights story. So there is in the book a classic kind of revisiting of the chronology, but from the perspective of agency. This was where E. P. Thompson really fitted in for me and this is the process of “making” that I refer to in the book’s title. For example, I argue that the human rights dynamics emerging from Helsinki Final Act was not a by-product of détente, a coincidental, unintended consequence, which some scholarship would say. No, it wasn’t; it was a process of making. And I felt that E. P. Thompson’s framing was very helpful for that.

I guess I was straddling so much that it became a little bit of an eclectic reading process as I tried to bring everything together. And I came back to the historical discipline after having worked for several years in international development more as a practitioner or as an international civil servant, and so discovering more recent works was really inspiring. For example, the type of framing and just the sheer knowledge of Frederick Cooper’s work was really beneficial.

I often say, what did I know about Jamaica before I started this? I knew Bob Marley and reggae; I knew the story of really fast sprinters; and I knew that they had a bobsledding team in the Winter Olympics. And that was in some ways all I knew. But what inspired me was that I did have this image from being a kid of having seen television recordings of Marley uniting the hands of two leading but bitterly opposed Jamaican politicians at a big concert in Kingston in the 1970s. And I remember being in the UN Library in Geneva years later and thinking what was this Jamaica thing? With that image of bipartisanship in my head it quickly dawned on me that Jamaica had a two-party system and that was maybe why something had emerged there, since so many other states had become authoritarian, one-party states. But that was literally all I knew about Jamaican history and that first step was mainly my intuition at play. So of course I had to read up and understand and get a full grasp on that. That was just incredibly enjoyable.

As part of my PhD, I was a visiting researcher at Yale Law School and there were real benefits of being both in a law environment and in a history environment. There, I was referred to as the “Jamaica guy,” which really became a badge of honor for me. At Yale, I was studying with Paul Kahn. His book The Cultural Study of Law. Reconstructing Legal Scholarship (1999) really helped clarify my methodological approach. His work offered both practical and critical ways of engaging with international law and human rights. Part of what I was doing at this point was gate-crashing law environments and legal scholarship, so that experience was tremendously helpful for me as a historian.

And in terms of Matthew Connelly and others, I think the cross-fertilization of transnational and diplomatic history was very helpful in seeing the ways this was being done, the arguments that were being made. I don’t think theory is very strong in the book, but it’s these approaches that are both theoretical, conceptual, but are also very practical, which I found useful. I just immersed myself in different forms of historiography that needed to be brought together. I don’t write about Bourdieu but his concept of the field was important to the way I was imaging this diplomatic work at the UN. I always had that image of the field and these figures moving around or operating in these political and diplomatic spaces or ecologies. And then there were also a range of new works which I also drew inspiration from as my research developed. As I already mentioned, I heard Susan Pedersen present at a conference on her work for the book The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire (2016).

But the book that had the most profound effect on me was Danielle McGuire’s At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance–A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power (2010). My research revolved around the United Nations as a forum reflecting global political trends and then I took some steps, however small, outwards. McGuire’s book moves the other way, connecting with and re-discovering the lived realities of the women in the book. She then shows how their experiences were part of a much larger and disturbing story about the United States in the twentieth century. It is just such an impressive piece of scholarship. Her influence is maybe not visible in my book but I can tell you, it is there.


You’ve alluded to how your time away from academia also shaped the book. How so?


In terms of my background, I studied history at the University of Copenhagen and also had a Master’s degree from Edinburgh, and when I finished I asked myself, what should I do next? I thought about going into research, which I had a strong interest in, but I also had interests in other things. I got a job working for the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, working on development in the Department for Southern Africa. And from there I ended up at the UN working at the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). I’ve worked on HIV/AIDS now for about fifteen years, and I still do some work on that.

Looking back, it has really shaped my approach as a historian, and enabled me to do the things I did with this book. One thing is that I really learned the intricacies of UN work, and the processes: how agendas move, how they get disrupted and picked up again. And that methodology—being able to track sources and knowing how to work those structures—was very helpful. There are two other things that I think were very influential, because during my time working there I witnessed many instances where really constructive and important ideas came from Third World actors, from actors from the Global South, but then at some point somebody else would take credit for them. Let’s say there was a certain Western bias to taking those credits. So I noticed that happening in real time. I think it resonated then when I looked at these human rights stories. I was ripe for accepting this refined Jamaican human rights diplomacy in the ‘60s because it resonated with what I had experienced. It made sense.

The third element here is that I’ve also seen the HIV/AIDS response grow and develop since 2002 and have seen how vital community organizations and activists were in this: whether it’s people living with HIV, people from the LGBT community, or sex workers or drug users. I think they have been the greatest developers of international public policy in the last fifteen years—these key constituencies for the HIV response. And that has been one of the benefits of my work; they have taught me different ways of seeing, and different ways of shaping international policy and diplomacy. That is the other thing that made me receptive to looking at these completely unacknowledged actors and pursuing their trajectories. In that way, I’ve benefited a lot—methodologically but also in terms of interpretative frameworks. It gave me the courage to veer off at points where I didn’t really know where it would take me. My work therefore owes a lot to the people living with HIV, LGBT persons and harm reduction activists—as well as my former UNAIDS colleagues—that I have encountered over the years. I am very pleased to acknowledge this debt of gratitude.


On the theme of international policy, what has been the reaction of the book from within international policy forums (as opposed to academia)?


The reception has been very positive and really motivated me. For the human rights community, it’s a really valuable book. It challenges the standard human rights story: the ownership of it and the dynamics around it. I wrote a piece for Open Global Rights last year where I said the human rights community makes claims about universality, but then that movement has gone ahead and presented a discounted version of what that universality story entails. It was a self-critique—I work at a Human Rights Institute, so I included ourselves in having failed in this and made the point that there was a need to acknowledge the forms of exclusion that have existed. And that piece just went viral, which meant it must have struck a chord.

So it’s both the academic reception that has been very supportive, but also the human rights community. That’s why I had a book launch in Geneva with the Danish and the Jamaican ambassadors. My book enables us to open up discussions that have been really locked down. A large part of UN human rights diplomacy right now is very conflictual and very divisive and finding new ways of speaking about these issues and finding new platforms has been very hard. And the approach in my book has certain potential. So that has been really nice. But there is also an implicit critique about how the human rights movement has managed or nurtured its own history. I’ve found that they’re very receptive toward that critique and have acknowledged it and that this is actually a helpful way to move forward.

And then, of course, there has also been the reception in Jamaica. After the archival work I’d done in Jamaica and after I’d gotten my doctorate in history, I felt that I was obliged to bring this history back to Jamaica. I defended my PhD in early 2014 and then realized that June 2014 was the fiftieth anniversary of the first foreign policy strategy of Jamaica as an independent country, which I think was probably the first strategy of any country that integrated human rights into foreign policy. So I wrote to some people asking whether this was a good occasion to give a talk. Luckily some people mobilized so there was enough of a crowd and I gave a talk at the University of the West Indies. Somebody had brought out people from the Jamaican foreign ministry, including some retired diplomats. I just struck a chord with them since several of them knew the Jamaican ambassador Egerton Richardson, who is a main character in the book. They just said they had no clue that he did this with such profound effect. It was a completely forgotten story.

A close-up of Egerton Richardson, Chairman of the Committee on the International Year for Human Rights, calling the meeting to order, Source: United Nations Photos.

