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This talk explores the relationship between popular culture and society by examining how The Beatles interaction with South Asian music and religion in the later 1960s encouraged support for multicultural Britishness: the belief that the ability to absorb and adapt “external influences” is a key aspect of British national identity. The Beatles interaction with South Asia included George Harrison’s increasing interest in Indian music and religion from 1965 forward, John Lennon’s interest in the connection between eastern spirituality and psychedelic drugs, and the entire band’s trip to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Meditation Academy in Rishikesh, India in 1968. One result of this interaction was the creation of several songs, “Norwegian Wood” (1965), “Tomorrow Never Knows” (1966), and “Within You Without You” (1967), in which the Beatles integrated South Asian music and ideas into British pop music. These songs represent a significant moment of cross-cultural accommodation and acceptance, and they modeled a cosmopolitan and inclusive version of Britishness. The popularity of the Beatles at the time and after meant that millions of Britons were given positive exposure to this emerging version of Britishness.

Neal Palmer is an associate professor and chair of the department of history and political science at Christian Brothers University. He is author of To the Dark Cells: Prisoner Resistance and Protest in Nineteenth-Century Britain (2008). His current research project is called A Rock n’ Roll History of the UK and focuses on the topics of drugs, technology, education, equality, sex, and Britishness from the 1960s to the 1990s.