The Hedgehog Review

The Hedgehog Review: Vol. 17 No. 1 (Spring 2015)

Asian Re-enchantment

The Modern Spirit of Asia: The Spiritual and the Secular in China and India

Peter van der Veer

Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013.

Reprinted from The Hedgehog Review 17.1 (Spring 2015). This essay may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission. Please contact The Hedgehog Review for further details.

The Hedgehog Review

The Hedgehog Review: Spring 2015

(Volume 17 | Issue 1)

The concept of modernity has long been under scrutiny. It has been deconstructed, genealogically critiqued, and exposed for its moral failings. Nevertheless, the term remains an important part of our vernacular, seemingly irreplaceable in its capacity to describe the novel social transformations that have swept the world during the last four to five centuries. One of the many merits of Peter van der Veer’s The Modern Spirit of Asia is that he acknowledges the unprecedented nature of “the project of modernity with all its revolutionary ideas of nation, equality, citizenship, democracy, and rights,” yet shows how it has taken strikingly different shapes in the Chinese and Indian cultural spheres.

An anthropologist and the director of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, in Göttingen, Germany, Van der Veer has written extensively on the theme of modern Asia, analyzing with particular insight the formation of modern “Hindu” identity in a trio of books (Gods on Earth, Religious Nationalism: Hindus and Muslims in South Asia, and Imperial Encounters). One of the key features of his work is his analysis of the series of complex interactions with the imperial West that have shaped modern Asia. Throughout, he resists the tendency to reduce modernity to its Western manifestations and present all non-Western peoples as having either to accept or reject modernity’s monolithic structures. Van der Veer’s work, his latest book included, thus finds its place within a growing body of literature that examines the global interactions among the multiple sociocultural configurations that characterize the modern world.

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Benjamin Schewel holds a PhD in philosophy from the Catholic University of Leuven. He is an associate fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia and is working on a book about narratives of modernization.

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Published three times a year by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, The Hedgehog Review offers critical reflections on contemporary culture—how we shape it, and how it shapes us.

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