A SALUTE TO
THE FORUM ON CONTEMPORARY THEORY
AT ITS SILVER JUBILEE
This year, 2014, the Forum on Contemporary Theory celebrates its Silver Jubilee, having been founded in 1989. This is a time for congratulation and rejoicing. As it happens, I have been involved with the Forum since its beginning and throughout its 25 years of existence. During the 1980s, I was a frequent guest at the M. S. University of Baroda, visiting alternatively the Department of Political Science, then under the guidance of Professor Thomas Pantham, and the English Department, then directed by Professor Prafulla Kar. Very friendly relations soon developed. In conversations with Professor Kar, the idea emerged of establishing a forum of theoretical studies with headquarters in
but hopefully reaching out to the entire country and beyond. In 1989 the Forum was launched and I was very happy to be there at the time, delivering a lecture on “Theorizing Today.” Baroda
Why did we choose to focus on theory and theorizing? To avoid misconceptions, let me state very clearly: we did not mean to focus on some abstract or pure theory after the model of quantum physics; rather, we aimed to promote reflection on human, social and political life, on all the topics usually dealt with in the so-called “humanities.” Thus, it was to be a human or humanistic reflection on matters of human concern—following the saying of Socrates that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Why did we emphasize the importance of “theorizing today”? Mainly because of the grave dangers threatening human life in the contemporary world: the dangers of global warming, ethnic cleansing, and nuclear catastrophe. To obviate or reduce these dangers, we found it imperative to reflect on alternative ways of conducting human and social life, to explore alternative paths toward the future of humankind.
However, there was another, equally urgent reason for focusing on theory and theorizing: the end of colonialism or imperialism and the ongoing process of globalization. With the demise of colonial empires after the second World War, formerly colonial countries had to begin to chart their own future and to reflect on proper ways to preserve or change their ways of life. In the past, “theorizing” had been mainly done by Western intellectuals, whereas non-Western countries were often mere recipients of (Western) theories. This has been called “Orientalism.” With independence, this Orientalist model had to stop. Now, people in all countries had to begin to be active producers, not just passive consumers of theories. In
, this change was relatively easy because of the long tradition of Indian philosophy and the theoretically ambitious reform movements of the 19th century, culminating in the struggle for independence guided by Mahatma Gandhi. India
It is clear that the Forum initiated in 1989 benefited from the rich theoretical resources available in the Indian tradition. In addition, the period produced an amazing cultural cross-fertilization, in the sense that Indian theoretical legacies were reinterpreted in the light of Western (especially postmodern) insights just as Western ideas experienced new post-colonial reconstructions. This cross-fertilization was particularly attractive to the younger generation of Indian intellectuals and scholars—many of whom joined and became a backbone of the Forum over the years.
Here I have to mention another important aspect. Although headquartered in
Baroda, the Forum held its annual meetings in many parts and at many different venues in India, including Delhi, Mumbay, Jaipur, Udaipur, , Chenai, and other places. Many times, annual meetings were held in less well-known locations—and this leads me to one of the most valuable accomplishments of the Forum. By organizing meetings all over Calcutta , the Forum enabled colleagues from smaller colleges to participate and become an integral part of the Forum’s intellectual network. I recall a meeting that was held in far-off India —where I was stunned and amazed by the high quality of participants hailing from—to me—quite unfamiliar places. Assam
I believe the Forum has accomplished much. But, of course, at age 25 it is still quite young. There is a bright future looming ahead—if the Forum is up to it. At this anniversary celebration, it is incumbent on members of the Forum to re-dedicate and recommit themselves to the goal that has inspired it from the beginning: the goal of examining and reflecting carefully on human and social life, on the fortunes and misfortunes befalling
and the world in our time. In my view, the future of the Forum will be bright, if participants keep two things above all in mind: the demands placed on reflection by the great legacies of the past, and the demands placed on human courage by the perils and opportunities of coming decades. India
My good wishes will always accompany the work of the Forum. I know I am joined by all the other members and supporters of the Forum when I express my sincere gratitude and admiration to Prafulla Kar whose dedicated labor and inspiring leadership has guided the Forum during the past 25 years and who, I hope, will provide this guidance for many years to come. Shanti.