Wedding Science and Hinduism, shotgun style

Meera Nanda in Economic and Political Weekly:

Rather than bring religion under the limits of scientific reason, India has witnessed a steady co-option of science into the spirit-based cosmology and epistemology of “the Vedas.” …That “the Vedas” are conflated with science as we know it today will hardly come as news to anyone who knows anything about India. This is routine business and has been going on since the very introduction of modern science and technology in India, dating back to the 18th century. (Indian rationalists, in comparison, have never enjoyed the same degree of cultural hegemony. The marginalisation of rationalism in India’s cultural politics is a topic for another day and another essay.)

Most Indians pause to think about this streak of scientism in modern Hinduism, just about as much as fish pause to reflect upon the water they live in – which is not much at all. It has become a part of the commonsense of modern, science-educated, English-speaking Indians to treat the teachings of popular gurus, yogis and swamis as vaguely “scientific,” and therefore modern. Indian scientists, for the most part, have not challenged the religious uses of science: they tend to keep their laboratory lives and their personal lives in separate water-tight compartments. Our public intellectuals and social critics, meanwhile, have been more exercised about the real and imagined scientism of the modern Indian state, than about the scientism that pervades modern Hinduism.

I believe that we need to pay closer attention to Hindu scientism because it is a symptom of the deeper cultural contradictions that afflict India’s modernity.