The Curious Career of Shunya: Politics and Metaphysics of Caste Thinking in India

Thinking across time often stumbles upon the disciplinary division between the metaphysical and the sociological. How does a historian trained in the modern discipline of history engage ideas from the past which deal with metahuman, cosmic and/or spiritual forces – without discounting them as mere ideology, i.e. false and sublimated consciousness, or indeed exporting them to the anthropologists’ country of culture and religion? In this paper I engage with this question by thinking through discontinuous histories of Shunya, a metaphysical concept often translated as the Void, as it came to play out in traditions of caste thinking and caste radicalism in India. I also ask whether and how traces from the precolonial past may animate critical thinking in our contemporary.

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