Sociological Traditions: Methods and Perspectives in the Sociology of India


T.N. Madan

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    The title of this artfully written book is a subtle play on words—it is about both the sociology of traditions and the traditions of sociology. The author is one of India's premier sociologists, and to read his interpretations is to see a master at work. Madan explores significant features of the social body of Hinduism, Islam, and Sikhism, and also of Gandhian ideals and Indian secularism. He discusses various approaches to their study, and makes us reconsider what is distinctive about India's understanding of the relationship between religious traditions and the secular state.

    The second half of the book is devoted to four scholars who have greatly influenced the field of Indian sociology. Madan skilfully presents the perspectives of Radhakamal Mukerjee who strove for interdisciplinary integration; D.P. Mukerji, who applied interests of class formation to India's religious communities; M.N. Srinivas, who gave us a sophisticated understanding of the role of religion and caste in changing society; and Louis Dumont, who unearthed the religious assumptions underlying India's enduring social structure.

    Madan ends with reflections on the development of the most important journal, Contributions to Indian Sociology, and on his own intellectual autobiography as a cultural anthropologist and sociologist. Sociological Traditions may well become the most influential of Madan's many excellent books.

    MarkJuergensmeyer, Professor of Sociology, University of California, Santa Barbara

    Comments by Ashis Nandy

    This marvellous book is T.N. Madan's journey through the sociology of Indian sociology. As researcher, teacher, and founder-editor of the second series of India's premier journal of sociology, Contributions to Indian Sociology, Madan has redrawn the contemporary landscape of the discipline. It is only appropriate that he should now look back on it with intimacy and professional detachment. And he does so with unfailing sensitivity to the ways in which cultures of knowledge and individual biographies intersect.

    The first half of the book can be read as a comparative perspective on some of the major concerns of Indian sociology. The emphasis is on how the larger issues of social change and modernization in India have been refracted through, and epitomized by, the changing perspectives on the study of religion. The second half explores, through the intellectual biographies of four intriguing but gifted exemplars, the emergence of a new social science, and new, often strange, templates of scholarship in a less than appreciative, somewhat wary, intellectual climate. Together, the two parts of the book constitute a fascinating cultural biography of a knowledge system and reconfirm Madan's stature as one of the most insightful intellectuals of our time.

    AshisNandy, Emeritus Senior Fellow, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi


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    In Memoriam

    P.S. Jayasinghe, Ravi Dayal, and Tejeshwar Singh

    Architects of Social Science Publishing in India


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    This is a book about tradition—about dynamic cultural traditions as subjects of study and about intellectual traditions as evolving approaches to their study—in the context of the sociology of India. I do not employ the term ‘tradition’ to suggest the completeness or closure of a stock of ideas and perspectives, or an unthinking adherence to particular styles of thinking. In his celebrated book, The Sociological Tradition (1966), Robert Nisbet did indeed suggest that a set of core concepts (namely, community, authority, status, the sacred, and alienation) may well be said to constitute the sociological tradition. Needless to emphasize that, for him, the Western sociological tradition is universal. I do not follow that trail in this book, although I am very much concerned in it with the idea of the sacred in non-Christian cultural traditions and the crafting of appropriate methods for its study.

    To use the phraseology of an earlier, related book of mine, Pathways: Approaches to the Study of Society in India (1994c), the present work is about sociological ‘pathways’ and ‘path makers’. The foregoing clarifies, I trust, my use of the term ‘tradition’. It suggests that significant ideas usually emerge from collective endeavours or may be put forward by gifted individuals who never are so original as to be wholly independent of their sociocultural and intellectual settings. Such ideas grow by being interrogated and refined by interested interlocutors and interpreters. Thus conceived, intellectual traditions are alive and, therefore, as much contemporary as they are of the past.

    Edward Shils insightfully observes in his masterly book Tradition (1981) that social scientists generally have been wary of traditionalism and self-consciously ‘progressivistic’ in their outlook (p. 137); yet, and ironically, they have transformed this critical attitude itself into a tradition. Generally agnostic, they have recognized the role of religious traditions in history, whether as inhibiting or promoting social progress. If Marx believed that in his times religiosity served the interests of the exploiter class in European bourgeois society by drawing a veil upon social reality, standing it on its head as it were, Weber thought that religious values bestow meaning and significance on human existence, and Durkheim saw in them the moral basis for sociality.

    What is more, sociologists throughout the twentieth century and today have been so rooted in the ideas of the founding fathers as to invite the charge of necrophilia! In the field of sociology, Shils observes, Weber and Durkheim are studied with the same seriousness as Kant and Hegel among philosophers, or Machiavelli and Hobbes among political theorists. ‘Their own past is still very much alive in the thought of contemporary social scientists and they do not hide it from themselves’ (Shils 1981: 140).

    What is true of the ‘greats’ of the Western sociological tradition everywhere is not, however, similarly true of the founders of other sociological traditions. In India, succeeding generations have condescendingly neglected the work of their predecessors. As far as I know, only one formal account of the genesis of the discipline in India is available. Ramkrishna Mukherjee's ‘Trends in Indian Sociology’ (1977) devotes a twenty-four-page chapter to the ‘pioneers’. As for books other than college-level textbooks, I know of only three studies: Swapan Kumar Bhattacharya's painstaking Indian Sociology: The Role of Benoy Kumar Sarkar (1990); S.K. Pramanick's Sociology of G.S. Ghurye (1994); and Surajit Sinha's rather slim Nirmal Kumar Bose: Scholar Wanderer (1986). A more recent volume, Anthropology in the East: Founders of Indian Sociology and Anthropology (2007), edited by Patricia Uberoi, Nandini Sundar, and Satish Deshpande, contains some excellent essays. The editors acknowledge that notwithstanding an interest in the work of contemporaries (or perhaps because of it?) ‘historicizing the disciplinary past appears to have been neglected’ (Uberoi et al. 2007: 2). It is surprising that they themselves have not included in their book a discussion of the contributions of Radhakamal Mukerjee.

    It is regrettable that, not only has no one written at length about Mukerjee's work, many of his books are not available even in the libraries of the University of Lucknow, where he established the Department of Economics and Sociology in 1922. Surely, the large corpus of his writings on economics, demography, sociology, and ecology—notwithstanding their repetitiveness and lack of scholarly rigour—demand attention. Is disciplinary insularity that characterizes our times responsible for the neglect of Mukerjee's work? Since his work is difficult to appreciate, if it is compartmentalized, scholars find it easier to put it aside. And this is so in spite of the fact that his work finds renewed relevance in the context of current debates about ecology and the limitations of the economic science. The sociological traditions of India have yet to find their historians.

    Turning to this book, it has been written piecemeal, essay by essay; eight of the ten chapters were written over five years, between 2005 and 2010, and two in the late 1990s. Except the three not yet published, all the others have been revised and in some cases expanded over the last one year. The book is now offered to the reader as not a collection of essays, but a unified work about themes, methods, and perspectives.

    Part I addresses the problem of the study of India's major religious traditions (Hinduism, Islam, and Sikhism) from a variety of sociological perspectives and, in their setting, explores the character of Indian secularism as a religio-sacred ideal. Gandhi's religious pluralism and his concern for ethics in public no less than private life also is briefly discussed in both the chapter on Indian secularism and the one on the work ethic related issues. In the study of Hinduism, the complementarity of the book and field views is stressed; in the study of Islam, a hierarchical view of the relationship of the universal and local expressions of the faith is recommended; and in the study of Sikhism, a similar, hierarchical perspective on the relationship of the sacred and the secular is shown, I hope convincingly, to be self-suggestive. In other words, the first five chapters of the book are about cultural traditions of belief and value as well as about various sociological traditions available for their study, the former as part of the vast subject matter of Indian sociology, and the latter as methodological perspectives on the same.

    At this point I may digress to briefly comment on the fact that Indian sociologists generally have been more concerned with social forms and processes rather than cultural traditions, with interests rather than values. The separation of sociology from cultural anthropology (a Western import) has been mainly responsible for this. Be that as it may, it has resulted in a relative neglect of the study of religion, which is regrettable given the importance of religion in the private and public domains, for good or evil, in our times. Referring to this lack of interest, M.N. Srinivas, himself a believer, and author of a major study of a community's religion, observes in The Remembered Village (1976) that, ‘leading Indian anthropologists and sociologists profess to be rationalists’ (p. 290). Max Weber (1930: 183) too noticed this failing a hundred years ago: ‘The modern man is in general unable to give religious ideas a significance for culture and national character that they deserve.’ Weber himself, it has been noticed, saw the possibility of ‘refuge’ in religion, but, as a rationalist, did not take this road. Nevertheless, he contributed more than anyone else of his time and since to our understanding of the structures and implications of religious belief.

