History and Democracy in Contemporary India


Sunil Khilnani’s new book, Incarnations, tells India’s history through 50 biographical essays, ranging from the Buddha to a contemporary billionaire. Building on rich recent scholarship about Indian history and culture, Khilnani’s work ventures to integrate the fragmented character of disciplinary knowledge of India, and to suggest an alternative to both popular religious and secular nationalist accounts of India’s past. Recovering the stories of remarkable individuals, his talk will highlight experiments in living and radical, dissenting ideas as drivers of Indian history, and contend that many of India’s choices about its future depend on which historical lessons get drawn from its past.


Speaker Bio:

Sunil Khilnani is currently Avantha Professor and Director of the India Institute, established by him at King’s College London in 2011. From 2002 to 2011 he was Starr Foundation Professor and Director of South Asia Studies at the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, in Washington D.C.; and before that, Professor of Politics at Birkbeck College, University of London. He received his BA and PhD from the University of Cambridge, and he has been a Fellow of Christ’s College Cambridge; the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; the Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin; and the American Academy in Berlin, as well as holding a Leverhulme Fellowship.

His publications include: Arguing Revolution: The Intellectual Left in Postwar France (Yale, 1993), The Idea of India (Penguin/FSG, 7th edn. 2016), and several collaborative volumes, including: Civil Society: History and Possibilities (Cambridge, 2000); NonAlignment 2.0: a Foreign Policy for India in the 21st Century (Penguin, 2013); An Indian Social Democracy (Academic, 2013); and Comparative Constitutionalism in South Asia (Oxford, 2013). His most recent book is Incarnations: A History of India in Fifty Lives (Penguin/FSG 2016), accompanied by his 50-part BBC radio and podcast and radio series.