DHARMA & ETHICS CONFERENCEs

Throughout the 20th century, a rift has grown between the modern intellectuals and the Indian traditions. On the one hand, western philosophy and the human sciences have aimed to develop answers to the problems of human life in the contemporary world. Extensive debates have emerged on such various issues as the character of moral duties and dilemmas, the structure of political justice, the pursuit of human well-being, the nature of the subconscious, etc. A distinct language and specific criteria of cognitive value have come into being in analytical philosophy and the human sciences. On the other hand, the intellectual activities of the Indian traditions have continued in splendid isolation from these developments. They are confined to local ashrams and particular sampradayas. They employ a language inherited from the medieval period and before. The main issues are put in terms such as the import of dharma, the relation between atman and jiva, the nature of moksha, etc. They are specked through with references to traditional stories and great gurus.

The meeting points between these two worlds have been very few: social-scientific study of ‘the Indian religions’; sterile debates on ‘Indian philosophy’; sermons about the import of spirituality to the modern world. One could put it even stronger and say that an impenetrable wall has been built between the two worlds. This wall consists of the colonial understanding of the Indian traditions as religious doctrines—still dominant today. From the 17th century onwards, these traditions have been conceived of as pale and erring variants of the Christian religion. The western and westernised intellectuals described them as yet another instance of religion, its myths and its metaphysics. Thus, colonialism has prevented the Indian traditions and the modern human sciences from encountering each other as competitors or complements in the search for knowledge about the human being. The Indian traditions could perhaps offer spiritual insights and moral sermons. They could at best become the object of study of the human sciences. But they were never considered as potential answers to the questions of 20th-century philosophy, psychology, sociology and anthropology.

The aim of this series of conference is to take a first step in tearing down the wall between the Indian traditions and the modern intellectuals. It intends to do so through a focus on the questions of ethics and dharma at the dawn of the 21st century.