#TMCI (The Multi Cultural Isms, April 18, 2015):

SynTalk thinks about interpretation and understanding of the self & the other, while constantly wondering why & if it is difficult to truly understand another culture. What more do we need besides translation and interpretation? The concepts are derived off / from Aristotle, Homer, Aquinas, Omar Khayyam, Descartes, Akbar, Marx, Wittgenstein, Bakhtin, Gandhi, Edward Said, Huntington, Derrida, Donald Davidson, Fredrik Barth, Stanislaw Lem, Tarkovsky, Janet Abu-Lughod, Bernard Williams, Immanuel Wallerstein, Aitmatov, & S. N. Balagangadhara, among others. Has one culture interpreted and described all others, & are all cultures cognitively understandable? Is a meta theory of cultural understanding possible? Are cultures ‘configurations of learning’, with both teachable and learnable components? Is ‘cultural-difference’ (& not culture or difference) the a priori (somewhat) like space-time, & how does the process of saliencing some domains (such as morality) work? Can pristine nature be scary? The long historical process of nomads gradually moving to cities? How a civilization (with writing, language, technology, & polity) makes its cultures robust? How the way identities are individuated may be very different across cultures, & how some modes of relationality may be inherited? Is it possible for a culture to have a private language? When do people begin to be cultured (links with city-life)? Should we try to break up culture into diverse units to see the robustness in them? The puzzle of the knitted-together-ness (inter-textuality) of descriptions (from priests’ to traders’) completely distinct from each other? How Silk Road (from China to the Mediterranean) is an indication of pre modern globalization? Does a culture need (say) territory, ethnicity, religion, or sovereignty to thrive, and is descent a vital part of any thriving culture? Why are some cultures dominant, and what is the need to bring in other kinds of narratives? The difference between the nation and the ethnie. Why did multiculturalism come up in the 1970s in Australia? The fascinating possible historical (1250-1350 AD) connections between Europe, Middle East and the Far East. Is it commonsensical to think that every culture would have a religion? Why? What then was the religion of the early Greeks or Romans? Is it only through others that we can know ourselves – the internally familiar world, and the need for the other (mirror, border, foreigner). Is monologue death? The links between theory of radical interpretation, 1480 BC, Babylon, brain matter, pottery, shamanism, lion, conquests, cutting wood, marriage, Kannada, slave trade, Nagaland, Sulh-i-kul, & the Asian Renaissance. What would be the nature of the multi-cultural moment if we come in contact with aliens? The deep need for hospitality without thematization. The SynTalkrs are: Prof. Vivek Dhareshwar (philosophy, Srishti Institute of Design, Bangalore), Prof. Rashmi Doraiswamy (international studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi), & Prof. Shereen Ratnagar (archaeology, ex-JNU, Delhi).

SynTalk is pleased and privileged to have hosted the following SynTalkrs (in alphabetical order) on its #TMCI show.

Prof. Vivek Dhareshwar (philosophy, social sciences) is currently the Scholar-in-Residence at Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Bangalore. He also heads the Bangalore Human Sciences Initiative (BHISI). This initiative’s objective is to reinvigorate research in the humanities and the social sciences. Previously, he was Senior Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Culture and Society, Bangalore, where he was also the Director between 2001 and 2004. From 1993 to 1997, he was at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta, where he was Fellow in the Social Basis of Culture and Sociology. He has also taught as Visiting Faculty in the Department of Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, USA. Dr. Dhareshwar obtained a Ph.D. from the History of Consciousness Program, University of California, Santa Cruz (1989). His masters’ degree was in Modern Indian History, from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Delhi. His current research investigates the role of culture in learning different kinds of knowledges. He is working on two book projects: a philosophical exploration of the relationship between norms and experience; the other on the idea of multiple sites of ethical learning in Gandhi. He has published widely in the areas of ethics, political theory, literary criticism, and the philosophy of culture.

Prof. Rashmi Doraiswamy (critical theory, culture & international studies) is Professor (Central Asia) at the Academy of International Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. Her doctoral thesis was on Mikhail Bakhtin, the Russian philosopher. She has published and lectured widely on cultural issues. Important concerns in her writing have been the issues of modernism/realism, multiculturalism, globalization, migration, borders, hybridity, ‘otherness’, genres and chronotopes, national identity, post colonialism and post socialism. She is author of The Post-Soviet Condition: Chingiz Aitmatov in the ’90s (Aakar, 2005) and Guru Dutt: Through Light and Shade (Wisdom Tree, 2008). She is editor of Cultural Histories of Central Asia (Aakar, 2009), Energy Security: India, Central Asia and the Neighbourhood (Manak, 2013) and Perspectives on Multiculturalism: Pre-Soviet, Soviet and Post-Soviet Central Asia (Manak, 2013). She was the recipient of the National Award for the Best Film Critic in 1994. She was also awarded a Certificate of Appreciation by the Tadjik Filmmakers’ Union for the active promotion of Tadjik cinema in 1991. Her entry on ‘Film and Literature (India)’ has appeared in the Encyclopedia of Postcolonial Literatures in English (Routledge, 2005). She has served on several statutory and non-statutory film festivals and critics juries in India and abroad. She was associated for many years with Cinemaya, The Asian Film Quarterly.

Prof. Shereen Ratnagar (history, archaeology) is currently an independent scholar living in Mumbai. She was earlier a professor of archaeology and ancient history at the Centre for Historical Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Delhi. Her main research interests have been in archaeology and the social and economic aspects of past societies, especially focusing on the contours of the early state in & around 2500 BC. She is particularly interested in the Indus civilization, and early Mesopotamia & Egypt. She is noted for work on investigating the factors contributing to the end of the Indus Valley Civilization. She has also studied the societies around the great urban centres & the peripatetic herdsmen wandering seasonally in and out of the settled and politically organized areas. Through her work, she has tried to study the question of ‘what being tribal’ meant. She is the author of several publications, notably, ‘Understanding Harappa: Civilization in the greater Indus Valley’ (2002), ‘The Other Indians – Essays on Pastoralists and Prehistoric Tribal People, Three Essays Collective’ (2004) & ‘Ayodhya: Archaeology After Excavation’ (2007). Prof. Ratnagar was educated at Deccan College, Pune, and later studied Mesopotamian archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, University College, London.

Note: Any & all errors in the brief profiles above are SynTalk’s own.