University Hosts Lecture on Public Discourse on Civilization in India

On October 23, the PhD Program in the Social Sciences in the Faculty of Graduate Studies at Birzeit University held a lecture on the permutations of the concept of civilization in Hindi public discourse from the end of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century.

The lecture, delivered by Professor of Political Thought at the Centre for Comparative Politics and Political Theory School of International Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, Dr. Mohinder Singh, was held on the Birzeit University campus.

Dr. Singh reviewed the emergence of the concept of “civilization” in the public discourse of India. Spanning the years between 1870 and 1920, the discourse, noted Dr. Singh, made use of the Hindi language’s distinct semantic and semiotic features, which then reflected on the nature of the discourse itself.

The public discourse, Dr. Singh further noted, saw the emergence of “the West” as a key figure around which the discourse on civilization revolved. The figure acted as a point of reference that divided the nationalist public discourse on what civilization should be. Some saw that “the West” was the epitome of civilization, while others saw in it a system of institutionalized colonialism and barbarism.

Dr. Singh also noted the role of the intelligentsia in Hindi discourse. The intellectuals of that time recorded the permeating feelings of patriotism and nationality in their literary works and defied the notion that “the West”’s status was an exemplar of what a civilization should be, by exposing its acts of savagery and violence throughout its colonial period.