Scholars and Prophets (Sociology of India From France 19th-20th Centuries)

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Item Code: NAG217
Author: Roland Lardinois
Publisher: Social Science Press
Language: English
Edition: 2013
ISBN: 9788187358701
Pages: 576
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
Weight 680 gm
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Book Description

About the Book

This is the first book in the series, French writings on India and South Asia.

Scholars and prophets: Sociology of India from France 19th-20th centuries has been translated from L invention deI Inde. Entre esoterisme et science and deals with the historical genesis of the long and rich scholarship in India in France since the beginning of 19th century, with particular reference to the work of Louis Dumont. It considers the works of scholars, essayists and poets or esotericists who published on India and shows that Dumont has been influenced by both groups. This understanding illuminates the main criticism that is still addressed to Homo hierarchicus that in this book Dumont mistook the internal Brahminical view point on the caste system for a sociological view.

In the last chapter, the book contrasts Dumont s work with issues raised by McKim Marriott s project and the Subaltern Studies from India. It defends that the core issue dealt with by all scholars is the epistemic status given to scientific knowledge of Indian society.

In the course of explaining the French intellectual tradition, the author relates many fascinating interactions and little known anecdotes of famous men and women which capture the intellectually vibrant climate of the time. Both scholars and students of the social sciences will find this book very useful.

About the Author

Roland Lardinois is a sociologist, Director of Research at the centre national de la recherche scientifique, Paris (France). He is Fellow at the Centre d etudes de I Inde ET de I Asie du Sud at the Ecole des hautes etudes en sciences socials, Paris. He has published works on the history of family in India, history of French scholarship in India, and edited a volume of correspondence exchanged between Sylvain Levi and Russian Orientalist scholars.


The Genesis of the Sociology of India

From the turn of the 18th century, scholars started a process of institutionalization of oriental studies in France, upholding philology as a core discipline in accordance with the totalizing ambition of knowledge that philologists professed. A prerequisite for the study of non-European civilizations that have arisen from the major world religions as in, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism is the mastery of the learned languages that control the access to the textual corpus in which doctrines, rituals and customs of these socio-cultural universes are expressed. The emergence of social sciences at the end of the 19th century, sociology to start with, and more specifically, the sociology of religions, did however affect the configuration of oriental studies. Sociology of religions became a competitor to philology, challenging its methods with a different approach to the social world, no longer based on the study of texts, but on field research, carried out first of all by missionaries and colonial administrators, then by anthropologists. While the genesis of sociology of India, which is the subject of this present work, is implicated in a plurality of genealogies varying according to national traditions and methodological orientations, it remains, however, essentially marked by a structural tension between these two types of disciplinary approaches.

From philology to sociology

The sociology of India that this work deals with is associated in France with the name of the anthropologist Louis Dumont (1911-1998), who, from 1955 onwards held a chair at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (previously known as the 6th section of the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes). This new discipline dedicated to the scholarship of modern India had, at the outset, the support of an English language review Contributions to Indian Sociology that Louis Dumont and his British colleague, David Pocock, published jointly in Paris and Oxford from 1957 to 1964, before bequeathing it to Indian anthropologists in Delhi where it is published today. Louis Dumont then altered his project, leaving aside Indian studies to dedicate his work to the genesis of western individualism and modernity, a theme that he nonetheless considered a complementary element to his research on India. His work on the caste system Homo Hierarchicus, published in 1966 and translated into English as early as 1970, presents a sociological model that completely transformed the approach to modern India and opened up new research perspectives with regard to ancient India. This book, however, provoked heated debates among researchers, particularly in the Anglo Saxon world, a fact that testifies to the existence of a new disciplinary space that already had two dimensions, national and international, related to both Europe and India.

