Pragmatism and the Pursuit of Social Justice in India: Ambedkar and the Rhetoric of Religious Reorientation
Rhetoric Society Quarterly, Vol. 46(1), p. 5-27, 2016
40 Pages Posted: 30 Jun 2017
Date Written: 2016
This essay engages the understudied Indian reformer, Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891– 1956), in order to explicate pragmatism’s influence in non-Western rhetorical situations. By charting the influence of John Dewey on Ambedkar as a student at Columbia University, this study explores Ambedkar’s translation of pragmatism into an Indian context filled with religiously underwritten injustice. His form of pragmatist rhetoric focuses on conversion as a solution to the problems of untouchables in India, and represents a version of pragmatist rhetoric that is revolutionary in form and effect. Expanding our knowledge of how persuasion relates to religious conversion, I argue that Ambedkar constructs and employs a pragmatist rhetoric of reorientation. Honed by Ambedkar in the pluralistic context of India, this process is composed of three distinct steps: evaluation of existing religious commitments, renunciation of harmful worldviews, and conversion to beneficial alternative religious orientations.
Keywords: Ambedkar, Dewey, Pragmatism, Social Justice, India, Caste, Rhetoric, Religion, Conversion
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