“Mangharam raises important and timely questions pertaining to how we engage with—as opposed to abandon—the difficult question of universalism. The book contributes to what is perhaps the most urgent and relevant critical project of the present day: recuperate ideas of the ‘universal’—and cognate concepts such as democracy, modernity, humanism—from the dustbin of obsolescence to which the postmodern turn has attempted to consign them.” —Priyamvada Gopal, author of The Indian English Novel: Nation, History, and Narration
The postcolonial spread of democratic ideals such as freedom and equality has taken place all over the world despite the widespread cultural differences that would seem to inhibit such change. In her new book, Literatures of Liberation: Non-European Universalisms and Democratic Progress, Mukti Lakhi Mangharam questions how these “universalisms” came to be and suggests that these elements were not solely the result of Europe-based Enlightenment ideals. Instead, they also arose in context-specific forms throughout the world (particularly in the Global South), relatively independently from Enlightenment concepts. These translatable yet distinct cognitive frameworks, or “contextual universalisms,” as she argues, were central to the spread of modern democratic principles in response to the relentless expansion of capital.
In this way, she posits that these universalisms reconceptualize democratic ideals not as Western imports into precolonial societies but as regional phenomena tied to local relations of power and resistance. In charting these alternative democratic trajectories, Mangharam examines oft-overlooked regional and vernacular literary forms and provides a fresh approach to current theorizations of postcolonial and world literatures.
Mukti Lakhi Mangharam is Assistant Professor of English at Rutgers University.
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