This book addresses the Bengal Renaissance from the perspective of philosophy of science and the psychology of creativity, Dasgupta shows that the Renaissance is characterized by a ‘ collective cognitive identity’ which had its roots in British Orientalism and flowered of creative individuals in nineteenth-Century Bengal.
“Professor Subrata Dasgupta has brilliantly illustrated, through the eyes of a cognitive scientist and a psychologist, the essential features of the ‘renaissance minds’ which were witnessed quite in abundance in....19th century Bengal offers a new way to examine this particular epoch...Subrata Dasgupta combines the attributes of a cognitive scientist and a historian to study and interpret minds as well as historical material. Dasgupta also lends to the book a broad, humanistic outlook..... The strength of the book lies in its treatment of the subject, and the lucid manner in which it explains what went into the construction of the ideology of the Bengal Renaissance.”
“This is, by any yardstick, the single—most important account in recent years, and raises the bar for the future. Diligently researched, thoughtful and lucid in its exposition, it is rich with surprises”
Subrata Dasgupta is the Computer Science Trust Fund Endowed Eminent Scholar, and Director of the Institute of Cognitive science, at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where he is also Professor of History. His books include Jagadis Chandra Bose and the Indian Response to Western Science, and a boyhood memoir, Salaam Stanley Matthews.
Scholars Past and Present have debated at length, and often heatedly, over the very idea of a Bengal Renaissance. The controversies have dwelt almost entirely in the economic, social, and cultural realms: whether there was anything like a renaissance at all, its comparison with the Italian Renaissance, its signification (or otherwise) from social, political, and cultural perspectives.
Thus, for one historian, Sushobhan Sarkar, it designated a time of ‘awakening’ brought about by British rule, the bourgeois economy, and Western Culture. Sarkar compared Bengal’s role in this awakening to that of Italy in the European Renaissance. Later, he was less sure of this analogy with the Italian Renaissance. The Bengal Renaissance, he wrote, fell short of the ‘tremendous sweep and vital energy’ that characterized the Renaissance in Italy.
For David Kopf, ‘renaissance (with a lower case ‘r’) signified a particular kind of socio-cultural process associated with ‘modernization’ or ‘revitalization’ or ‘awakening’—and is , thus, a notion liberated from specific historical periods or cultures: one can apply it to any culture at any pointed out that while the Bengal Renaissance was not like the Italian, it was’ a seed time rich in possibilities. And the comparative literature scholar Rabindra Kumar Dasgupta agreed with David Kopf when he noted that ‘Renaissance’ should not be restricted to a specific movement in a specific part of the world in some specific time; what seemed indisputable to Dasgupta was that the Renaissance ‘phenomenon’ is associated with ‘intense intellectual activity in literature and the arts and this in turn influences religious, social and political thought’. As such there was a ‘Renaissance phenomenon’ in nineteenth-century Bengal—even though, in his view, it was ‘an incomplete and deficient Renaissance.
I will try to show that what historians and literary scholars have uneasily called the ‘Bengal Renaissance’ is characterized by a certain collective cognitive identity. This particular cognitive came into being amidst a small but remarkable community of individuals in Nineteenth-century Bengal as the outcome of their respective, individual acts of creation in a number of realms, in particular, ancient history, theology, literature, science, and practical religion. My main task in this book is to unveil the cognitive nature of the products of these diverse acts of creation, and the products of these individuals acts of creation and the resulting shared cognitive identity were both radically distinctive relative to the Indian past, and of profound consequence to the future; so much so that it behoves us to claim that this collective creativity and the resulting shared cognitive identify over the span of the nineteenth century represent a genuine cognitive revolution.
What is the relevance of cognitive science to a subject matter that has been traditionally in the domains of historians, economists, sociologists, and literary scholars of South Asia? What does cognitive science bring to the table that these other practises have not?
In the context of the kind of creative and intellectual work associated with Bengal Renaissance, the way he perceives nature, humanity, and culture, the way he draws upon his worldview, his knowledge and his memory (including autobiographical memory), the way he responds aesthetically and emotionally to related works of the past and present, the reasoning he employs, the symbols and metaphors he invents and deploys, his drives and needs—these are the very ingredients that constitute the creative mind. These kinds of mental activities also happen to the what philosophers call ‘intentional acts’ (not to be confused with intensions)—thinking, reasoning, remembering, perceiving, imagining, believing, uttering, hoping, desiring, feeling, intending, and so on: acts by means of which a person engages with the world, including other persons, and constructs meaning from such engagement. Broadly stated, cognitive science is the empirical study of the ‘intentional mind’. It is because of this that cognitive science gives us the appropriate conceptual framework in which to situate the creative mind, in particular, to explain the nature of creative mentalities.
The operative term here is ‘Conceptual framework’. My objective is not to dehumanize what is fundamentally a human, cultural, and social phenomenon and place it under the impersonal spotlight of science. One of the charms of Cognitive science is that it deals with the mind at many different levels, ranging from the level of neurons to that of culture. Its practitioners range from neuroscientists through psychologists, and even literary scholars. In understanding the creative minds that brought about the cognitive revolution underpinning the Bengal Renaissance; we will be peering into a cultural, social, and historical phenomenon through a cognitive lens, but a lens that is itself tempered by culture, society, and history. Our ‘Cognitive framework’ in the book is, thus, unequivocally humanistic.
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