Contesting secularism: Ashis Nandy and the cultural politics of selfhood
AffiliationThe School of Philosophy, Anthropology and Social Inquiry
The School of Culture and Communications Studies
Document TypePhD thesis
CitationsDeftereos, C. (2009). Contesting secularism: Ashis Nandy and the cultural politics of selfhood. PhD thesis, The School of Philosophy, Anthropology and Social Inquiry and The School of Culture and Communications Studies, The University of Melbourne.
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2009 Dr. Christine Deftereos
This dissertation establishes that the methods used to generate social and political criticism are just as important as the ideas expressed. This proposition is explored in both the ideas and methods of the Indian political psychologist Ashis Nandy. For over thirty-five years Nandy has contributed extensively to a number of debates within a global academic culture, and as a public intellectual in India. His critique of Indian secularism has produced intense controversy, and is a dynamic case to explore this relationship between critique and method, and by extension the identity of the critic. This case study also allows for an analysis, of what is widely accepted, as the confronting features of his critique. In radically questioning the ways in which the ideology of secularism operates in Indian political culture, and in defining concepts of Indianness, Nandy contests dominant political ideas and ideals. Further, he confronts the role these ideas and ideals play in foreclosing understandings of national identity, national integration and Indian democracy. I argue that this confrontation demonstrates a critical and psychoanalytic engagement with the constituting features of Indian political culture, and political identities. This case study also provides a context to consider the implications of this approach for understanding and representing the identity of the critic. Much criticism of Nandy and his work is based on beliefs that he represents the intellectual basis of anti-secularism and anti-modernism in India. According to these accounts Nandy carries forward a threatening and disruptive quality. This is evident, it is claimed, in his calls to return to a regressive traditionalism. These responses represent his ideas and his identity within a particular ideological and intellectual framework. This takes place though, at the expense of engaging with the methods operating in his work. The focus on the disruptive and threatening features of Nandy and his work creates a series of over-determined responses that undermine recognition of his psychoanalytic approach. I argue that the location of agitation and fascination for critics is in Nandy’s willingness to confront accepted identities, meanings, fantasies, projections and ideals operating in politics, and in working through the complexities of subjectivity. This aptitude for working with external and internal processes, at the border between culture and psyche is where the psychoanalytic focus of his work is located. The psychoanalytic focus, in working with and working through the complexities of human subjectivity, produces a confronting self-reflexivity that can disarm critics. Nandy’s psychoanalytic reading of secularism is the starting point for theorising and characterising the method, or mode of critique operating across his work more broadly. This dissertation argues that Nandy’s approach or method is characterised by a psychoanalytic mode. The psychoanalytic mode of engagement is illustrated in his capacity to generate critical analytic perspectives that rupture and regenerate subjectivity, including his own. This dissertation demonstrates Nandy’s psychoanalytic commitment, and argues the importance of this approach. Therefore, this reading of Nandy and the methods that are employed to develop this inquiry, build a case for the importance of psychoanalytic concepts, as a necessary interpretive mode for social and political criticism.
KeywordsAshis Nandy; India; secularism; political culture; psychoanalytic concepts
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