Between Two Poles

Jalalul Haq and the idea of the superhuman

28 February, 2023

LIKE A detective story, Jalalul Haq’s philosophical work The Shudra: A Philosophical Narrative of Indian Superhumanism begins with a death. Purusha, the creator-god in the “Purusha Sukta” of the Rigveda, is sacrificed in order to create the world. This death is also the myth that legitimises the birth of the caste system, since, according to the hymn, the caste order emerges after this sacrifice. The mouth of Purusha becomes the Brahmin, the arms become the Kshatriya, the thighs become the Vaishya and the feet become the Shudra. “When God was thus killed, and man along with him, caste was born,” Haq writes. “With the death of man, the ‘caste-man’ is born, who is not man at all. The caste-man is either higher, superior, or lower, inferior.”

A version of this myth, Haq suggests, is to be found at the end of a different tradition, within Western philosophy. In the nineteenth century, the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche pronounced “the death of god” in his book The Gay Science. For Nietzsche, this meant that the divinely ordained moral order of Christianity had been undone by the philosophical and scientific discoveries of the Enlightenment. Less than a century later, the French philosopher Michel Foucault argued, in The Order of Things, that man’s “death” followed the “death of god.” The Enlightenment, he opined, had initially constructed man as the object of the human sciences of anthropology, psychology, linguistics and economics. It was this figure that was supposed to replace the role of god. But for linguistics, the focus on humans as the speaking subject disappeared in favour of language itself. For economics, the relations of production came to occupy a central place, eclipsing man as the producer of commodities. For psychology, man as the thinker of thoughts gave way to the study of mental processes.

Haq’s work attempts to trace connections between this mythical sacrifice with the discourse of the death of god in Germany in the nineteenth century. His work is what we could call a typology, the development of a theory of types or civilisational tendencies. He refers to these types as “the ascetic” and “the priest,” and his books seek to unearth their presence in the Eastern and Western philosophical and religious traditions. A professor of philosophy at Aligarh Muslim University, Haq wrote his doctoral thesis on the British philosopher Bertrand Russell and has been a member of the governing body of the Indian Council of Philosophical Research. The books he has published defy strict categorisation. Most of them were published by an obscure press called the Institute of Objective Studies in the 1990s and early 2000s, though The Shudra was revised and published by Navayana in 2021.

Rather than settling in an academic niche, Haq wrote at length about considerably diverse branches of philosophy and political thought. For instance, his texts from the 1990s, such as The Shudra, examine the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the writings of the eighth-century theologian Shankara, as well as Buddhism and Jainism. Postmodernity, Paganism and Islam looks at European thinkers such as Foucault, Martin Heidegger and Jacques Derrida, while Power, Sexuality and the Gods reflects on philosophers and public figures, including Plato, Augustine, Aurobindo and Nietzsche. Nation and Nation-Worship in India analyses the political figures Jawaharlal Nehru and VD Savarkar, and his most recent book, published in 2014 and titled Hindu Tolerance: Myth and Truth, examines the nineteenth-century Indian religious figures Ramakrishna Paramahansa and Vivekananda.

Huzaifa Omair Siddiqi received his PhD from the Centre for English Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University.