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Scholar Uday Mehta Awarded Second Annual Yehuda Elkana Fellowship by Central European University and the Hannah Arendt Humanities Network, Based at Bard College

Uday Mehta.

​​The Hannah Arendt Humanities Network (HAHN) and Central European University (CEU) are pleased to announce that the recipient of the Second Annual Yehuda Elkana Fellowship is political scientist Uday Singh Mehta. The Fellowship was inaugurated in 2021 and is jointly coordinated by CEU and HAHN, both of which are part of the Open Society University Network (OSUN). HAHN is an OSUN project initiated and based at the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and the Humanities at Bard College. The Fellowship is given in honor of Yehuda Elkana, the president and rector of Central European University from 1999 to 2009. Elkana was an Auschwitz survivor who became an international scholar and public intellectual with a deep commitment to open society, leading CEU for nearly half the life of the University.

“In a sense for Gandhi courage and fearlessness were portals for a sort of spiritual truancy, which he sought to plant in the very midst of the mundane patterns of everyday life.”
—Uday Singh Mehta

Uday Mehta is one of the most important and original political thinkers of our times, someone who engages the fullness of the liberal arts tradition of thinking critically about our world, very much in the spirit of Yehuda Elkana. For several decades he has been one of the most influential thinkers and critics of the liberal tradition of political thought. With both rigor and creativity, Mehta explores the hidden ambitions for imperial domination that underlie the supposedly tolerant foundations of liberalism. He is, in other words, a guide to a subterranean illiberal stream within liberalism. Last week HAHN announced that Mehta would be the recipient of the second annual Yehuda Elkana fellowship.

Mehta will be in residence for one month at the Central European University. As part of the fellowship, he will give two public lectures, and participate in a week-long manuscript workshop from June 13 to 15, 2022 with faculty and students from OSUN institutions. In this workshop, selected faculty from OSUN institutions will read and prepare presentations on a book manuscript or series of essays by Uday Mehta. This workshop will be an opportunity for OSUN scholars to interact intensively with each other and with a major scholar in the humanities. It will be open to faculty and students. OSUN faculty and students can apply here by April 15 to participate in the seminar

Uday Mehta: A Career of Critical Thought about Liberalism and Empire
Mehta’s first book, The Anxiety of Freedom, argued that John Locke’s theory of liberal education balances freedom and order by disciplining subjects through education. Locke assumed liberalism required an educated citizen; but education means the complex interdictions that discipline and make orderly the liberal subject. Liberal freedoms, Mehta sees, demand properly formed citizens, thus insinuating a deep disciplinary foundation within the freedoms of liberal political life.

In Liberalism and Empirewhich won the J. David Greenstone Book Award from the American Political Science Association in 2002 for the best book in history and theory, Mehta showed that when confronted with the reality of empire in India, liberal thinkers in England justified imperial rule by arguing that Indians were not yet educated into liberal citizens capable of freedoms.

There is, Mehta argues, a universalist and imperialist drive at the heart of liberalism, a drive to educate and civilize all peoples so that they share the rationalist attachments of liberal citizens. Alongside the desire to spread liberal freedom rises the liberal urge to dominate the world. Against liberal imperialism, Mehta elevates the conservatism of Edmund Burke—the willingness to “take seriously the sentiments, feelings, and attachments” of non-liberal peoples who aspire to live according to their own customs.

Mehta furthers his radical inquiry into non-liberal political thinking in his forthcoming book. A Different Vision: Gandhi’s Critique of Political Rationality—which will be the topic of the 2022 Yehuda Elkana Fellowship text seminar. Turning to Gandhi’s thinking, Mehta unearths a non-liberal politics that rejects both imperialism and nationalism. If liberalism seeks freedom by elevating a state to discipline obedient citizens, Gandhi’s political theory explicitly links politics to spiritualism and self-realization. Thus Gandhi is opposed to the power of the state as a mediating institution. He thinks in civilizational terms based on family and religion. And he values ​​individual courage because it allows freedom and maturity. Mehta finds in Gandhi a political theory fundamentally at odds with the liberal-nation-state project.

Uday Singh Mehta has lived the life of an engaged scholar very much in the spirit of Yehuda Elkana. He is a man of the highest courage and integrity who brings seriousness of purpose and thought to seminars, friendships, and dinner parties. At a time when universities can become platforms for self-promotion rather than scholarly purpose, Mehta stands for the ideal of the engaged scholar that the Hannah Arendt Humanities Network aims to recognize in granting the Yehuda Elkana Award.

Mehta received his undergraduate education at Swarthmore College, where he studied mathematics and philosophy, and holds a Ph.D. in political philosophy from Princeton University. He has held teaching positions at a number of universities, including Princeton, Cornell, MIT, University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania, and Hull. He is presently Distinguished Professor of Political Science at the Graduate Center, CUNY. In 2002, he was one of ten recipients of the “Carnegie Scholars” prize awarded to “scholars of exceptional creativity.”

About the Yehuda Elkana Fellowship
The fellowship is awarded annually to a scholar or public thinker of international importance who exhibits a wide-ranging and exuberant intellectual curiosity touching the humanities, social sciences, and science. In the spirit of Yehuda Elkana, the Fellow should also possess a generosity of spirit as a teacher and mentor. During the Fellow’s text seminar, scholars from across OSUN come together in Vienna, Austria, to discuss the Fellow’s manuscript and engage in intellectually rigorous discussions around a major theme in the humanities. The Fellowship, awarded by CEU in cooperation with the Hannah Arendt Center, comes with a prize of $15,000 and a month-long residency during the summer term at CEU in Vienna, Austria.

Post-Date: 03-02-2022


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