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The reason for creating the Indian-European Advanced Research Network

Starting in 2007 with the initiative of the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin and the personal involvement of Sunil Khilnani, the network has been created to help overcome the asymmetrical situation that frequently hinders the cooperation between Europe and India in the Humanities and Social sciences.

The European scholars often specialize in a regional competence and work in a context defined by the culture which is their object of study, a « South Asia Institute » or the like. Meanwhile, the Indian scholars often work in a disciplinary unit where they compete globally and are, in many cases, in constant dialogue with scholars from the Anglophone world and especially the U.S. Yet, when they come to continental Europe, they are welcomed by the regional specialists as precious informants and often remain ignored by the colleagues of their own field or discipline.

The vigour of the humanities and social sciences in India, though, deserves the greatest attention among European scholars. It is deeply rooted in the fact that India has, for over six decades now, maintained a democratic and open society – one that is connected to and participates in global intellectual currents, while also reflecting on very specific local concerns and conflicts.

By identifying some specific focus areas, the network tries to bridge the gap and to bring Indian and European scholars together in research groups solely based on their competence. Yet, as Indian and European scholars today live in a common and more globalized world, the discussion is not intended to be artificially limited to Indian and European scholars alone or to the comparison of India and Europe without taking into account their globalized entanglement. Such a cooperation has to be responsive and open to including scholars from other countries, where such inclusion is justified on research grounds. This kind of transregional perspective tries to avoid a culturalist sectarianism. Even where the cooperation between Indian and European scholars seems to be of particular interest, the intellectual aim of the network is not to develop forms of specific and niche knowledge, but to foster an enriched universalistic ambition, which can appear convincing not just to the participants of the network but to the wider world of scholars.

Each one of the focus areas supported by the network provides the opportunity to question some of the usual concepts of the Humanities and Social sciences which, although self-proclaimed as universal, reflect indeed the specific development of these disciplines based on particular experiences in Europe and the most industrialized countries. The internationalization of the research perspective follows the basic logic of comparison: which helps, among other things, to identify the extent to which conceptual fields within disciplines are necessary or contingent in their form and content – and to what extent they can grasp different cultural realities and contexts. Through such iterative comparison, the different cultural backgrounds can gradually allow for modifications in the problem choice and set, and lead hopefully to a modified conceptualization of core principles within the disciplines themselves.