    Part II of the book proceeds along a different but parallel track. It focuses on the making of sociological traditions, and addresses the work of four distinguished scholars, namely, Radhakamal Mukerjee, D.P. Mukerji, M.N. Srinivas, and Louis Dumont, all four of them outstanding exemplars. After all, intellectual traditions grow in practice through the collective exertions of participating contributors from the interplay of concurrence and contestation among them. Such traditions (any traditions) never arise full blown from a single source, nor do they have a moment of creation. They are built of diverse materials, brick by brick, over time. The idea of completion, the putting in place of a capstone, also is alien to traditions. They exist in a continuous present, although their genesis lies in a fluid past, and are perpetuated through renewal and reinvention (somewhat like Pierre Bourdieu's intellectual fields).

    In the discussion of the works of Mukerjee, Mukerji, and Dumont, I have tried to be synoptic in my approach, highlighting their major substantive and methodological concerns, and indicating the lines along which critical assessment has proceeded or may proceed. Mukerjee's is a unique case: his sociology began as a corrective perspective on economic theory, the major assumptions of which, he insisted, were rooted in Western cultural traditions and historical specificities. A ‘general’ economics could be constructed only on the basis of a comparison of ‘regional’ economic systems. From this, he proceeded to develop an institutional theory of economics and alongside of it, social ecology. These eventually matured into a sociology of values in his hands. Finally, in his last years, he went beyond the social sciences and endeavoured to produce a synthesis of different civilizational traditions. In this he was less than successful.

    Mukerji's original project was a general sociology, but gradually with his attraction to Marxism, and his conclusion that the essence of the Marxist method lay in specification, he moved on to the study of India. It is this that led him to argue for the study of tradition. Dumont arrived at the importance of traditions through the comparative method characteristic of the French school established by Émile Durkheim and Marcel Mauss; the latter was his teacher. Dumont publicly acknowledged in the opening pages of his magnum opus, Homo Hierarchicus, that in his work he owes everything to that sociological tradition. The chapter on Srinivas focuses on a specific methodological issue, namely, the relationship of sociology and literature, of real and imagined worlds, in the context of his allegiance to the empirical tradition of British social anthropology. This allegiance is brought out clearly in the chapter on the sociology of Hinduism.

    It is important to note here that, I had discussed the work of three of these scholars, alongside that of some others, in my Pathways: Approaches to the Study of Society in India (1994c). The two sets of chapters, in the earlier and the present books, are not, however, identical but complementary. The discussion here is broader in the case of Mukerji and Dumont, and, as stated earlier, focuses on both a broader and a narrower but significant problem in the case of Srinivas, which were not addressed in the earlier work.

    The Epilogue of the book strikes a personal note. The beginnings of my career as a sociologist and cultural anthropologist go back to the early 1950s, when I was a student in the Department of Economics and Sociology at the University of Lucknow. Among my teachers there, Radhakamal Mukerjee, D.P. Mukerji, and D.N. Majumdar were particularly influential in my case. What I learnt there was in some respects (notably the empirical tradition of the social sciences) reinforced during my doctoral research in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at the Australian National University (ANU). Subsequently, the encounter with the work of Louis Dumont turned out to be a turning point. Although I was not a student of M.N. Srinivas, for Indianists of my generation, he was a major exemplar. Discussions of the contributions of Mukerjee, Mukerji, Srinivas, and Dumont have led me to reflect on my own intellectual journey in its various dimensions, including that of interpretation as creative work.

    The passage of years in a scholar's life is, or should be, a fulfilling experience; it has been so for me, and in ample measure. It is also, however, an exacting experience, particularly because one is rarely wholly in control or entirely satisfied. And it cannot go on and on; the slowing down that comes with the passage of time is a natural process and, therefore, not unwelcome. Surely, writing is, inter alia, a confession of one's limitations.

    This book celebrates the making of another tradition also, that of social science publishing in India. It is dedicated to the memory of three great architects of this tradition, namely, P.S. Jayasinghe, Ravi Dayal, and Tejeshwar Singh. Unfortunately, each one of them died before it was time for him even to retire from publishing activity. Jayasinghe showed us in the 1950s that good scholarly work by Indians could be produced well for both the home and overseas markets. Asia Publishing House, which he founded in the early 1950s, was headquartered in Bombay, and had offices in London and New York. My first book was accepted for publication by Asia's very able editorial director, Samuel Israel (who died recently), and I came to know them both quite well. Unfortunately, Jayasinghe allowed enterprise to be overwhelmed by its arch enemy, recklessness.

    Even as Asia Publishing was folding up in the late 1960s, Ravi Dayal began the process of transforming the Indian branch of the Oxford University Press (OUP) from a publishing house known mainly for atlases, dictionaries, and textbooks, into the country's premier publisher of high quality academic books. I became an OUP author in 1983 at Ravi Dayal's invitation, and we became good friends. I still publish with OUP.

    It was my privilege to have been in Delhi when Tejeshwar Singh established SAGE Publications India Pvt. Ltd in 1980, at the invitation of Sara and George McCune, the visionary founders of SAGE companies in the USA and the UK, and with their manifold support. I welcomed the initiative, and handed over Contributions to Indian Sociology (New Series), then sixteen years old, to him. It was one of the first two social science journals published by SAGE India (the other being Indian Economic and Social History Review), and there they have stayed ever since, to the satisfaction of everybody concerned.

    When Tejeshwar Singh retired from the position of Managing Director of SAGE India in 2006, after having secured it an honoured place as one of the country's topmost publishing companies, he wrote graciously to thank me for my support, but complained that I had never given a book to SAGE. I responded saying that I would do so. This, then, is that book, but, alas, Tejeshwar Singh is no longer with us.

    I would like to conclude by noting that the intellectual debts incurred in writing this book are numerous; some of them are acknowledged chapter-wise. I would also like once again to place on record my indebtedness to the Institute of Economic Growth (IEG)—to the colleagues and the directors—for unstinting encouragement and support over the last forty years. In preparing this book for the publisher, I have received invaluable assistance from Rajesh Chatwal and Aradhya Bhardwaj. I thank them both most warmly.

    T.N.Madan, New Delhi, March 2010


    Of the chapters comprising this book, all except Chapter Eight are revised and, in some cases, are extended versions of essays published earlier elsewhere. I thank the publishers, and where relevant the editors, of the earlier versions. The details of each chapter are given as follows:

    • Chapter One: ‘Indian Secularism in a Post-secular Age’ appeared as ‘Indian Secularism as a Religio-secular Ideal’ in Linell Cady and Elizabeth Hurd (eds), Secularism and Politics in a Global Age, pp. 258–76. New York: Palgrave-Macmillan, in 2010.
    • Chapter Two: ‘Hinduism: The Book View and the Field View’ appeared as ‘The Sociology of Hinduism: Reading Backwards from Srinivas to Weber’ in Sociological Bulletin, 55(2): 215–36, in 2006.
    • Chapter Three: ‘Islam: The Universal and the Particular’ appeared as ‘One from Many: Explorations in the Anthropology of Islam’ in The Eastern Anthropologist 60(1): 1–25, in 2007. This is the revised text of the first D.N. Majumdar Endowment Fund Lecture delivered under the auspices of the Department of Anthropology, University of Lucknow, on 23 November 2006. I owe thanks to Professor Indu Sahai, Head of the Department, and her colleagues for their many courtesies.

    I am also indebted to Raymond Jamous, M. Ishaq Khan, Roddam Narasimha, Margrit Pernau, Asim Roy, Satish Saberwal, Farzana Shaikh, Sudhir Chandra, and Nur Yalman for their careful reading of an earlier draft of this chapter and for their excellent advice. I am particularly grateful to Roy for his patient support and to Narasimha, a physicist, for his insightful observations on the theme of hierarchical relationships, whether within cultural traditions or between the scales of turbulent fluid motion.

