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The Enchantment of Science in India

Shruti Kapila
Isis
Vol. 101, No. 1 (March 2010), pp. 120-132
DOI: 10.1086/652700
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/652700
Page Count: 13
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The Enchantment of Science in India
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Abstract

ABSTRACT In critiquing methodologies of the “global” as a spatial unit of analysis or a receptacle for influence across the planet, this essay positions India so as to assess the role and forms of science in the modern world. By taking the mid-nineteenth century as a moment of departure, it asks why, under what conditions, and to what effects Indians accepted science, but not biomedicine, in the high noon of colonialism. Existing imperial histories of science that are primarily fixated on the eighteenth century cast science as a site of exchange and dialogue, thus replicating the narrative of European expansion overseas. Instead, the power of science is here understood in the context of the politics of religion and rationality. In a synoptic overview, the essay assesses the archaeology of science and the blurred practices between religion and science, described here as “insurgent.” It argues that science in India was a form of enchantment, while religion had become a form of disenchanted but rational knowledge. Unlike in Europe, and contrary to orientalist positions, science in India neither declared the death of God nor became “spiritualized” via religion. Instead, science inflected religion; and religion, in turn, facilitated a rational mediation between science and man. This specific relationship accounts for the “soft landing” of science in India and its usurpation in the service of an unapologetic national modernity.

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