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Interface Between Science, Religion And Politics

Shiju Sam Varughese

By Meera Nanda
Three Essays Collective, Gurgaon, 2016, pp. 195, Rs. 1475.00


Meera Nanda’s new book continues with her mission to critically examine the interface of science, religion and Right Wing politics in India, which is a highly significant theme today with the growing trend of saffronization of knowledge production. While in her previous works such as Breaking the Spell of Dharma and Other Essays (2002), and Prophets Facing Backward: Postmodern Critiques of Science and Hindu Nationalism (2004), she explored the theme for largely an academic readership, the book addresses the general reader. It looks into four recent public debates initiated by the Right Wing of the country in their foray into constructing the myth of ‘scientific Hinduism’, ‘a current craze for finding modern science in ancient religious texts’ (p. 5). The first is the argument about the discovery of the Pythagorean Theorem by ‘ancient Hindu scientists’ centuries before Pythagoras. The second instance is the dominant belief that zero (sunya) was invented by ancient Indians. ‘Mythification of science’ performed by the Prime Minister of India himself when he recently cited Mahabharata as providing evidence to the great advancements in genetic sciences and plastic surgery accomplished by the ancients, which is the third case in point. Finally, Nanda examines the role of Vivekananda in establishing Hinduism as a religion fully validated by modern science, in the late nineteenth century. By addressing these four popular controversies, the author exposes the saffronization of the history of Indian science. Nanda’s approach, as stated in the introduction of the book, is twofold: exploring the history of science in ancient India, for her, is simultaneously an attempt to register the contributions of ancient Indian civilization beyond its Right Wing appropriation and denouncement by the ‘rationalist fundamentalists’ ‘who see no value whatsoever in anything that predates the Scientific Revolution’ (p. 4). Towards attaining these goals she situates the scientific accomplishments of ancient India ‘in their own times, and alongside the achievements of their peers in sister civilizations’ (p. 4). Thus the intention of the author is to present the Indian case in a comparative historical perspective to assess the actual Indian contribution to global science. The first two chapters, the most rigorous in the book from a historiographical point of view, invite the reader to the ancient mathematical scholarship across civilizations to examine the value of the argument of the origin of the Pythagorean Theorem and the decimal system of counting in ancient India. Based on secondary literature survey (which occasionally also ...

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