Prophets Facing Backward: Postmodern Critiques of Science and Hindu Nationalism in India

Essay by 2907 October 2006

download word file, 14 pages 2.5

Downloaded 57 times

Meera Nanda's book Prophets Facing Backward is an extraordinary and compelling book. Few in the West are aware of the alarming confluence of ideas arising out of the contemporary nationalistic politics of India with its endorsement of 'Vedic science' and the dominant postmodernist, social constructivist and sociological trends in science studies in the West. Nanda's book is an intellectual bombshell dropped on this potent combination. No one interested in the ways in which science and culture can interact should ignore this book and the challenging case it makes against the prevailing orthodoxies of much that passes for Western science 'studies'. It should serve for years to come as a reference point for what can go wrong in science studies when it is allied with fashionable but wrongheaded, and even deeply perverse, manqué 'epistemologies', such as those provided in postmodernism, social constructivism and their ilk.

Nanda describes a phenomenon in India that strongly resembles what Jeffery Herf calls 'reactionary modernism' in his study of the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich.

This is an outlook that enabled Germans to accept modern scientific technology while at the same time they adopted politically illiberal and reactionary policies and rejected much of the rationality of the enlightenment that informs science. Her thesis is that contemporary India is in the grip of a version of reactionary modernism in which political nationalism is accompanied by technological advance; but the science that informs it has been stripped of its enlightenment context and relocated within the context of nationalistic religion, 'Vedic Science'. The stripping and relocation fits admirably with doctrines from Western science studies that claim that all knowledge is 'local', that scientific belief is culturally caused, that power and knowledge are one, that there is no universal rationality to science and that all scientific belief and its...