AIIS 2020 Book Prizes Awarded to Nikhil Menon and Steven Vose

The Edward Cameron Dimock, Jr. Prize in the Indian Humanities was awarded to Steven Vose for Reimagining Jainism in Islamic India: Jain Intellectual Culture in the Delhi Sultanate

The Joseph W. Elder Prize in the Indian Social Sciences was awarded to Nikhil Menon for Planning Democracy: India’s Cold War Experiment

                Steven Vose

Reimagining Jainism in Islamic India is a micro-historical study of how Jain intellectuals re-conceptualized the Jain world during the height of the first major Islamicate polity in South Asia, the Delhi Sultanate. The book follows the life and works of one of the most prolific Indic intellectuals of the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, Jinaprabhasūri (ca. 1261-1333 CE), who is best known for having composed a collection of narratives about Śvetāmbara pilgrimage sites across North India and the Deccan, the Vividhatīrthakalpa (Chapters on Various Pilgrimage Places). This work played a key role in reconfiguring the ways Jains thought about their religious, social, political, and even trade networks, in the process articulating a new, broadened sense of the Jain community. The book asks how we can understand the importance and purpose of this work—specifically, why it would have been compelling to his Jain readers—and answers these questions by examining Jinaprabhasūri’s versatile oeuvre of works. It argues that, taken as a whole, his works evince an intellectual capable of, and interested in, participating in courtly intellectual life. He mastered not only Jain philosophy and techniques of debate, but also Sanskrit and Prakrit grammar and poetics; he composed many works of belles lettres, including complex hymns such as “image poems” (citrakāvya) and “multi-language” stotras (ṣaḍ– and aṣṭabhāṣā laghukāvya) that locate him in sites of courtly competition. He even showed intellectual flexibility, trying his hand at composing in Persian—with the help of Apabhraṃśa grammar. By understanding Jinaprabha’s intellectual training as preparation for participating in a multi-religious and multi-ethnic courtly intellectual setting, we can then see why his narratives of obtaining imperial edicts (farmāns) that, first, protected Śvetāmbara pilgrimage sites and, later, granted both Śvetāmbara and Digambara Jains safe passage throughout the empire, would have been compelling even if we doubt whether such events ever took place. And indeed they were compelling, as Jinaprabha’s story was told and retold for two-and-a-half centuries by Jain monks of even rival monastic orders, forming the moral basis for monks’ interactions with Mughal emperors.

Through this study, we gain a new perspective on how the political transformations wrought by the expansion of the Sultanate led to new articulations of religious identity by an Indic religious community. Jinaprabhasūri’s perspective on Sultan Muẖammad bin Tughluq (r. 1324-1351) grants historians a different vista on this enigmatic ruler from the perspective based on Persian sources. His works allow us to see how the sultans of Delhi worked with Indic religious communities. We see the sultans as supporters of Jains through their sponsorship of collaborations with Persophone and Arabophone intellectuals and their support of Jain merchants, who led pilgrimages from Delhi to sites in Gujarat and who built new trade networks between Delhi and the Deccan. In the process, it shows not only how Jains ascribed new meanings to temple patronage and pilgrimage in light of incidences of temple desecration and plunder of images but also of the sultans’ roles in re-establishing sites, returning images, and creating spaces for the Jains as important members of the Sultanate. Many of the articulations made in this period continue to shape Jain thought and practice today. Reimagining Jainism in Islamic India is currently under contract with Routledge Press.

Steven M. Vose is an assistant professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Florida International University (Miami), where he holds the Bhagwan Mahavir Professorship in Jain Studies and is the Director of the Jain Studies Program. His research examines medieval and modern Jain communities in western India, focusing on articulations of religious identity, authority, gender and caste ideologies, as well as interactions between South Asian religious communities and between religious communities and polities.. Professor Vose’s current research projects include 1) a translation of a fifteenth-century, Old Gujarati collection of Jain didactic stories on virtue (śīla) with an investigation of the ways that the Jain soteriology is articulated through normativizing caste, family, and gender concerns therein; and 2) an examination of the ways neoliberalism and globalization are re-shaping Jain identity along class lines by focusing on a contemporary Jain guru movement based in Gujarat.

Professor Vose is a two-time alumnus of AIIS summer language programs: Gujarati (2006) and Prakrit (2007), which AIIS fellowships made possible. Research for this book relied heavily on sources in Prakrit and Apabhraṃśa, (especially medieval prabandhas and hymns), several of which he translated in his Prakrit classes. His work also made extensive use of Gujarati-language scholarship on this period and the figures central to this study. His current research relies heavily on his ability to read and speak modern Gujarati, old and modern. Professor Vose also participated in the 2014 annual dissertation to book workshop at the Madison South Asia conference.

Planning Democracy by Nikhil Menon tells the story of a unique and historic experiment: how India wedded Western-style parliamentary democracy and Soviet inspired economic planning in the middle of the twentieth century—precisely when the Cold War pitted them as fundamentally incompatible.  The book argues that India’s Five Year Plans were more than a means of regulating an economy; planning was also an expansive political project to shape the nature of Indian democracy and society in the aftermath of colonialism. Planning was simultaneously a technocratic exercise in directing the economy, a means of modern state building, and an attempt at state-directed social transformation. Establishing a planned economy required new technologies, like the recently invented computer technology and a national statistical apparatus. India’s ‘democratic planning’ approach, however, also necessitated governmental efforts to draw citizens into the planning project—educating them to build “plan-consciousness” through innovative ventures like College Planning Forums and the Bharat Sadhu Samaj (Indian Society of Ascetics).

                        Nikhil Menon

While anchored in the subcontinent, this book situates India within the Cold War and global debates about economic development in the middle of the twentieth century. It maps transnational flows of ideas, individuals, and institutions between India, the United States, Europe, and the Soviet Union. Beyond just a perspective from the developing world, it argues that independent India’s endeavor, of combining Plans and Parliament, was rare in the history of global development. In fact, India sought to fashion itself as a model worth emulating by the rest of the decolonizing world during the Cold War. By tying the local and international, Planning Democracy offers a new history of the Indian state and the global history of development. The AIIS book prize committee noted, “we learnt a lot from reading [this] compelling and well-written account of state-led economic planning in post-independent democratic India in the 1950s and 1960s during the heyday of the Cold War.  [This] work offers an especially rich historical understanding of “democratic planning” in the first two Five-Year Plans and the crucial roles played by technocrats such as Mahalanobis and institutions such as the Indian Statistical Institute in effecting planning from above while also addressing social transformation in a new nation and navigating a “Third Way” or “Middle Way” for India during the Cold War.

Nikhil Menon is an assistant professor in the Department of History at the University of Notre Dame. He is a historian of modern South Asia, specializing in the economic and political history of twentieth-century India. His research engages with transnational histories of economic development, the Cold War in South Asia, and the history of science. He offers courses on the history of South Asia, modern India and Pakistan, and the global history of development. He earned a Ph.D. in History from Princeton University, before which he was educated at Jawaharlal Nehru University and Delhi University. His work has appeared in Modern Asian Studies, The Indian Economic and Social History Review, and is forthcoming in the Journal of the History of Ideas. He is a co-editor of The Postcolonial Moment in South and Southeast Asia (Bloomsbury, 2018). He has also written in more public forums such as The Indian Express, The Caravan, and The Hindu. His research has been funded by The American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) and the Mellon Foundation.