The Science of the Self (ātmavidyā): the reconfigurations of Vedāntic gnosis in Hindu modernities

10 Jul 2017

A distinctive claim of some of the configurations of ‘modern Hinduism’ is that ancient Vedic wisdom foreshadows some contemporary scientific and technological advances, or provides a spiritual framework within which the current empirical sciences can be encompassed. I discuss some of the hermeneutic strategies employed by Swami Vivekananda, S. Radhakrishnan, Swami Prabhupada and others as part of their imaginations of Hinduism as a ‘scientific religion’ which is geared towards the spiritual perfection of humanity. Many of these figures appropriated a classical Vedāntic Hindu distinction between ‘lower’ and ‘higher’ knowledge, and mapped it onto the distinction, inflected by colonial power, between ‘western science’ and ‘Vedic/yogic wisdom’. I examine three key aspects of this mapping: the semantic ranges of ‘science’ in some western and Hindu traditions, the Orientalist millieu of colonial India in which these translations were developed, and the conceptual instabilities of the hybrid trope of ‘Hindu science’.