The Sacrificial Self - Recasting Renunciation in South Asia

Centre of Global South Asian Studies, Department of Cross Cultural and Regional Studies is pleased to invite you to the Honorary Professor Inaugural Lecture by Thomas Blom Hansen

Thomas Blom Hansen

Date: Friday 21 March 2014
Time: 14.00-16.00
Venue: Room 27.0.09, building 27, Faculty of Humanities

Open to public. Registration not required.


Public fasting, sit-ins (dharna) and other non-violent gestures remain potent weapons of public protest across South Asia but they are also oddly routinized and often dismissed as hollow. In their modern form these rituals are inextricably associated with Gandhi but renunciation of worldly desires and ascetic virtues have deep roots in Hindu cosmology. Social scientists have invoked this ascetic tradition to explain the legitimacy of phenomena as different as Hindu nationalism, militant Maoism and the more recent anti-corruption movement.

In this lecture, I will argue that asceticism and renunciation are too associated with an upper caste Hindu tradition, and with a claim to inhabit a universal moral space, to properly explain the moral and political force of a whole range of social and political movements across South Asia.

Instead I propose that sacrifice, and sacrificial acts, provide a stronger and more differentiated entry into the question of the wide variety modern convictions in South Asia. The character, meaning and sincerity of fasting, of martyrdom, militancy, and suffering depend entirely on what categories of bodies and people are involved. The firmness of conviction, and the imputed value and nobility of self-sacrifice often depends on social location and reputation of those who act. What repertoires of public action, and what forms of sacrifice, are deployed by marginal and minority groups (Dalits, Muslims, adivasis) whose bodies and minds are conventionally seen as dirty, marginal and of less value? 


Thomas Blom Hansen has been appointed Honorary Professor at the Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies with special connection to Modern South Asian Studies. He is the Reliance-Dhirubhai Ambani Professor in South Asian Studies and Professor in Anthropology. He is also the Director of Stanford’s Center for South Asia where he is charged with building a substantial new program. He is the author of 'The Saffron Wave: Democracy and Hindu Nationalism in Modern India' (Princeton 1999); 'Wages of Violence: Naming and Identity in Postcolonial Bombay' (Princeton 2001), and most recently 'Melancholia of Freedom: Anxiety, Race and Everyday Life in a South African Township' (Princeton 2012). He has pursued a number of theoretical interests in the anthropology of the state, sovereignty, violence and urban life. This has resulted in a range of co-edited volumes, and special issues of journals such as Critique of Anthropology and African Studies. He is currently working on a collection of theoretical and ethnographic essays provisionally entitled Public Passions and Modern Convictions.

The lecture will be followed by a reception hosted by the Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies (ToRS) from 1600 hrs onwards.