This essay investigates the reemergence of Cārvāka materialist philosophy in late sixteenth-century Mughal India and its possible relation to and impact on the European Renaissance and Enlightenment. India's ancient tradition of materialist philosophy (originally called Lokāyata, “prevalent in the world”) arose at approximately the same time that materialism developed independently in ancient Greece. Like the atomistic philosophies of Epicurus and later Lucretius in the West, this form of materialism was strongly condemned by other philosophical and religious sects of India because of its denial of an afterworld. Beginning in the mid-1570s, the Mughal emperor Akbar the Great instigated a series of religious and philosophical debates at his court at Fatehpur Sikri in India. Assembled representatives of many religions and philosophies of the world, including the Cārvākas, debated the nature of truth and the best possible worldview. Though its proponents did not win the debate, did Cārvāka materialism have a “renaissance” in Mughal India, as Lucretian atomism arguably had in Europe? Moreover, did early modern debates about materialism in one part of the world prompt or influence similar discussions in another? This essay investigates the writings of Jesuit missionaries at the court of Akbar and his heirs as possible vectors of influence between disparate regions of the world and traces information flows that, following Lucretius and Stephen Greenblatt, might be called “swerves,” to argue that the so-called rise of modernity was, in part, a product of early modern globalization.
Skip Nav Destination