My First Two Graduate Essays

So, I haven’t put anything up in a long time… although there are a few things I’ve toyed with putting up and decided not to for various reasons…. Anyway, here at last are two probably very dull and contextless essays, for anyone remotely interested in the sort of thing I’ve been reading of late. Not particularly happy with the latter, but I haven’t received a grade back on it yet.

It should be fairly evident which essay was for which class.

The Revolution of the Saints

Michael Walzer’s book The Revolution of the Saints covers, in essence, the heritage, development, and nature of Puritanism in politics and social life, positing this as the field from which modern politics grew and a prefigurement of other radical movements such as Jacobinism and Bolshevism. In so doing, he raises multiple questions and observations relevant to the progress of the twentieth century and the impact of modernism upon political and social existence.

Walzer starts at the movement’s ideological roots in Calvin, who suggested the necessarily repressive nature of government in a postlapsarian world, this being its reason for existence, to preserve evil man from himself, and not from some static natural law. Although he objected to resistance to established authority (for all authority was God-imposed), he also proposed a voluntary adherence to Christian social discipline by conscience (57), which paved the way for separation from state and activism. He explicitly or implicitly admitted, by his own professed calling, that some conscientious saints could criticize the state, and also, by his theology, that successful revolutionaries were legitimately elected to power by God (63).

From there, Walzer contrasts interpretation by Huguenots and the Marian Exiles of these principles. The Huguenots as a whole referred to a variety of intellectual trends and concepts to conclude that lesser office-holders constitutionally shared the sovereignty of the ruler and were acting within their moral and legal duties to reign in or depose the transgressing monarch (87-88). The Marian exiles, on the other hand, seized upon the ideal of the prophet, the instrument of God, exemplified in Knox, opposed to the “gods of the world” (101), and their language for the conflict was militant and offensively-postured. When the exiles returned, they chafed under the tolerant and amorphous English church and established independent (and often illegal) Puritan bodies to provide the social discipline they sought from the state.

For me, the most helpful image that Walzer studied in regard to Puritan political ideas was that of the ship of state in opposition to the body politic (181), and I think its implications deserve further focus. By the time I reached this point, I was unclear about whether Puritan emphasis lay on individual prophetesque activism or a more collective conscience. The metaphor helped, for it posed an image of the ship whose crew signed on voluntarily and who could justly mutiny against a mad captain, as opposed to an organic body which could not be reconstructed or suffer division within itself. Sovereignty theology conflicted with the Great Chain of Being view of the world and proposed instead that all individuals were tools for Christ, having no natural authority and able to be tossed aside when they lost or violated their purpose.

From there Walzer covered aspects of the Puritan ethic, such as the advocacy of industry to avoid sins of idleness, vocation to demonstrate saintliness, and religious exercise imposed by self-governing Christians on themselves and by lay-saint magistrates on the public to repress vice. This, he argues, is a response to the new urban poor, the masses of beggars and vagabonds, even as the godly educated “country gentleman” image was offered as alternative to the ostentatious courtier. He completes his picture by suggesting that revolution and war were gradually seen by the Puritan as extension of internal conflicts onto the world, a vigilance and belligerence against the manifested works of the Devil (290).

Although the conclusion draws the whole together nicely, and Walzer to some degree codifies the type of radical exemplified by the Puritans, several questions linger about his broader thematic points. What happens when such a radical ideology takes hold and will not let go easily when there is no more need for it to exist—do we have this to some degree in the course of the old Soviet state, as Walzer implies? Is he merely describing a possible response to disorder, or is radical self-discipline the usual instinct among activists in the midst of social change? More temporally, is there any arguable comparison in his theory of radicalism to the current conservative minority rules of the Middle East and Central Asia, such as Iran, and can Walzer’s model in any way offer guidelines for dealing with such regimes? It also seemed to me that the connection between coercion and volunteerism, for all the space he spent discussing it, could have been clarified better in regard to actual policy and practice as well as similarity to other radical movements.

Sultan Among Hindu Kings: Vijayanagara, Memory, and Culture

Phillip B. Wagoner’s essay “Harihara, Bukka, and the Sultan: The Delhi Sultanate in the Political Imagination of Vijayanagara” comments on the founding narrative of Vijayanagara and emphasizes the perceived continuity between the Delhi Sultanate and Vijayanagara irrespective of religion. This essay will compare it with the perspective embodied in Catherine Asher and Cynthia Talbot’s book India Before Europe. In particular, rather than contradict Wagoner’s thesis, it will look again at the religious-cultural aspects of the founding narrative Wagoner examines and the apparent presence of Islamicate culture in the Vijayanagaran state.

