S. N. Balagangadhara

S. N. Balagangadhara (aka Balu) was a professor at the Ghent University in Belgium, and director of the now derelict India Platform and the Research Centre Vergelijkende Cutuurwetenschap (Comparative Science of Cultures).

S. N. Balagangadhara
Born (1952-01-03) 3 January 1952 (age 68)
Era20th-century philosophy
RegionWestern & Indian Philosophy
SchoolVergelijkende Cultuurwetenschap, Comparative Science of Cultures
Main interests
Religious Studies
Cultural Studies
Post-colonial Studies
Political Philosophy
History of ideas
South Asian Studies
Notable ideas
Explanatory Intelligible Account,
Colonial Consciousness,
Indian Renaissance

Balagangadhara was a student of National College, Bangalore and moved to Belgium in 1977 to study philosophy at Ghent University, where he obtained his doctorate under the supervision of Etienne Vermeersch.[1] His doctoral thesis (1991) was entitled Comparative Science of Cultures and the Universality of Religion: An Essay on Worlds without Views and Views without the World.

Balagangadhara has been researching the nature of religion. His central area of inquiry has been the study of Western culture against the background of Indian culture.[1] His research programme is called in Dutch "Vergelijkende Cultuurwetenschap," which translates into "Comparative Science of Cultures". He has held the co-chair of the Hinduism Unit at the American Academy of Religion (AAR). He also gives lectures to the general public in Europe and India on issues such as the current (mis)understanding of Indian culture and the search for happiness. His work became controversial when he promoted the Indian caste system.[2]


From the 1980s onwards, S. N. Balagangadhara has developed the research programme Vergelijkende Cultuurwetenschap (Comparative Science of Cultures) to study cultural differences. On the one hand, he analyses western culture and intellectual thought through its representations of other cultures, with a particular focus on the western representations of India. On the other, Balagangadhara attempts to translate the knowledge embodied by the Indian traditions into the conceptual language of the twenty-first century.[3]

In his first work, The Heathen in his Blindness... (1994), Balagangadhara focused on religion, culture, and cultural difference.[4] He is mainly known for the controversial claim that religion is not a cultural universal. According to the author, Christianity had a profound influence on western culture. Balagangadhara argued that the analytical tools with which the West has understood other cultures like India, are therefore, intrinsically shaped by Semitic and Christian theology. The Semitic doctrine that God gave religion to humankind, Balagangadhara argued, lies at the heart of the ethnographic belief in the universality of religion:

In the name of science and ethnology, the Biblical themes have become our regular stock-in-trade: that God gave religion to humankind has become a cultural universal in the guise that all cultures have a religion; the theme that God gave one religion to humanity has taken the form and belief that all religions have something in common; that God revealed himself to humankind is sanctified in the claim that in all cultures and at all times there is a subjective experience of religion which is fundamentally the same; the idea that God implanted a sense of divinity in Man is now a secular truth in the form of an anthropological, specifically human ability to have a religious experience ... And so the list goes on, and on, and on. Theme after theme from the pages of the Bible has become the ‘but of course!’ of intellectuals—whether Jew, Muslim, Dinka, or Brahmin (1994: 226–27).[4]

Balagangadhara proposes therefore a novel analysis of religion, the Roman 'religio', the construction of 'religions' in India, and the nature of cultural differences. His second major work, Reconceptualizing India Studies, appeared in 2012 and argues that post-colonial studies and modern India studies are in need of a rejuvenation. After Said's Orientalism (1978), post-colonialism, as a discipline, has not contributed much to human knowledge. A strange form of unproductive self-reflection and impenetrable jargon has come to stand for and replace theory building and knowledge production. The book attempts to chalk out a potential direction for the social-scientific study of Indian culture. Stressing the need for an alternative understanding of Western culture, Balagangadhara argues that Hinduism, caste system, and secularism are not colonial constructs but entities within the Western cultural experience. He argues that the so-called facts about India and her traditions are a result of colonial consciousness.[5][6]

In 2014, Manohar publishers brought out a condensed and shortened version of The Heathen in his Blindness... (1994), entitled Do all Roads Lead to Jerusalem? The Making of Indian Religions (2014).

Recognition and awardsEdit

He was the co-chair of the Hinduism Unit at the American Academy of Religion (AAR) from 2004 to 2007.[7]

On 1 October 2013, University of Pardubice (Czech Republic) awarded him with its honorary doctorate, "doctor honoris causa", and the gold medal for: (a) the outstanding development of the comparative science of cultures and religions, (b) the development of the collaborations between European and Indian universities, and (c) his contribution to the development of the Studies of religions at the Faculty of Arts and Philosophy at the University of Pardubice.[8][9][10][11]


Selected publicationsEdit


  • Balagangadhara, S. N. (1994). "The Heathen in his Blindness..." Asia, the West, and the Dynamic of Religion. Leiden, New York: E. J. Brill. p. 563. ISBN 978-90-04-09943-2. | (Second, revised edition, New Delhi, Manohar, 2005, ISBN 81-7304-608-5) | Preview at Google Books | Find in libraries near you
  • Balagangadhara, S. N.; Jhingran, Divya (2014). Do All Road Lead to Jerusalem?: The Making of Indian Religions. New Delhi: Manohar. ISBN 978-93-5098-061-3. | [2]

