What inspired you to write A Restatement of Religion: Swami Vivekananda and the Making of Hindu Nationalism?
This book is the third part of what promises to be a quartet of books dealing with questions of restatement of Hinduism from the nineteenth-century onwards, establishing a genealogy of Hindu nationalism and exploring political Hinduism.
Hindutva, the name given to political Hinduism, has grown in political influence over the last twenty-five years. My books are an attempt to place this non-religious aspect of Hinduism within a historical and philosophical tradition. It also asserts that political Hinduism in all its forms is neither a deviation nor a departure from Hinduism. Rather, it is the dominant, though not the only, face of Hinduism.
What’s the most important take-home message for readers?
The most important suggestion in the book is of the regressive, intolerant, monochromatic face of Hinduism that emerged in the nineteenth-century as a result of the attempt by reformers like Swami Vivekananda to fabricate a religion based on reason alone.
Is there anything you had to leave out?
Writing is always about what one leaves out! I write intellectual history and it has its own unstated rules and conventions.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions about your topic?
The biggest misconception about modern Indian thought is that a lot of scholars tend to divide thinkers into men of light and men of darkness. Nationalism has a lot to do with this trend— the world is neatly and lazily divided into good guys and bad guys.
This does injustice to any serious engagement with ideas and puts considerable constraints on serious reflection.
Did you have a specific audience in mind when writing?
Anyone interested in how religion comes to the aid of politics in the modern world is my potential audience.
Are you hoping to just inform readers? Entertain them? Piss them off?
For me writing is self-education. I neither hope to inform nor entertain. Rather, the purpose is to tell a story. Any individual who likes to read or listen to stories will find my narrative engaging.
What alternative title would you give the book?
The Indian edition of the book has a different title. It is Cosmic Love and Human Apathy. I like it as much as I like this title.
How do you feel about the cover?
The cover reflects the theme of the book perfectly. It is about Swami Vivekananda creating a religion that is least religious and disenchanted.
Is there a book out there you wish you had written?
There are so many books that are a huge source of inspiration. But I don’t think there is any one single book I wish I had written. I’d rather quietly keep working and do better each time I write my own books.
What’s your next book?
The next book is about the sources of violence and its representation within Indian traditions. The book is refracted through a critical analysis of the Gandhian idea of non-violence; it takes Gandhi as the peg to ask questions about violence and non-violence as also Hindu self-images.