The Genealogies of Dalit Learning and Humanist Buddhism in 19th and 20th Century India



In the modern historiography of Dalit learning in Southern India certain names stand out: Ayothee Thass Pandithar (1845-1914) and Bhimrao Ambedkar (1891-1956) being the most prominent. Much of the historiographical narrative of their scholarly achievements tends to be placed against the backdrop of colonial modernity and particularly tied to the emergence of “Buddhism” as the religion favoured by modernists in the colonial period. Though much recent work has been done on Ambedkarite Buddhism there is still much more that remains to be done on its local and vernacular iterations within specific Dalit regional locations and communities and how it has specifically comes to be used as a vehicle for new religious imaginaries and for an ethical and humanist approach to living. This one-day workshop plans to focus on the resonances of Ambedkarite Buddhism in its South Indian (Tamil and Maharashtrian) context to address some of these issues. It is the intention of this workshop to bring into conversation these two seemingly divergent strands of Dalit learning in showing how in their convergence on the issue of religious authority and “caste” and in their complex negotiation of these we might be able to not just perceive certain common genealogies but that these, in turn, might also to enable us to gain new perspectives on the nature of Ambedkarite Buddhism in its specifically South Indian iterations.


10am-11am: Lecture by Professor Rajangam
11am-11:15am: Coffee Break
11:15am-12:15pm: Discussion of Lecture
2pm-3pm: Lecture by Professor Keune
3pm-4pm: Discussion of Lecture