Mexico City is among the most distant places from India where Indian history and culture are taught and studied. The Centre for Asian and African Studies, part of El Colegio de México which was founded as the ‘Casa de España’ in 1938 with the purpose to offer a place of study to Spanish intellectuals who had fled the civil war in their country, is the largest and most prestigious of its kind in Latin America. Perhaps such a great distance from one’s object of study is conducive to developing a comprehensive approach. In any case, David N. Lorenzen, who has been teaching at the Colegio de México for more than three decades, is one of those (not many) scholars covering in research and teaching vastly different eras in the history of the subcontinent, comprising the ancient, medieval and modern periods.
His principal research interests are: The Kabir Panth, Nirguni literature in Hindi, Madan Mohan Malaviya, Gupta history, and, in recent years, Catholic, especially Franciscan missionaries and their relationship to indigenous Hindu society in the 18th century. How stimulating his work has been for other scholars, in India, Europe and America, becomes clear when reading a volume edited in his honour by two of Lorenzen’s colleagues in México City, Ishita Banerjee-Dube and Saurabh Dube. In their ‘Introduction’, after giving a brief sketch of the life and work of Lorenzen, the editors discuss some key categories of his intellectual endeavour which also represent the unifying theme of the book: religion, power, community.
Religion is understood by the Dubes not just as a ‘hermetically sealed off domain of the sacred’, it involves ‘inherently experiential, intriguingly historical sets of signifying beliefs and practices that simultaneously shape and are in turn shaped by social worlds’ (p. 5). Not only that religion is implicated in the production and reproduction of social life, transformations are central to religion itself. In the concept of power, too, the productive and historical aspects are highlighted. Power goes beyond the exercise of authority based on the control over political and economic resources. Forms of domination, hegemony, control etc. are also manifested in cultural schemes, disciplinary routines, representational regimes, discursive practices etc. The approaches to religion and power correspond to a similarly wide conception of community. Far from seeing community as a ‘tightly bounded entity, . . . as entailing allegiance to primordial tradition’, the authors follow current tendencies to write a ‘greater heterogeneity’ into it. New directions of research have also been facilitated, as is made clear, by recent efforts of rethinking the dominant concept of history.