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Rabindranath Tagore and the Subject of Political Freedom



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Choudhuri, Salmoli 


My dissertation reconstructs Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), modern India's foremost poet-philosopher and the first non-European recipient of the Nobel Prize, as a political thinker. Shirking simple binaries such as East and West, empire and nation, or poetry and politics, the objective is to recover the critical and creative ideas of an original thinker who was shaped by the complicated impulses of his times. Departing from the liberal and anticolonial frames of reading him, I take as my entry point Tagore's strident critique of nationalism not only in relation to denunciation of mechanical organization of political life but also to posit front and centre his felt urgency to reimagine the modern subject.

The purpose of my dissertation is not to search for politics in Tagore but to consider how he rethought and remade the premises and presuppositions that constitute the definition of the political itself. Since colonization barred representational politics, literature, philosophy, religion, and education – subjects that are central in Tagore’s corpus – emerged as sites for political thinking. My dissertation conceptually interprets the ideas of sovereignty, freedom, law and universality that Tagore reappraised through these fields. Above all, I show how Tagore far from embodying the individualism of the heroic artist reimagined art and creation as the basis of modern subjectivity.

Not an anti-colonialist figure in any easy sense of the expression, decolonization to Tagore also meant thwarting the familiar route of nationalism. In an interesting reversal, Tagore read in the colonial enterprise the dissolution of the imperial logic and the ensuing primacy of the nation which he defined as a corporatist entity bullishly pursuing political and commercial ends with no care for individual and social differences among its constituents. Liberation from British rule while replicating its nationalist biases would have meant very little.

Tagore therefore proposed a theory of freedom that exceeded the negative impetus of emancipation from oppression. It was premised on creation as the positive basis of action and involved a collective dimension of living together with differences. Tagore’s key experiment in this regard was the establishment of a school and a university that animated freedom both in the making of the individual self and a collective subjectivity.





Kapila, Shruti


Education, Freedom, Intellectual History, Literature, Modern India, Political Thought, Tagore, Theology


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Cambridge Trust International Scholarship