The research centre grew out of the research programme Vergelijkende Cultuurwetenschap (Comparative Science of Cultures), initiated by S.N. Balagangadhara at Ghent University, Belgium.
This research programme was born in the 1980s, from a dissatisfaction with the available descriptions of, and theorizing about, India and other Asian cultures. To find out what was wrong with these descriptions and theories, it was necessary to turn to the larger frameworks that produced them: the existing social sciences and humanities. And this, in turn, led to the next step: examining the culture that had brought forth the theoretical frameworks still dominant in the social sciences and humanities, namely, Western culture.
It soon became clear that the current descriptions of India tell us more about the culture that produced them than about Indian culture. Rather than describing India, they describe the way in which Western culture has experienced another culture. This would not be a problem, if only these descriptions were taken for what they are – descriptions of the experiences that people from one culture have had of another culture and society. But that is not the case. They are reproduced as though they are veridical descriptions offering knowledge concerning Indian culture and society.
More generally, the current social sciences and humanities present themselves as knowledge about human beings and their societies and cultures. Still, their theorizing tends to mistake a Western cultural experience for a universal human experience and often reduces other cultures to variants of the West. One of the challenges, then, is to understand Western culture by looking at its descriptions of other cultures. One of the subsequent challenges is to understand Asian cultures in a new way. How have they understood human beings, societies, and cultures? Can their theorizing generate new insights leading to alternative theories in the social sciences and to a renewal of our thinking about human beings and societies?