To Edinburgh last night to hear William Dalrymple at the Book Festival. What seemed as though it was going to be mere social history turned into an amazing denunciation of those who would separate the peoples of the world into false polarities such as Christian/Muslim, East/West etc. Beginning from the wills and private correspondance of Britains in India in the period before the Raj, he reconstructed a world in which people could take o­n the elegence, learning and propriety of the culture in which they found themselves without the embarrasment which Victorian morality somehow brought.
It was a very gendered reading of history though. There was no time for questions. The women we heard about were all stunning high-born Indian princesses – I found myself wanting to ask whether that really told us that much about life in India.
Dalrymple played his part. Combat trousers, baggy white shirt, long waistcoat and bare feet make for something of a stage presence. He believes seems to have an intrinsic trust in the mass numbers of moderate people that there are in the world to live at peace with o­ne another. I trust in that ability but I think it is under threat.
The Evangelical Revival that happened during the Victorian period has a lot to answer for. Dalrymple connected the start of a discomfort in cross-cultural relationships firmly with that movement. When I was at theological college, most of the people who were doing the Evangelical Revival in serious historical way seemed to be enthusiasts. No-one was doing much work o­n the cultural shifts which the Revival was to bring. It was as though the abolition of slavery were the o­nly social policy of note to come from the Evangelicals. After last night's lecture I found myself wanting to revisit some of that thinking and look at it afresh.
I was reminded of being invited to join a party in the University Chaplaincy a while ago. I was sitting in the Chaplaincy office when a knock came o­n the door – “We saw you sitting o­n your own – come and share our food, we are having a party.” It was the muslim students celebrating o­ne of the Eids. Inviting the stranger to join the party is the root of my religion too.

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