The specificity of Indian sociology expounded by Louis Dumont was to combine tools of social anthropology, based on field research, with that of Indian philology. Sanskrit texts pertaining to classical culture served to shed light upon social institutions of Hinduism and values that people draw upon to justify their actions. By this means, Dumont intended to go back to a research tradition started in France at the turn of the 19th century by the heuristic meeting of Indology with the French school of sociology, that of the Sanskrit scholar sylvain Levi and the sociologist Marcel Mauss, who was Louis Dumont s teacher at the end of the 1930s.The originality of this approach becomes evident when we look at the works on India produced outside France from the end of the 19th century onwards: on the one hand, British colonial publications on caste, based on material collected in the field, and on the other hand, Max Weber s studies of the great Eastern civilizations,, particularly India and China. However, Weber did not develop a methodological alliance with German Indologists, among whom were many powerful scholars, at the time.

This sociology of India initiated by Marcel Mauss focuses on Hinduism, which is to be understood in the sense of both a social morphology, the caste system, and a group of ritual practices and representations. This definition did not ignore that Islam was implanted early on in the sup-continent, nor that a tribal world existed on the fringes of village society. Yet, within the Indian social formation, everything occurred as if Hinduism, from which both Indian Islam and tribal populations borrow some of their traits, were in a position of cultural hegemony with regard to these two other components of Indian society. However, if Hindustani language and literature were taught at the Ecole Special des Langues Orientales as early as the first half of the 19th century, research devoted to Indian Islam developed only after World War II. Nor did it provoke interrogations comparable in their range and nature to the debates raised by interpretations of the caste system. Thus, compared to Indian Islam and Tribal culture, Hinduism may be considered a relatively autonomous subject of sociological study.

Within these limits, this sociology inspired a number of researchers in France and abroad, particularly in India and the United States, or provoked comments that go beyond its disciplinary field of research. This book aims, firs, to delineate a historical sociology of this knowledge about India, and second, to understand the implicit assumptions put in practice by Sanskrit scholars and sociologists, specifically in Louis Dumont s comparative anthropology.

Anyone trained in this sociological tradition, or even knowledgeable about it through reading, knows that the combination of fieldwork with the study of Sanskrit texts is rarely questioned in France. Thus, the experience of a reader whose thought is unfamiliar with categories of this scholarly tradition, can serve to reveal implicit scholarly assumptions, as can be seen from the review, a glowing one in this case, of Homo Hierarchicus published by an anonymous author in the Time Literary Supplement. Having noted the methodologically, oddities and the eccentricities of Dumont s work, the (British) author concludes, In short, this is a book about caste which, methodologically, is almost as peculiar as the institution itself . Compared to prior works, this study provides an unique inside view of the caste system. But this benefit has been gained by the abandonment of those current western sociological concepts that Mr. Dumont regards as an obstacle rather than an aid to the acquisition of real knowledge about India.

This review that expresses the feeling of strangeness Dumont s book evokes for a reader, who is not familiar with cognitive categories applied by the author, reveals one of the difficulties that the sociology of India encountered with regard to an understanding of Hinduism. It is a question of assumptions of the doxa of the disciplinary field in which Home Hierarchicus was written. In this case, the doxa consists of valorizing the textual point of view that philologists applied to Sanskrit texts. This methodology was historically established as a privileged manner to access knowledge about India; the corpus of Brahmanical literature is thus mobilized to rationalize from an internal point of view the cultural values specific to this society, while the tools and the approach of so-called western social sciences are either dismissed, or at the least, seriously questioned in the name of their inadequacy regarding the study of India. The implicit thesis that underlies this point of view is that of the radical otherness of the Indian world and Brahmanical thought that required specific categories in order to be apprehended. Thus, it seems that, in order to give an account of the social fact under study, instead of sociological theory, indigenous knowledge was solicited by the researcher.

At this point, one is astonished that the sociology of India was confronted with such a trivial difficulty which Durkheim drew attention to: the distinction between indigenous and scholarly theory. This is because, in the case of India, indigenous theory has been dual, as this culture has its own professionals of the internal scholarly exegesis, who also propose a coherent vision of the Hindu social world and its finalities of which they are the main agents. However, in this case, it can only be a very specific point of view, by virtue of the fact that it belongs to a particular class of people to whom economic and social resources are collectively provided, thus guaranteeing them the leisure to conceive the world. The specific status of this class thus raises problems regarding the sociology of knowledge that it produces.

