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The Evolution of Pragmatism in India

Ambedkar, Dewey, and the Rhetoric of Reconstruction

The story of how the Indian reformer Bhimrao Ambedkar reimagined John Dewey’s pragmatism.
In The Evolution of Pragmatism in India, Scott R. Stroud delivers a comprehensive exploration of the influence of John Dewey’s pragmatism on Bhimrao Ambedkar, architect of the Republic of India’s constitution. Stroud traces Ambedkar’s development in Dewey’s Columbia University classes in 1913–1916 through his final years in 1950s India when he rewrote the story of Buddhism. Stroud examines pragmatism’s influence not only on the philosophical ideas underpinning Ambedkar’s fight against caste oppression but also how his persuasive techniques drew on pragmatism’s commitment to reconstruction and meliorism. At the same time, Stroud is careful to point out the ways that Ambedkar pushed back against Dewey’s paradigm and developed his own approach to challenges in India. The result is a nuanced study of one of the most important figures in Indian history.


“Ambedkar was one of the greatest legal and political thinkers of the twentieth century, but his thought is barely known in the United States. With wide-ranging research and insightful philosophical probing, Stroud shows that Ambedkar, using Dewey’s works as a fulcrum, created a distinctive form of Buddhist pragmatism, committed to meliorist social dialogue, non-anger, and the flexible pursuit of social democracy. A major achievement.”

Martha C. Nussbaum, University of Chicago

“In this meticulously researched book, Stroud positions Ambedkar’s engagement with Dewey’s thought as a defining moment in the global history of American pragmatism. The Evolution of Pragmatism in India is a major contribution to Ambedkar studies, which enlarges our methodological repertoire for approaching this foundational thinker of caste inequality.”

Anupama Rao, Columbia University

"Stroud’s in-depth exploration of the influence of Dewey’s pragmatism on Ambedkar’s thought not only allows us to comprehend the positions that Ambedkar took but also, equally, to appreciate the compromises he made in his policy engagement for Dalit empowerment from 1919 to 1956."

Sukhadeo Thorat, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Indian Institute of Dalit Studies

“In this carefully researched and skillfully presented work, Stroud examines Ambedkar’s adoption of a revivified Buddhism and Dewey’s pragmatism as tools for his struggle against the Hindu caste system. By expanding our understanding of the global potentials of pragmatism, Stroud has made a major contribution to East-West scholarship.”

Larry A. Hickman, Center for Dewey Studies

Table of Contents

Introduction / Exploring the Evolution of Pragmatism in India
One / Ambedkar and Dewey at Columbia University
Two / The Genesis of Ambedkar’s Reconstructive Rhetoric
Three / Reconstructive Rhetoric, Appropriation, and the Strategic Use of Reference
Four / Pragmatism, Reflection, and the Annihilation of Caste
Five / Education, Force, and the Will to Convert
Conclusion / The Vision of Ambedkar’s Navayana Pragmatism

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