To conclude, I have tried to illustrate the different ways in which history has relevance for non-historians- indeed the general public.
First, there diverse grounds for the public’s involvement with history, which include
-the apparently simple attractions of epistemic interest
-the contentious correlates of practical reason and
-the scrutiny of identity-based thinking. All of them- directly or indirectly-involve and draw on the enterprise of knowledge.
Second, history is not only itself an enterprise of knowledge, its domain of study incorporates all other enterprises of knowledge, including the history of sciences. In this context, it is easy to see the role of heterodoxy and methodology in scientific advance. The intellectual connections between heterodoxy (especially theological skepticism) and scientific pursuits (especially big scientific departures) deserve more attention in the history of sciences in India.
Third, metahistories- or histories of histories- also bring out the relevance of an appropriate climate for the enterprise of knowledge. The pursuit of knowledge not requires an open mind (the contrast between Alberuni’s scientific interest and Mill’s colonial predispositions radically differentiate their treatment of the same subject matter), it also requires an inclination to accept heterodoxy and the courage to stand up against orthodoxy. The plurality of perspectives extends the domain of the enterprise of knowledge rather than undermining the possibility of that enterprise.
Since the rewriting of Indian history from the slanted perspective of sectarian orthodoxy not only undermines historical objectivity, but also militates against the spirit of scientific skepticism and intellectual heterodoxy, it is also important to emphasize the centrality of skepticism and heterodoxy in the pursuit of scientific knowledge. The incursion of sectarian orthodoxy in Indian history involves two distinct problems (1) narrow sectarianism and (2) unreasoned orthodoxy. The enterprise of knowledge is threatened by both.
Concluding part of the excerpts from Nobel laureate Dr. Amartya Sen’s address to the 61st annual session of the Indian History Congress, which was held in Calcutta on Jan 2nd 2001. Sen is Master of Trinity College, Cambridge and Lamont University Professor Emeritus, Harvard University. Courtesy: The Hindu