The thesis we propose here is that when socio-historical knowledge of India calls upon the erudition of Sanskrit philology, it runs the risk of confusing indigenous learned theory with sociological theory that the discipline of social science itself ought to elaborate in order to explain and understand Hinduism and the caste system. However, this question does not only cover a mere disciplinary opposition between Sanskrit philology and sociology, where the latter is dependent on ancient Indian classical texts. Within scholarship on India, Sanskrit scholars and sociologists have been in disagreement from very early on regarding the relevance of learned Brahmanical knowledge for an understanding of Hinduism.


A night of Serious Drinking, a work of fiction, published in 1938 by Gallimard, is an unusual work within the gamut of Rene Daumal's (1908-1944) writings. A major figure of the inflammatory short lived literary journal Le Grand Feu, of which only three issues were brought out between 1928 and 1932, a poet on the fringes of the surrealist movement that he remained wary of, an amateur of supra logical experiments that led him to Oriental metaphysics, Daumal was also an autodidact of Sanskrit. Apart from poems and a short initiatory novel, Mount Analogue that remained unfinished, his work consists of literary and philosophical essays on Sanskrit language and literature that are still respected by philologists who appreciate his intuitions regarding the plays of words and the power of language. However, due to its parodic and burlesque aspects, A Night of Serious Drinking belongs more to the genre of adolescent pastiches that Rene Daumal and his Simplist brothers, in particular Roger Gilber Locate and Roger Vailland, from the lycee in Reims were used to producing during the second half of the 1920s as a kind of prelude to the exercises in the Grand Feu, than to the recognized type of novel genre. While this iconoclastic farce, based on laughter and derision, was often read as a narrative that5 included a number of autobiographical elements, Daumal's fervent exegetes read like essentially as the metaphor of an interjor journey, a personal quest that was more a revelation of the poet's fantasies than his vision of the social world.

However, A night of serious drinking is not just a work of pure fiction, an exclusive product of Daumal's imagination. Relating its configuration to its historical references that the author parodies, the novel also appears as the expression of the specific intellectual and social climate transfigured by literary writing that Daumal belonged to in the 1930s. The literary and artistic avant garde, influenced by the tension of, on the one hand, commitments at the extreme right and left of the political field, and on the other, the involvement in esotericism and mysticism, experienced as a return to the lost unity of the universal whole.

While this internal reading of the novel only becomes obvious after having studied its historical background, it still raises questions about its scientific legitimacy. As in the case of 'Education sentimental analyzed by Pierre Bourdieu, does the sociologist not project his analysis onto the literary work that he has over interpreted by attributing to the author, Rene Daumal, a power of auto analysis that the author never explicity claimed? Nevertheless, introducing different types of biographical identification marks into his narrative, Daumal himself invites us to question the relationship his fiction shares with the different referential elements included in his narrative. By creating a fiction presented as a dream and by adopting an outrageous burlesque tone, Daumal, who renders the world he evokes doubly unreal, gives himself the means to express his vision of the world and his position within this world, but he does that in a mode of total denial, as can be seen from the refusal of any seriousness which run through this totally unrealistic narrative. Neither an autobiographical novel, nor pure fantasy, A Night of Serious Drinking can thus be read as an auto fictional parody of the fields of cultural production in France in the inter war period, a sort of fairy tale without a moral that does not claim to possess either the coherence of a sociological work, or the projective identification and verisimilitude of the characters. But it is a fairy tale, however, that produces an effect of belief, partly due to the coherence of the overall global structure of the fictional world that it evoke3s, which is the source of the pleasure produced by a reading of this narrative, a pleasure intensified by the knowledge one draws from an independent historical and sociological analysis.