Book chaptersEdit

  • Balagangadhara, S. N. & Claerhout, Sarah (2014) "De antieken en het vroege christendom: een heidense visie uit India" in D. Praet & N. Grillaert (Eds.), Christendom en Filosofie. Gent: Academia Press, pp. 51–82
  • Balagangadhara, S. N. & De Roover, Jakob (2012) "The Dark Hour of Secularism: Hindu Fundamentalism and Colonial Liberalism in India" in R. Ghosh (Ed.), Making Sense of the Secular: Critical Perspectives from Europe to Asia. New York: Routledge, pp. 111–130
  • Balagangadhara, S. N. (2010) "Orientalism, Postcolonialism, and the 'Construction' of Religion" in Bloch, Keppens & Hegde (Eds.), Rethinking Religion in India: The Colonial Construction of Hinduism. New York: Routledge, pp. 135–163
  • Balagangadhara, S. N. (2009) "Spirituality in Management Theories: A Perspective from India" in S. Nandram & M. Borden (Eds.) Spirituality and Business: Exploring Possibilities for a New Management Paradigm. Heidelberg: Springer, pp. 45–60
  • Balagangadhara, S. N.; Bloch, Esther, De Roover, Jakob (2008), "Rethinking Colonialism and Colonial Consciousness: The Case of Modern India." in S. Raval (Ed.), Rethinking Forms of Knowledge in India. Delhi: Pencraft International, pp. 179–212.
  • Balagangadhara, S. N. (2007), "Foreword." In Ramaswamy, de Nicolas & Banerjee (Eds.), Invading the Sacred: An Analysis of Hinduism Studies in America . Delhi: Rupa & Co., pp. vii–xi.
  • Balagangadhara, S. N. (2007), "Balagangadhara on the Biblical Underpinnings of 'Secular' Social Sciences." In Ramaswamy, de Nicolas & Banerjee (Eds.), Invading the Sacred: An Analysis of Hinduism Studies in America . Delhi: Rupa & Co., pp. 123–31.
  • Balagangadhara, S. N. (2007), "India and her Traditions: A Reply to Jeffrey Kripal." In Ramaswamy, de Nicolas & Banerjee (Eds.), Invading the Sacred: An Analysis of Hinduism Studies in America . Delhi: Rupa & Co., pp. 429–447.
  • Balagangadhara, S. N. (2006), "Secularisation as the Harbinger of Religious Violence in India: Hybridisation, Hindutva and Post-coloniality." In Schirmer, Saalmann & Kessler (Eds.), Hybridising East and West, Tales Beyond Westernisation. Empirical Contributions to the Debates on Hybridity. Berlin: Lit Verlag, pp. 145–182.
  • Balagangadhara, S. N. (1991) "The Reality of the Elusive Man?" In Nispen & Tiemersma (Eds.), The Quest of Man: The Topicality of Philosophical Anthropology. Assen: von Gorcum, pp. 112–116
  • Balagangadhara, S. N. & Pinxten, R. (1989), "Comparative Anthropology and Rhetorics in Cultures". In Maier, Robert (Ed.), Norms in Argumentation. Dordrecht: Foris, pp. 195–211.



  1. ^ a b Anantharaman, Sudha (9 December 2007). "In search of new idioms". The Hindu. Retrieved 13 September 2014.
  2. ^ Can the story of the caste system be seen as a social scientific theory? https://biblio.ugent.be/publication/4259124
  3. ^ See for instance Balagangadhara, S. N. (2005). "How to Speak for the Indian Traditions". Journal of the American Academy of Religion 73 (4): 987–1013. ISSN 0002-7189
  4. ^ a b Balagangadhara, S. N. (1994). "The Heathen in his Blindness..." Asia, the West, and the Dynamic of Religion. Leiden, New York: E. J. Brill
  5. ^ Balagangadhara, S. N. (2012). Reconceptualizing India Studies. New Delhi: Oxford University Press
  6. ^ A Review of the book Reconceptualizing India Studies (2012)
  7. ^ [AAR News] (March 2007). "Religious Studies News" (PDF). 22 (2): 5. Retrieved 1 March 2014. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  8. ^ Vorel, Petr. "LAUDATIO: Prof. Dr. S. N. Bálagangádhara Ráo" (PDF). University of Pardubice. Retrieved 9 October 2013.
  9. ^ "Dokumenty Univerzity Pardubice". Retrieved 9 October 2013.
  10. ^ "Aktuality". University of Pardubice. Retrieved 9 October 2013.
  11. ^ "Photos of the Ceremony". University of Pardubice. Retrieved 9 October 2013.
  12. ^ "A documentary about the Centre". Retrieved 1 February 2015.
  13. ^ The official website
  14. ^ Press note on the website of Dept. of Information, Government of Karnataka
  15. ^ Info on the University of Gent website
  16. ^ The Hindu, Online edition of India's National Newspaper, Monday, Aug 13, 2007

External linksEdit