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Universalising Europe: In the Spirit of Rabindranath Tagore 1

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Rabindranath Tagore, the Indian poet, made a distinction between ‘the spirit of the West’ and ‘the nation of the West.’ While the spirit of the West is moved by freedom, he argued, the nation of the West manufactures unbreakable chains. He was distressed by colonial misery as well as by the two World Wars which in his eyes were the result of aggressive nationalistic interests. He argued in favour of going beyond nationalism and through cooperation between cultures for humanity to win back its lost human heritage. At a time when Europe is trying to go beyond national rivalries and create the possibility of peace, we need to look forward. Tagore is relevant here. What is needed is not to ‘provincialize Europe’ as has been argued from a post-colonial perspective, but to ‘universalise Europe,’ not in the false sense of its arrogant boast which sounds more and more hollow now, but rather in the spirit of Tagore and before him in the spirit of a European like Goethe. This is where Europeans need non-Europeans, just as non-Europeans need Europeans for their own projects.


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