One of the questions I received was why did this research not take place in the Caribbean? A big part of the answer is I come from a setting that has the resources to do academic work and I’ve been able to travel with friends helping me out by hosting me in various places. At the outset, researchers at universities in Global South contexts seldom have the resources to undertake this scope of archival research so there’s a resource imbalance. But there’s also this real interest coming from the Global South. After my talk at the University of West Indies, I was asked to give a lecture at the Jamaican Ministry of Foreign Affairs since they felt they needed to inform the staff in the diplomatic service because this was an important story for them. I went and spoke at the Foreign Ministry in Kingston. What emerged there was a very different sense of ownership due to the story I could present about Jamaica’s innovative role, but also because there was an acknowledgment of the real qualities in their diplomatic service, which I think is one of the things that did continue from this 1960s human rights in Jamaica story. I went back again in 2016 and continued some of these conversations. So the book has been picked up and has prompted reflection on the need to do more research into the history of human rights there. That has been the most stimulating reward for me—that I’ve been able to bring the story back—because I felt obliged to do so and because it’s a unique and fascinating history. So I’ve been very lucky with this receptivity. It shows, I think, why nurturing the historical imagination is important to contemporary debates.


Speaking of contemporary debates, some critics of the book have posed the question, “well, why does this matter?” What is your response to reviewers like Dr. Annette Weinke (published on H-Net Reviews in German) who fault the book for taking what they see as symbolic victories for human rights by Third World actors at face value?


I really appreciate when people engage with my work and I always try to be respectful of that. But I think she was very dismissive of non-Western contributions to human rights. Of course, it’s an argument that I’m pushing, but I also think that I document, for example, the impacts on the Helsinki process and the way they influenced Western actors like the US and the UK. I think she left out the subtleties of the impact that diplomacy can have. The way I built the Jamaica story is this arc of them doing this and pursuing these agendas and of course there is a domestic reality that is complicated and they did not achieve the type of social and economic development that they want. But I show how this vision crashes in 1968 with lasting effects. I don’t think she fully acknowledges, for example, that the UN in the ‘60s is incredibly dynamic because it played host to the overlap of the colonial, the anticolonial and the postcolonial. It’s this world that was being shaped; historical actors at the time didn’t know where it was going but it was very clear to them that innovations are coming. And maybe I was a little bit simplistic in how I discussed other research. Of course, this was the subject of a much more complex discussion in the dissertation, but I took a lot of this out for the book. She also claimed that I was very critical of Israel. And I just can’t see where that takes place in the book.


I think her point was that these anticolonial human rights movements were themselves hierarchized, so the exclusion of Israel was one way in which this played out, and that you didn’t acknowledge this dynamic fully.


I just can’t see where I was critical of Israel. What I try to do is tell this story of religion and how problematic the Six-Day War became in this, but I’m not blaming Israel, I’m telling a story of religion and explaining how a localized or regionalized conflict had these global impacts. I actually presented some of this research at Tel Aviv University in front of a highly informed audience that included the prominent Israeli jurist Natan Lerner and I found the participants to be open and very interested. Of course, they hadn’t seen the book. I was just surprised by her critique. The question of Israel is, unfortunately, a very typical divide in the human rights debate that people position themselves on and I tried to navigate that without taking a position. I mean, I don’t need to have a position, that’s not what this story is about. All her other points are legitimate criticisms to discuss I think but this one was strange. She also said something about the Soviet Union and Portugal. At times, I expect the reader to think for themselves. I didn’t need to give grades to each state that I was covering, I felt that would be a little bit too didactic. In a sense, I was trying to avoid that very normative way of judging.


And yet, there is a normative argument being made in your criticism of postcolonial studies in the book.


Yes, if there’s something I think I criticize then it’s postcolonial studies, which has often driven forward a cultural relativist critique of human rights. What I am saying is, hang on, there is an amnesia at play here, because exactly at the founding moment of your field—namely, the postcolonial moment—these countries were actually pushing human rights. They were doing it based on a vision of equality and non-discrimination—that maybe was not always as individually focused as how we would today think of human rights—but they still promoted them and were foundational to the evolution of the international human rights system. Through human rights, at least in part, they were aspiring for an international system that would work better for securing international justice and for negotiating solutions on a whole range of issues of international concern. So human rights became a vehicle for a vision of equality which was about giving these countries a fair chance. In some ways, my book includes a critique of the postcolonial self-understanding and the ways that some of the actors in these states have been able to disengage too easily from human rights frameworks and obligations when they were influential in shaping them in the first place.


That’s an argument that Roland Burke also makes in his book, Decolonization and the Evolution of International Human Rights (2010).


Yes, that’s a work that I find very impressive. There are many similarities between how Roland and I have approached certain things. We’re actually coming out with a co-written piece on methods in human rights history where we’ve tried to outline the elements that we believe need to be considered to do this well: namely, being more reflective about the representativeness of our stories and the sources that we consult. We identify a number of existing blind spots that we think need to be part of a wider reflection on the research methods that we use as historians.

There are some works in this field that have been hagiographic and that have elevated certain persons. And, of course, I elevate the Jamaican ambassador. But I do it as a way of saying, well, if we have this actor that’s so key, then there must be a whole set of networks and causalities around him. We have to rethink why is it that the Caribbean produces him, what are the intellectual networks, what is his trajectory, and how then is he positioned in the international system that makes this possible, instead of simply having Eleanor Roosevelt as the iconic image of human rights.


What do you see as the future of the human rights field? In that review of Moyn’s Christian Human Rights (2015), for example, you talked a lot about how crucial you see the role of religion in challenging the standard human rights narrative.


I think it’s such a rich and diverse field now. We’re way beyond Samuel Moyn’s The Last Utopia (2012) at this point; there are so many others that have contributed to this field. Which also means it’s not a Moyn versus Jensen discussion as I have, on occasion, seen; I might be wrong, but that doesn’t then mean Moyn is automatically right. So many other scholars have contributed to the field and I think the field is in a healthy condition. I really think that social and economic rights are one of the paths forward, and there are more geographies to come in. There’s just been an interesting piece by James Kirby in the International History Review on human rights in Botswana, from the final years of colonialism to the early years of independence during the 1960s and 1970s. Paul Betts and James Mark are running a comprehensive research project where they are aiming to bring the socialist world and its complex but fascinating role into this international story. There’s also Cindy Ewing’s dissertation work where she is bringing in a wider set of especially Asian actors to the human rights story in the early post-1945 era. Right now, human rights are very popular, and if you propose a panel to a conference on human rights you have a really good chance so there’s a certain fashion element which can always entail some risk. I believe, however, that there is ample opportunity to weave human rights history very creatively into other fields. We previously had to simply get the human rights history in place, but now we have so much knowledge that we can move beyond that.


Yes, and I think that’s testament to how rapidly the historiography of human rights has developed: that it really has only occurred in the space of the past decade. It’s a point Sam Moyn himself made, I think, when he wrote that “the end is nigh” for human rights history.


I’m not so concerned now with the debates around periodization. Of course, Moyn’s book placed the beginning of human rights in the 1970s, and in a sense I responded to that, arguing instead for the importance of the 1960s. The PhD the book was based on was actually called “Negotiating Universality: The Making of International Human Rights, 1945-93.” But Sam was the series editor and suggested highlighting the 1960s, since that was a unique selling point and there hadn’t been much written on it. I think it was both clear-sighted and the most honest thing to do, given the main focus of the book. So, of course, my book is pitched a little to that decade argument. There’s still more to do, especially with the 1950s. But that’s not the way we should guide research.

