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Knowledge and Human Liberation

Knowledge and Human Liberation

Ananta Kumar Giri


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Human liberation has become an epochal challenge in today’s world, requiring not only emancipation from oppressive structures but also from the oppressive self.  It is a multidimensional struggle and aspiration in which knowledge – self, social and spiritual – can play a transformative role. ‘Knowledge and Human Liberation: Towards Planetary Realizations’ undertakes such a journey of transformation, and seeks to rethink knowledge vis-à-vis the familiar themes of human interest, critical theory, enlightenment, ethnography, democracy, pluralism, rationality, secularism and cosmopolitanism.

Knowledge today is imprisoned not only in structures of domination but also in varieties of dualisms – expert and the lay, cognitive and emotional – and thus we are in need of a new art of cultivating non-duality and wholeness. The present book seeks to nurture the garden of liberatory and transformational knowledge by presenting alternative pathways gathered from many different global locations and traditions. Discussing diverse thinkers such as Sri Aurobindo, Jürgen Habermas, Erasmus, Kant, Tocqueville, Gandhi, Foucault, Daya Krishna, Ramachandra Gandhi and Martha Nussbaum, this text seeks to rethink some important themes in the contemporary discourse of knowledge, including: knowledge as power; knowledge as emancipatory interest; evolution; rationality; power; freedom; anthropology; history; law; compassion and confrontation; epistemology; ontology; political consumerism and responsible consumption; civil society and self-development; and rights.

Offering a groundbreaking and interdisciplinary exploration of ideas about social transformation, ‘Knowledge and Human Liberation’ bridges both Eastern and Western philosophy to create a definition of transformative knowledge that defies Eurocentric thinking. Via the discourses of sociology, philosophy, religion and spirituality, the text rethinks the relationship between knowledge production and ideas to offer a unique perspective on the issue of human liberation in today’s oppressive world. The volume also features a Foreword by John Clammer (United Nations University, Tokyo) and an Afterword by Fred Dallmayr (University of Notre Dame).

“One of the conditions under which knowledge can be a force for liberation from narrow concerns and false dichotomies has to be knowledge’s own liberation. The issue then becomes how we can know what liberation might be. If anyone can at once pose and answer this question, it is Ananta Kumar Giri.” —Dame Marilyn Strathern, William Wyse Professor of Social Anthropology (Emeritus), University of Cambridge

“‘Knowledge and Human Liberation’ not only calls for transcivilizational and transcultural dialogues but practices them in a beautiful and engaged manner. Ananta Kumar Giri juxtaposes for instance Jürgen Habermas with Sri Aurobindo, Martha Nussbaum with Mahatma Gandhi, and Fred Dallmayer with Daisaku Ikeda, drawing important lessons from each encounter. For him, personal self-development, global democracy and cultivation of our cosmic humanity go hand-in-hand. Giri is replacing anti-colonial anger with a dialogue on cosmopolitanism; and simultaneously reminds Western progressive cosmopolitans of their limited and biased understanding of other cultures. Warmly recommended reading for anyone interested in the future of humanity!” —Heikki Patomäki, Professor of International Relations, University of Helsinki

Human liberation has become an epochal challenge in today’s world, requiring not only emancipation from oppressive structures but also from the oppressive self.  It is a multidimensional struggle and aspiration in which knowledge – self, social and spiritual – can play a transformative role. ‘Knowledge and Human Liberation: Towards Planetary Realizations’ undertakes such a journey of transformation, and seeks to rethink knowledge vis-à-vis the familiar themes of human interest, critical theory, enlightenment, ethnography, democracy, pluralism, rationality, secularism and cosmopolitanism. The volume also features a Foreword by John Clammer (United Nations University, Tokyo) and an Afterword by Fred Dallmayr (University of Notre Dame).

 “This book by Ananta Kumar Giri is very timely as the author discusses one of the key trends of contemporary global changes – knowledge, human liberation and planetary realizations. Indeed, sometimes too much attention is paid to the economic and also political dimensions of globalization while the role and transformations of the ‘human capital’ do not get much attention. Giri shows that what is really becoming the greatest value nowadays is the intellectual and moral background of civilization concentrated in the person, that in the globalizing world knowledge is acquiring the status of a high value and as the most important precondition for social development. In this book high academic standard is combined with the clearly displayed humanistic position of the author who advocates for bridging the East and the West, the First, Second, and Third Worlds on the background of shared knowledge and morality that underpins it. In his humanistic socio-historical stance Giri, at all significant distinctions in approaches, resembles another searcher of the world civilization’s foundations, Karl Jaspers. Indeed, Giri, an Indian who has worked intensively overseas, combines the East and the West in himself what makes his book even more interesting and instructive for the reader.” —Dmitri M. Bondarenko, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow

“Perspective taking with a deep knowledge of reality and an imaginary view of future is a major requirement of the ‘critical theory,’ and it can be met only in a work like this book, and by a scholar like its author.” —Tong Shijun, Director of the Institute of Philosophy, Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences

Ananta Kumar Giri is an associate professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies in Chennai, India.


