Mixing Science and Spiritualism: The Curious Case of Indian Modernity


The Discussion Map charts important debates from the pages of EPW.


India’s potential as a science and technology powerhouse has been widely recognised. However, Meera Nanda argues in her paper titled ‘How Modern Are We?’, that India's modernity is rife with contradictions wherein science has been co-opted into spirit-based cosmology and epistemology. She argues that this is because India has not embraced the spirit of the Enlightenment and the scientific revolution that set limits on the authority of religion. Instead, in India science, and particularly quantum mechanics, is used to encourage mysticism and prop up a world view which justifies the logics of innate karmic purity and hierarchy, and which legitimises the powers of god-men and soothsayers. She concludes that for India to be truly modern, we must adopt a spirit of critical reasoning and shed our prejudices and superstitions. 

In a letter responding to Meera Nanda’s article N R Sheth appreciates Nanda’s argument but finds it impracticable to counter ‘vedic scientism’ or ‘mythological pseudo science’. Instead, he suggests embracing ‘spiritual scientism’ in the hope that it may provide the sparks of insight necessary for the progress of science.

Where Sheth leans towards spiritualism, Ranjit Sau, in his response article titled ‘How Modern Are We? Why Be Modern? Be Rational’, leans towards rationality. Sau provides careful annotations to Nanda’s text, disagreeing with her formulation of the term counter-enlightenment but builds on her idea that beliefs mutate in response to changes in their social context. Further suggesting a method by which the choice of whether or not a change in belief is justified is arrived at rationally. An important contribution of Sau’s article is the explanation of why quantum mechanics is so susceptible to the ‘humanisation of mysticism, and mystification of humans, with ample temptation for opportunism’. Sau points out the errors and raises some questions that need to be addressed by those conflating quantum mechanics and neo-Hinduism.




For more on this theme please see the following papers


1. The Science Question in Post-Colonial Feminism

2. Reclaiming Modern Science for Third World Progressive Social Movements 

3. Culturalist Critiques of Modern Science and a Debate in the late 1990s

4. Beyond Modern vs Alternative Science Debate : Analysis of Magnetic Resonance Imaging Research

5. The Contradictory Spaces of Postcolonial Techno-Science 

6. Modern Science and Islamic Essentialism

7. Hindu Triumphalism and the Clash of Civilisations

8. Ancient India, Modern Science, and Insecurities 

9. A Thoughtful Rationality 


Ed: To contribute to a more comprehensive discussion map, please share links to other relevant articles in the comments section or write to us at edit@epw.in with the subject line—“On Indian Modernity”


Curated by johann [johann@epw.in]



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