Human rights history has been really historicized in the past few years because we no longer have these long teleological explanations. So it’s more about focusing on these alternative geographies, and being really creative and inventive in how we bring these in. And that’s what’s really exciting because we can bring in new regions, new countries, new sets of actors while at the same time shed new light on the Western world as, for example, Mark Philip Bradley has done in The World Reimagined. Americans and Human Rights in the Twentieth Century (2016). Bringing in more scholars who are themselves from the Global South would be a huge contribution. As part of my work at the Human Rights Institute, I have taught human rights practitioners from various African countries and for them this is ripe—suddenly they’re at the center of the story. I remember one course participant saying, “we have all these stories, our own stories, but who listens to us?” These words still ring in my head to this day. Another course participant said he had done a Masters-degree in Human Rights, and what they got were these Western textbooks that also covered the historical evolution and all the teaching was based on that. That is simply not good enough.

These are going to be really complicated histories where human rights will be exposed for all their shortcomings and faults but maybe also gain renewed relevance. But that is part of the human rights history and that duality should be captured. I think human rights are linked much more to histories of state formation in the mid-twentieth century than we have been able to capture so far. So the black box of human rights history still has plenty to reveal!

CFP: Revising the Geography of Modern World Histories (University of York, 9-10 February 2018)

Readers of the Global History blog may consider participating in ” a forum to discuss the challenges and possibilities of writing multi-sited modern histories that encompass fully situated lives and local contexts”. Please find below the call for proposals from the organizers of Revising the Geography of Modern World Histories to be held in York, UK, from 9 to 10 February, 2018.

The British Academy and the Department of History at the University of York invite submissions from early career researchers (ECRs) for a two-day workshop and public conference, “Revising the Geography of Modern World Histories,” to be held in York, UK, from 9 to 10 February, 2018.

This international event responds to the recent boom in “global” history, providing a forum to discuss the challenges and possibilities of writing multi-sited modern histories that encompass fully situated lives and local contexts.

ECRs working on themes or in fields including but not limited to the below—as they relate to transnational or transregional history from the late 18th century to the present—are particularly encouraged to submit abstracts (maximum 250 words):

International political economy

History of empire

Political history

Social / labor history

Cultural history

Gender history

Environmental history

Critical geography

Historical sociology

The event organizers wish to draw ECRs who are stretching the boundaries of their national or disciplinary specializations. Proceedings will include small-group workshops to discuss shared challenges and strategies of conducting geographically heterodox historical scholarship, public presentations of works in progress, keynote lectures, and a plenary discussion with public Q&A.  

Current keynote speakers and plenary participants include:

Manu Goswami (New York University)

Andrew Zimmerman (George Washington University)

Lara Putnam (The University of Pittsburgh)

Paul A. Kramer (Vanderbilt University)

Applicants must include, along with their abstract, a list of five works currently most relevant to their research. These titles will be assembled into an actively managed, open-access bibliography on the conference website (URL below). All abstracts are due by 1 September 2017. Please send them in pdf or MS Word format to:

Generous funding from the British Academy, YuFund, and the York Centre for the Americas will allow the hosts to defray a significant portion of participant travel and accommodation expenses.

This conference is a collaboration between scholars at the Universities of Nottingham, Sheffield, and York in the UK, and Fordham, Harvard, the New School for Social Research, Northwestern, and Ohio State in the US.

Please address abstracts and questions to the event organizer, David Huyssen, at:

CFP: “Words that Kill,” American University of Paris Conference (Paris, 28-30 May 2018)

For scholars working on violence (both symbolic and material), see this call for papers for an interdisciplinary conference organized by The George and Irina Schaeffer Center for the Study of Genocide, Human Rights and Conflict Prevention at the American University of Paris:

There is a continuum linking symbolic violence (in images, signs, stories) and physical violence. Social violence is bred by the construction of otherness, the mobilization of myth (purity of origins), the use of libel, falsehoods and mistruths–performative acts that foment hate and generate the conditions of possibility of mass violence. They are common elements of strategic propaganda to scapegoat, contaminate, exclude, and dehumanize targeted groups, preconditions for discrimination, repression, mass violence or genocide. Mass violence requires narratives authorizing killing, words that not only distance perpetrators from their involvement but also rationalize and naturalize injustices, normalize crimes and, in the aftermath, erase them from social memory.

In our current troubled historical moment, where toxic discourses are being mobilized for political ends, there is growing concern and debate over the perilous effects of post-truth regimes, false news and lying in politics. The phenomenon is not new: As Hannah Arendt notes in Lying in Politics, penned after the publication of the Pentagon Papers, “Secrecy…and deception, the deliberate falsehood and the outright lie used as a legitimate means to achieve politics ends, have been with us since the beginning of recorded history.” But it has become increasingly acute, affecting and poisoning political discourse and daily social intercourse.

The aim of the international conference Words that Kill organized by the George and Irina Schaeffer Center for the Study of Genocide, Human Rights and Conflict Prevention is to reexamine the questions of hate speech and freedom, the production and circulation of lies, and violence-inducing identity discourses. Through interdisciplinary investigation and critique, we aspire to foster intellectual and policy responses to injustice, exclusion, and violence.

We welcome innovative scholarly contributions that examine the multiple dimensions of the problem of hate, the production of otherness, violence and images, language, media and narratives. Potential topics include:

Truth, Lies and the Manufacturing of Otherness

-The epistemological problem: distinguishing truth and lies, facts from falsehood.

-Uses and misuses of history: mythmaking and mass violence.

-Discourses of hate and hate speech.

-Cross-national approaches to free speech and hate speech.

-The manipulation of “fact” in hate speech.

-Manufacturing otherness in narratives, images and language.

-False science and scientism as justification for violence.

Mediating Hate

-The production, circulation and reception of dehumanizing representations and falsehoods.

-Media (new and old), lies, violence and hate.

-The power of images.


-Strategies to counter or control lies and hate speech.

-Performance and truth.

Inciting and Denying

-Propaganda as incitement to mass violence.

-Conspiracy theories and rumor as incitement to violence.

-Genocide denial and revisionism: production and reception.

-Commemoration practices: truth and fiction.

Confirmed Keynote Speakers:

Sarah Banet-Weiser (University of Southern California)

Susan Benesch (Harvard University)

Gérald Bronner (Paris Diderot)

Marc Crépon (CNRS-École Normale Supérieure)

Jayson Harsin (American University of Paris)

Jason Stanley (Yale University)

Organizing committee: Waddick Doyle (AUP), Oliver Feltham (AUP), Philip Golub (AUP), Cary Hollinshead-Strick (AUP), Jayson Harsin (AUP), Constance Pâris de Bollardière (AUP), Susan Perry (AUP), Claudia Roda (AUP), Brian Schiff (AUP) and Miranda Spieler (AUP).

Papers can be given in English or French. Fellowships will be awarded on the basis of financial need and quality of the scholarly contribution.

Proposals for presentations must include an abstract (no more than 500 words) and a short biography (no more than 250 words).

Important Dates:

October 15th 2017: Proposals are due.

December 15th 2017: Letters of acceptance are returned.

January 15th 2018: Registration for the conference opens.

For questions about the conference, please contact us at

Call for Submissions: Global Histories, A Student Journal

Our graduate student readers should consider this exciting call for submissions for the journal Global Histories:

Deadline: July 10th, 2017

In recent years, global history has become one of the most ambitious and promising strands of historical research. The approach targets relations, flows, and actors that challenge the assumption of the nation state as a natural and inevitable category of historical analysis. It calls attention to the importance of transnational, trans-regional, or trans-local connections and their influence on the past.

