Scholars have long debated the very idea of a ‘Bengal Renaissance’. Their controversies have dwelt almost entirely over whether there was anything like a ‘renaissance’ at all, and its significance or otherwise from social, political, and cultural perspectives.
The Bengal Renaissance addresses the issue from a very different framework. Subrata Dasgupta—an eminent scientist and author of a highly regarded intellectual biography of the scientist Jagadis Chandra Bose—approaches the topic from the perspective of philosophy of science and the psychology of creativity. His intention is to show that the phenomenon of the Bengal Renaissance is characterized by a certain collective cognitive identity, which had its roots in the work of the British Orientalists, beginning with William Jones, and which took form amidst a small but remarkable community of highly creative individuals in nineteenth-century Bengal.
The most notable figures in this creative community were the social reformer and savant Rammohun Roy; the poet Henry Derozio; the scholar-poet Michael Madhusudan Datta; the novelist Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay; pioneering scientists and medical men such as Mahendra Lal Sircar, Jagadis Chandra Bose, and Prafulla Chandra Ray; the mystic Sri Ramakrishna, the pedagogue Swami Vivekananda; and the all-encompassing literary figure Rabindranath Tagore. The core work of each of these major figures is outlined for its distinctive style, analysed for its contribution to an intellectual milieu, and assessed for its effect on cultural life.
The author unveils in detail the precise cognitive nature of the respective creative endeavours of these key figures, especially in the realms of Indology, theology, literature, science, and practical religion. He demonstrates the ‘cross-cultural mentality’ and the interest in ‘universalism’ that characterize the work of these cultural icons. He argues that the creativity manifested by these individuals and the resulting shared cognitive identity were sufficiently radical and represent a genuine cognitive revolution in Indian history.
Written in completely accessible and elegant English, this is a work for general readers. Those unfamiliar with the basics of the Bengal Renaissance will find it an excellent introduction to the area; scholars familiar with the area will find this perspective on cultural history from the perspective of science and psychology quite novel, unusual, and compelling.