The Utah Academy of Arts and Sciences celebrated its 80th anniversary Friday by gathering on the Dixie College campus for a weekend of meetings and award presentations.
The academy kicked off its proceedings with an address from Ainslie T. Embree, a Columbia University associate dean and expert on South Asian studies. Embree told his audience that American foreign-policy makers could learn much from the experiences of British rulers in India during Britain's rule there in the 19th and early 20th centuries."The topic of British imperialism in India seems like nothing more than history to many," Embree said, "but in reality, it is as new as this morning's headlines. We can learn some of the same lessons, whether we're talking about India, Panama or Nicaragua."
Embree told academy members that British imperialism in India was better for the country than many believe.
"Many people feel that the British forced their institutions on the Indian people," Embree said. "On the contrary. Indian intellectuals at the time recognized that Western science and education could be useful to India and its people."
Embree said that rather than abandon their religions and ways of life, the various ethnic and religious groups in the country adopted those aspects of Western civilization that were most useful to them, and held fast to their belief systems.
"A lot of fundamentalist Christians felt they were bringing Indian people out of some kind of awful darkness and into a new light," Embree said.
"But most of the intellectuals recognized that modern Hinduism had indeed become corrupt; but they didn't abandon it en mass for Christianity."
Embree said that when Indians cried out for self-government in the 20th century, British rulers felt self-government wouldn't work for the country because it had of too many ethnic and religious groups.
"The British felt that self-government would work in a homogenous society such as theirs, but they were convinced that self-rule in India would be difficult to achieve."
In a question-and-answer session after his address, Embree was asked if he feels India will survive as a country.
"I know historians aren't supposed to prophesy," he said, "but I'm going to do a little of that here. I think one of the greatest threats to the country right now is the Sikhs, a group of Moslems who are demanding an independent state. But I believe the country will be able to survive."
Embree's association with India began in 1948. The Canada native taught at a Christian college in India for a number of years. Embree has written a variety of books on India and its people.