Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society Organization Logo Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society


Democratic Theory in India


Event Summary

Photo by Robert Heishman

This conference, sponsored by the Theorizing Indian Democracy project at the Neubauer Collegium, explored conceptual dimensions of modern democratic politics through a focus on colonial and postcolonial India. The conference brought together political theorists, philosophers, historians, and legal scholars working on South Asian history, political theory, law, and postcolonial studies in a collaborative space. The goal of the conference was to advance the burgeoning interest in postcolonial and non-Western political thought. “Democratic Theory in India” was organized around three guiding themes: the intellectual history of political concepts in modern India; the social and cultural dimensions of democratic practices; and normative issues around citizenship and state institutions.


9:00 – 9:30 a.m.
Welcome and Introduction

9:30 – 11:00 a.m.
Anticolonialism and Popular Sovereignty

Karuna Mantena (Yale University): “Gandhian Satyagraha, Mass Struggle, and Democratic Politics”Nazmul Sultan (University of Chicago): “Anticolonial Federalism and the Times of Peoplehood”Discussant: Adom Getachew (University of Chicago)

11:00 – 11:30 a.m.
Coffee Break

11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
The Evolution of Political Institutions in India

Cynthia Farid (University of Wisconsin): “High Politics in Low Places: Institutional Conflicts and Separation of Powers in Late 19th-Century Bengal”

Udit Bhatia (University of Oxford): “What’s the Party Like? The Normative Status of the Political Party in South Asia”

Discussant: Tejas Parasher (University of Chicago)

1:00 – 2:00 p.m.
Lunch Break

2:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Boundaries of Citizenship

Gopal Guru (Jawaharlal Nehru University): “Democracy as the Framework of Transgression: From Broken Men to Breaker”

Cricket Keating (University of Washington): “Toward a Decolonial Sexual Contract: Approaches to LGBTQ+ Politics in Multicultural Democracies”

Discussant: Kalyani Menon (DePaul University)


10:00 – 10:30 a.m.

10:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Developmentalism and the Postcolonial Nation

Sayantan Saha Roy (University of Chicago): “Sovereignty through Destitution: On the Emergence of the Right to Life in India”

Rochona Majumdar (University of Chicago): “Temporalities and the Nation in Indian Cinema”Discussant: Inder Marwah (McMaster University)

12:00 – 1:00 p.m.
Lunch Break

1:00 – 3:00 p.m.
Democracy and the Indian Experience: Methodological Questions

Dipesh Chakrabarty (University of Chicago)

Thomas Blom Hansen (Stanford University)

Moderator: Jennifer Pitts (University of Chicago)

3:00 – 3:30 p.m.
Coffee Break

3:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Roundtable Discussion: Contemporary Democracy in India

Moderator: Rochona Majumdar (University of Chicago)