    • Chapter Four: ‘Sikhism: The Sacred and the Secular’ appeared as ‘The Sikh Religious Tradition: Three Meanings of Secularism’ in T.N. Madan, Modern Myths, Locked Minds: Secularism and Fundamentalism in India, pp. 39–62. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, in 1997.
    • Chapter Five: ‘Gandhi and Weber: The Work Ethic, Capitalism, and Conscience’ appeared in a shorter version as ‘Moral Choices: Gandhi and Weber on Capitalism and Conscience’ in Jyotirmaya Sharma and A. Raghuramaraju (eds), Grounding Morality: Freedom, Knowledge and Plurality of Cultures. New Delhi: Routledge, in 2010.
    • Chapter Six: ‘Radhakamal Mukerjee and His Contemporaries’ is a slightly modified version of the First Radhakamal Mukerjee Memorial Lecture, delivered on 28 December 2010, at the 35th All India Sociological Conference at Ravenshaw University, Cuttack. The original text is being published simultaneously in Sociological Bulletin, 60(1), in 2011. I am grateful to the President of the Indian Sociological Society, Professor John Jacob Kattakayam, and the Editor, Sociological Bulletin, Professor N. Jayaram, for their consent to simultaneous publication of the lecture.
    • Chapter Seven: ‘D.P. Mukerji: Towards a Historical Sociology’ appeared as ‘Search for Synthesis: The Sociology of D.P. Mukerji’ in Patricia Uberoi, Nandini Sundar, and Satish Deshpande (eds), Anthropology in the East: Founders of Sociology and Social Anthropology in India, pp. 256–89. Nainital: Permanent Black, in 2007.
    • Chapter Eight: ‘M.N. Srinivas: Empiricism and Imagination’ is forthcoming as ‘The Real and Imagined Worlds of M.N. Srinivas’ in a Festschrift in honour of Ashis Nandy, edited by Shail Mayaram and Ravi Sundaram. I owe thanks to Arindam Chakrabarti, Uma Madan, Ashis Nandy, Gananath and Ranjini Obeyesekere, and Sudhir Chandra for their helpful reading of an earlier draft of this chapter.
    • Chapter Nine: ‘Louis Dumont: The Man and His Work’ appeared as ‘Louis Dumont: A Memoir’ in Contributions to Indian Sociology, 33(3): 473–501, in 1999.
    • Chapter Ten: ‘Contributions to Indian Sociology: Towards Methodological Pluralism’ appeared as ‘Contributions to Indian Sociology at Fifty’ in Contributions to Indian Sociology, 42(1): 9–28, in 2008.
    • Epilogue: ‘Engagements and Passages—An Exercise in Reflexivity’ is mostly newly written, but partly based on ‘Discovering Anthropology: A Personal Narrative’ in Meenakshi Thapan (ed.), Anthropologial Journeys, pp. 143–62. New Delhi: Orient Longman, in 1998.
  • Epilogue: Engagements and Passages—An Exercise in Reflexivity

    [F]rom the shore

    I push'd, and struck the oars, and struck again

    In cadence, and my little Boat mov'd …

    —WORDSWORTH, The Prelude

    Why cannot an anthropologist treat his own life as an ethnographic field and study it?

    —M.N. SRINIVAS, Collected Essays

    [O]ur beginnings never know our ends.

    —HAROLD PINTER, The 2005 Nobel Prize Lecture
    The Beginnings

    Long engagements interspersed with winding, cross-disciplinary passages seem to have characterized my career as a cultural anthropologist and sociologist over the last fifty-odd years. Chance and choice, contingency and design, both have shaped it.

    During my childhood years of study in Srinagar (Kashmir), first with tutors at home and then in school (Standards IX and X), English (language and literature) and History interested me most from among the subjects we were taught. Interest in English was aroused early by my father's explicitly stated, enormous respect for the language as a mode of nuanced expression, and his efforts through conversation rather than formal instruction to make me proficient in it (see Madan 2010: 191). This interest was later nourished by my brother (ten years older than me), who began his M.A. studies in English when I was in the tenth standard at school.

    As for History, I owe my interest in it to one of my home tutors, who made it sound like a string of stories. He was particularly interested in military engagements, and drew sketches of battle plans (Alexander's crossing of the Jhelum, the battles of Panipat, Plassey, and Arcot). Those were the early years of World War II, and he expressed great admiration for Hitler's ‘military genius’. Later, at school, one of my teachers, who had studied ancient Indian History for his M.A., noticed my interest in the subject and encouraged it: he loaned me his copy of Radhakumud Mookerjee's [1928] 1972 book on Asoka and also a book of the political maps of India over two millennia. Around the same time, I read with avid interest a book in my father's collection, Great Men of India, which had individually authored chapters on ancient and medieval kings, statesmen of modern India, writers, scientists, industrialists, and others.

    When I entered college, the choice of three subjects, besides the compulsory English, was open to me, and I wanted to concentrate on History, which I would have had to combine with Economics and a classical language (Persian or Sanskrit). Unfortunately, these classical languages were looked down upon as poor choices, lacking both academic value and practical utility. My father knew both languages, but he did not speak up for them. So, I ended up choosing what most of my friends did and what my elder brother had done earlier, namely, Mathematics and the Natural Sciences. I did not like this combination and fared poorly at the examinations. Two years later, I had to take only two subjects, besides English (in which I opted for the honours course). By then Economics had begun to interest me (some of my friends studied it), but instead of History, I chose Political Science, which was a new offering at the college. Political Theory seemed to go well with Economic Theory; there was no comparable course in History. Quite readily, I jettisoned History!

    Another two years went by, and I had to choose a subject for postgraduate studies. Although my performance at the examinations had been outstanding in English and Political Science, I decided to go in for an M.A. in Economics in which I had not done so well. Economics seemed the right subject in those early days of independence; there was much talk of planning. My Economics professor heartily approved of this decision, but was dismayed to learn that I wanted to enroll at the University of Lucknow (where my brother had preceded me). He considered the interdisciplinary character of the Economics courses there a dilution of the subject and the architect of the same, Radhakamal Mukerjee, a poor economist. I may learn other things there, he warned me, but I would not learn any real Economics. But to Lucknow I went, and it was there that my academic career began at the turn of the middle of the (twentieth) century.

    Introduction to Anthropology and Sociology

    The Department of Economics and Sociology had been established at the University of Lucknow in 1921 under the headship of Radhakamal Mukerjee (1889–1978), who had persuaded the authorities concerned to have combined courses in the two disciplines. Over the following decades, he had expanded further the scope of economic studies (research and teaching) in the department by including courses on cultural anthropology (see Chapter Six and Madan forthcoming).

    When I enrolled as an M.A. student, compulsory courses in the first year included Micro- and Macro-economics, Institutional Economics, Demography, Ecology, and Sociology. Besides, there was an optional course, and the choice was between a couple of economics papers and Cultural Anthropology. I had never heard of the latter subject and consulted a dictionary, which described it as the comparative study of races and cultures. That sounded interesting. The faculty member who taught the subject was D.N. Majumdar (1903–60), a hugely popular teacher, I learnt, with a Cambridge Ph.D., who was a Fellow of the National Institute of Sciences. I was impressed (see Madan 1994c), and chose Cultural Anthropology. The beginnings of a career in Cultural Anthropology and Sociology could hardly have been more fortuitous and uncertain. Within a year, I turned my back on Economics when, in the second year, I chose the Sociology–Anthropology group of courses instead of the pure Economics group.

    History of social thought, theories of values, culture and civilization, and general anthropology (including some topics in physical anthropology, but mainly the history of ethnological theory) were the compulsory courses. For the optional paper, I chose ‘Labour’, which was more Economics, but also some Sociology, because one of the two teachers who taught it was D.P. Mukerji (1894–1961), a famous sociologist who was considered one of the luminaries of the University of Lucknow (see Madan 2007b and Chapter Seven).

    Mukerji also guided us through an intensive study of Toynbee's theory of civilizations, besides lecturing on the founding fathers of Sociology (Durkheim, Marx, Pareto, Weber). Toynbee fascinated me: he took me back to history, on the grand scale, and comparative literature, and opened to me the immense attraction of understanding through comparison. I read selectively from the first six volumes of A Study of History, which were then available, but studied very closely D.C. Somervell's excellent summary of the same (Toynbee 1947). Stressing the importance of History, Mukerji maintained that a sociological understanding of social institutions and processes was dependent upon their contextualization in a space-time (‘where-when’) framework, that is their history. And historical understanding in turn was dependent upon a sense of direction and values or, put otherwise, a philosophy of history, such as dialectical materialism.

    While the course on culture and civilization focused on literate cultures, ethnological theory (A.L. Kroeber, Robert Lowie, Bronislaw Malinowski, Ruth Benedict, Margaret Mead, Franz Boas), taught by Majumdar, extended the scope of our studies to bring ‘primitive’ society into focus. For theory, we read the contributions of American and British anthropologists; our prescribed or suggested readings in ethnography introduced us to the tribal societies of India through monographic studies by, besides Majumdar himself, S.C. Roy, Verrier Elwin, and others. The two courses, namely, ‘Culture and Civilization’ and ‘Ethnological Theory’, were obviously complementary. Together, they seemed to embrace all of humanity and to be an invitation to consider everyday life worthy of serious study, concretely rather than in the abstract.

    The two teachers were, however, methodologically suspect in each other's eyes. Mukerji's interest in ‘theory’ seemed rather vague and airy to Majumdar; the latter's empiricism was judged to be much too narrow by the former. Majumdar held to the position that legitimate theorization in the social sciences was nothing more than generalization from observed facts. Logical deduction from initial assumptions was a procedure alien to him. For him, the range of ways of life (‘cultures’) among peoples of the world was as ‘real’ as, say, the distribution of blood groups among them. One had to ensure that ethnographic data were reliable in the sense of being verifiable, and their analysis was rigorous and guided by appropriate theory, which, for him, was functionalism informed by cultural and social evolution.