Our upcoming international Global History Student Conference 2017 on May 2th-21st acts as the point of departure for this issue, showcasing how global history is conceptualized and realized in different cultural contexts around the world. To that end, we encourage the submission of research articles related to (or critical of) global history. We suggest the following themes, which represent this year’s conference panels, as a starting point for your consideration:

Global Spaces

Commodities in Transfer

Building Empires

Microhistory from a Global Perspective

Cultural Encounters

Medicine and Disease

Diplomacy and International Relations

Media and Representation

Identities in Diaspora

International Social and Political Movements

We also welcome the submission of history conference reviews. Please review a history conference which you have attended in the last year, focussing on how the conference was intellectually conceptualized and how it related to wider trends within the discipline of history.

Who We Are

Global Histories is a student-run open access journal based in the MA Global History program at Humboldt-Universität and Freie Universität in Berlin. We are looking for submissions from fellow students across the world for our journal’s fourth issue which is to be published in October 2017.


Article submissions should be 5000-7000 words and conference reviews 1000-1500 words.

All submissions must be in English, follow the Chicago Manual of Style for footnotes and must not have been previously submitted for publication elsewhere. For more detailed information on our submission guidelines please consult:

Authors should register on our website to submit their work via our online system.

Questions related to topics or submissions should be directed to well in advance of the 10th July 2017 final deadline.

For more information, please consult the journal website.

Servants’ Pasts (Berlin, 11-13 April 2018)

For readers working on the history of domestic work and service in South Asia, see this call for papers for the second international conference organized under the ERC-funded project ‘Domestic Servants in Colonial South Asia’, to be held in Berlin from 11-13 April, 2018:

This conference will explore the various regional histories of domestic work and service within South Asia, as reflected in different language-based sources. It will also explore comparative similarities and specificities in domestic work across diverse imperial, colonial and postcolonial settings. The temporal range will include the early modern and modern periods (sixteenth century to the contemporary). We nevertheless remain interested in soliciting conceptual and thematic contributions extending further in time that would promise to explore the long history of domestic servitude in South Asia.

We invite contributions that explore the ideologies and practices which were deployed to organize domestic work. From the point of recruitment to that of maintaining the boundaries of intimacy and loyalty, among others, law, language, caste, religion, gender, and age played a crucial role in the making and constant reworking of master/mistress-servant relationship. We invite applications exploring the legal and juridical bases of regulation and the everyday maintenance, reproduction and breach of that relationship. This everydayness can include among others gesture, appropriate behaviour, touch, purity, and defilement. Papers based on vernacular sources and visuals exploring these themes are welcome.

Moving beyond the ideological macro-structures and practices of organizing domestic work, we wish to enter into the world of material objects, everyday technology, food, and not least, dress. Liveries enhanced masters’ prestige. The arrival of new commodities, gadgets, and utilities in the household – refrigerators, electric fans and bulbs, motor cars, sewing machines, piped water, tinned food, television to name a few – reorganized domestic work. How did servants react to them? Did these changes instrumentally affect the terms of employability, wage and work time? Did these new changes affect their own households? We encourage contributions on ‘ethnographies of domestic work’ that bring out the textured nature of these changes up to the present.

The changing forms of organisation of work, home and domesticity are crucial to understanding of servants’ pasts. The architecture of the home, the technological changes taking place therein, the move from joint families to nuclear, and the change from bungalows to apartments may tell us more about how servants negotiated these changes. A new kind of domesticity, publicness and politics emerged in the nineteenth century. What is the relationship between cities and servants? Was it different from the earlier period? We invite applications on both specific changes in a particular time period as well as on long term trends and changes.

The master/mistress-servant relationship has been significantly constituted through the use of violence and the languages of affect and intimacy. We intend to explore the forms of servant resistance – individual and collective – that mark this relationship. From everyday forms to that of overt collective action spread across households and cities, how do we read servants’ protests in our sources and how do we account for their transformative potential in the service relationship?

Finally, we invite papers that look at domestic servants in non-South Asian contexts such as the Ottoman empire and other imperial and postcolonial regions, to evaluate and compare histories that may be marked by similar ideologies and practices of race, class and gender. We would especially like to receive contributions on African case studies.

Some possible thematic clusters that we wish to address are the following:

Early modern South Asia
Caste, religion, gender, age & domestic work
Everyday technologies, material objects & architecture
Sensory histories
City & servant
Children & domestic work
Ethnographies of domestic work & forms of servitude
Comparative imperial case-studies

We invite 400 words abstract by 15 September 2017. Please send your abstracts to Travel and accommodation will be covered.

Nitin Varma, Re:Work Humboldt University, Berlin

Nitin Sinha, Leibniz ZMO, Berlin

Contact Info:
Dr. Nitin Varma
Research Associate
European Research Council Starting Grant Project on Domestic Servants in Colonial India
Office: IGK Work and Human Lifecycle in Global History, Georgenstr.23, 10117 Berlin
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
T +49 (30) 2093 702 18

Dissecting Hindutva: A Conversation with Jyotirmaya Sharma

Professor Jyotirmaya Sharma

It’s a good time to be a populist. Across the world, populism has made significant strides. Sanctimonious populism coupled with ironclad convictions seems to be the staple diet of contemporary politics. The emergence of right-wing populism, nationalism and anti-Muslim politics is not confined to Europe but is manifest in other regions as well. Likewise, illiberal nationalism is not exclusive to Muslim-majority states but is also evident in India in the form of the chauvinistic Hindutva movement–the Hindu nationalist ideology.

A concatenation of factors—including the threat of terrorism and anxiety over a massive wave of immigrants from the Middle East, combined with the strong belief in the inefficacy of the EU—has provided a fertile environment for right-wing populists in Europe. In India, the Hindu nationalist project has, since its inception, aspired toward sociocultural homogenization and claims that Hindu culture and religion form the nucleus of India. This project of political Hindutva is more than a century old and has undergone several different phases. Meanwhile in the United States, there has been a gradual increase in xenophobic and chauvinistic nationalism.
Armed with moral rectitude as well as certitude, populists in Europe seek to speak for the ‘general will’ of the people and to protect what they perceive as their western heritage. This nostalgic populism lays emphasis on protecting certain ways of life in Europe and displays hostility towards Jews, immigration, and Islam. In the United States, its equivalent is Trumpism: a cocktail of xenophobic nationalism and demagoguery. Populists are also wont to use democratic institutions to gain power and curtail civil liberties. After assuming power through democratic mechanisms, Hindu nationalists, for example, have attempted to weaken or obstruct aspects of democracy such as freedom of expression.

In addition to propagating antipluralism, populist actors also seek to portray themselves as victims. Majorities act like mistreated minorities. For the Hindutva, the abiding tolerance of Hindus is only matched by the egregious ravages of Muslim rule in India, victimizing Hindus for centuries. For Vivekananda, the paterfamilias of the Hindutva project of the nineteenth century, there was no room for weakness in the process of nation building. Hindus had to shed their effeminate nature, which figured as a prominent bugbear, and become virile and strong. The ignominy of being a slave nation could only be countervailed by an idolatrous devotion to all things masculine.

The totalitarian politics of the 1930s and 1940s in Europe left a strong imprint of antitotalitarianism on European political institutions. The architects of post-war Europe strongly distrusted the idea of popular sovereignty. Hence, parliaments were gradually emasculated and checks and balances robustly strengthened. In short, distrust in unrestrained and untrammeled popular sovereignty was part of the foundations of post-war European politics. The obverse to this is that a political order based on wariness toward popular sovereignty is always vulnerable to populists speaking against a system that appears to be contrived against popular participation.

