Seminar: "Decolonizing Enlightenment" by Prof. Nikita Dhawan,University of Giessen, Germany
The intellectual and political legacies of the Enlightenment endure in our times, whether we aspire to orient ourselves by them or contest their claims. Whenever norms of secularism, human rights, or justice are debated, we are positioning ourselves vis-à-vis the Enlightenment, which provides important intellectual, moral, and political resources for critical thought. In the face of feudality, prejudice, and subservience to authority, the Enlightenment intellectuals enunciate ideals of equality, rights, and rationality as a way out of domination towards freedom. Enabling a critical reflection on political norms and practices, it has fostered the accountability of institutions, equality before law, and the transformation of social relations. However, as has been pointed out by both scholars of Postcolonial Studies as well as Holocaust Studies, Enlightenment’s promise of attaining freedom through the exercise of reason has ironically resulted in domination by reason itself. Along with progress and emancipation, it has brought colonialism, slavery, genocide, and crimes against humanity.
Against this background, my talk engages with the contradictory consequences of the Enlightenment for the postcolonial world. Instead of a polemical dismissal of the Enlightenment, the effort is to conceptually reposition its role in processes of decolonization.By exploring the orchestrating and regulative effects of Enlightenment norms as well as their emancipatory and coercive dimensions, the aim is to delineate the challenges in “decolonizing Enlightenment.” This opens up space for social and political interpretations as well as contestations with the aim to transform inequalities and injustice in a postcolonial world.
Nikita Dhawan is Professor of Political Science and Gender Studies at the University of Giessen, Germany. Her publications include: Impossible Speech: On the Politics of Silence and Violence (2007); Decolonizing Enlightenment: Transnational Justice, Human Rights and Democracy in a Postcolonial World (ed., 2014); Global Justice and Desire: Queering Economy (co-ed., 2015); Negotiating Normativity: Postcolonial Appropriations, Contestations and Transformations (co-ed., 2016); Difference that makes no Difference: The Non-Performativity of Intersectionality and Diversity (ed., 2017) and Reimagining the State: Theoretical Challenges and Transformative Possibilities (ed., forthcoming). She received the KätheLeichter Award in 2017 for outstanding achievements in the pursuit of women’s and gender studies and in support of the women’s movement and the achievement of gender equality.