ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

Articles by Akeel BilgramiSubscribe to Akeel Bilgrami

A Life of Commitment and Inquiry

An old friend and intellectual companion writes on the many “sides” of Javeed Alam’s (1943–2016) character and academic work and the questions he explored over a lifetime, especially the philosophical issues around Marxism which were closest to his heart.

Modi's Visit to Silicon Valley

As faculty who engage South Asia in our research and teaching in the United States (US), we write to express our concerns about the uncritical fanfare being generated over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Silicon Valley to promote “Digital India” on 27 September 2015. Prime Minister Narendra...

Secularism: Its Content and Context

Secularism is sometimes said to consist merely in a state's neutrality and equidistance between different religions. Charles Taylor has influentially argued for such a position for some time. This paper presents reasons to reject such an understanding of secularism. But, as a result of this alternative conceptualisation, the paper makes two further arguments. First, for the conclusion that secularism is not a general political truth, suited to all historical contexts, but rather apt only in some contexts, such as, for instance, when there is an implicit and pervasive threat of "majoritarianism". And second, for the conclusion that any justification and implementation of secularism in contexts which are not fully modernist - in a sense of "modern" that was articulated first in western Europe - must turn on an appeal to the conceptual vernacular.


It is a fond thought that literature, in giving us pleasures that are miscellaneous - rather than the satisfaction of the deep integrities of scientific and philosophical thought - is like life itself. It is natural to think that the pleasures of life are indeed miscellaneous, more like those of literature than of philosophy because literature is an outgrowth of life while philosophy is an abstraction from it. But if literature is inherently miscellaneous, and if miscellany depends on singular objects tied to qualities that pre-empt obsolescence, then life all around us seems to resist any resemblance to literature.

Value, Enchantment, and the Mentality of Democracy: Some Distant Perspectives from Gandhi

This essay integrates metaphysics, science, politics, political economy, and moral philosophy in order to explore the ways in which some Gandhian ideas, when given a genealogical reading in the dissenting thought of Early Modernity in Europe, might provide a deep basis for (a) diagnosing the religiosity of our own time, (b) making our secular ideals grounded in a more democratic mentality and culture towards such religiosity than modern liberalism permits, and (c) more generally, theorising a much more radical set of Enlightenment ideas than is found in the widespread and dominant liberal orthodoxies of the last 200-300 years of political theory.

Occidentalism, the Very Idea

The "Occident" and the "Orient" have been largely judged in juxtaposition with each other. The West has been admired and even emulated for the trajectory of its advancement, while the most "modern" notions of governance, understanding and civic living are seen as legacies of the Enlightenment. This article looks at two recent writings on how the Occident has been viewed and how in recent times, the "scientific rationality" that it espouses as the key to its overweening superiority over the Orient, has appeared "thin". The reaction to this "disenchantment" with this superior yet hollow rationality appears to be a return to "older, primordial" emotions and values. For the West, as this article suggests, there is no more urgent intellectual and political task than to frame the possibilities for alternate, less confused, more secular forms of re-enchantment that might make possible a genuinely substantial notion of democracy, one that would truly integrate the world.

Gandhi, the Philosopher

Gandhi's thought and his ideas about specific political strategies in specific contexts flowed from ideas that were very remote from politics; instead they flowed from and were integrated to the most abstract epistemological and methodological commitments. The quality of his thought has sometimes been lost because of the other images Gandhi evolves - a shrewd politician and a deeply spiritual figure. Gandhi's view of moral sense, his denial of the assumed connection between moral sense and moral judgment, is of considerable philosophical interest and in his writings, take on a fascinating theoretical consolidation. In Gandhiâ??s highly 'integrating' suggestion, as this paper suggests, there is no true non-violence until criticism is removed from the scope of moral; the ideal of non-violence is thus part of a moral position in which moral principles, which lead us to criticise others, are eschewed.

Nehruvian Modernity and Its Contradictions

Its Contradictions Akeel Bilgrami AS an obligatory ritual, books and discussions about India ask the question: how is it that a country so diverse in its languages, religions, and castes, and so deeply traditional in its mores, has survived into modernity not merely intact, but with the thoroughly non-traditional apparatus of formal democratic representation and statehood Sunil Khilnani erects one familiar answer to this question into his eponymous Idea', The idea of India is apparently the idea of a nation which is at once diverse and modern in these ways,' in the face of the odds against its being so. His book raises this question repeatedly, with intelligence and with a pervasive and decent-minded commitment to the answering 'idea' being a good one. Khilnani is also a very good writer, though one sometimes wishes he was not so aware of it: after a point the accumulating phrases gleam a little too much ('solipsistic lair1, 'galactically removed'. 'talismanic moment', 'twilight world of spectacular impotence'..) and begin to sound like brassy asides.

Secular Liberalism and Moral Psychology of Identity

Secular Liberalism and Moral Psychology of Identity Akeel Bilgrami The endeavours of the secular liberal state to bring about reform of illiberal practices through legal interventions fail since it makes no appeal to the substantive conceptions of the good the community it aims to reform may cherish. Communitananism takes this lack of reason-giving apparatus of the liberal state to justify its critique of the latter as essentially coercive, and advocates intra-community reform via intra-community democracy.

Two Concepts of Secularism-Reason, Modernity and Archimedean Ideal

Reason, Modernity and Archimedean Ideal Akeel Bilgrami In these times of ineradicable modernity, secularism of the Nehruvian kind, which has even lost its claims to be founded on the dubious notion of implicit negotiation between communities, is bound to seem an imposition. However, in reaction to this imposition it would be a mistake to formulate an alternative vision of secularism which harked back nostalgically to the idea of a pre-modern India, especially when this imposition has not so much to do with modernist intrusion as with its rarefied non-negotiable status.

What Is a Muslim-Fundamental Commitment and Cultural Identity

What Is a Muslim? Fundamental Commitment and Cultural Identity Akeel Bilgrami This paper studies the question Whakis a Muslim?' in the dialectic of a conflict arising out of a concern for Islamic reform The conflict is one that arises because of moderate Muslims' fundamental commitment to a doctrine which contains features that are often effectively invoked by the absolutists. If a full analysis of the commitment reveals its defensive function which has disabled Muslims from a creative opposition to the absolutists, and if, moreover, this function of the commitment is diagnosed as itself based on a deep but common philosophical fallacy, it should be possible then for moderate Muslims to think their way out of this conflict and to transform the nature of their commitment to Islam, so that it is not disabling in that way.

Nation, Community and Naipauls India

Nation, Community and Naipaul's India Akeel Bilgrami India: A Million Mutinies Now by V S Naipaul; Viking 1991. THE obscurities and passions surrounding the concept of a nation afflict some populations more than others for reasons that are so complex and so entrenched that it seems almost too much to ask for diagnosis, leave alone cure, V S Naipaul, pondering contemporary India in his new book India: A Million Mutinies Now, is not depressed by this fact. And, as one has come to expect from him, does not much bother to make an effort at diagnosis. Instead he offers a series of detailed interviews with persons chosen as typical of some aspiring community or interest group (Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Kashmiris, Punjabis, Tamils, women, communists, 'untouchables' ...) and by the end of a long book he expresses a tentative optimism about his ancestral homeland on the ground that at least these passions and these ill-understood issues are being harnessed into political and social momentum


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