Until recently, many scholars assumed that nationalism would taper off and that the hold of religion would slacken. Both of these assumptions have been vehemently disproven in the Indian context. The tumultuous relationship between Muslims and the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) has to do with Hindutva. Though BJP came into existence only in 1980, its intellectual and doctrinal antecedents can be traced back to the nineteenth century. The intellectual history of the Hindutva ideologies forms the focus for the eclectic and prescient oeuvre of Jyotirmaya Sharma, professor of political science at the University of Hyderabad, India. Sharma historicizes the actualization of a bunch of inchoate and exclusionary ideas into the most politically successful undertaking in modern history—the Hindu nationalist project and, by extension, the BJP.

The Hindu nationalist project seeks to portray Hindu civilization as indigenous to India and to depict an intimate and indissoluble relationship between Hindu culture and Indian territory. This project of ossified identities is only matched by the Hindutva’s cultural philistinism. In its effort to reshape the educational system and curricula, the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) seeks to interpret history in such a way that it seeks to equate the decline of Hindu society with the coming of Islam to India.

The Hindutva movement also harps on perceived historical grievances and seeks to redress them by mobilizing the serried ranks of RSS and its ancillary organizations. A prevalent trope in the Hindutva enterprise is that of Muslim dogmatism on the one hand and the assimilative and tolerant Hindu civilization on the other, which is also seen as part of a continuous struggle in which the Hindus are perennial victims and Muslims the archetypal aggressors. Tolerance is deemed as an innate quality of Hinduism and Hindus by extension are steadfastly beholden to toleration. It follows that any conflict or discord must have come from outside, since tolerance was essential to Hindu civilization.

There is also a tendency to make a distinction between Hinduism and Hindutva. The former is perceived to be tolerant, plural, eclectic and all-encompassing while the latter is depicted as a distorted and aberrant manifestation of Hinduism. Sharma’s work throws out this distinction, while showing that there is more to Hindutva than periodical outbursts of unremitting intolerance. For the Hindu nationalists, issues of identity and nationalism are inevitably entwined. The nation is, in turn, the ultimate fruition of Hindu aspirations.

Sharma’s book A Restatement of Religion: Swami Vivekananda and the Making of Hindu Nationalism shows how in the nineteenth century, the religious vocabulary was transformed into a rigid and monochromatic version of Hinduism which left little scope for diversity of opinion or ritual. Myths and legends were excised, and any local manifestations were treated as deviations.

Swami Vivekananda is the father of political Hinduism, argues Sharma.

Jyotirmaya Sharma is professor of political science at the University of Hyderabad, India. His recent publications include Cosmic Love and Human Apathy: Swami Vivekananda and the Restatement of Religion (Harper Collins, 2013), A Restatement of Religion: Swami Vivekananda and the Making of Hindu Nationalism (Yale University Press, 2013), Hindutva: Exploring the Idea of Hindu Nationalism (Harper Collins, 2015); and Terrifying Vision: M.S. Golwalkar, the RSS and India (Penguin/Viking, 2007). An edited volume titled Grounding Morality: Freedom, Knowledge and the Plurality of Cultures (co-edited with A. Raghuramaraju) was published by Routledge in 2010.

–Nagothu Naresh Kumar


Welcome to the Global History Forum, Professor Sharma.


Thank you.


Can you shed some light on the area of research that you are involved in?


Well, I work on Indian intellectual history currently. For the past fifteen years, I have been working on what has now become a quartet of books on questions of the genealogy of Hindu identities, Hindu nationalism and the history, politics and concepts that circumscribe these questions. Three volumes of the quartet have already been published. I am now working on the last volume. That is what occupies me currently.


In one of your books, you draw a parallel between your work and that of the Japanese historical sociologist Eiji Oguma. Can you elaborate on that?


Eiji Oguma wrote this fantastic book called A Genealogy of ‘Japanese’ Self-images. I met him in Japan in 2008, by which time the first two volumes of my quartet were already published. Neither of us had read the other. Therefore, we exchanged our respective books and read them. We also had a few long conversations. We realized that Japan and India were increasingly moving toward a similar kind of inflamed, exaggerated, debilitating and toxic nationalism. What was also common to both these nationalisms was the appeal to a past that was defined largely in terms that were religious. We became good friends. Of course, Eiji is more colorful than I am. He is part of a rock band and dresses up like the Beatles. In comparison, I am very colorless and boring. But we both believe in telling a good story.


Your work on Hindutva is influential and has generated discussion. What kind of methodology do you use and how do you draw from different disciplines?


Thank you for suggesting that my work on Hindutva has been influential. But has it generated any serious discussion? I don’t think so. There have been reviews in newspapers and magazines, but barring a few comments, there has hardly been any serious engagement with the ideas it proposes in India. There are several reasons for it, but it is not my business here to discuss those reasons.
Turning to your question about disciplines, in India this whole question of disciplines was originally meant merely as a bureaucratic convenience to disburse funds. But very soon it became a means for contest for power, turf battles, and, more significantly, a means of arbitrary exclusion. When one does intellectual history, the segregation between history, philosophy, sociology and political science, or the other disciplines within humanities is a false one. It is the question or the problem that determines where one looks for answers – not even answers. One looks for illumination and clarity beyond disciplinary confines.

More importantly, academic writing in India has had three major problems. The first is the stranglehold of ideologies and ideologues. Being mesmerized by fashionable theories and trends is the second issue. The baleful shadow of politics – and here I don’t just mean the politically motivated academic bureaucracy alone, but also theories of victimhood, extremes of identity politics as well – is the third problem. As a result, academic writing does not reach a wider public. In any country, the number of people who read serious nonfiction is a small one. But in a country as large as India, it is even smaller. There is a misconception that serious and profound ideas have to be inaccessible. I believe that any piece of honest intellectual history has to be accessible. In order to do so, it must draw from a variety of sources. Above all, it must tell a good story. A good story sometimes provokes, often unsettles, occasionally reassures but always impels the reader to want to know more. It need not have a conventional beginning, a middle and an end. Stories that intellectual historians tell sometimes are open-ended. But at the same time narrative structures are very important: like poetry, they must engage in the conversation of humankind.

To return to your question of methodology, if one has to use such a weighty term as ‘methodology’, all I do is ask: “Am I telling a story which will interest somebody other than just me or other academic writers?” Bernard Henri-Levy in France is someone who is serious and popular. In more recent years, Michael Puett, the Harvard historian, has written an immensely important, serious and popular book on Chinese philosophers. Closer to home, Ramachandra Guha is serious and popular. Akshay Mukul’s recent book on the Gita Press is serious, significant and has earned popular acclaim. For free and critical thinking to survive, these writers must share shelf-space and mind-space with a Chetan Bhagat or a Paulo Coelho. I feel immensely proud when I see my books being sold at airports and railway stations. They tell stories of a different kind.


You have written about Hindu identity and its genealogy, charting, some believe, a new path for its intellectual history. How did you come to write on this topic and what triggered it?


The obvious triggers were the Hindu-Muslim riots following the felling of the Babri Mosque in 1992 and similar riots in 2002 that followed the burning of pilgrims on a train in the town of Godhra in Gujarat. Apart from the usual “law and order” narrative that accompanies such conflagrations, these riots raised some very important questions. These riots were not by any stretch of the imagination the first nor the most fierce and protracted. The Partition of India into India and Pakistan witnessed unprecedented carnage. But 1992 and 2002 were decisive because they made a few people, and I count myself among them, question the myth of the tolerant, peaceful, non-violent, other-worldly, spiritually-inclined, non-proselytizing and non-materialistic Hindu.

