ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Pseudoscience, Sophistry, and Hindu Nationalism in India

Holy Science: The Biopolitics of Hindu Nationalism by Banu Subramaniam, University of Washington Press, Orient Blackswan, 2019; pp xv + 290, $95, `945 (hardcover).

Arecent calendar published by a department at the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur presented ancient and religious knowledge as being modern and scientific.1 Stretch back a few years and we have sessions within the annual Indian Science Congress titled the “Neuroscience of Yoga” and “Engineering Applications of Ancient Indian Botany.”2 Even in the midst of a pandemic, there was no dearth of pseudoscientific claims valorising traditional practices.3 The scientisation of religion has long been a feature of the Indian society. Meera Nanda adopted the term “reactionary modernism”4 to argue that Hindu nationalists have often appropriated the benefits and outcomes of science and simultaneously suppressed egalitarian values that inform the scientific world view (universalism, secularism, equality, and democratisation) (Nanda 2005).5 A broad range of social reformers, rationalists, scientists, and progressive political forces6 have argued that this suppression has been a historical presence in the Indian society. This view argues that the cultivation of egalitarian values (precursors to the scientific world view) serves the sectional interest of those purporting religious dogma (in particular, the caste system in India). They further argue that science and values underlying it hold emancipatory potential for the Indian society.

However, a third view, which emerged in the 1970s, is that one can and should preserve the “unique India assemblage” of science and religion whilst being critical of Hindu nationalism and Western models of science. It is in this context that Banu Subramaniam’s book Holy Science: The Biopolitics of Hindu Nationalism is to be understood. The objective of the book is “(to explore) the enduring relationship of science and religion in India as both forged practices and ideologies that resist gender and caste transformations” (p 8). The book itself is an ode to the third view mentioned in the introduction. While doing so, the book draws its theoretical framework from postcolonial theory, feminist science, and technology studies as well as Michel Foucault’s biopower and bio-nationalism (Donna J Haraway, Helen Longino, Sandra Harding, and Foucault).

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Updated On : 4th Jun, 2022
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