“Harihara, Bukka, and the Sultan” is divided into four distinct sections. The first overviews the popular (or communalist) narrative of the origin of Vijayanagara, which claims that Harihara and Bukka founded that state in Hindu reaction to oppressive Muslim expansion in the north, citing an oft-repeated tale that these two were forcibly converted to Islam and then went apostate under the influence of the Advaitin ascetic Vidyāraṇya. Wagoner objects staunchly to the ready acceptance of such a narrative and proceeds to analyze its extraction. According to his probing, contemporary documents are mute on the nature of Vijayanagara’s founding, and those which provide the story two hundred years later leave out altogether mention of any conversion and apostasy. Wagoner attributes these latter elements to the published supposals of Indian historian Nelaturi Venkataramanayya, whose explanation of the founding has gained widespread acceptance as fact.

The second covers Wagoner’s own hypothesis for the meaning of the texts. By literary comparison with other narratives, he expresses the opinion that the origins story is a “political foundation myth”[1] designed to assert Vijayanagara’s legitimacy as a successor state to the Delhi Sultanate. It emphasizes not opposition to the Islamic Sultan but unnatural loyalty on the part of Harihara and Bukka, to whom the Sultan gives the land which is the future foundation for the Vijayanagara state. Wagoner’s third section suggests that the reason for identification with the Sultanate is the desirability of the politically superior Islamicate culture and technology. Finally, the fourth section sums up the author’s opinion that the original narrative justifies Islamicate culture in Vijayanagara and provides the political identity of the state’s rulers, who called themselves “sultans among Hindu kings.”

There are several important points raised in this essay on which I wish especially to focus and compare with points raised in Asher and Talbot’s book. Primarily this paper will examine aspects of the nostalgia associated with the Delhi state and the relationship between political and religious factors in the Vijayanagara founding narrative as well as the greater implicit narrative of continuity between the Sultanate and itself.

Wagoner does do an excellent job of demonstrating that Vijayanagara was probably not founded in religious opposition to the Islamic Sultanate; he and other authors have proven that a Hindu-Islamic political dichotomy was far from the minds of Hindus and most Moslems in India; he does not, however, seem to give much importance to evident religious distinctions. He is careful to note, “in the first half of the story… the narrative has nothing to do with religion at all.”[2] He states that the religious elements only confirm the political legitimacy expressed previously. The literary breakdown and comparison covers this first part alone.

Again, I hardly doubt his conclusion that the conversion-apostasy episode is a fabrication, or that the founders of Vijayanagara likely never conceived of themselves as communally opposing the Islamicized north. He may take no issue with my interest in the other side of the coin. However, looking baldly at the text he cites, it would be difficult to assert that there is not a strong spiritual legitimization for the state along with the political myth. As much space is devoted to the heroes’ interaction with the yogi and ascetic as with the former idea. This is not Wagoner’s focus, but makes an interesting complement to his essay.

The narrative, which comes from the sixteenth century and is quoted at length by Wagoner, includes the account of how Harihara and Bukka went to war with King Ballāḷa in the land the Sultan had given them. After their defeat, they meet the yogi Revaṇa, famously antagonist in the Ramayana and devotee of Shiva, who grants them a powerful linga and a prophecy of their ascendancy. Vidyāraṇya appears shortly after and blesses them, and the heroes achieve victory over Ballāḷa.

Even if only as confirmation of the earlier political legitimization of their rule, this episode has significance. One of the most obvious, in line with Wagoner’s thesis, is that these Hindu spiritual figures appear to bless the command of an Islamic sultan. But why is it necessary for the mythmakers to include such a spiritual blessing if all that is needed is political? The answer may lie partly in the political utilization of religion in India. Temple desecration has been firmly connected by recent scholars to the expression of political power over the legitimizing deities of the former regime. Asher and Talbot summarized the motivation by saying, “Desecrating a god and an institution associated with an enemy king was a serious blow to his claim to kingship and could also be very attractive for financial reasons.”[3] Politically, the support of the yogi and ascetic was doubtless a powerful component of the myth in the minds of the devout. It might be arguable, against Wagoner, that the religious half of the founding narrative serves to sanctify rather than confirm the political commission, therefore playing an important role in justifying the state as a Hindu successor to the Sultanate. Asher and Talbot allow for at least rhetorical religious opposition after the Ghaznavids.[4] But as I do not have the broader knowledge and resources to evaluate this model, I will let it pass.