The dominant narratives of the day sought to explain a certain kind of aggressive Hindu nationalism in four ways. First, that nationalism does attain a certain kind of malignancy especially when identity politics comes to the fore, so it is but natural for nationalisms to attain this kind of malignancy that one saw in the violence of 1992 and 2002. The second set of explanations was that what was being witnessed was really a fight between the “good guys” and the “bad guys”. The good guys were those recognized as such by official Indian nationalism and its nationalist historians and the bad guys were those who represented religious nationalism but also everyone who opposed the official nationalism. The third explanation was a combination of the first two, inspired by Benedict Anderson and his “imagined communities” argument: that it is but natural for post-colonial societies to imagine a past, which has something to do with reclaiming a continuous, seamless, and, blemishless past, and to model the present in terms of this imagined past. Another set of explanations sought to portray the whole Hindu nationalist enterprise as a modernist one, arguing that Hindu nationalism was essentially a combination of modern nationalism with its inherent streak of Romanticism wrapped in indigenous clothes. Adherents of this view argued for a return to certain kind of brutal nativism.
I had a certain discomfort with all these explanations. They depended on either easy binaries or mere name-calling. In certain cases, it was a case of intellectual laziness. Two major themes emerged from the explanations I have just cited. One was the idea that modern India was only colonial and post-colonial India. Nothing else mattered. These explanations gave the impression that India’s rupture with its colonial past was so decisive that no sense of this past was really necessary. The second was that the anti-colonial, secular and communal elements of Indian nationalism be separated by clear, distinct and identifiable lines and be boxed into categories that were self-evident.

When I began writing these books on Hindu nationalism and Hindu identity, I was preoccupied by the question of whether it was possible to construct a genealogy of Hindu identity that does three things. First, to take complexity, paradoxes and irony seriously. Second, to map the distance between Hindu identity as understood in all its forms in the last two centuries and the distance between its precolonial past and its colonial and post-colonial present. This has often been conflated as a story of the colonization, modernity, and the semitization of Hinduism. In other words, not to reduce all the issues that concern the questions and conflicts governing contemporary Hindu identity into a story of a perversion or a deviation or a Fall from a pure, unalloyed and glorious Hinduism. The rise of Hindu nationalism, then, has to be explained in terms of the politics of the accretion of Hindu identity and its political uses. And third, to question the Hindu nationalist assertion that definitions of nationalism and identity in India are inextricably linked with the recognition of Hinduism as the defining identity marker. For them, the question of identity is an issue that is effortlessly settled in favor of a clearly delineated Hindu identity, something that renders all those Hindus who do not subscribe to this shrunken definition of Hindu identity, and, Muslims and Christians, as “outsiders”, acceptable only when they claim allegiance to this truncated and ethically limiting idea of “national culture”. These are the concerns that went into the first volume, Hindutva: Exploring the Idea of Hindu Nationalism.


How was the book received?


It earned me enemies among Hindu nationalists and cost me some friends from all other sides of the ideological spectrum. Of course, the Hindu right was upset for obvious reasons. But also those on the Left and some liberals were upset. They objected to Dayanand Saraswati, Aurobindo Ghosh and Swami Vivekananda being relegated from the pantheon of the “good guys” of official Indian nationalism to the ranks of Hindu nationalists. The inclusion of Vivekananda is to this day contested, not very elegantly or satisfactorily, but it continues to rankle.


What are the crucial attributes of Hindutva, and how has it emerged as one of the most politically successful projects?


These are two very different questions. As an intellectual historian, I am less interested in the fate of political formations that subscribe to a particular ideology and gain electoral success. There is a place for that, but it is something that does not excite me intellectually.

The first part of the question is challenging. Let me first clarify that I do not consider Hindutva to be a deviant, aberrant and distorted form of the entity that we have come to know as Hinduism. Hindutva is the politically dominant face of Hinduism in contemporary India, though not at all the only face. Having said that, the two central features that define Hindutva are its fear of complexity and its distrust of democracy.


How did you go about studying this genealogy of Hindu identity? What conceptual problems did you face?


What binds Hindu nationalism are not deep doctrinal or metaphysical issues. Politics, along with very human and existential questions, are at the core of its existence. As with all models of inflamed nationalism, there is also a sense of inferiority, fear of complexity and an irrational urge to impose one’s beliefs on others through violence.

The Western idea of nationalism mandated that every nation must have a core or a center or an essence. For India, it could not have been modern science and technology because the West had stolen a march ahead of India in this respect. Nor could a slave nation claim bravery, physical force and the strength of arms as its essence.
Religion came to the rescue of this nascent nationalism in the nineteenth century. Religion and spirituality were cast in the role of the core, the center, the essence of the nation. They also became the symbolic core around which the future free India would fabricate its destiny. But this religion could no longer be scores of sects or doctrinal systems loosely held together by the most tenuous of threads. Neither could it be folk or tribal or popular religion, replete with practices, customs and rituals that could differ from village to village, region to region. This religion had to be modern, scientific and rational. The religion that existed before the nineteenth century had too much color and too much character. But more significantly, it was grounded in a social system that had begun to crumble. Before its restatement in the nineteenth century, there were dimensions of this religion that had political manifestations and this helped keep a social system and social structure intact. But in its heterodox forms, it did provide genuine guidance, peace, solace and voice to ordinary people. The scientific religion that the nineteenth-century nationalists envisioned would be a faith that was purged of its cultic and ritualistic elements entirely.

In addition, the attempt was to construct a religion, which is compatible with state power, but also one that would be in the constant and abiding service of state power. Elements such as love, irony, humor, sarcasm, complexity, paradox, eroticism, laughter, joy and freedom potentially have tremendous power to question and disrupt state power. The nineteenth-century restatement of Hinduism as a scientific and rational religion obviously found these elements threatening and objectionable. Under the pressures of nationalism and ensnared by an uncritical and unreflective modernity, Hinduism transformed itself into a dull, monochromatic and unexciting idea of a religion in the service of sovereignty.


Devoid of emotions?


Devoid of emotions, yes, but it was also deeply fearful of emotions. Fearful of any disruption that can be brought about by anyone questioning the status quo, anyone expressing doubt and anyone suggesting that there need not be a single calcified core of the nation. Any idea of complexity had to be spurned. The religion in service of the state that was constructed in the nineteenth century, then, had an anti-democratic impulse from the very beginning. I do not mean democracy in the sense of the majoritarian buffoonery that we see today. Democracy in the sense of free speech, free ideas and the protection of citizens against arbitrary power. Also, in the sense of existence of liberal institutions. In other words, an anti-democratic impulse is built into the DNA of the Hindu nationalist project of which religion is the core. And that religion is assumed to be Hinduism. Let us assume that religion was indeed the core of the future, free India. Why not, then, all religions of the Indian people. Why is it assumed to be Hinduism? You again enter this miasma of arguments around numerical majoritarianism but also around “origin” and so on.

This is the juncture where you see a second set of shared myths solidifying: Hinduism does not have a book, a church and a unified doctrine. Hence, it is essentially inclusive and liberal. Hindus are other-worldly, tolerant, non-violent, non-materialistic and all-embracing.


It is a way of life.


Yes, that comes next. But certain things are excluded in the newly constructed religion. It is such an inane and intellectually lazy way of putting things because it begs a political question: whose way of life? What happens to me if I disagree with the dominant definition of this way of life? The proposition “might is right” underwrites this “Hinduism is a way of life” explanation. Even in the most difficult of circumstances and even in the most demanding of authoritarian regimes, different ways of life assert themselves and often struggle to survive. And often these collide and come into conflict.