“Ananta Kumar Giri’s book is one of the first major works of a new era. The global South has passed through stages of copying, denying and outflanking the global North. Indian scholars have been busy trying to adapt modernization theory to India, to develop a nationalist frame of reference and to portray Indian traditions as an alternative to the modern West. In all of these attempts, the West has remained the frame of reference. We are now entering an era in which the global South is actually starting to develop new frames of reference. Giri’s book is situated at this junction and in one important regard even beyond it. It calls for a global epistemology conceived as conversation of differing traditions and frames of references. The book exemplifies this conversation with regard to the European critical epistemology and Indian spirituality. This is a first step out of the impasse of the struggle of -isms and post-isms” —Boike Rehbein, Professor of Asian and African Societies, Humboldt University, Berlin

“Going beyond the conventional functions of description, explanation and prediction of the knowledge enterprise, which is currently a tool of commercialization and political domination, Dr. Ananta Kumar Giri attempts to provide a framework for creating compassionate and transformative knowledge in which, the self, the other and the world (encapsulating both humanity and nature) are partners in producing knowledge so that knowledge becomes liberative. Admittedly, this book deserves to be widely read, discussed and commented.” —T. K. Oommen, Professor Emeritus, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

“Ananta Kumar Giri’s new book is an attempt at fostering epistemological awareness, making us conscious about the presuppositions within which we think and act. What it argues in particular is that this awareness is hidden in forms of knowledge that are permeated by power. Therefore we are forced to find this awareness by critical self-observation. To do so Giri draws on a series of, at first glance, highly divergent writers such as Habermas or Sri Aurobindo, an Indian social thinker and many others, to find a basis for this self-liberation. In addition, he adds what can be called an emotional component to this process of self-liberation, the quasi-religious idea of joy disentangled from repressive affects that permeate us through knowledge and acting. This book is to be recommended to all who want to have a look beyond what is normally discussed in treaties on epistemology. It makes us think more deeply about our normative presuppositions, about new foundations of a critical theory and about the role of religion in our craft as social and political theorists.” —Klaus Eder, Professor of Sociology, Humboldt University, Berlin

