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Good Public-Sector Scholarship

Edited by J.S. Grewal
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2006, pp. xxv 598, Rs. 1950.00


The last ten years have been a period of consolidation in Indian historiography. The body of work produced during the first half-century of India’s independent existence was sufficiently rich and varied to call for compilation in reference works and volumes of collected essays. Major publishers such as Oxford University Press, Permanent Black and Manohar launched series of books covering important topics and periods. Conferences in specialized subjects resulted in edited volumes of the proceedings. And a group of scholars and bureaucrats issued the first titles of the most ambitious project of all: the government-supported Project of History of Indian Science, Philosophy and Culture (PHISPC). Acknowledging the inspiration of two earlier series, the eleven-volume History and Culture of the Indian People, and the six-volume Cultural Heritage of the Indian People, and giving an unacknowledged but anxious look over the shoulder at the New Cambridge History of India (currently 25 volumes), the Centre for Studies in Civilisation conceived an enormous series, now envisaged as close to a hundred large volumes, covering Indian religion, philosophy, occultism, science, agriculture, and so forth. So far around a third of the proposed PHISPC volumes have appeared, Religious Movements and Institutions in Medieval India, edited by J. S. Grewal, being one of the most recent.   The PHISPC editors visualized their subject in floridly essentialistic terms: ‘What power lay conceived in the initial seeds of symbols, vision and experiences that impelled the sprouting and blossoming of intertwined branches of a complex culture? . . . Is there behind this development a living soul of spirit?’1 When such essentialism is combined with government money, one has reason to fear that the books in the PHISPC series will have a nativist slant. Charges to this effect have been made, for example by the Bandyopadhyay Committee, which examined PHISPC as part of its investigation of the Special Projects programme of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR). The committee issued a rather sweeping denunciation of ICHR projects for ‘glorifying the past and [being] devoid of any scientific temper and objectivity’2 Having heard of this controversy, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Dr. Grewal’s volume, at least, shows few signs of systematic bias. The contributors write from a variety of positions, from religious conservative to Marxist, and their historical methodology is up to standard. The contributions vary greatly in quality, as is inevitable in a project like this, but they all say something ...

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