Your third book in the series, A Restatement of Religion: Swami Vivekananda and the Making of Hindu Nationalism, straddles concepts and categories of enormous breadth. This required reading in a wide range of languages and connecting various idioms, because in one of the paragraphs you implicate German philosophy for the nineteenth century ‘practical vedanta’ and the way it drew upon German philosophy.


German philosophy, especially Arthur Schopenhauer, had a substantial influence on certain strands of religious nationalism in India. But directly and indirectly, German Romanticism went far in influencing Indian understandings of nationalism. In their Indian version, these ideas of nationalism and Romanticism transform themselves into the argument that any putative Indian nationalism will have to be masculine. Passions, emotions, feelings and the imagination were feminine. That there was a link between feelings, emotions, passions and the actual experience of injustice, pain, suffering and lack of freedom was lost on most of the proponents of this form of masculine Hindu nationalism. In many instances, masculinity also meant the ability to use retributive violence. There is this idea that nationalism has to be masculine. What masculinity here means is that it must be violent. This upholding of a certain idea of manliness is not confined to Hindu nationalism alone. Even Gandhi uses it liberally when he talks of the courage of the passive resister.


The book also talks about how Vivekananda vilifies other religions like the “Abrahamic faiths” or the “people of the book”. It also mentions how he tried to base his variant of Hinduism on Upanishads (a collection of ancient Sanskrit texts). Was this an attempt to make Hindus the people of this particular canon to the exclusion of all others?


All organized religions justify their superiority by caricaturing other faiths. Vivekananda was primarily a preacher and hence what he says about other faiths is not exceptional. Andrew Nicholson, in his very important book titled Unifying Hinduism, suggests that Vivekananda’s religion may not have been as tolerant as he claimed, but it was inclusive. My argument is that the inclusivist argument comes from the fact that Vivekananda claimed that religions were in a kind of race towards perfection. Some, like Hinduism, evolve faster and beat out other religions. Others, too, keep running the race and will eventually reach the goal of perfection. This is the dimension of the evolution of religions. However, Vivekananda also proposed the idea of the involution of religions. A seed has within its core the future tree: a neem tree can/will only grow to be a neem tree and not a banyan tree and so is the fate of certain religions. They, suggested the Swami, did not have within themselves the seed that could grow into a state of perfection akin to the one Hinduism had reached. Therefore, this whole inclusiveness argument is cancelled out in a certain sense by the idea of involution.

Returning to the question of canon, the way a canon was created for the nineteenth-century restatement of Hinduism as religion is a story yet to be told in all its fascinating detail. Only recently has there been an exceptionally good work on the significance the Bhagvadgita assumes from the nineteenth century, namely Sanjay Palshikar’s work on the nationalist interpretations of the Bhagvadgita. For me, the interesting bit is in the politics of constructing a canon. Those who upheld the Bhagvadgita to be the foremost Hindu text from the nineteenth century were scarcely aware of the text’s exegetical tradition. For most of them, it became a manual for `action’, `doing’ and for legitimizing violence in the name of waging and fighting a just war. The fact that Arjuna doubts the need for war and violence is underplayed. The only way employed in the text to convince Arjuna is to bring him to his knees in submission by shock and awe.


In that case, would you say “certainty” is one of the crucial elements of this Hinduism?


Hindu nationalism as long as it contains the nationalist element within it cannot escape the stranglehold of certainty. Imagine a nationalism constructing itself on a premise: “I doubt, therefore I am”. I dare say it would a chaotic state, but it would be a wonderful state. It would be a humane, empathetic and a kind state.


And this fear of doubt exists even now?


It has increased and has grave implications. The sense of doubt is almost non-existent now. We are now into the blind, unthinking and irrational worship of leaders and meaningless abstractions.


Coming back to intellectual history, you are currently one of the most prominent practitioners of it in India. What do you think are the challenges for intellectual history in the Indian context?


The challenges of intellectual history in the Indian context are the following: first, people doing intellectual history have to be trained adequately to do intellectual history. This means that the various tiers of education must be equipped to teach the social sciences and humanities. The education system must learn to respect social sciences and humanities and not see them as alternatives for those who cannot do the more so-called “useful” things. The first building block of this is to have outstanding teachers of classical and modern languages. In India, barring a few, we have lousy language teachers. The idea that the human sciences can be attempted without a sensitivity to languages is crazy. Second, the reality is that politicians, academic bureaucracy, and bad teachers have ensured that no viable intellectual tradition exists in our formal academic institutions. We do sub-standard research, have thoughtless warehouses of books masquerading as libraries, and have sacrificed all that is good and noble at the altar of expediency. Third, intellectual history, as well as all strands of humanistic education across the world, are threatened today because they question politics, power and the status quo. And so a lot of intellectual writing that’s done will have to exit formal academic spaces and exist independently of academia. That means that businessmen such as Premjis and Narayana Murtys should have the courage and the spine to start premium research institutes in India, rather than giving Stanford and Harvard large sums of money so that either supine social scientists or efficient clerks and executives could be produced by these places. Finally, it is fashionable to talk about the asymmetry between knowledge and power in India. It is something we have picked up from post-colonial and post-modern thought. But what is this asymmetry of power apart from the question of money and infrastructure? It translates into a country of a billion plus people not managing in seventy-odd years to produce a single great authority in India on Greek thought or Roman thought or the French Revolution. We do not even manage to produce great authorities within India on Indian thought or Indian history. There are very, very few exceptions in this regard. On the other hand, there is hardly an area of the intellectual history of this country that does not have a universally acclaimed authority in the West. Forget the West, for decades the finest exponent of Advaita was a Japanese scholar called Hajime Nakamura.


You stressed the importance of linguistic training and capability for practicing intellectual history. What are the languages that you use in your research?


I know Sanskrit, Hindi, Urdu, Gujarati, Greek, and Latin well. I have recently acquired a working knowledge of Pali, and now I can read Bangla well. I speak a few Rajasthani dialects and have an active knowledge of reading and translating Marathi, though I wish I could speak it. I want to be able to speak, read and write Tamil, but will have to wait a bit to acquire it properly.


What is your experience with the followers of Hindu nationalism? Have you received any threats or have you been a victim of Hindu chauvinism?


Yes, of course. There is the expected trolling and abuse. Nevertheless, when I write my books, unlike the journalistic work I did for eight years, I write them responsibly. I do not write with the intention of provoking anyone and I do believe that writing, however strong or against the grain, must have the right tone. My first and foremost ambition in life was to become a musician. Though I am a failed musician, I have learned many important things from the practice of music. I approach writing in ways similar to getting the tonal quality of a piece of music right. You have to determine the exact place where there has to be silence and the exact place at which there has to be ornamentation, harmony, counterpoint, and so on. Also, a great teacher of mine once solved the familiar problems one encounters while writing. He told me, quoting the Romanian philosopher, E.M. Cioran, that “one must not write for the living.” If you write for the living, you will always be self-conscious about the response and reaction of certain people. Write for the dead, and one will be better served because one will be saved from either excessive caution or the need to play to the gallery. So write for the dead and hope that the living buy your books!


In 2014, you asked the publisher Penguin to withdraw and pulp your books. Why was that the case?


