Dr Somak Biswas

Wellcome Trust Postdoctoral Fellow, Faculty of History
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I work on modern Britain, South Asia and global history. My current project looks at how race, migration and sexuality coincided during the AIDS epidemic in Britain. In particular, I look at how forms of African and Asian mobility became key to racialised border practices, while also producing new forms of ethnic minority organising in Britain. 

My first book Passages through India: Indian Gurus, Western Disciples and the Politics of Indophilia (Cambridge Uni. Pres, 2023) examines the phenomenon of western Indophilia, defined as romanticised engagements around idealised, Hindu forms of India. It offers a nuanced account of the nature of intimacies cultivated between key Indian guru figures (Vivekananda, Gandhi, Tagore) and their western disciples. It shows that ashrams and letters became intimate sites to produce and sustain Indophile enchantments. Such enchantments inspired Indophile investments in major Indian cultural and nationalist projects. Focusing on two such projects - the abolition of indentured labour and the dissemination of Vedantic Hinduism – I argue how Indophile deployments came to represent and naturalise high caste Hindu claims to culture and respectability, reproducing in the process deep hierarchies of caste, class, race and gender. Drawing on new material in English, Hindi, Bengali and French, the book unifies distinct strands of western discipleship within a shared tradition of Indophilia, and explores their profound consequences, both in India and abroad.

Contact

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Address

Room 5.30, Faculty of History, West Road, Cambridge

Email
sb2737@cam.ac.uk
Links

Book:

Passages through India: Indian Gurus, Western Disciples and the Politics of Indophilia, 1890–1940, Cambridge University Press, July 2023

Book Chapter:

Somak Biswas, 'Languages of longing: Indian gurus, Western disciples and practices of letter-writing', Gurus and Media: Sound, image, machine, text and the digital, UCL Press, Sep 2023.

Journals:

Somak Biswas, Churnjeet Mahn and Rohit Dasgupta, ‘Queer Politics in Times of  New Authoritarianism’, South Asian Popular Culture, August 2023 (Forthcoming as Routledge edited volume). 

“Approaching Migration in World History: How to Use Primary Sources” in Research Methods Primary Sources (Adam Matthew Digital, 2021). Web.