    By the time I completed my M.A. (in 1951), it was obvious to me that research and teaching were to be my vocation, and not civil service as I had earlier fancied. (I had even registered for a diploma course in Public Administration at the University, but did not pursue it seriously.) Mukerjee informed me that I was eligible for a university scholarship for research, and recommended a problem in the area of the sociology of labour, which had long been one of his own major interests. It was quite common those days for a university teacher to ‘assign topics’ to his students. Majumdar also said that he could get me a government research scholarship (with higher remuneration), but I would have to work on some aspect of tribal social structure, with the focus on what he liked to call their ‘rehabilitation’; the word development had not yet gained currency. Mukerji, aware of my interest in historical sociology, and in Toynbee in particular, suggested that I consider working on Toynbee's ‘method’, or lack of it, by examining his use of sources on the Indic civilization. I wanted to work with him, and I wanted to be self-supporting. After some vacillation, I settled for doctoral work with Majumdar without wholly abandoning other scholarly interests. Mukerji continued to guide my reading, and led me to the work of historians like Burckhardt, Carr, Collingwod, and Croce, and sociologists like Mumford and Sorokin (see Chapter Seven).

    I may briefly mention here that, besides Mukerji and Majumdar, we were taught by Radhakamal Mukerjee (social structure of values, psycho-social genesis of morals) and A.K. Saran (1922–2003) (symbolic interactionism). Mukerjee's lectures were based on his own books and tended to be dull; Saran, a stern critic of positivism, was simply inaccessible to me. I learnt to appreciate his vast scholarship only later, although I never could embrace his metaphysics (see Madan forthcoming).

    During my early years at Lucknow University, I had the opportunity to hear, besides my teachers, a number of distinguished visiting scholars including A. Aiyappan, N.K. Bose, Louis Dumont, Irawati Karve, S.F. Nadel, and M.N. Srinivas. The subject of Srinivas's talk (winter of 1954–55) was fieldwork, and he spoke about the qualities of a good fieldworker, emphasizing, above all, total commitment. Not only must the fieldworker be a genuine participant observer, he said, but also consider his relationship with the community he chooses to study as more than a strategy for data collection, a moral responsibility. He went so far as to suggest that the best fieldworkers are single individuals without family obligations. It is worth recalling here that Srinivas himself did his fieldwork among the Coorgs and in the village of Rampura in Karnataka before he got married.

    Srinivas also stressed in his talk the importance of fidelity to facts. The importance of memory and imagination that are a distinguishing feature of his book, The Remembered Village (1976), were not, of course, anticipated in his talk (see Chapter Eight). Actually, the discussion that followed his presentation was marked by a sharply stated difference of opinion between him and A.K. Saran on the issue of positivism in the social sciences. For Srinivas, Sociology was at its best when it was grounded in observable data in the manner of Social Anthropology. In fact, he considered a distinction between the two domains to be a colonial hangover. Saran's commitment was above all to a metaphysical perspective on social reality.

    I would also like to mention the powerful impact N.K. Bose made upon some of us when he spent a day with the students of the University of Lucknow in the winter of 1950. He lectured on caste in modern Bengal, on temple architecture in Orissa, and finally on Gandhi. The range of his interests seemed wide like D.P. Mukerji's, but while the latter was a social theorist, Bose was, first and foremost, a fieldworker and a man interested in practical affairs. There was something earthy about him in the best possible sense of the term, which attracted me.

    It was apparent from Bose's first and second talks that, for him, observation was a broad-based and wide-ranging engagement with social phenomena (caste, temple architecture), which was not to be bound by a narrowly conceived rulebook. A great deal of what he told us about changes in the caste system was based on his own day-to-day interaction with people than fieldwork in some village or town. In contrast, his work on Orissan temples was obviously based upon carefully planned and painstaking research, carried out practically single-handed. And when he spoke about Gandhi, he spoke more as a social activist with a deep moral concern for human suffering than as a social scientist interested in the forms of social life. In our day with Bose, social anthropology was presented to us as a part of our own lives, not a study of other cultures. The objective and the subjective were both accommodated in his method.

    The Quest for Objectivity

    Anthropology, I had learnt from Majumdar, was the study of ‘primitive societies’, of cultures other than the literate and the industrial. The so-called tribes of India were what Indian anthropologists had studied. It was inexpensive and convenient to do fieldwork within the country, and there was no dearth of tribal people. He had done so himself, in Chota Nagpur (Bihar), Mirzapur (Uttar Pradesh), Jaunsar Bawar (Uttar Pradesh), and elsewhere, studying communities such as the Ho, Tharu, and Khasa.

    Conscious of my inadequacy and even awkwardness in relating to strangers and cultivating social relationships, arising partly from advancing signs of impairment of hearing (owing to otosclerosis) and also perhaps attracted to Mukerji's emphasis on the importance of general, if not explicitly stated theoretical issues, I asked Majumdar if fieldwork among tribal people was an essential requirement of a programme of doctoral studies in Anthropology. He said that, strictly speaking, it was not, for the limited purpose of preparing a dissertation, but one could not hope to make a professional career out of Anthropology without it. Accordingly, it was agreed that the subject of my dissertation would be the ‘rehabilitation’ of Indian tribes, and the data for it would be drawn from published sources of various kinds, including anthropological monographs and government reports. At that time the critique of development as a destroyer of cultural pluralism had not yet emerged, nor had the idea that the ‘other’ was, in fact, constituted by the anthropological method itself. Development from above was then considered a moral obligation rather than arrogance, and the ‘other’ cultures were considered essentially backward and in need of help or rehabilitation.

    About a year later, I joined a group of M.A. students who were being taken to Ranchi (Bihar) for a two-week ‘field trip’ as part of their training in Anthropology. It turned out to be a depressing experience for me. Not that the Oraons appeared to be culturally very different from the Hindu villagers of the same area. What upset me was our own behaviour. Everybody in our group, I found, was asking the villagers questions about their family and economic life, religious beliefs, and similar matters of significance, without any regard for their feelings or convenience. My shyness crippled me, but I did manage to take photographs of an old woman's funeral procession and cremation, without first seeking anybody's permission to do so. As we came away from the village, I had the uncomfortable feeling that there was something improper about such field trips. This feeling was accentuated by the fact that one of the girl students in our group had cried at the cremation, but no one else had shown any emotion. A year-long stay in the field by an anthropologist working on his own would be, I thought, far from the kind of ‘assault’ in which we had been engaged. Nevertheless, a strong feeling that anthropological fieldwork was in a certain sense degrading to the unwilling subjects of observation, a violation of their personal life by strangers, took firm hold of me. This feeling was, perhaps, partly a cover for my own incapacity for fieldwork among strangers.

    Gradually, almost imperceptibly, it occurred to me that a solution to the problem probably lay in studying my own community, the Pandits of the Kashmir Valley, though not my own family circle and kindred, or any other such grouping in the city of Srinagar where I had grown up. Years later I wrote: ‘It is clear to me now, though it was not then, that I was transforming the familiar into the unfamiliar by the decision to relate to it as an anthropologist’ (1975a: 134).

    Early in 1955, S.F. Nadel visited Lucknow during a lecture tour. I took the opportunity to discuss my fieldwork problem with him. He told me that he could see no objection to an Indian studying aspects of the caste or community of his birth. He stressed the importance of training in formal anthropological research which, he thought, should help one to overcome the limitations of subjective bias. He also emphasized the importance and advantages of a good command over the ‘native tongue’ to anthropological research, particularly in the study of kinship and religion, and pointed out that being a native speaker would give one a head start in fieldwork. He had written about the importance of language competence in fieldwork in The Foundations of Social Anthropology (1952), which had impressed me enormously as a work on methodology like which there was no other available then. Not that it was an easy book to read, but I studied it closely.

    Soon afterwards, I discontinued work on my dissertation on the ‘rehabilitation’ of Indian tribes. Majumdar, who had by then himself initiated a research project in non-tribal village near Lucknow (see Majumdar 1958), agreed that I could write a dissertation on the basis of fieldwork among the Pandits of rural Kashmir. Accordingly I sent a proposal to Nadel at ANU for the study of ‘kinship values’: Radhakamal Mukerjee's lectures and his book, The Social Structure of Values (1949), may have had a deeper impact on me than I was conscious of at that time. He had laid considerable stress on family relationships and their underlying values of love, sharing, and solidarity.

