Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

Rethinking Civil Society and the Public Spheres: Pathways of Indian Modernities in Global Conversations1

Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

Rethinking Civil Society and the Public Spheres: Pathways of Indian Modernities in Global Conversations1

Article excerpt

Abstract: Civil society today is a globally valorized discourse but its fundamental terms come from the European discourses which need to be brought to cross-cultural conversations and dialogues. The essay makes such an effort by rethinking civil society and the conjoint concept of public sphere. It argues that civil society consist of overlapping and interpenetrative circles of society, religion, state, market, social movements / voluntary organizations and self. It explores pathways of Indian modernities and its implication for rethinking civil society and public sphere globally.

Keywords: civil society and ontological epistemology of participation, Indian modernities, creative public spheres, life worlds and livings words.

Introduction and Invitation

It is Jurgen Habermas (1981) himself who quite some time ago had challenged us that now we need a new philosophy of science which is not scientistic. It is worth asking Habermas and all of us sociologists for whom sociological engagement is nothing more than an elaboration of the agenda of modernity whether we need an understanding of and relationship with modernity which is not modernistic. This inquiry is at the core of understanding paths of civil society and experiments with modernities not only in India but also in Europe, East Asia, Africa, Latin America and around the world. Both conceptions of civil society and modernity suffer from a profound modernistic bias and is part of the post-traditional telos of modernistic sociological theorizing2 and here though the recent discourse of multiple modernities initiated by Shmuel N. Eisenstadt (cf. Sachsenmaier et al. 2002) has suggested some new possibilities the approach of multiple modernities as that of universalistic modernity of Habermas suffers from a modernistic bias when it comes to understanding tradition.3 Prefiguring my argument I wish to submit that appreciating the significance of Indian modernities from Buddha to Gandhi challenges us to understand the relationship between modernity and tradition, state and society, religion and secularism in a new way through a multi-valued logic of autonomy and interpénétration rather than through the dualistic logic of modernity. Such a dualistic logic has impoverished our understanding of civil society and modernity in the West itself what to speak of illuminating our historical paths and tryst with modernities in India.

The subject of Indian modernties is quite vast and here I just wish to state that Indian modernities have emerged out of processes of criticism, creativity and struggles through history as in the revolt of Buddha, the rise of Upanishadic spirituality, Bhakti movements in medieval India, movement for a new renaissance in 19th century, and the multi-dimensional anti-colonial and post-colonial struggles for freedom.4 Tryst with modernities in India have involved a transformative dialogue between reason and tradition, tradition and modernity, and rationality and spirituality which has shaped their paths, contents and visions. These modernities have generated their own public spaces of coming together, dialogues and public deliberations which bear parallels to what we speak of civil society in the modern West. Civil society is not only an epistemic project, it is also an ontological project; in fact it is a project of ontological epistemology of participation going beyond the modernistic privileging of epistemology and dualism between ontology and epistemology. Taking inspiration from Bkakti movements, Kabir, Nanak, Mira Bai, Sri Aurobindo and Gandhi, we can realize that the significance of Indian modernities lies in bringing to the fore strivings for multi-dimensional self-development where self-transformation contributes to world transformation and where an aesthetics and ethics of servanthood is an important mark of being modern rather than the will to power.

But such an open-ended approach to civil society and paths of Indian modernities seems to be missing from certain dominant sociological theorizing in India. …

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