Penguin had then decided to withdraw Wendy Doniger’s book due to bullying from a self-appointed Hindu nationalist vigilante by the name of Dinanath Batra. I thought this was a disgraceful capitulation to the threats of the semi-literate lunatic fringe – they had not at that point become the official mainstream. Moreover, I have grown increasingly restive of the never-ending op-ed writing and petition signing by the Left and liberal voices in the country. While they eloquently speak of defending the liberal space, very few of them are ready to sacrifice anything to save it. I believe more strongly than ever before that if free speech and expression is to be saved and protected, it can only be done by giving up something or sacrificing something. Therefore, I decided to withdraw my books from Penguin. I asked them to pulp these immediately. Later, one of these was republished in a new version by Harper Collins.


What is your upcoming book on Gandhi and violence about and what are you currently reading?


Just as the Vivekananda book was not about Vivekananda but two incommensurable models of religion and faith existing side by side, the Gandhi volume is not about Gandhi or Gandhian thought. As the last volume in the quartet of books, it takes Gandhi as the peg, and, through him, explores the questions of violence and non-violence. More specifically, the questions of representation and legitimation of violence. Compared to the other three volumes that have already been published, this book covers a wider historical and conceptual terrain. My current reading involves questions of violence and non-violence in India, but also theories of representation of violence elsewhere.


What would you recommend to someone working or planning to work on Indian intellectual history?


I would gently persuade them to pay greater attention to the literatures produced in Indian languages, and explore their complexity, subtlety, depth and range. This is rarely to be found in the literature that we have come to believe as canonical and sometimes officially sanctioned by the imperatives of creating a national literature. At the same time, they must learn to appreciate world literature in a serious fashion.


You have been a fellow at various institutes in Europe for some time. What would you say are the main differences between the European and Indian academia?


Indian academic life is governed entirely by the politics of the day. This can only mean the death of seriousness, academic excellence and rigorous engagement with ideas. Rival political ideologies have ruined the entire education system, from the school level through to higher education. The easy excuse for the rotten state of our education is the lack of resources and the pressures of a large population. But the real reason is that the mediocrity and corruption of our politics has cast educational institutions in its own sordid image.

While we pride ourselves on worshipping knowledge and revering teachers, in the past seventy years, we have failed to build a single institution of great excellence, (this includes the much-hyped IITs – Indian Institutes of Technology and IIMs – Indian Institutes of Management). The Institutes I have had the privilege to be associated with are institutions that cherish thought, academic excellence, free speech and their autonomy. It is sad that we do not have a single comparable institution in India.


I have one last question. You were one of the early writers to come up with a book, Hindutva: Exploring the Idea of Hindu Nationalism, that contested the secularization thesis back in 2003. So what has your intellectual journey been like for the past 14 years?


The journey has been complicated because once I wrote the Hindutva book, I wanted to show that it was not a figment of my imagination and that the ideology had a real and tangible outcome. Therefore, I decided to write Terrifying Vision. Then people said: “we understand the book but is it really terrifying?” I wonder if they would have the same reaction today. In search of a foundational basis for Indian thought and for establishing a deeper genealogy, the book on the restatement of religion followed. Its Indian title was Cosmic Vision and Human Apathy. A magazine that carried excerpts from it unconsciously recast the title, calling it “Cosmic Love and Human Empathy”. There seems to be a jinx with my titles. Hence, I need to find a title for the violence/non-violence book that is error-proof and so prosaic to make people turn a page beyond the title.

CFP: Cities in Colonial Africa and Europe: A History of Separateness and Entanglement (EAUH Rome, 29 August – 1 September 2018)

For readers interested in urban history, see this call for papers for the Special Session 30 of the 14th International Conference on Urban History (EAUH) to be held in Rome, 29 August – 1 September 2018:

As Cooper & Stoler, amongst others, have demonstrated, colonialism is not only premised on asymmetries and distinction, but is also characterized by intertwinement in all domains of daily life. This ambivalence between separateness and entanglement, which is one of the core characteristics and inherent contradictions of colonialism, got a material and spatial expression in colonial urbanism. Moreover, the ‘tensions of empire’ were not restricted to places in colonies, but also shaped spatial relations with other cities, across borders, as well as with and within metropolitan cities.
In recent years, historians have critically engaged with such aspects as the imprint of colonial ideas on spatial constellations and settlement patterns in African cities, the imperial outlook of metropolitan cities, or the role of these cities for anti-colonial activity or post-colonial opposition movements. These strands in urban history have demonstrated the importance of approaches that thwart national, imperial and continental frameworks.
This panel adopts a focus on urban spaces and spatial practices in Africa and Europe in order to scrutinize African-European entanglement and separation. We are particularly interested in papers which address one of the following questions: (1) how do colonial cities and neighbourhoods within them relate to each other across colonial/national, imperial and continental borders; (2) how did different imperial, colonial, national or ethnic identities and experiences ‘find a place’ within African and metropolitan cities; (3) how have imperial, metropolitan, colonial or global cities around the world been used effectively in African politics – both during and after the colonial period?

Paper proposals of up to 450 words can only be submitted online, via the EAUH2018 website. To submit a paper proposal, registration is required (

After the deadline for paper proposals submission on October 5th, 2017, session organisers will select the final list of participants based on abstract submission, and notification of acceptance of abstracts will be send by December 1st, 2017.

For more information see the conference website:

Call for Submissions: International Research Award in Global History 2018 (September 30, 2017)

From our friends at the universities of Munich, Basel and Sydney comes this call for submissions for the International Research Award in Global History 2018:

The Universities of Munich, Basel and Sydney are proud to announce the Fourth International Research Award in Global History. The successful applicant will receive up to €10,000 towards the organization of an international symposium at the History Department of the University of Munich.

Over the last two decades global history has emerged as an important sub‐discipline in the broader field of historical research, encompassing a wide range of methodological and thematic approaches, including transnational, international and world history. The International Research Award in Global History and the award symposium have been initiated jointly by some of the leading researchers in the field, in order to support innovative young researchers. The award aims to give them the intellectual freedom and the financial means to bring together scholars from all over the world to engage with a topic of their own choice and design. Our aim is to make the scholarly work of the awardee visible in the scientific community and put them in closer contact with established colleagues in their field. Beyond supporting the research and academic networks of the prize-winning scholar, the award symposium will contribute to the field’s ability to critically reflect and intellectually replenish itself. The award also aims to reach out to an academic public beyond the sub-discipline of global history and provide a broader stage for the pioneering research currently undertaken in the field.

The purse of up to €10,000 attached to the award will be used to host an international symposium on a topic proposed by the successful applicant. In 2018, the symposium will take place at the University of Munich, Germany, in late September/early October. The awardee will be responsible for organizing the panels and inviting the speakers. Chairs and discussants will come from the initiating institutions at Basel, Munich and Sydney. Organizational support will be available.

The International Research Award in Global History is jointly advertised by the Department of History at the University of Munich (Roland Wenzlhuemer – currently Heidelberg, as from October 2017 at the University of Munich), the Institute for European Global Studies at the University of Basel (Madeleine Herren-Oesch) and the Laureate Research Program in International History at the University of Sydney (Glenda Sluga).

Candidates need to be in the early stage of their research career in History (2-7 years after their PhD). Applicants should submit a cover letter explaining their interest in the award (max. 2 pages), an academic CV and their proposal for the symposium (detailing the topic, a tentative list of participants and a preliminary budget, max. 5 pages). It is possible for two candidates to submit a joint proposal. We encourage scholars and scholarship from beyond the trans-Atlantic triangle, and gender balance in conceptualising symposiums. Please submit your application electronically to (as one PDF file) by 30 September 2017.