    ANU awarded me a scholarship in the summer of 1955. I could never find out what Nadel actually thought of my research proposal, for he died early in 1956 before my arrival in Canberra. I had been apprehensive that he might not approve of the theme I had suggested. There was no evidence of such an interest in his own published work. My confidence had been somewhat shaken by A.K. Saran, who had summarily rejected the idea of a study of values through fieldwork. My clarification that what I intended was to find out, through close observation, the norms and values that were not merely verbalized by people, but could be shown to have actually influenced choices and behaviour in real life situations, left him totally unconvinced. This was, of course, in tune with his known opposition to positivism and to the idea of a social science.

    An unexpected development may be mentioned here. In the summer of 1954, Majumdar asked me to write down my lectures on social anthropology to undergraduate students of the university for possible publication. I did this very reluctantly over a period of about eight months, and handed over the scripts to him, as he asked, every week. The lectures were based on available textbooks, some basic works, and a considerable number of ethnographic studies of Indian tribes. After going over the scripts, Majumdar suggested some revisions, which I made. He then sent the typescript to Asia Publishing House. An Introduction to Social Anthropology came out under our joint names early in 1956, a couple of months before my departure for Australia. Fifty-odd years later, the book is still in print in the original English and a Hindi translation.

    My career as an author thus began not by my own choice, but that of one of my teachers. I might add that reviewers were uniformly kind to the book. Robert Redfield wrote in the American Anthropologist of the freshness he found in its pages of the encounter between Western anthropological theories and Indian ethnographic data. He recommended it as a vade mecum for Indian students. Today, the book, elementary in character and severely dated, is an embarrassment to me, but the demand for it from students persists.

    After my arrival in Canberra, the first person to discuss my proposal with me at considerable length was Edmund Leach, who was on a short visit to ANU. He had been invited to consider if he would like to succeed Nadel as the professor. He told me in a typically forthright manner that, given his structural-functional approach, the focus of my proposed research worried him. He said that I would be making a serious mistake if I got involved in a theme so vague and so difficult to handle as ‘values’, and advised a focus on ‘objective facts’. What mattered most in peasant kinship systems in South Asia was, he asserted, that ‘people had land and they had maternal uncles’. This was obviously his way of saying that the two most significant factors governing kinship relations and family life were the ownership and inheritance of property, notably land, and the disputes that arose over it among agnatically related kin who were the offspring of different mothers in an extended family. He advised me to collect case studies of family disputes and subject them to careful analysis, so that the existence of cultural norms may be demonstrated, and to avoid getting bogged down in ‘an ideal, value-governed, mythical state of existence’.

    Leach thus raised doubts about the study of kinship values, as had Saran earlier, but for the very opposite reasons. His advice, as I understood it, was to leave alone the people's notions of ideal behaviour, and to adopt a statistical concept of customary or normative behaviour: to study people's behaviour itself—that is, the objective reality—rather than their ideas about it, which were subjective formulations of objective reality, often no more than distortions and rationalizations. One could trace this distrust of what people say or affirm to the many excellent demonstrations of the gap between word and deed that abounded in ethnographical literature, beginning with Malinowski's famous monographs on the Trobriand Islanders.

    Although rather disappointed by Leach's rejection of the proposed focus of my research, I was greatly relieved that he had not objected to my studying the Pandits, my own people. He had not raised a question which I had feared he might, namely, how I could ensure that my research among my own people would be marked by scientific objectivity, as required by orthodoxy. I partially revised my research plan on the lines suggested by Leach.

    The question of objectivity was not, however, absent in the discussions I had with various faculty members on my proposed fieldwork in Kashmir. One of them, Derek Freeman (1916–2001), already well known for his masterly studies of the Iban of Sarawak (see Appell and Madan 1988), cautioned me repeatedly to steer clear of Indological texts, and not get carried away by people's ideas about their culture and society. He called giving too much attention to such texts and ideas ‘the besetting fault’ of the work of Indian anthropologists on Hindu society. The anthropologist should, they all said or implied, draw his or her conclusions directly from observed behaviour, guided by well-established fieldwork techniques. The Department stocked copies of the venerable Notes and Queries on Anthropology, and I too equipped myself with one. I should add here that, besides Freeman, another faculty member, W.E.H. Stanner (1905–81) was my co-supervisor. No two persons could have been more unlike each other than these two men. Freeman's conception of the role of supervisor was directional; Stanner seemed more interested in helping me find my own way, as it were (see Barwick et al. 1985). My friendship with them both lasted until the very end of their lives.

    We understand the import of such exhortations much better today than I was capable of doing then. My advisers emphasized that, in today's language, Indians were not to be trusted to produce objective and reliable ethnography about themselves without the benefit of modern social science perspectives. Even when trained in them, they had to be careful about not losing their objectivity by being overwhelmed (‘beset’) by native categories of thought. The few books that I carried with me to the Kashmir village where I went for fieldwork were what were then considered exemplary anthropological studies of marriage and kinship, notably the Nuer and Tallensi books by E.E. Evans-Pritchard (1951b) and Meyer Fortes (1949), respectively. Halfway through fieldwork, I felt the need for an authoritative work in Hindu law, and obtained one (by mail), but that was as far as I went. Irawati Karve's Kinship Organization in India (1953), which I had read carefully was not with me in the field, for I had read it carefully and was not very interested in kinship terminologies like she obviously was. On the whole, I thought I had the dangers of subjective bias and a book view of society well under control, notwithstanding the fact that my Pandit villagers had lots of ideas about the character of their family life.

    In fact, they had not merely stray ideas, but a coherent and well-articulated ideology of the householder. I assembled this ideology from both statements made directly by informants in reply to my questions and observations on all sorts of topics which reflected the ideology. But eventually, on my return to Canberra, I did not include a discussion of it in my dissertation. My focus was on observed behaviour, which would have been fine but for the fact that my notion of what constituted ‘behaviour’ was rather narrow. Thus, I failed to collect sufficient materials on Sanskritic rituals, such as initiation, marriage, and the rites addressed to manes because I believed that the quest would soon lead me to the forbidden texts. Caution about presuming that what is given in the texts is also to be found, and in the same form in real life would have been in order. A total avoidance of the texts other than the book on Hindu law, however, was a mistake that I made, but nobody told me that I was doing so. I did not then realize that being objective requires paying attention to the subjective point of view, in other words native ‘texts’ (oral or written), or first-order interpretations, or whatever one may call them.

    A Dialectical Perspective

    Early in 1959, when I was nearing the completion of the writing of my dissertation, I read the English translation of a lecture, ‘For a Sociology of India’ (Dumont and Pocock 1957), by Louis Dumont (1911–88) which had been earlier delivered (in French) in Paris in 1955. The approach advocated by him, attaching equal importance to Indology and social anthropology in the making of the sociology of India, reopened for me the whole issue of the place of the ideas of the people in anthropological fieldwork and the ethnographic narrative. I have already discussed this passage from one perspective to another in Chapters Nine and Ten, but would like to briefly recapitulate it here.

    Dumont's argument seemed clear and convincing to me. It should suffice to recall here that, after affirming that the study of any civilization is ultimately inspired by ‘the endeavour to constitute an adequate idea of mankind’ (Dumont and Pocock 1957: 9), he observed that ‘modern social anthropology had made a significant contribution’ to the definition of social facts as things and as collective representations through ‘its insistence that the observer sees things from within (as integrated in the society which he studies) and from without’. Following Evans-Pritchard, Dumont described ‘the movement from one point of view to the other as an effort of translation’, but cautioned that ‘in this task it is not sufficient to translate the indigenous words, for it frequently happens that the ideas which they express are related to each other by more fundamental ideas even though these are unexpressed’ (Dumont and Pocock 1957: 11–12).

    Dumont's perspective was welcome to me as it pointed to a seemingly satisfactory way out of the alleged conflict between anthropological and native understandings of the social reality: not by privileging the former and devaluing (and even excluding) the latter, but through a confrontation of the two. To the extent to which my dissertation had considerably relied on the Kashmiri Pandits' own conceptions of kinship, marriage, and the family (see Madan 1965), I felt vindicated. At the same time it was obvious that, in the absence of a solid theoretical position (such as I now found in Dumont's statement), I had not proceeded systematically, not far enough. I attempted to do so later in a number of essays (written between 1976 and 1985, see Madan 1987a), which included one on the ideology of the Pandit householder. By then the role of ideas and ideologies in social life, and in anthropology, had begun to receive serious attention. Also, behaviouristic conceptions of culture were being replaced by symbolic ones that emphasized meaning and significance. In some of these essays I turned to notable works of fiction in various Indian languages for insights on aspects of everyday life not easily accessible to the outside observer. With the arrival of the novel on my anthropological desk, I had finally put behind me an exclusive social science conception of the discipline. Needless to add, I had never abandoned literature, but it had been driven, as it were, into the privacy of my after-work hours (see introduction in Madan 1987a and Chapter Eight).