'An upside-down world'

A second hand goods healer who is a poet, 'a painter friend', 'a photographer pal a 'learned Gascon', an anarchist, a conspirator, an amateur guitarist, a 'monk at least in dress' who 'was mumbling prophecies about great turbulations to come', are the various 'actors of a dream' who belong to the artistic and literary bohemia that Daumal brings together, in the span of a highly smoke filled and drunken evening in Tokay, to discuss art, science, religion, psychoanalysis, 'the Great Dream Revolution' or the materialist dialectics' where the least silly of them draw upon a Dictionary of Rhymes and an Encyclopaedia of the Occult Sciences. Visiting the 'lower depths' of this dreamy world in the first part of the narrative the heroes meet Francois Rabelais, Alfred Jarry and Doctor Faustroll, the 'pataphysicians' with whom they hold ' laborious dialogues, while they encounter people who are looking for 'their barrack, church, cave, cupboard, or vineyard in the sun'. We can only escape from these 'lower depths' through 'madness' or 'death' unless we follow another path, precisely the one followed by the narrator, who is also the narrative protagonist. He is in fact invited to join the world of 'Top Escapees', gathered tighter in an 'artificial paradise', an imaginary town that 'professor Mumu, one of the great geniuses of medical science', who is from this place, offers to show him around. The description of this improbable world city, its topography, its areas and the different social groups' that5 belong to it, occupy the major portion of the second part of the narrative. Based on the information provided by professor Mumu who explains to the narrator and thus to the reader, the relationship that unite all the actors engaged in the activities of this city, one can recreate the structure underlying the space visited and thus have an overall vision of this imaginary social world (figure 1 p. 30).

This 'Counter celestial Jerusalem, home and capital residence of the Top Escapees' is structured by a triple opposition between, the 'Fidgeters' on the one hand, who live near ports, stations and airports, and the Fabricators of useless articles' on the other who live surrounded by sky scrapers, statues and churches, and finally the 'Clarificators' who are never far from the cathedral that is located at the centre of the town. The tripartite nature of this city world is in fact reduced to a principal opposition between, on the one hand, the world of fortune and power, consisting of the Fidgeters, and on the other, that of ideas, culture and arts, made up of the Fabricators and the Clarification, whose opposition is perceived as secondary from the viewpoint of people belonging to the world of power. All around stretches the world of work and forced leisure, inhabited, as in Fritz Lang's film Metropolis, by producers of useful objects', a universe of labour that the narrator only passes through, meeting on his way, a 'colony of farme3rs', followed by builders of houses intended for robots', these 'mechanical men' who work in the mills all terribly enthusiastic in such a state of feverish activity that it is impossible to communicate with them.

The boot lickers bustle around the Prince Fidgeter who is decorated with a telephone receiver at each ear, (with) four Dictaphones directed at his mouth and surrounded by three henchmen with their revolvers ready. The dominators who possess fortune and glory have organized the world government like a game of roulette where in the name of civilization the ambitions of the colonizers and the colonized confront t each other. The narrative created by Daumal evokes the debates provoked by the colonial exhibitions, in particular the one organized in Paris in 1931 that led the surrealists to write several pamphlets denouncing colonialism that had started with massacres and ended with conversion, forced labour and sickness.



  Introduction 1
  Prologue 12
1 The conquest of scholarly legitimacy 29
2 Orientalism and prophetic discourse 70
3 The struggle for institutional autonomy 100
4 The field of production of discourses on India 149
5 Scholarly practice 175
6 Prophetic Logic 224
7 Study of Hinduism as a disciplinary issue 263
8 Louis Dumont and the Brahmanical science 331
9 Louis Dumont and the cunning of reason 359
10 The avatars of scholarship on India 389
  Conclusion: Sociology put to the test of India 432
  Postscript: Notes on the construction of a research subject 449
  Post face to the English-Language Edition 457
  Appendix. Multi Correspondence Analysis 465
  List of documents, tables and diagrams 485
  Sources and Bibliography 488
  General Index 535
  Names Index 555
  Acknowledgments 565

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