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Uppsala Seminar on Middle Class Education and Religion in 19th Century Colonial Bengal

October 24, 2013 - 14:15-16:00

The Department of History at Uppsala University together with the Forum for South Asia Studies is organising an afternoon with two presentations on the Bengal Renaissance, gender, and British education on the 24 October 2013. The presenters are Prof. Rachana Chakraborty, Department of History, Calcutta University, and PhD student Abhishek Ghosh, Department of South Asia Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago.
Prof. Rachana Chakraborty’s presentation is entitled ”Debates on Women’s education in nineteenth century Bengal: Its form and content”. 

The presentation discusses how the consolidation of British power in India during the nineteenth century and the acceleration of Western contact brought about far- reaching changes in the structure of the Bengali society. Efforts to provide education for Indian females had begun early in the 19th century, by the missionaries, being the early players in the game. But as they were primarily driven by proselytizing urge they were inclined to focus on the poor and low caste women, these efforts met with little success until the idea of female education had gained respectability amongst the intelligentsia. To uncover variegated inflections of this radically-gendered discourse one has to turn to Bengali women’s magazines with a view to locating the form and content of female education and also the new role model that these educated women were expected to follow. This new concept of womanhood was a fine blending of the self-sacrificing Hindu wife and the Victorian helpmate. By the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries these educated women had become much more articulate in expressing their minds through their writings. Women often held a different position, as novel writers – a necessary fallout of the new education, but nevertheless undesirable.  An analysis of the same helps us to understand the complex and unique intersection of patriarchy, nationalism and literature in late colonial Bengal.

Abhishek Ghosh’s presentation is entitled ”British Raj, Bengal Renaissance and Bhadralok Vaishnavas”.
In this presentation, Ghosh discusses the European ‘gaze’ of civilizing mission on Hinduism and analyze the specific response of the Vaishnava savant Kedarnath Datta Bhaktivinode (1838-1914). The presentation captures the broader socio-historical context of nineteenth century Bengal through a discussion of the beginnings of ‘Orientalism’ and the establishment of Christian missions, but also of the Hindu reform movements of the intellectual middle class (bhadralok). Orientalist research and missionary discourse often criticized what they viewed as the ‘lewd’ and ‘reprehensible’ aspects of Hindu traditions such as Caitanya Vaishnavism, and in response those Hindu reform movements tried to ‘redress’ these issues through an agenda for organized social, religious and political reform. Within this context, this presentation aims to analyze and theorize the contributions of bhadralok Vaishnavas, which have so far been relatively overlooked by contemporary scholarship on modern Hinduism. It will also place the role of Bhaktivinode at the cusp of this encounter.

Venue: ENG9-1017, Uppsala University

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Uppsala Seminar on Middle Class Education and Religion in 19th Century Colonial Bengal


October 24, 2013