New Book: Holy Science

From Banu Subramanian:


Holy Science: The Biopolitics of Hindu Nationalism 

About the Book:

Behind the euphoric narrative of India as an emerging world power lies a fascinating but untold story of an evolving relationship between science and religion. Evoking the rich mythology of comingled worlds, where humans, animals, and gods transform each other and ancient history, Banu Subramaniam demonstrates how Hindu nationalism weaves an ideal past into technologies of the present to imagine a future nation that is modern and “Hindu.”

As in many parts of the world, India is witnessing a hypernationalism on multiple fronts. Through five illustrative cases involving biological claims, Subramaniam explores an emerging bionationalism. The cases are varied, spanning the revival of Vaastushastra, the codification of “unnatural” sex in IPC Section 377 (which the Indian Supreme Court recently struck down), the unfolding debates around the veracity of Hanuman and Rama Setu, debates on the geographic origins of Indians through genomic evidence, the revival of traditional systems of Indian medicine through genomics and pharmaceuticals, the growth of and subsequent ban on gestational surrogacy, and the rise of old Vedic gestational sciences. Through these case studies, Banu Subramaniam demonstrates the limitations of claims of the “universality” of science.

Moving beyond a critique of India’s emerging bionationalism, Holy Science explores generative possibilities that the rich traditions of South Asian story telling practices offer us. It interweaves compelling new stories of fictionalized beings like the avatars of Hindu mythology into a rich analysis that animates alternative imaginaries and “other” worlds of possibilities.

BANU SUBRAMANIAM is professor of women, gender, and sexuality studies at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and author of Ghost Stories for Darwin: The Science of Variation and the Politics of Diversity, winner of the 2016 Ludwik Fleck Award from the Society for the Social Studies of Science.

“A brilliant, persuasive analysis of the multiple, complex, braided narratives of ‘scientized religion’ and ‘religionized science’ at the heart of Hindu nationalism in India. Subramaniam is a masterful storyteller—she draws on postcolonial feminist science and technology studies and moves seamlessly between the histories and ecologies of science, religion, and, gender to offer compelling counternarratives that resist and transcend the racist, masculinist, capitalist, caste-based biopolitics of Hindu nationalism. A must-read for anyone committed to understanding and countering the rise of authoritarian nationalisms around the world.”
—Chandra Talpade Mohanty, author of Feminism without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity

“Subramaniam’s innovative analyses—presented alongside entertaining accounts of Indian biopolitics that complicate our grasp of science and society’s interconnections—reanimate and deepen considerations of India’s always ambivalent, hybrid engagements with modernity. Inviting reflection on how the modern West has never in fact succeeded in disenchanting its own sciences—and how the West’s assumptions to the contrary prevent it from successfully reimagining the planetary environmental salvation it seeks—this text should become a classic resource in the history and philosophy of science, in science and technology studies, and in social and political theory.”
—Sandra Harding, University of California Los Angeles

“At a time when nationalism and populism are flourishing, Subramaniam draws on her unique expertise at the intersection of the life sciences and studies of identity politics to help readers understand how it is that science and religion have become bedfellows in Hindu nationalist ideology.”
—Kath Weston, author of Animate Planet: Making Visceral Sense of Living in a High-Tech Ecologically Damaged World

“Analytically nuanced, intellectually rigorous, politically engaged, and imaginatively written. A hopeful blueprint for the future grounded in a passionate recollection of a more inclusive, tolerant, and plural past. An excellent and timely book.”
—Projit Bihari Mukharji, author of Doctoring Traditions: Ayurveda, Small Technologies, and Braided Sciences