Globalisation and Difference: Cosmopolitanism Before the Nation-State

Akhil Gupta


In this paper, I have tried to reflect on what cosmopolitanism might mean in a very different era of globalisation than the present. Although cosmopolitanism, as an expansive and sociable vision, is often contrasted with the geographically limited perspective and claustrophobic affinities of nationalism, the term originates in a historical period before the rise of nationalism in Europe. I argue that the residents of the civilisations around the Indian Ocean in the medieval and early modern world were cosmopolitan even by the standards of the high modernist meaning of the term. Not only did a range of people transact and translate across different languages, but they also knew how to conduct themselves in different cultural settings with people of different religious beliefs, while respecting the disparate religious, social, and cultural practices of their neighbours.

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