Prasenjit Duara (Director of Asia Research Institute National university of Singapore)
On last Monday, January 26th, Prasenjit Duara, director of National University of Singapore Asia Research Institute(ARI) has been invited to give a presentation on his latest published book.
Professor Duara began with a brief introduction of ‘Asia Connections’ project and its publication series as the context of his book. The topic was a discussion on the Asian potential in overcoming the global modernity crisis. He explained his main arguments on the crisis of global modernity Asian traditions and sustainable future. Duara suggested the concept of ‘modernity’ as a ‘circulation’, which is an alternative to overcome the crisis of global modernity. He was discussing the deduction of Asian value as an alternative, pointing out the limitations of the idea of various ‘modernity’ itself still remaining within the framework of ‘nations’.
Duara argued that the circulatory, transnational history could become an alternative to nationalistic history. Duara dentified the present day as an intersection of three global changes: the rise of non-Western powers, the crisis of environmental sustainability, and transcendence, meaning the loss of authoritative sources. Transcendence is the ideals, principles, and ethics once found in religious or political ideologies. Physical salvation of the world is becoming the transcendent objectives of our generation. However, to successfully achieve the objectives, national sovereignty must be transcendence. Duara also suggested paying attention to the Asian traditions, which offers different ways of understandings the relationship between the personal, ecological, and universal, to find a foundation of viable sustainability. Such traditions must be understood through various ways they have circulated and to integrate with the modern development.
Duara explained the cases of “inter-Asia Connections’ project, organized by Yale University, Hong Kong University, and National University of Singapore as an example on transcending the national boundaries as the unit of analysis for regional studies.
The context of the book was initiated from discussion on Asian religions, specifically on the cases of China. Continuous reflections of the new findings on the products of Asia discovered through further research studies have caused the context of the book to be developed into the discussion on Asian traditions and a sustainable future in the crisis of global modernity.
The original title of the book was ‘transcendence in the world of secular life’.
Transcendence as an alternative to the world of carnality was introduced as a new direction of ‘modernity.’
Amongst the three global modernity crisis, the last one, crisis of ‘transcendence’ was what Duara emphasized the most.
The crisis of transcendence is an important crisis of modernity, since there is no authority left to uplift our morality, whether is it Marxism or religion. The crisis of secular life is that there no longer are any existences of sources of origin for ethics and morals for us anymore.
Duara proposes ‘transcendence’ as a critical keyword. In discussing the chapter on circulation and comparative history, Duara asserted that histories should be understood as a circulatory, not a linear development.
Histories that are found in the regions of Asia, especially, are an accumulation of circulatory experiences even from the perspectives of ‘domination’. As a result, in creating historical narratives, Duara argued that linear national events cannot be a foundation of nationalistic history, and an understanding of transnational history as a circulation is necessary.
On the other hand, in the view of transcendence that will be newly generated, the circulatory history implicated in the transcendence discussion was also discussed.
By providing the cases of Weber’s historical sociology, Duara admitted that he has obtained the main idea from Weber’s argument of Western modernity shaped by religious elements.
Although Weber’s logic is often criticized for being biased, it is still important to note that he had identified a ‘religious’ source of origin, Christianity, as the foundation of ‘Western’ modernity, Duara described.
If the modernity that has reached the dead end is the modernity based on the ‘West’, the new traditions and alternative can be found in transcendence of circulation, he continued.
To overcome the crisis of environmental sustainability, the perspectives of Asian religions toward the Mother Nature can be a vital foundation. In explaining the attitude toward the usage of the resources of human, universe, and world, Duara argued that Asian religions can be of great contribution since they are relationship-oriented. As an alternative, Duara presented the cases of environmental activist movements by civil NGOs in China. A small-sized community group has been successfully implemented the actions for environmental protection, in response to transnational pressure. The possibility of alternative cooperation can be discovered and further developed from here, Duara suggested.
In the end, when the crisis of modernity that we are facing now is looked at only within the scale of nations, hardly any solutions are to be found. But when the new transcendence is discovered, approaching circulatory and relational perspectives, Duara assured that all solutions can be found.
After the presentation by Duara, a discussion session and time for questions and answers followed. Kim Sang Jun, Professor at Kyung Hee Unviersity, and Cho, Young Han, a professor at Hankuk University of foreign studies led the discussion.
First, Kim acclaimed that Duara did an excellent job in establishing the integration between history and sociology. However, Kim advised that the dual structure of modernity, the modernity that is in crisis and need to be overcome, and the modernity that needs to be preserved should be clearly distinguished. He also added that further development of theoretical framework may be necessary. Kim pointed out the limits of the influence of transnational networks, such as the civil society, and how the understandings of different ‘artificial resources’ from the perspectives of the ‘resource’ can be argued.
Cho, Young Han, asked how Duara’s argument can embrace the dominant influence of US post World War II in East Asia, from a historical sociology perspective. And the similarity of the modernity as transcendence approach trial to the limitations of ‘Darwinism modernity.’ Lastly, Cho asked for more detailed discussion on Asean model being a possible alternation that represents a community without the selfish agendas for nationalistic benefits.
Duara answered that the sustainability of NGOs still needs to be studied more. He also said that the modernity as circulatory is a new conceptual trial to present the dynamics of modernity. Duara also pointed out that Asean is showing alternative cooperative trials on issues and environments that are different from that of EU.
Three questions from the audience were taken to be answered in the Q&A session.
To answer to a question on the distinct characteristics of Asian quality, Duara answered it is a complication that needs to be studied more. Duara discussed a comparison of China case and negative side of transcendence in Indian case. Duara ended the presentation by asserting the need to future develop the deeper understanding of the nature as ‘commons,’ a shared resource.