Conference April 1997

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The Nation and Myth

The seminar is planned as a concluding event to the year long course ‘Myth and Mythology’ conducted by the Department for M.A. and M.Phil students. The course has attempted to focus on the structure and function of myths, on their role in culture and ideology in general and in literature, art, historiography and the sciences in particular.  The myths of modern society as also the rejuvenation and reworking of the myths of antiquity in contemporary literature have been a major preoccupation. The seminar at the close of the course will aim at bringing together analyses and interpretations of myths related to the phenomenon of the nation, one of the most significant and seemingly enduring legacies of the modern world.

While the concept of the nation emerged initially on the tide of economic assertion by the rising bourgeoisie and the political movements of nationalism engendered by this assertion that propagated popular freedom and sovereignty/independence, it also sought cultural self-legitimation in a postulated common identity that united from within and set apart the collectivity it claimed to represent. This common identity was minimally defined in terms of the secular requisites of territorial space and a common language though even the latter was largely a construct to be realised later through the conscious efforts of the state. In order to create the consciousness necessary to weld people into a collectivity and to overcome internal divisions, the nation also drew sustenance flexibly and eclectically from religion, ethnicity, traditions, habits and customs, thereby carving out a community whose national bonds appeared ‘natural’ rather than historical. In the quest for a common identity and natural community, the nation relied on myths - created, invented or refurbished - as a persuasive means to convince people of the common ground they had with others. The effectivity of these myths can be gauged by the fact that people are willing to kill and to die for their nations.

The process of self-legitimation and reliance on myths goes beyond the stage of the political success of nationalist movements through the establishment of states embodying their projected aspirations. Maintaining the stability of this imagined community and the ‘naturalness’ of its self-assertion calls for the continuous invention of tradition, of a collective memory replete with myths that slough over potentially disruptive forces inherent in the real contradictions of modern society.

The seminar will focus on the building blocks that sustain the discourse of the nation, on the myths that go into the making and maintaining of the nation, on their ability to endure and on their historical fragility. This discourse finds its way from the very outset into different areas of human endeavour and activity before acquiring the official patronage of the state. The seminar will therefore try to bring together contributions from different disciplines and fields - literature, the arts, film, and the social sciences.


Thursday, 3 April 1997, Room 56, Arts Faculty, University of Delhi

9.30 am

J.P.S. Uberoi

Nation and Civil Society

10.15 am



11.00 am

Mushirul Hasan

The Myth of Muslim Unity: Colonial and Nationalist Narratives

12.00 am

Monica Juneja

Image, Myth, Nation: Beyond the Husain Controversy

1.00 pm



2.00 pm

Margit Köves

Revolutionaries of the Soul: Nationalism, Theosophy and Universality in the work of Lukács and Balázs

3.00 pm

Minni Sawhney

Nineteenth Century Mexican narratives and the Rhetorical Predicament about the Indian

4.00 pm



4.15 pm

Kusum Aggarwal

Anthropology and Literature: From Marcel Griaule to Hampate Ba

Saturday, 8 March 2008, Room 56, Arts Faculty, University of Delhi

9.45 am

Rowena Robinson

Competitive Constructions of Conversion: Some Tales from Goa

10.45 am



11.00 am

Sharmishtha Lahiri

Myth, History and Nation in the context of D’Annunzio and the Fascist experience in Italy


Manfred Stassen

The Myth of the Reich: Barbarossa and German Identity

1.00 pm



2.00 pm


Panel Discussion

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