Zooming in on the post-Swadeshi nationalist momentum in Bengal during the early twentieth century, this project aims to write an intellectual history of the emergence, heyday and afterlife of the Greater India discourse by mapping the scholarship, visions and transnational networks of Greater India scholars such as Kalidas Nag, Benoy Kumar Sarkar, Radha Kumud Mukherjee, Ramesh Chandra Majumdar, Bijan Raj Chatterji and Panindranath Bose, and by critically analyzing the Greater India rhetoric in relation to colonial historiography, discourses of civilization, nationalist imagination and in the context of wider transnational ideological currents and networks.
Publications of the Greater India Society (1926) typically highlighted the connections of ancient Indian polities with China, Southeast Asia as well as Central Asia and foregrounded a “Golden Era” of diffusion in which Indian missionaries, traders and settlers spread a highly cultured form of Buddhist or Hindu civilization beyond the subcontinent. The logic of cultural diffusionism, the rhetoric of colonization and the notion of a “civilizing mission” reveal strong discursive links with British imperial ideology. Yet at the same time, the entanglement of Greater India scholars with multiple transnational intellectual networks - the cordial links with Pan-Asian thinkers and the intensive academic cooperation with French Indologists are just two examples - helped destabilizing Anglophone “colonial” assumptions about India and Indian history and paved the way for a discourse in which the nation and its ancient history became increasingly staged beyond the territorial and epistemic limits of the British Raj.
Some of the key questions that inform the analysis include: to what extent was the rhetoric of Greater India inspired by a politics of anti-colonialism, anti-Westernism and a new vision of world order? What are the continuities/ruptures of this rhetoric with the peculiar colonial understanding (subscribing to the notion of civilizational decline) and periodization of Indian history? How did the objectives and publications of the Greater India Society relate to the intellectual currents of Pan-Asianism and other contemporary pan-movements/transnational visions of cultural geography? Can we identify one coherent Greater India discourse or rather multiple competing notions of “Greater India,” each projecting its own form of cultural agency in universal guise onto the world stage? Did “civilization” in its Greater India garb become an ideology for the newly emerging nation-state?
By addressing these multiple questions, this project aims to re-interpret the Greater India discourse not just as an important historiographical intervention but - equally - as a multifaceted, politically charged and oftentimes self-contradictory vision whose timing, content and appeal can only be understood in the context of the constantly evolving anti-colonial struggle, nascent nationalist visions, and wider transnational ideological currents, debates and networks.
Yorim Spoelder is currently a PhD-candidate in Global History at the Friedrich Meinecke Institut (Freie Universität Berlin). His project "Staging the Nation Beyond the Raj: The Discourse of Greater India, the Notion of a Golden Age and Nationalist Imagination" is supervised by Prof. Dr. Sebastian Conrad and Prof. Dr. Michael Mann. He earned a Master's degree in Global Studies at the Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg, JNU New Delhi and the University of Cape Town (2012-2014). His MA-thesis critically engaged with the problematique of voice in writing a history of Indian Ocean sailors in European employ during the Age of Sail. In 2010 he completed a Bachelor of Liberal Arts and Sciences at University College Maastricht with specialisations in world history, European history, globalization studies and political science. He was previously an international student fellow and seminar tutor at the Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg (2012/2013-14), connected as a research intern with the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi (2013) and involved as a student and student assistant with the Global History Program at the Freie Universität Berlin (2014-2016). Yorim is co-founder and editor of the student journal "Global Histories".