The South Asian Studies Council Colloquium Series presents:
Walter Andersen, Professor Emeritus, Johns Hopkins University: “Messengers of Hindu Nationalism: How the RSS Reshaped India.”
The Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS) and its some 100 affiliated organizations over the past twenty-five years have come to assert significant influence in India. These affiliates have penetrated virtually all areas of Indian society in fields as varied as labor, politics, the press, education, and the Hindu ecclesiastical establishment. Its political affiliate, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is India’s ruling party and recently returned to power following its landslide victory in the 2019 parliamentary elections. The Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, is a former full-time RSS worker. Professor Walter Andersen of Johns Hopkins University is the co-author of a book on the subject, entitled Messengers of Hindu Nationalism: How the RSS Reshaped India. The book was published by Hurst (UK), Penguin (India) and a Mandarin version are about to be released in China. The book is something of a sequel to his earlier book The Brotherhood in Saffron published in the late 1980s. The Tata Literature Live awards committee selected it as the best non-fiction book published on an Indian topic in 2018. The book addresses four basic questions about the RSS that are analyzed in nine case studies in the new book : (1) Why has the RSS and its affiliates expanded so rapidly over the past twenty-five years? (2) How have these organizations evolved to reflect their much more diverse membership? (3) What factors drive the RSS’ increased political involvement and how does the RSS’ evolution impact the country’s politics and policy, including the prospects for secularism and democracy? (4) To what extent do the recurrent outbreaks of majoritarianism undermine the BJP’s stated goal of sab ka saath, sab ka vikas (together with all, development for all)?
Walter Andersen was born in New York City and did his graduate work at the University of Chicago where he received his doctorate, writing a dissertation on religious politics under the supervision of Professors Lloyd I. Rudolph and Susanne H. Rudolph. This dissertation, based on extensive fieldwork in India, was turned into a book, The Brotherhood in Saffron. He was a teaching intern at the University of Chicago, on the Political Science faculty at the College of Wooster where he also administered a junior year abroad program for the Great Lakes Colleges Association and also taught at the University of Georgia. He worked as a senior staff member for a Democrat member of Congress from Ohio before joining the US State Department. He served overseas in South Asia, including as a special assistant to the US Ambassador to India, William Clarke, as well as in Washington, D.C., where he retired in 2004 as head of the Office of Research for South Asia. Following that, he joined the faculty at the School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University where he became Administrative Director of its South Asians Studies Program. Since 2010, he has also taught graduate International Relations seminars at Tongji University in Shanghai. He has written extensively on religious politics and is now doing preliminary research on a book that will analyze the intersection of law and religion in India. He is scheduled to retire from SAIS at the conclusion of the 2018-2019 school year.