Science, religion, national pride

In my recent book, Temples of Modernity, one of my arguments is that religion, science, & technology can be integrated as a form of nationalist rhetoric. I explored this in two chapters about India, where pre-independence and post-independence thinkers made such moves. Quite a few individuals (at least as early as the 19th c.) argued that advanced technology such as rocketry, flight, and genetic engineering was known to ancient Indians as a mechanism of battling British cultural hegemony.

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After my departure from India, a number of conflicts emerged in Indian historiography thanks to public claims about the supposed Indian origin of modern science and technology. I discuss some of the 21st c. claims about this in Temples of Modernity and in my contribution to Religion and Technology in India: Spaces, Practices, and Authorities (edited by Knut Jacobsen and Kristina Myrvold). So I was very interested to read The Hindu‘s “most read science stories of 2018” at the onset of the new year and find that it mentions an article about how Dr. Harsh Vardhan, India’s Minister of Science and Technology, alleged at the Indian Science Congress (early in 2018) that Stephen Hawking himself believed the Vedas to include a theory superior to that of Einstein’s theory of special relativity. The article credibly tracks down the origins of this false claim despite Vardhan’s refusal to provide a source.

Part of my interest here is in the interest of the Indian public. That is, the article was so widely read and circulated that it ended upon the list of top science articles of the year. Perusing the list, one finds (as one would expect based on the research I list above) that public comments opposed to Vardhan’s claims are the most well-liked, there are still plenty of commenters (with support clicks from other readers) that align with Vardhan.

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The public consumption, then, of debates over religion and science is on display–and this is a subject I hope to take up in a few months at the 2019 conference of the American Academy of Religion (let’s see if my proposal is accepted!).

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