Westology and its nonsense

What is the logic of my argument? Am I proposing a ‘westology’? Let me briefly explicate my stances, beginning with the last question.

1. If we are not to simply sell slogans and our claims should carry bite, we need to say what this ‘westology’ is or could be. My stance: such a ‘westology’ cannot even be properly conceptualized, let alone carried out.

1.1. What does it mean (however intuitively plausible it might appear at first sight) to build a ‘westology’ that is, say, an Indian counterpart to ‘indology’? Are we to assume that we need to build Indian theories of ‘democracy’, ‘state’, ‘market’, ‘firm’, ‘society’, ‘religion’ and such like? If the answer is ‘no’, then the notion of ‘westology’ does not make sense. Therefore, the answer has to be ‘yes’.

1.2. Assume, counterfactually, that Indians do author theories on these themes. (In fact, many Indians have written books on these subjects.) Question: what makes them Indian theories and not merely theories authored by Indians? Is Amartya Sen’s economic writings Indian theory of economics or a contribution to welfare economics? Is Sen doing ‘westology’, or doing economics?

1.3. What, for instance, would make a theory of ethics or religion into a ‘westological’ one? Surely, not because it will be about the west. What then? That we use the word ‘dharma’ or ‘sampradaya’? This is not enough, for the obvious reason that there is no way we can even begin to use native concepts from the Indian traditions to speak of ‘ought’, ‘moral dilemma’, ‘is-ought’ distinction and such like. (These are merely the simplest of the terms in the western ethical theories.) Why? Because these notions do not form a part of the Indian ethical traditions. What does it mean to speak of an ‘Indian perspective’ on theology, eschatology, Eucharist, sin, salvation and such like?

1.4. The ‘indologists’ have built many theories of ‘caste’; written tracts about the Indian ‘religions’; about our ‘traditions’ and marriage ceremonies. True, there are more Indians in the west than the other way round. But I have yet to see ‘westological’ theories coming out.

2. I am not denigrating or being polemical. I am merely saying that ‘westology’ sounds fine because it is a ‘slogan’ and no more than that. This notion has not been thought through. If one does the attempt, one will see that it is quite simply an idle dream.

3. Further, I am not willing to accept that ‘Indology’ is a ‘study’ of Indian people or their culture. It merely records the experience of the west. In its arrogance, the western culture claims that it is a description of Indian society and culture; in our foolishness, we accept such claims as true. Consequently, no, I am not advocating a ‘westology’.

4. What is the logic of my argument? I think that Malhotra’s concerns are eminently reasonable and praiseworthy. But the way to intellectual ‘svaraj’ will not (and cannot) take the path Malhotra outlines. Not just that. I claim that we have been through that path and that it is a cul-de-sac. Walking it is counter-productive. My post was meant to draw attention to this point.

5. It is possible that my point is an experiential lesson. In that case, one will have to retread these paths oneself to discover the truth of my point. In much the same way ‘atma-vidya’ requires that the learner discovers things experientially, it might be the case that Malhotra has to go through this phase as well. (I have so far spent twenty years full-time on this path myself. Malhotra has another thirteen years to go then.)

For more, check the chapter “Comparative science of cultures” in Reconceptualizing India studies.

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