    Dumont's approach came under attack from F.G. Bailey soon after the publication of the English version of the 1955 lecture. Bailey restated the orthodox behaviourist position and advocated evasion of the ideas of the people, ‘supposing they have any ideas which is not always the case’ (1959: 90). He dismissed Dumont's approach as ‘culturological’ and stuck in the intuitive understanding of the unique. This was serious distortion. There were a few others who joined the debate, including A.K. Saran, who refused to grant Dumont the privilege of the ground he claimed to stand on. He wrote magisterially: ‘[S]ocial reality qua social reality has no “outside”… the only outside is interpretation in terms of an alien culture’ (1962b: 68). The conflict between ‘scientific objectivity’, so-called, and ‘subjective understanding’ was presented in a particularly uncompromising form in these criticisms.

    Having followed the debate with interest, I tried to formulate my own response to it. I made the following two points, among others. While recognizing the significance of the dialectic of the views from within and without, I complained that Dumont weakened his argument by asserting that the sociologist shares the external point of view with the natural scientist. I wrote:

    I am not sure that such a point of view exists. … If it did, it should have been possible for us to study social life through observation unaided by communication with the observed people. … [W]hen the sociologist allows ‘the principles that people themselves give’… to enter his analysis and explanation, he surrenders a truly external position. (Madan 1966a: 12)

    In response, Dumont argued that if the external point of view had not existed, there would have been no social anthropology, but conceded that the approach advocated by him ‘might rather be called positive-cum-subjective’ and reasserted: ‘Duality, or tension is … the condition sine qua non of social anthropology, or, if one likes, sociology of a deeper kind’ (Dumont 1966b: 22–23).

    Although I may not have stated my position very clearly, what I was trying to suggest was that, beyond a point, a stark opposition between scientific objectivity (howsoever defined) and ‘subjective understanding’ is sterile: it produces the kinds of negative extremism exemplified by Bailey's and Saran's comments cited above. As social anthropologists, we were concerned with the ‘concrete’ and the ‘particular’; to adequately describe and interpret the same, and provide causal explanations when doing so seems appropriate and possible, we need ‘abstract’ and ‘general’ concepts. It cannot be otherwise in the human sciences, and I am quite comfortable with this middle position.

    Mutual Interpretation of Cultures

    As my anthropological–sociological studies continued, the opposition between objectivity and subjectivity ceased to worry me. I also questioned the requirement of the personal study of an alien culture on the part of every anthropologist. What seemed crucial to me was bridging the gap, or, conversely, creating it, between the observer and the observed. I described fieldwork as the feat of ‘living intimately with strangers’ (Madan 1975a). It would have been more meaningful to call if the effort of ‘living strangely with intimates’, which was what I had done during my fieldwork among the Pandits of rural Kashmir. The anthropologist studying his own culture, I wrote, ‘is an insider who takes up the posture of an outsider, by virtue of his training as an anthropologist or a sociologist, and looks at his own culture, hoping to be surprised. If he is, only then may he achieve new understanding’ (Madan 1975a: 149).

    Subsequently (Madan 1982b), I moved a step further, and argued that anthropology was best conceived, not as the study of ‘other’ cultures, but as ‘the mutual interpretation of cultures’, and that we must adhere firmly to the notion that anthropology resides in this nexus, that it is a kind of knowledge—a form of consciousness—which arises from the encounter of cultures in the mind of the anthropologist. What an observer learns about an alien society's observable modes of behaviour will not yield anthropological understanding unless he or she is able to grasp, in the first place, the subjective purposes and meanings that make these modes of behaviour significant to the people concerned. But the knowledge about one's own beliefs and rituals which an informant may impart to the investigator is not anthropological either. In other words, anthropological knowledge is not to be discovered, but generated by confronting, first, what people say with what they do, and, then, confronting the view from within with the view from without. The influence of Dumont's teaching is explicit.

    The anthropologist's task, I argued, is to establish ‘a synthesis between the introversion of self-understanding and the extraversion of the scientific method’ (Madan 1982b: 7). It was thus that I arrived at the conclusion that Anthropology was, perhaps, best defined as the mutual interpretation of cultures: learning about one's own culture from the other cultures one studies, just as one uses insights derived from one's cultural experience—one's personal anthropology—as well as knowledge of ethnography to make sense of the cultures one writes about. Writing as a creative rather than merely recording activity, was soon going to attract a great deal of attention. Naïve realism and an uncritical mirror theory of knowledge were under attack. There was a great deal of overkill in some of these writings, but there was a hard core of genuine criticism of the orthodoxy, which fitted well with my views developed over the years.

    In a later paper written in 1985 (Madan 1990), I briefly discussed the images of India in the work of some prominent American anthropologists, from Alfred Kroeber to McKim Marriott, to conclude that all of them seemed to be grounded in empirical reality: what distinguished them from one another was the perspective of each. Echoing James Clifford (1986), I called these representations partial, that is, committed and incomplete, and added that this did not mean though that someone has to piece them together and render them complete. Their utility lay in their being what they were and in their mutual contestation. The assessment of the truth value of anthropological images thus turns out to be not merely a question of information about the present situation or historical roots of institutions, or of future possibilities, but also a debate about appropriate perspectives. Such debates are, of course, notoriously inconclusive. One clear guideline though is that the perspective which enables us to understand more of the facts on the ground economically and in an internally consistent manner, and does not claim exhaustiveness, is to be preferred to those that lack coherence and lay claims to monopoly over truth.

    I returned to the theme of the character of anthropological knowledge one last time in the introductory chapter to my book Non-renunciation: Themes and Interpretations of Hindu Culture (1987a). Writing about first-order interpretations which a people provide when questioned about their culture, I suggested that, while the interpretations fabricated by the people themselves may seem adequate and explicit to them, they usually are opaque to the outsider, which is what the social anthropologist is, in one sense or another: if not born in another society, his training as an anthropologist teaches him to turn a skeptical eye at everything that seem familiar. ‘Interpretation thus involves the social anthropologist in a process of unfolding or unraveling what are at first riddles to him, by working out their implications: … it is a search for significance and structure’ (Madan 1987a: 7–8).

    Just as the internal interpretations one encounters in the course of fieldwork are several, I continued, the external interpreters also may be many, each capturing a particular facet of social reality, a particular cultural theme, and providing a comparative or general perspective on it. To say this is not to surrender to solipsism, but to affirm the legitimacy and value of pluralism. The illusions of completeness and permanence that an ethnographic text creates are useful, each in its own way, but the interpretive endeavour knows no finality. As the questions change—and this happens for a variety of reasons ranging from on-going social change to changing theoretical orientations—so do the answers, and the completeness of description is inevitably deferred. I believe the positivists of yesterday knew this as well as the later grammatologists. The aims and the nature of the endeavour are, however, clear: namely, the effort to make sense of what the people we seek to understand think and do, and, as Max Weber put it, to grasp how they ‘confer meaning and significance’ on their lives. Our interpretations, thus, are not merely pictures of empirical reality. They are descriptive, but they are not merely description. In our fieldwork and the subsequent writing, we not only look and listen, we also think. In other words, we inevitably, though not always self-consciously, put ourselves into our ethnographic accounts of others.

    As I have reflected over the years upon the nature of anthropological fieldwork and knowledge, I have leaned more and more towards the humanities, and found social and cultural history and literature rich sources of inspiration in my anthropological work. I have noted the need for immense caution implied by Karl Popper's admonition that ‘the triumph of social anthropology’ may have only been ‘the triumph of a pseudo-observational, pseudo-descriptive, and pseudogeneralising methodology and above all marks the triumph of a pretended objectivity and hence an imitation of the methods of natural science’ (Banton 1964: 99).

    I have also become increasingly conscious of the significance of cultivating a philosophical perspective in the specific sense of comparative ethics. Ethnography merely as knowledge of how other people live their lives can be just baggage, a burden, unless it teaches one to live one's own life better—judged as such in terms of certain ultimate values that enjoy cross-cultural legitimacy. Whether this effort is described as ‘the mutual interpretation of cultures’, or as the cultivation of ‘critical self-awareness’ (Madan 1994c: Chapters 7 and 8), the point being made is the same and obvious. It would be trite to try to illustrate such a worldview by citing particular examples: it must inform all that one does and the way one thinks.

    Culture and Development

    The years immediately following the completion of my doctoral dissertation at ANU and return to my teaching position at the University of Lucknow in 1959 were marked by some further writing and publication in the area of kinship studies in the midst of two changes of place of work. I spent an academic year as a lecturer at the Department of Anthropology of the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, and then took up (in 1963) a readership of Social Anthropology at Karnatak University in Dharwar. The city is home to a sizeable community of Saraswat Brahmans: they claim descent from Kashmiri Brahmans who, they believe, migrated to the western coast of south India in difficult times long ago. I thought it would be worthwhile to do a comparative study of their family life on the lines of my study of the Pandits of rural Kashmir.