Regardless, this is one way of tying the religious part of the narrative to the political, certainly: that the divine sanction exists in a purely supportive role—that the Sultan is indeed “the ultimate source of Vijayanagara authority.”[5] Or it may be expressive of a double-pillared foundation to Vijayanagara, with political and religious legitimization given equal import. Before we move on to the specific aspects of Islamicization in the state, I would note that, interestingly, Wagoner links the first half of the narrative (a secular-political myth) in structure to more overtly religious myth narratives, which is fascinating if not entirely convincing. The gift of the deity is a common enough archetype in monomythic structure, and here, with Revaṇa’s linga and Vidyāraṇya’s benediction, it parallels the rewards of the Sultan.

Asher and Talbot join Wagoner in asserting the dominance of Islamicate political culture in Vijayanagara. They note the importance of the worship of the goddess Durga, the support of the Brahmins, and the favoring of Virupaksha and Rama by the Sangamas;[6] however, Vijayanagara also assimilated various Islamic elements, such as in secular architecture and dress.[7] This agrees with Wagoner, who goes further to hypothesize that the very adoption of such elements was visual identification with the Delhi Sultanate.[8] It is never quite clear to me whether these elements were viewed entirely independent of religion, merely with unconcern, or under a figurative Hindu baptism—or whether that whole discussion is anachronistic. Wagoner believes that the founding myth was an “ideological extension of the process of [cultural] borrowing.”[9]

When I look at the narrative, having read Wagoner and the further explication of Vijayanagara in Asher and Talbot, I see no reason to disagree with the former author. It is evident in the text examined that there was not hostility toward the Delhi Sultanate but seemingly nostalgia and desire for identification despite religious difference. That does not necessarily mean, however, that religious difference was irrelevant. The founding narrative does not marginalize the role of Hindu spirituality. Whether vestigial or equally important, whether an expression merely of Indic culture or of true devotion, there is more than a mere universalizing political statement—there is a firm religious statement as well.

How, to conclude, does one reconcile what could be simplistically labeled the marriage of Hindu religion to Islamic (or Islamicate) political culture in the founding narrative? Wagoner may be right to undermine the religious aspect of the tale; he might opine that to call attention to the religious aspect might encourage dichotomizing Hindu-Islamic religious identity and pay too much attention to unimportant distinctions. This essay certainly cannot provide a solid answer. But the facts provided by Wagoner, Asher, and Talbot strongly suggest that whatever conclusion is to be made on the source of such a marriage, pragmatic or coincidental or otherwise, both elements coexist, not in tension, but in a complementary unity that expresses not only ideological borrowing but a completeness and uniqueness of culture and thought.


Works Cited

Asher, Catherine and Cynthia Talbot. Islam in South Asia in Practice. 2006. New York: Cambridge UP, 2008. Print.

Wagoner, Phillip B. “Harihara, Bukka, and the Sultan: The Delhi Sultanate in the Political Imagination of Vijayanagar.” Beyond Turk and Hindu: Rethinking Religious Identities in Islamicate South Asia. Ed. David Gilmartin and Bruce B. Lawrence. New Delhi: India Research Press, 2002. 300-326. Print.

[1] Phillip B. Wagoner, “Harihara, Bukka, and the Sultan: The Delhi Sultanate in the Political Imagination of Vijayanagara,” Beyond Turk and Hindu: Rethinking Religious Identities in Islamicate South Asia, ed. David Gilmartin and Bruce B. Lawrence (New Delhi: India Research Press, 2002), 304.

[2] Ibid., 307.

[3] Catherine Asher and Cynthia Talbot, Islam in South Asia in Practice (2006. New York: Cambridge UP, 2008), 48.

[4] Ibid., 20.

[5] Wagoner, 313.

[6] Asher and Talbot, 61, 64-65.

[7] Ibid., 71-72.

[8] Wagoner, 315.

[9] Ibid., 319.


One comment on “My First Two Graduate Essays

  1. manoahswife says:

    Both interesting essays. I hope that your professors find them acceptable. For someone who is not a history buff, I found them informative, understandable, and they made me curious to know more.

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