The recent trend of using the history of mentality for the study of Indian culture


Contending schools, such as psycho-history, social constructionist, history of mentality, emotional history, and so on, has added many strands to the historical explorations of religion, culture and mentality in India. The history of the mind is no longer simply the old intellectual history.

The study of culture, religion and the mind, relating them to their broad contemporaneous societal context, has enriched Indian history. This has broadened it out beyond the sort of historiography that at one time equated general history with the history of the state alone. In the process, intellectual history itself has been transformed. It is no longer confined simply to the ideas of the elite.

The perceived identities and unconscious symbols of the mass of the population, and the emotional drives in whole societies, are being taken into consideration by historians. Cultural history has been enriched by the study of mentality or mentality, a term coined by the Annals School of Historians in France. This goes beyond conventional intellectual history and explores the popular attitudes and subconscious categories of thought.


A related area of research, also exploring the mind, is psycho-history, which seeks to uncover the unconscious level of the mind with the help of Sigmund Freud’s technique of psycho-analysis. This kind of history is not concerned with the conscious emotions of the individual or the group. Psycho- history probes repressed impulses rather than open sentiments.

The study of emotion in cultural history including conscious sentiment is a wider field that may be called emotional history. Historical studies of mentality in India’s culture and civilization have come to embrace these different strands of history. They include popular attitudes and symbols of thought, unconscious mental processes, and the history of culturally shaped sentiments and emotions. At the same time, intellectual history continues to flourish. An important study of the interaction of European, and Indian thought from the pre-colonial period upwards is Wilhelm Halfbacks, India and Europe.

There is also a huge literature on how the West affected the mind and thought of India in the colonial period. This keen interest among scholars is reflected in such works as Partha Chatterjee, Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse.

This is a Subalternist work by a political scientist. Another work is Tapan Raychaudhuri, Europe Reconsidered: Perceptions of the West in Nineteenth-Century Bengal (New Delhi, 1988). This is a study of the thought of Bhudev Mukhopadhyay, Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay and Swami Vivekananda by an eminent liberal historian. As opposed to the psycho-analysts and psycho-historians, there is a group who call themselves ‘social constructionists’ who approach emotion from the angle of post structural anthropology, critical theory and culture studies. They hold that emotion is totally relative to culture and have rejected Freud.


In relation to Indian society, we may mention here Owen M. Lynch, Divine Passions: the Social Construction of Emotion in India (Delhi, 1990). Lynch argues that in India the conception of emotions and emotional life itself differ so radically from what prevails in the West that Westerners may never understand ‘another, such as India.’ This position has been rejected by impulses; trace its impact on culture as a real factor.

Their treatment of emotion in history is broader than that of the psycho-historians in the sense that they explore not merely unconscious emotion, but also conscious sentiment. This newly .emerging emotional history may be seen in Tapan Raychaudhuri, Perceptions, Emotions, and Sensibilities: Essays on India’s Colonial and Post- Colonial Experiences and Rajat Kanta Ray, Exploring Emotional History: Gender, Mentality and Literature in the Indian Awakening.

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