    Rather unnecessarily, I got bogged down in learning their language (Konkani), for most of them are proficient in English, particularly the men. I also concentrated on revising my dissertation, written in 1958–59, for publication. Family and Kinship: A Study of the Pandits of Rural Kashmir was published in 1965, and remains in print, having been reissued in 1989 in an expanded edition and subsequently reprinted thrice. The reviewers have again been generally kind, although one of them (Stephen Tyler in the American Athropologist) called it an ‘essay’, not a ‘scientific treatise’! He changed his assessment in a later published comment as his own perspective on anthropology changed. A recent review of the state of sociology in India regrets the absence of ethnographic studies such as Srinivas's Religion and Society among the Coorgs of South India (1952) and Family and Kinship (see Béteille 2006: 209).

    Even as I was making preparations for a study of the family among the Saraswats of Dharwar, the University asked me to undertake a study of private educational institutions for the National Council of Educational Research and Training (New Delhi). By the time this study was completed in 1965 (see Madan and Halbar 1972), I had decided to move to Delhi. The significance of this study lay in documenting the easy coexistence of primordial (caste, religious) identities, representing a tradition that modernists consider a sign of backwardness, and modern, technical education (including that in engineering and medical sciences) provided by caste and community managed educational institutions. A facile tradition versus modernity model obviously was of little, if any, use. The study covered educational institutions in three districts of the state of Karnataka. Had I not moved to Delhi I would have done a larger, state-level, and more comprehensive study of the subject.

    While in Dharwar, which was a small city, although a university town and district headquarters, I become conscious of the interest and importance of studying the organization and culture of private medical practice by individual professionals in the vicinity of hospitals and not too far away from a medical college. It was clear to me that, while in a rural setting (as in Kashmir where I had done fieldwork), work was largely a dimension of the domestic domain; in urban settings the domestic and work domains were considerably differentiated. But I was able to explore the significance of modern occupations and professions only after relocating in Delhi.

    Modern Occupations and Professions

    In 1965 I was invited by Pierre Bessaignet, a French sociologist and ethnologue, who was the director of the UNESCO Research Centre for the study of urbanization in South and Southeast Asia, to join the Centre in Delhi as it was preparing to be merged with IEG. I would have to head a multidisciplinary research team consisting mainly of sociologists. I had met Bessaignet only once at a seminar in 1961.

    I accepted the invitation and joined IEG, a national level research institute recognized by the University of Delhi, in 1966. And I stayed there for the next thirty-one years until I retired in 1997. The decision to move from a university to a research institute, which did not have a regular teaching programme, was taken for partly professional and partly personal reasons. Karnatak University was a provincial university, although good as such, and Dharwar was a small city with limited options for the education of our two children, who were getting to be of school-going age.

    Ever since I had begun teaching at the University of Lucknow in 1953, I had put in ten years of service as a teacher, with a break of three years (1956–59) while a doctoral student at ANU, and greatly enjoyed it. Giving up teaching was, therefore, a deeply felt wrench. As it turned out, however, I did not completely lose contact with it. Between 1971 and 1996, I held visiting professorships at five different American institutions, the Universities of Illinois (Champaign-Urbana), Washington (Seattle), Texas (Austin), Smith College, and Harvard, where I taught courses from social theory to religion and comparative ethics. I also taught a course on kinship theory to M.A. students of Sociology at Delhi University for half a dozen years (1972–77) as a guest teacher. Besides, I supervised a number of Ph.D. students at IEG itself. My decades-long engagement with academic life has thus been marked by passages between teaching and research.

    At IEG, my first impulse was to go back to Kashmir and study the impact of the radical land reforms of 1950 on the family life of rural Pandits and on Pandit–Muslim relations. The significance of such a study had dawned on me in the course of fieldwork in the mid-1950s (see Madan 1966b), and the time to undertake it seemed opportune. Plans to undertake fresh fieldwork and the study of land records were made in 1967, but had to be abandoned because of intercommunity tension in the Valley caused by the elopement of an adult Pandit girl with a Muslim young man: the Pandits alleged it was a case of forcible conversion and abduction. It was then that I decided to explore the cultural dimensions of socioeconomic development with special reference to modern occupations and development.

    The study of private educational institutions in Karnataka had already exposed me to the data collection techniques of the study of ‘official’ records, interviews and questionnaires, and the analysis of quantitative data. These were also the mainstay of part of my research on modern occupations and professions, 1968 onwards through the 1970s, which proceeded at several levels. Studying the pattern of private (non-institutional) medical practice among doctors in the city of Ghaziabad (near Delhi) involved observation of behaviour in the clinic preceded and/or followed by intensive interviews (Madan 1972c). At the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (New Delhi), the questionnaire was used followed by structured interviews (Madan et al. 1980). Macro studies of modern occupation, and professions in the context of development, involving interstate comparison within India (Madan and Verma 1973) and intercountry comparison within Asia (Madan and Verma 1971) based on official data, entailed the use of statistical analysis (with the assistance of a statistician).

    Needless to say, for someone who had begun his research career as a resident fieldworker (I prefer this identification to the conventional but often inaccurate participant observer) in a village, the later studies of educational institutions and modern occupations and professions in urban settings, were a totally different experience, largely impersonal (study of records or analysis of questionnaires), and lacking depth and intimacy where interviews were conducted. Thus, while I was able to demonstrate statistically significant correlations between the magnitude and structure of the professions and levels of economic development, I was never sure that, a few exceptions apart, I really got to know the doctors I studied, or attained any deep understanding of the manner in which they related to their professional roles as healthcare providers, researchers, and teachers, and to their broader social environment.

    The eight years spent on these researches left me both intellectually and emotionally unsatisfied, notwithstanding professional recognition and, in the case of my study of private medical practice, some public recognition also, of these innovative research efforts. What sustained me during these years was, first of all, an interest in the broader issues of culture and development. Were non-Western societies lacking in cultural resources to modernize? Did all cultures have to conform to a single type of development and modernity? Or, should one be exploring the reality, and not merely the idea, of the diversity of cultures of development (see, for example, Madan 1969, 1976b, 1983a). Nowadays, of course the notion of multiple modernities has wide acceptance, but it was not so in the 1960s and 1970s.

    Second, I maintained contact with the village in Kashmir where I had done fieldwork in the mid-1950s through correspondence with some informants, whom I came to recognize as collaborators, and occasional, short visits. This resulted in a number of publications (notably 1972a, 1975a, 1975b, 1981b, 1985, 1987a), reformulating or extending earlier, published work. In a couple of these papers (see 1987a), as already noted earlier, I drew upon works of fiction to explore the realm of moral choices in domestic life, thus attending to an earlier interest in kinship values and maintaining an even earlier and continuing engagement with literature.

    Third, I also selectively studied the work of some highly influential Indian and Western scholars, and wrote about some of the different intellectual strands that comprise the sociology of India (1977a, 1983a; see also 1994c and Chapters Six, Seven, Eight, and Nine in this book). Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, 1967 onward, I remained engaged as the principal editor of the journal Contributions to Indian Sociology (NS); this responsibility stayed with me for twenty-five years, until 1991 (see Chapter Ten).

    My early studies of medical practice found favour with some colleagues at the Department of Social Sciences in UNESCO, notably its director, the Polish sociologist Janusz Ziolkowski; the UN body actually sponsored parallel case studies of institutional medical care in several Asian countries, including India (here, I did a study of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi). I was asked to coordinate the project. Only three of these studies, however, resulted in a publication (Madan et al. 1980).

    By the time this work was being brought to a conclusion, I was sure in my own mind that I had to do something new. Not that the area of sociology of work, with particular references to the professions, was not important, but my failure to deeply engage with it was not to be denied. The inadequacy surely was mine, not of the subject. It was time for passage to another subject, but the way I might turn was not immediately clear to me. Around this time, an invitation from Peter Lengyel, editor of the International Social Science Journal to write an article on Hinduism (Madan 1977b) suggested a possibility, namely, the comparative study of religious traditions from the sociological-historical point of view.

    Previously, I had written about religion only once, an ethnographic account of the festival of Herath among the Kashmiri Pandits (Madan 1961). I had tried to bring out the ritual and secular aspects of the annual event, with the focus more on the latter than the former. I had, however, taught a course on the anthropology of religion at Karnatak University in 1964–65, and much enjoyed dong so. Although the course was structured around Evans-Pritchard's Nuer Religion (1956), it led me to read again and closely the classic works of Durkheim (1915) and Weber (1958, 1963), which have been the foundation stones of all my later studies of religious traditions and the ideologies of secularism. I must also acknowledge the influence of the writings of Berger (1967, 1999), Bellah (1970), and Geertz (1966, 1968).

