The Tradition and Future of Asian Civilizations: Politics, Economics and Religion


Report on the results of "The Tradition and Future of Asian Civilizations: Politics, Economics and Religion" Roundtable held at the 11th Rhodes Forum on October 5, 2013

By Akeel Bilgrami, Johnsonian Professor of Philosophy, Department of Philosophy, Committee on Global Thought, Columbia University

The roundtable on Asian perspectives on the world was one of the more successful symposia in recent years. The idea behind the symposium was to reverse the routine in which scholars and media pundits have written from the perspective of the West about Russia and the countries and continents of the East and South. In other words to ask: what does the globe and what do Western ideas of civilization, globalization, politics, and economics look like from the perspective of the ideas and interests and civilizations of Russia, India, the Middle East, China, etc.

There were ten speakers providing a variety of different angles and they were divided into two sessions. The first focused on issues of culture and broad civilizational ideas. The second on economics, governance, and policy.

The highlights were: a fine and clear presentation by Ravi Bhootalingam showing how science and enterprise could be enhanced if some countries like India, China, Russia and so on pooled their resources and diverse knowledges and even diverse temperaments together, a provocative and highly stimulating talk by Ashis Nandy on the idea of western modernity as viewed from the perspectives of the outsider, a critically reasoned talk by Durre Ahmed on issues of gender and human mentality as viewed from non-standard perspectives available in the South, and a highly informative lecture by Prof. Lall of London University on Myanmar's perspectives on constitutions and government in its new and emerging phase. Prof. Akeel Bilgrami introduced and moderated the sessions and interjected comments and questions to speakers, though there was also plenty of very lively, critical but good-natured questions and comments from the floor.