Since my first memories of myself, I have always been struggling with the problem of identifying myself as part of something. I am the kind of person who likes to be with others and admires groups, but does not easily identify with any of them.
In my professional life, the struggle assumes the form of a difficulty in identificating myself with any of the academic groups I should belong to. Since I work in an "Oriental Institute", I should be an Orientalist, but although I enjoy reading of Islamic Theodicy, I have no professional interest in Contemporary Jakarta (at least no more than I have in any other contemporary human society), nor in Central Asian pre-historic pottery (at least no more than I have in any other witness of a human society). Further, I do not identify myself as a "South Asian scholar", since I have no particular interest in contemporary South Asian literature, cinema, etc. Nor do I have any interest in Vedic India's tribes. This does not mean I do not enjoy reading about these themes, it only means that I do not think that they are professionally relevant to my work. Nor could I say that I am a "Sanskritist", since there is so much which has been written in Sanskrit that I am professionally happy to ignore.
What I think is professionally relevant to me, then? Any philosophical author of Classical, Post-Classical and Contemporary India and many philosophers outside India, insofar as they deal with topics I am interested in. Could I hence just understand myself as a "philosopher" or, better a "historian of philosophy"? The problem with that lies in the lack of a shared background. One can only identify as X if the group of Xs shares similar goals, background, worldview.
But, unfortunately, today's set of "historians of philosophy" has a comparably low interest in the themes I am most interested in (from the epistemology of injunctions to their linguistic role and hermeneutics)–and no interest at all in the authors I am most familiar with. It is hence tough to imagine a fruitful exchange if mutual dialogue is made so difficult. On a minimal basis: I happen to post comments on philosophical blogs and I am extremely grateful for any philosophical comment on this blog. But such instances of true exchange are so rare…
How do readers feel about their "belonging to …"?
North-South Academic Partnership on Poverty
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