    Secularism and India's Religious Traditions

    As it turned out, a decision on the next choice in my research career did not have to be taken immediately. Quite unexpectedly, early in 1978, I was invited by the distinguished political scientist Rajni Kothari, who was the Chairman of the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) to become the Member-Secretary (Chief Executive) of the Council. After initial hesitation, I accepted the invitation. For the next more than three years, my full-time administrative job afforded me no time for any new research initiatives, although it did not completely exclude academic work.

    In my second year with ICSSR, I was expected to participate in an Indo-Soviet seminar on secularization, which was to be held in Tashkant. The Council was a co-sponsor of the seminar, and the anthropologists S.C. Dube and V.N. Basilov were its coordinators. Other commitments made me stay back in India, but I prepared a paper for the seminar (1983b), in which I argued for a historical approach to its subject. My interest in secularization had been aroused by a seminal paper by David Martin (1965). A couple of years later, I had also read M.N. Srinivas's (1966a) discussion of it in his book on social change in modern India. This, then, was my first engagement with a subject that has occupied me ever since; the historical perspective too has stayed with me. I have been, however, interested more in the ideologies of secularism (and fundamentalism) than in the processes of secularization.

    After my return to IEG in 1981 (I left ICSSR without completing my five year term), I wrapped up some writing work on culture and development (Madan 1983a), and began my study of the relevant literature on the sociology of religion, secularism, and the history of religious traditions from the specific perspective of secularism. The results of this research, based on published materials and discursive in character, began to appear in the mid-1980s (Madan 1986, 1987b) and have since comprised a book, Modern Myths, Locked Minds: Secularism and Fundamentalism in India (1997), and a number of essays most which are included in Images of the World: Essays on Religion, Secularism and Culture (2006a), and the present book. The guiding principles of these studies have been a sceptical attitude towards premature generalization and the imperative of historical and cultural contextualization.

    At the very beginning of my studies of the subject, the discussion of the evolving connotations of what could be called secularism in Sikh religious and political history (Madan 1986; see also Chapter Four in this book) emphasized both the multivocality of the concept and the untenability of a bipolar, sacred versus secular model of secularization. Enlarging the scope of the discussion, I argued in an address to the American Association of Asian Studies (1987b), that, in the then prevailing circumstances, the Western, secular world view was unlikely to have an easy passage to India in the absence of ideological support from India's three major religious traditions, comparable to Christianity's early distinction between the sacred and secular domains. This, I argued, necessitated a reexamination of the concept of the secular state in the Indian context, and of the appropriate means of securing the same.

    Misreading and misrepresenting my analysis as a denial of the ongoing processes of secularization and a rejection of the very idea of a secular state, a number of critics detected a Hindu, right wing political stance in it, notwithstanding my explicit denial that such was my aim (see Madan 2006a: Chapters 3 and 5). Not that nobody got me right, or agreed with my position. I have already cited earlier in the chapter Dumont's appreciation of it. Similarly, political theorist Rajeev Bhargava wrote in a careful review that my address had ‘caught secularism in a moment of crisis’, and had ‘offered a suggestive, plausible explanation for it, and set many scholars down a path on how best to respond to the challenge’ (1997: 13).

    On my part, I carried forward my studies of the religious traditions of India (Hinduism, Islam, and Sikhism), and also of nineteenth- and twentieth-century reformist rhetorics, for intimations of secularist and fundamentalist tendencies in them. In the light of these considerations, I looked at the Indian constitution and contemporary debates on Indian secularism, to conclude that it was a religio-secular ideal (see Chapter One), and not as an ideology of privatization or marginalization of religion, or of the denial of its social significance, both constructive, as pluralism, and destructive, as fundamentalism. The next step obviously is to develop a defensible pluralist position in culture as well as politics. This is a widely shared concern and not confined to the contemporary Indian situation. It is a methodologically daunting challenge.

    Concluding Remarks

    I had wanted to read History when I entered college more than sixty years ago. Had I been able to do so, I would have perhaps become a historian and might have made some original contributions. As I have briefly described, my intellectual journey followed a different path, marked by long engagements as well as winding passages from one theme to another. After first-hand research in the areas of the sociology of the family and the professions, I moved into macro-level comparisons of data on the professions and finally into the study of secularism and religious traditions. Obviously, I am not a historian: that is not the issue. It is not wholly inappropriate, however, to ask in what sense my work on secularism and the study of religious traditions may be called cultural anthropological and sociological. Needless to emphasize, I consider the two disciplines complementary rather than mutually exclusive.

    Now, if cultural anthropology is narrowly defined as a body of knowledge about non-Western or non-literate societies and their cultures (African, Asian, and such others), and primarily through fieldwork, then my recent or previous work is not anthropological. But if it is defined as an intellectual effort to understand the other's point of view if it is others one is studying, and not be shocked by difference; or if it is to acquire critical self awareness through the exercise of doubt acquired by the comparison of ourselves and selected others and be surprised, then I have been and remain an anthropologist. Following Dumont (actually Marcel Mauss and Durkheim), anthropological knowledge may be said to be born of the tension between the view from within and the view from without. As for fieldwork, the point really is that we seek to know through personal experience, and this imposes a clear restriction of scale. The transition from the small scale to the large, from intensive to extensive coverage, usually distinguishes the sociological perspective from the anthropological; and I have done both kinds of work.

    I have over the years learnt to distrust sharp disciplinary distinctions as I was taught to do at the very beginning of my academic career by Radhakamal Mukerjee and D.P. Mukerji. In any case, disciplinary spaces have not only fluid, permeable boundaries; they are also always changing through the expectation that they will be open to new questions as these inevitably emerge in course of time. If they are not so open, they soon turn barren. Moreover, one is defined by the disciplinary or interdisciplinary space in which one tries to find one's way about; at the same time, one hopes to have contributed in some measure to the collective endeavour of space expansion and illumination.

    Let me, then, conclude by suggesting that an exercise in reflexivity, such as the present narrative, while personally rewarding, might also be of some interest to others cultivating the same field, for no scholar stands on his own in an empty space, as it were. We are always located: in my case in the rich fields successively of family and kinship, the professions, and religious ideas, including Indian secularism.


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    About the Author

    One of India's most distinguished sociologists, T.N. Madan is Honorary Professor of Sociology at the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi University, and Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies in India. He is a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute (London) and Docteur Honoris Causa of the University of Paris X. He received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Indian Sociological Society in 2008.


    1. Sita's swayamvara—Rama wins her hand
    (Courtesy: Street Art).

    2. Celebrating the destruction of evil: A view of the Dussehra festival
    (Courtesy: Molina).

    3. Crushing all opposition: Hanuman on his way to Ayodhya with Rama and Sita
    (Courtesy: Street Art).

    4. After the victory: Rama and Lakshmana return to Ayodhya—a Ramlila procession
    (Courtesy: Bhumesh Bharti).

    5. Ramlila performance (Courtesy: Bhumesh Bharti).

    6. Draupadi's chirharan in the Mahābhārata and the benevolence of Krishna
    (Courtesy: Shabbir).

    7. Kathakali mask
    (Courtesy: Shabbir).

    8. A dome depicting the Rāmāyana in Shekhawati region
    (Courtesy: Molina).

    9. Continued histories of the Rāmāyana: Worshipping through art
    (Courtesy: Molina).

    10. Understanding good and evil at a young age
    (Courtesy: Molina).

    11. Śakuntalā and Duhsanta in the hermitage
    (Courtesy: Shabbir).

    12. Durga Mata in all her glory
    (Courtesy: Molina).

    13. Worshipping Mata Vaishno Devi amidst domestic bliss
    (Courtesy: Shirish Batra).

    14. Hansa Wadkar.
    (Courtesy: NFAI).

    15. Women protestors arguing with the police
    (Courtesy: Vividha).

    16. C.S. Lakshmi speaking on oral narratives at Jaipur with Gitanjali Chatterjee in the chair
    (Courtesy: IRIS).

    17. Setting up shop with the support of a Self Help Group
    (Courtesy: Renuka Pamecha).

    18. Collage: (a) Fighting legal battles, (b) Protest march in support of Bhanwari Devi, (c) Circulating information—Ujala Chadi, (d) All set for a leap forward and (e) Solidarity—politics at work
    (Courtesy: Vividha and Renuka Pamecha).

    19. Empowerment: From illiteracy to technology
    (Courtesy: Renuka Pamecha).

    20. Taking down notes—Mamta Jaitly at a public hearing
    (Courtesy: Vividha).

    21. Protest march on the streets of Jaipur
    (Courtesy: Renuka Pamecha).

    22. The arm of law and the protestor's self-defence
    (Courtesy: Renuka Pamecha).

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