It’s curtains for golden age in the scholarship on modern India

Susanne Rudolph

Susanne Rudolph  

“The assumption that modernity and tradition are radically contradictory rests on a misdiagnosis of tradition as it is found in traditional societies, a misunderstanding of modernity as it found in modern societies, and a misapprehension of the relationship between them.”

Lloyd and Susanne Rudolph began their book, The Modernity of Tradition: Political Development in India, first published in 1967, with this simple but absolutely seminal formulation of the problem of tradition and modernity that has shaped the study of India past and present over the last 50 years.

Susanne Hoeber Rudolph, born in 1930, passed away on December 23 at a hospice in Oakland, California, with her husband, intellectual partner and scholarly co-writer of more than 60 years, Lloyd I. Rudolph, by her side.

The Rudolphs’ joint careers as pioneering political scientists of modern India, fellow professors at the University of Chicago, teachers and mentors to generations of students, leading lights in the American Political Science Association, long-term chroniclers of the history and culture of Rajputana, and co-winners of the Padma Bhushan award in 2014, could hardly have been more symbiotic, or more distinguished.

The couple, fresh with PhDs from Harvard, first drove to India from Austria in 1956 in their Land Rover. Eventually, they spent 11 years doing research in India, raised their three children to speak fluent Hindi, came and went countless times, maintained a home in Jaipur and, both in academia and in public life, became inseparable from the country they came to know, love, write and teach about all these years.

With the passing this year of Rajni Kothari, the founder with Ashis Nandy of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies in New Delhi in January, and Susanne Rudolph, the inaugural phase in the study of modern India, Indian politics, the postcolonial state, political economy, democratic processes, political psychology, Gandhi and Gandhian political thought, religious nationalism, communal violence, and the dialogue between tradition and modernity in South Asia has drawn to a close. (The death of Benedict Anderson just a few days ago reinforces the sense of the end of an era).

As India emerged from British rule into partition and independence, close collaboration between Indian and American scholars, away from the shadow of the colonial universities in both the U.K. and India, produced the wealth of scholarship we now take for granted across the social sciences and liberal arts. This monumental edifice of knowledge, unmatched for almost any other country in the so-called developing world, with the possible exception of China, was painstakingly built by pioneers like Kothari and the Rudolphs, working separately and together from their respective locations in a transnational academy.

Coming days and weeks no doubt will see fuller reflections on the work, life and contributions of the Rudolphs. But even as we record Susanne’s passing, it remains essential to mention a key essay by the Rudolphs, titled Modern Hate: How Ancient Animosities Get Invented, published in The New Republic in March 1993, immediately after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in December 1992 and the riots in Bombay in the winter of 1992-93. They argued that the invocation of “ancient hatreds” to explain ethnic violence and communal strife — not just between Hindus and Muslims in India but also (at that time) between different groups in the Middle East, the Balkans, the post-Soviet republics and elsewhere in the world — is both analytically weak and historically false. They were not just thinking about India as an object of study in light of Mandal, Mandir and Market, but also aware their own vantage as professional analysts of

South Asia sitting in Bill Clinton’s America, after the collapse of the USSR and the shock of the first Gulf War.

We can only hope that the peerless intellectual legacy of the Rudolphs continues to empower, inform, shape and inspire the scholarship on India in the 21st century. Susanne, or Sue as she was called, will be missed by her children and grandchildren, by her numerous colleagues, by her many students and younger scholars she mentored (including myself), by the entire profession of political science, but most of all by Lloyd, who spent six decades thinking, writing, teaching and living with this brilliant and remarkable woman.

( Ananya Vajpeyi is the author of Righteous Republic: The Political Foundations of Modern India)

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Printable version | Sep 28, 2020 7:58:23 AM |

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