West Meets East: Dialogue and Discourse
Workshop at Jacobs University Bremen
May 9/10, 2010
Papers on the themes addressed below are welcome. Please send an abstract to the organizer no later than 15 March 2010.
Rudyard Kipling’s famous quotation, “East is east and west is west and never the twain shall meet” has come under critical scrutiny by cultural study specialists. Recent studies tend to dispute Kipling’s lamenting the gulf of understanding between the Westerners and the natives of the Indian subcontinent. Latest debates among scholars of world history have covered several issues of Euro-centrism and Orientalism. In modern Indian historiography, the process of the incorporation of India into world economy and the colonization of the Indian economy and culture under British rule have remained as themes of overriding importance. The recent voluminous and analytical interpretations of modern south Asian history and culture provides a refreshingly new understanding of the broader historical and theoretical insights into forces that have shaped the civilizations in the modern world and India’s place in it. The different schools of thought have offered divergent and conflicting views about the impact of western colonialism and cultural encounters between the West and the east in modern times and raised important questions pertaining to the role of Asia in the evolution of modern globalization. Historians of pre-colonial and colonial south Asia have been making attempts to (re)discover Indian civilization and India’s contribution to the “rise of the modern west”. Attempts have also been made by scholars to deconstruct Euro-centrism and to reveal the “dialogical coexistence of the Eastern Other and Western Self during the past millennium.” Some studies with non-Eurocentric dialogical perspective have focused on the eastern origins of western civilization and the dialogue of civilizations in the birth of modern world.
Scholarly presentations by experts in the field of religious/cultural studies are expected to explore the multifaceted encounters between the west and the east in the modern times. Although the focus would be on India, presentations on Southeast Asia and China are also welcome. The workshop proposes especially to examine the nature and character of east-west cultural encounters in modern South Asia, with special reference to Christian missionary activities. It also seeks to examine the nature of Indo-German cultural encounters during the colonial and post-colonial periods. Though ‘German Orientalism’ did not have a protracted sustained national interest or colonial ambitions in the Orient, it did resort to the professional study of texts. German thinkers and scholars of 18-20th centuries from Herder to Max Weber expressed divergent views about the Asian societies and cultures. For instance, Herder viewd Orint “as the place of Childhood of mankind” while Schopenhauer believed that ‘Indian wisdom would change Europe”. But for Hegel and Marx “India was stuck in traditional patterns, with despotic government and unchanging villages.” Given the diversity of European/German Orientalist perceptions of Asia, the main objective of this Workshop is to probe into the inter-cultural interface between Europe and Asia. The multifarious dimensionality of Orientalist interpretations/perceptions are also need to be discussed. For instance, the Saidian interpretations primarily based on direct European colonial penetration into Asia and the imperialist constructions of the Other. Whereas, non-colonial powers in Asia like Germany had interpreted Asian Civilizations not purely from an Empire building perspective. This is amply illustrated from the German Intellectual Quest and Christian Missionary cultural/religious encounters. So the moot question would be How to interpret the varying Western imaging of Asia.
Therefore, the proposed workshop seeks to explore the Christian Missionaries understanding and reflections of the South Asian society, religion and culture and the strategies to propagate Gospel and affect religious conversions. Their direct encounters with foreign religions and cultures had reinforced and contrasted certain notions of Orientalist thought. As propagators of Christianity, they sought to demonstrate the superiority of western culture by critiquing the native religious and cultural traditions. The workshop will provide an opportunity for exchange of views from divergent perspectives. Scholars are requested to make presentations of their field of study for evolving a comparative perspective of European Orientalism. However, scholarly presentations on missionary encounters are particularly welcomed.
Jacobs University Bremen and the DAAD will cover expenses for travel and accomodation.