Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science: Mahendralal Sircar and His Science, Morality, and Nationalism




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Mahendralal Sircar (1833 – 1904) is known as a prominent homeopathic doctor and the founder of the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science (IACS) in 1876, but scholars rarely refer to his role in promoting scientific studies as a nationalist endeavor. In this dissertation, I trace Mahendralal Sircar’s life and analyze how his views of science informed his work and how his IACS changed the course of scientific education and practice in India. While a recipient of the emerging Indian nationalism, the IACS changed the nature of Indian nationalism. I begin by highlighting the influence of Raja Ram Mohun Roy and his vision of monotheism, based on the Indian Vedanta, on the scholars and reformers of early nineteenth-century Bengal. Roy’s view of religion, science, and nationalism can be traced in the writings of Mahendralal Sircar, especially in his article “On the Desirability of the Cultivation of Sciences by the Natives of India” (1869). In this article, Sircar prescribes the creation of a scientific institute to influence moral growth and combat Indian idolatry and apathy. Additionally, Sircar wanted the institute to be funded and managed by Indians; its purpose would be to produce science-literate natives, making it a nationalistic endeavor that promoted the growth of the country. Next, I analyze the rhetoric that Sircar used to mobilize the natives to fund and participate in his Institute. He often referred to India’s enlightened past and hinted at the latent potential of the natives to create interest in Indian regeneration. Despite his hope for the future, Sircar had to operate within the British colonial system. I analyze his writings to reveal a conciliatory tone that Sircar had to adopt towards the British government. He carefully balanced supplicating the colonial apparatuses with inspiring natives to agitate for scientific autonomy. Using the Annual Reports of the IACS, I delve further into Sircar’s methodology for mobilizing the wealthy and landed elites toward his cause. Their money and participation was important to the foundation, upkeep, and development of the IACS. Finally, I enumerate how the IACS changed the face of scientific education in India. Sircar’s emphasis on the theoretical and practical education in science was a paradigm shift that produced scientific scholars, a scientifically literate society, and forced the established colleges and universities to change their science curriculum. Sircar foresaw the independence of India and insisted on Indians learning to be autonomous. His IACS gave Indians the first generation of scientists who were instrumental in building a nation in a post-independence era India.


Winner of the 2018 Best Dissertation prize in the School of Arts and Humanities


Mahendralal Sircar, Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science, Nationalism—India, Science—Study and teaching—India, India—History


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