Table of Contents

Section Title Page Action Price
Half Title i
Title iii
Copyright iv
The Adventure and Invitation of Knowledge 1
Transformative Knowledge and the Calling of a New Language 3
The Gift of Knowledge 5
Knowledge, Human Liberation and Planetary Realizations 6
Knowledge and Human Liberation: Building on Creative Experiments and Overcoming the Prison of Absolutism 10
Towards an Epistemology of Awakening 12
Creating Transformative Resonance 14
Knowledge, Human Liberation and a New Art of Integration 17
Notes 18
References 27
Chapter One Knowledge and Human Liberation: Jürgen Habermas, Sri Aurobindo and Beyond 33
An Adventure and an Invitation 33
Knowledge, Human Interest and Human Liberation: A Brief Introduction to Jürgen Habermas and Sri Aurobindo 35
Knowledge and Human Interest: Towards Critical Dialogues 37
Knowledge and Human Liberation: Sri Aurobindo 42
Knowledge and Human Liberation: Transformations and Beyond 44
Notes 46
References 47
Chapter Two Beyond West and East: Co-Evolution and the Calling of a New Enlightenment and Non-Duality 51
The Problem 52
The Journey of Evolution 53
The Calling of Co-evolution 54
Creative Evolution and Spiritual Evolution: Henri Bergson and Sri Aurobindo 55
Socio-cultural Evolution: Overcoming the Dualism between Ontogenesis and Sociogenesis 61
The Calling of a New Enlightenment and Non-duality 62
Beyond West and East: The Spiritual Evolution of Humanity and the Calling of Transformations 64
By Way of Conclusion 65
Notes 66
References 68
Chapter Three The Modern Prince and the Modern Sage: Transforming Power and Freedom 71
The Modern Prince and the Modern Sage: Introduction and Invitation 72
Transforming Power and Freedom 77
Transforming Power and Freedom: Co-suffering and Shared Sovereignties 84
Notes 86
References 89
Chapter Four Kant and Anthropology 93
Kant and Anthropology: Some Contemporary Considerations 95
Note 97
References 97
Chapter Five Tocqueville as an Ethnographer of American Prison Systems and Democratic Practice 99
The Problem 100
Tocqueville’s Ethnography of the Penitentiary System in America 102
Tocqueville’s Ethnography of the American Democratic Practice 103
Tocqueville’s Ethnography and Interpreting Tocqueville 110
Notes 114
References 114
Chapter Six Some Recent Reconsiderations of Rationality 119
The Problem 119
Reconsiderations of Rationality and Extension of Our Understanding: Overcoming Anthropocentrism 120
Overcoming Eurocentrism 121
Pragmatism and the Reconsideration of Rationality: A Third Enlightenment or a Pragmatic Enlightenment? 122
Further Challenges: The Calling of Spiritual Transformations in our Reconsiderations of Rationality 125
Note 125
References 125
Chapter Seven Contemporary Challenges to the Idea of History 127
The Problem 127
Contemporary Challenges to the Idea of History: Some Foundational Critiques 129
Insider’s Challenge to the Idea of History: Towards a Critique of the Privileging of Time in Modernity 131
Rethinking History and the Challenge of Coping with Contingencies 132
Prelude to a Creative Historiographical Engagement: Reconstruction of Time and Nurturance of Spaces of Reconciliation and Hope 134
Historiography and the Calling of Creative Transformations 136
Note 136
References 137
Chapter Eight Rule of Law and the Calling of Dharma: Colonial Encounters, Post-Colonial Experiments and Beyond 139
Prelude: Dharma and the Rule of Law in Classical Indian Traditions 140
The Rule of Law and the Colonial Encounter 144
The Post-colonial Experiments 151
Critical Reflections on Rule of Law in Contemporary Indian Society 155
By Way of Conclusion: Rule of Law and the Calling of Self-Transformation 158
Notes 161
References 162
Chapter Nine Compassion and Confrontation: Dialogic Experiments with Traditions and Pathways to New Futures 165
Introduction and Invitation 165
Dynamic Harmony and Dynamic Sunyata and Pathways of Compassionate Confrontation 165
Complex Histories of Influences and Violations 166
Compassionate Confrontation 168
Compassionate Confrontation, Meditative Pluralizations and Pathways to a New Future 169
Notes 169
References 170
Chapter Ten Rethinking Pluralism and Rights: Meditative Verbs of Co-Realizations and the Challenges of Transformations 171
The Problem 172
Towards a New Normative Pluralism: The Contemporary Challenges of Rethinking and Reconstitution 173
Rethinking Rights as a Verb: Beyond Universalism and Particularism and a Non-dual Embodiment of Responsibility 177
Cultivating Pluralism and Rights as Meditative Verbs of Co-realizations: The Calling of Non-dual Responsibility and the Development of Human Civilization 179
Notes 181
References 183
Chapter Eleven The Calling of a New Critical Theory: Self-Development, Inclusion of the Other and Planetary Realizations\r 185
Introduction and Invitation 185
The Calling of a New Critical Theory: Learning with Piet Strydom 188
New Critical Theory and the Calling of Transformations 192
Endeetic Critique and the Quest for Meaning 195
The Calling of a New Critical Theory: Self-Development, Inclusion of the Other and Planetary Realizations 197
Notes 199
References 201
Chapter Twelve Rethinking the Politics and Ethics of Consumption: Dialogues with “Swadeshi” Movements and Gandhi 205
The Problem 206
The Swadeshi Movements, Ethico-political Mobilization and the Critique of Consumption 207
Notes 215
References 216
Chapter Thirteen Swaraj as Blossoming: Compassion, Confrontation and a New Art of Integration 219
An Introduction and Invitation 219
Swaraj as Blossoming 222
Swaraj as Blossoming and the Calling of Compassion and Confrontation 224
Towards a New Art of Integration 226
Notes 228
References 230
Chapter Fourteen Civil Society and the Calling of Self-Development 233
The Problem 233
Towards a Multi-dimensional and Multi-valued Understanding of Civil Society 235
Towards a New Understanding of the Activities and Aspirations of Civil Society 238
Civil Society and the Calling of Self-Development 241
Civil Society and Self-Development: Some Further Issues of Theory and Practice 242
By Way of Conclusion 244
Notes 244
References 246
Chapter Fifteen The Calling of Practical Spirituality: Transformations in Science and Religion and New Dialogues on Self, Transcendence and Society 249
Exploring Pathways of Practical Spirituality as a Tribute to the Strivings of Daya Krishna and Ramachandra Gandhi 250
Practical Spirituality: An Introduction and Invitation 251
Pathways of Practical Spirituality 252
Non-dual Realizations and Practical Spirituality: Transformational Challenges before Science and Religion 255
The Calling of Practical Spirituality and Reconstitution of Self, Transcendence and Society 256
Practical Spirituality, Practical Discourse and Democratic Transformations 257
Notes 259
References 262
Chapter Sixteen Spiritual Cultivation for a Secular Society 265
The Problem 266
Critiques of Secularism and the Calling of Spiritual Transformations 268
Defense of Secularism: Towards a Spiritual Transformation of Justification and Application 274
The Calling of Mutual Learning and Cultivating Non-dual Pluralism 277
The Calling of an Emergent Evolution: Transcendence and Practical Spirituality 278
(a) The calling of a new transcendence 278
(b) The calling of practical spirituality 280
By Way of Conclusion: Spirituality as a Permanent Critique and Creativity 282
Notes 282
References 283
Chapter Seventeen Cosmopolitanism and Beyond: Towards Planetary Realizations 287
Introduction and Invitation 287
On Cosmopolitanism 289
Cosmopolitanism: Roots and Variants 291
Towards a Multiverse of Transformations 293
Beyond Cosmopolitanism: Towards Planetary Realizations 296
Notes 298
References 300
Notes 305