Ajay Skaria - University of Minnesota, speaks at the Oxford South Asian Intellectual History Seminar on 1 May 2023.
The figures of the neighbor and friend are ubiquitous in Gandhi’s writings. While he himself assumes he is only reaffirming old figures, something truly radical happens in his writings (as in those of his sharpest critic, Ambedkar). Both write at a time when a modern commandment, so to speak, exemplified in the categorical imperative, is displacing the Biblical and other analogous commandments. It is in order to criticize this new commandment that both affirm instead old commandments around neighbor and friend. But in their very questioning, they also borrow from the new commandment a key element—the injunction to equality. By doing so, they inaugurate a new politics—a politics that could be described as democratic neighborliness or political friendship. This talk will trace the conceptual prehistory of this new politics.
Ajay Skaria is Professor in the Department of History and Institute for Global Studies at the University of Minnesota. Since the 2000s, his research interests have included twentieth century Indian intellectual history, modern caste politics, and postcolonial theory. In addition to articles in these fields, he is the author of Hybrid Histories: Forests, Frontiers and Wildness in Western India (1999) and Unconditional Equality: Gandhi’s Religion of Resistance (2016). He was a member of the Subaltern Studies editorial collective, and coedited Subaltern Studies Vol XII: Muslims, Dalits and the Fabrications of History (2005).