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Occasional Lecture Series

Report on Akeel Bilgrami's Talk

January 6, 2010



Under the Occasional Lecture Series of the Forum on Contemporary Theory we organized a talk by Professor Akeel Bilgrami, the Johnsonian Professor of Philosophy and member of the Committee for Global Thought and Director, Heyman Center for the Humanities, Columbia University, New York City, at 4 pm on January 6, 2010 at the Centre for Contemporary Theory. Professor Bilgrami’s publications include “Self-Knowledge and Resentment” (Harvard, 2006) and “Belief and Meaning: The Unity and Locality of Mental Content” (Blackwell, 1992). Besides, two short books on “What is a Muslim?” and Gandhi’s thought and philosophy in relation to radical ideas of seventeenth century Europe entitled “Gandhi the Philosopher” would be his forthcoming publications. The title of his lecture was: “The Political Possibilities in Romanticism.”

Akeel Bilgrami’s erudite lecture was an attempt to seek answers to some key questions such as ‘when did the romantic period begin and how long did it extend?’  According to him, the romantic period began well before the canonical romantics in the English and German tradition. When it comes to Romanticism, the long periodic span is indicative of not only an act of resistance, but it is also an attempt to describe a form of resistance. Leading the audience through the intellectual terrains of Harold Bloom, Isaiah Berlin and M.H. Abrams, Bilgrami discussed various approaches to the romantic period, what had been included in and excluded from its intellectual history. He observed that the intellectual history of Romanticism may comprise elements such as a distinctive metaphysics, a moral psychology, and a conviction in the political significance and critical powers of resistance implicit in Romanticism. He argued that that Romanticism contains within it the form of a generously humane and radical politics and should not constantly be thought of, as Isaiah Berlin did, as a phase in the counter-enlightenment, though it did confront the orthodoxies of liberalism in the mainstream enlightenment. Relying on a variant of Edward Said’s notion of beginnings to develop his theory, he traced the multiplicity and indeterminacy of the origins of Romanticism. Bilgrami observed that Romanticism extends at least to the ideas of Gandhi. He also investigated in his lecture the implications of the interconnectedness of Nature, Natural Science and Religion and various perspectives on these during what we could call the Romantic Period. Briefly analyzing the works of the great romanticists like Blake, Hume and Newton, he arrived at a conclusion that Romanticism, if not counter enlightenment, could be described as radical enlightenment.

Akeel Bilgrami at the Centre

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