Aishwary Kumar

Assistant Professor of Modern South Asian History and Modern Intellectual History

At Stanford Since

PhD, Trinity College, University of Cambridge, 2007; MA, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, 2002; BA, University of Delhi, 2000

Bio Sketch

Aishwary Kumar is an intellectual historian specializing in nineteenth and twentieth century thought. He works at the intersection of history of ideas, moral and political philosophy, and modern legal and political thought. More specifically, his research examines the itinerary of political languages and juridical concepts in South Asia and Europe as they come to be mediated, especially in the twentieth century, by questions of universality, freedom, and value.

Kumar is currently completing a book on equality, sovereignty, and the paradox of representation in twentieth century democratic thought, titled Sacrifice of Equality: Modern India, Universal History, and the Question of Nonviolence. Examining the crises of humanist and secular political culture between the two world wars, a period that also saw irreversible transformations in democratic and authoritarian forms of mass politics, the book analyzes a planetary constellation of Indian, German, and American thinkers who struggled to wrest the figure of the democratic subject beyond the normative ideals of humanity and rights. What was at stake in this struggle, the book argues, was not merely the priority of politics over other human activities but the very impossibility of conceptualizing politics as such.

The work focuses specifically on the political thought of M. K. Gandhi, B. R.   Ambedkar, and their Indian and Euro-American interlocutors, all occupied with the problem of democratic responsibility in the wake of the century’s cruelties. The book thus ties inter-war locutions of equality and sovereignty to the politics of authority, valuation, and fidelity to one’s interpreters, antagonists, and as Gandhi might say, one’s “readers” in anticolonial, democratic, Zionist, and fascist thought. It argues that such an archaeology of “the politics of politics”, that is, the conditions of filiation and sacrifice that make violence and civility simultaneously possible, might help excavate the twentieth century vicissitudes of the “human” itself.

Kumar is working on a related project that explores ideas of inheritance and annihilation in nineteenth and twentieth century history, tentatively titled Ambedkar’s Fidelities.

Scholarly Initiatives

Kumar is convener of a three-part workshop series on “Truth, Civility, Cruelty” at the Stanford Humanities Center and runs “The Modern Argument” Lecture Series at the Stanford History Department. He is a member of The Research Project Europe 1815-1914 at the University of Helsinki, where he is part of the “Working Group on Teleology”. He also serves as the fellow of the National Forum on the Future of Liberal Education, a group of thirty faculty elected to examine the future of the humanities in the United States.

Research Interests

  • Modern South Asia
  • Anticolonialism
  • Economic and Political Thought
  • Empire, Democracy and Political Theory
  • Literary Histories
  • Aesthetics and Politics
  • Political Religion
  • Humanism and the Disciplines

Courses Taught

  • Liberalism and Violence
  • The Problem of Universal History
  • Concepts of Politics
  • Empire and Cosmopolitanism
  • The Century
  • The Idea of India
  • Democracy: A Conceptual History

Select Publications:

  •  “Ambedkar's Inheritances," Modern Intellectual History, Volume 7, No. 2, August 2010.
  • “The Ellipsis of Sacrifice: Gandhi’s Unequals," Public Culture, Volume 23, No. 2, May 2011.
  • “Fidelity as Such: Of Gandhi, Ambedkar, and the Animal”, Social History (forthcoming, 2012).

Select Awards and Honors

  • Fellow, National Forum for the Future of Liberal Education, Stanford Governance Workshop Grant, Stanford University 2009
  • Faculty Grant, Center for Ethics in Society, Stanford University 2007-2008
  • Rouse Ball Fellowship in History, Trinity College, University of Cambridge 2006-2007
  • Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fellowship, Trinity College, University of Cambridge 2003-2006

Professional Affiliations:

  • Faculty Associate, Center of South Asian Studies, University of Cambridge