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Home arrow Sociology arrow Cosmopolitan Lives on the Cusp of Empire: Interfaith, Cross-Cultural and Transnational Networks, 1860-1950

Rethinking Colonialism and Cosmopolitanism in Transnational and International History

The project of globalising imperial history has brought to the fore the multiple trajectories of ‘coming together’ between subjects otherwise on opposite sides of the global colour line. Over the past two decades, new histories of the intellectual and political impact of the vast movement of colonial and colonised subjects has reconfigured empire as dynamic sites articulated through intricate webs of connection, across and between binaries of power.4

Attention to non-Eurocentric and comparative cosmopolitanisms is a very recent historiographical trend. A number of recent studies5 reveal that long before European hegemony, circuits of mobility produced expressions of cosmopolitanism in registers other than the body of thought shaped by a specific European intellectual history. sugata Bose and Kris Manjapra6 take this awareness a step further, pluralising cosmopolitanism and setting the concept adrift from its presumed European moorings. in so doing, they dismantle the binary relationship between coloniser and colonised as the singular bond within which anti- and post-imperial ima- ginaries were created. As they state, ‘To frame the global circulation of ideas within the lone axis of centre versus periphery is to view the world through the colonial state’s eyes and through its archive.’7 Instead, a broader canvas is captured, one which is not limited, defined or derivative of European imperialisms’ assumptions of universality or of European intellectual lineages of secular cosmopolitanism as arbiters of the modern.

Rather than rehearsing a progressive narrative from empire to postempire, what emerges in the process is a dynamic and uneven terrain of contestation in a variety of locales concerning the legitimacy and future of imperial rule. Mrinalini Sinha, in her study of the 1930s controversy over the book Mother India, convincingly demonstrates how colonial events are inadequately captured in the interpretive framework of nationalist, anti-colonial versus imperial.8 Even in the imperial metropolis of London in 1900, at the zenith of the empire, Schneer’s study reveals how imperialist and anti-imperialist ideas jostled with each other for the attention of an increasingly multicultural population.9 Satadru Sen’s discussion of Kumar Shri Ranjitsinhji (1872-1933), an Indian representative to the League of Nations, draws out how these are expressed in the life of one individual who, through the migrancy of empire, exists in a ‘liminal space between Empire and nation’:

His protestations of loyalty to the Empire and his simultaneous declarations of sympathy for anti-colonial positions might be seen as attempts to outline the contingencies of imperial cosmopolitanism: that is, the articulation of conditions under which an Indian who was also British might participate in Empire, nation, and colony, and in the wider world of empires, nations, and colonies.10

Nico Slate’s Colored Cosmopolitanism reveals the solidarity forged across national and imperial borders between African American and Indian activists in a shared struggle for freedom, a hidden history of global solidarity that endured for almost a century.11 More recently, Banivanua Mar12 deconstructs how decolonisation in the Pacific is a long drawn-out and often hidden or denied history of indigenous globalisation that continues today. A history of ‘displacement and dispossession’ that has produced ‘a unique, diasporic and stateless process of daily decolonisation characterised by a global connectivity’.13

This scholarship forms part of a larger endeavour to build a nonEurocentric historiography of imperialism and modernity and to thus ‘provincialise’ European history.14 We draw inspiration from this body of scholarship, which emphasises the problematic yet highly productive nature of various cosmopolitan visions that circulated and informed transcolonial and transnational intellectual and political spaces, in ways that undermine the rendering of ‘empire’ or ‘nation’ into binaries such as coloniser/colonised or centre/periphery. It also challenges the depiction of this period as simply marked by a progressive trajectory from racialism to humanism.

In this book, we also consider how the tropes of emotion or feeling and affect as ‘forces of encounter’,15 combine with faith (itself perhaps an emotion) to facilitate the coming together of people in new collective visions. Leela Gandhi, in her seminal study of the politics of friendship between metropolitan and anti-colonial radicalisms, writes of ‘’’friendship” as the lost trope in anti-colonial thought’.16 The chapters each develop this thread as it is prefigured in our earlier work on the affective dimensions of empire and imperialism. Friendship was also a primary trope in imperial Christianity, especially in the writings of the Protestant missionary movement. As Haggis and Allen argue for the period 1880-1920, ‘friendship’ operated in the writings of women missionaries in ambiguous and complex ways to connote a range ofconnections rather than a singular notion of friend.17 Clare Midgley’s ongoing research into liberal religion and the ‘woman question’ in the nineteenth-century world18 focuses on a transnational network of ‘kindred spirits’ linking members of the Brahmo Samaj - an influential social and religious reform movement among Hindus - with British and American Unitarians, heterodox Protestants who were leading figures in social reform and in the early feminist movement. Her study reveals the multiple flows of influence, persuasion and affect circulating within this multinational network. As Fiona Paisley19 argues for the Pan Pacific Women’s Association, in transnational social justice movements cultural difference and race politics are routinely combined with a shared commitment to liberal Christian reformism in order to provide an affective basis for interpersonal and intellectual exchange.

It is a contention of this volume, following Manjapra,20 that it was not only pre- and post-colonial contexts that were generative of ‘other’ cosmopolitanisms, but that the vortex of empire itself was also fertile ground for different cosmopolitanisms to emerge among middle-class, liberal and Christian subjects. Our volume takes forward this idea of the spaces of empire as being productive of ways of thinking and being cosmopolitan that are not straightforwardly derivative of Europe.

 
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