The research centre grew out of the research programme Vergelijkende Cultuurwetenschap (Comparative Science of Cultures), developed by S.N. Balagangadhara (Balu).
This research programme was born in the 1980s, from a dissatisfaction with the available descriptions of, and theorising about, India. To find out what was wrong with these descriptions, it was necessary to turn to the larger frameworks that produced them: the existing social sciences and humanities. And this, in turn, led to the next step: examining the culture that had brought forth these social sciences, namely, Western culture.
It soon became clear that the current descriptions of India tell us more about the culture that produced them than about Indian culture. Rather than describing India, they describe the way in which Western culture has experienced another culture. This would not be a problem, if only these descriptions were taken for what they are – descriptions of the experiences of one culture. Unfortunately, that is not the case. They are reproduced as though they offer knowledge about Indian culture.
More generally, the current social sciences and humanities present themselves as knowledge about human beings and their societies and cultures. Still, its theorising mistakes the Western cultural experience for a universal human experience and reduces other cultures to (pale and erring) variants of the West. One of the challenges, then, is to understand Western culture by looking at its descriptions of other cultures. One of the next challenges is to understand the Indian culture. How has this culture understood human beings, societies and cultures?
The research programme allows to develop alternative theories about the nature of human beings and the social world. It can do so by giving a new access to the Indian traditions and by making their insights available for the development of new theories in the social sciences. In this way, the rich storehouse of knowledge created by Indian culture will contribute to the development of 21st century social sciences.
In 1985, S.N. Balagangadhara wrote what he called “an invitation disguised as a position paper”. The paper, titled “…We Shall Not Cease From Exploration…”, gives a rough outline of the then emerging research programme Vergelijkende Cultuurwetenschap. Here, Balagangadhara speaks for the first time about decolonising the social sciences as “a proposal for developing alternate theories in a set of domains.” The paper can be found here. One of the threads of the above paper, namely that of religion and its role in the development of Western culture, was developed in Balagangadhara’s PhD dissertation. It was first published as a book in 1994 titled “The Heathen in his Blindness…”: Asia, the West, and the Dynamics of Religion (Brill, 1994). A second and a third print came out by Manohar in 2005 (hardcover) and in 2012 (paperback). A Kannada translation was published in 2010, under the title Smriti-Vismriti: Bharateeya Samskruti (ಸ್ಮೃತಿ-ವಿಸ್ಮೃತಿ: ಭಾರತೀಯ ಸಂಸ್ಕೃತಿ). In 2021 and 2022, two books were published, both of which share results of almost 40 years of scientific investigations in the research programme Comparative Science of Cultures: What does it mean to be ‘Indian’?, a book written for an intelligent but lay public, and Cultures Differ Differently, a selection of Balagangadhara’s essays.
More books and articles by S.N. Balagangadhara and other researchers working in the framework of his research programme can be found under “Online resources” on this website.