Book

Was Hinduism Invented?

Brian K. Pennington

Published in print April 2005 | ISBN: 9780195166552
Published online July 2005 | e-ISBN: 9780199835690 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/0195166558.001.0001
Was Hinduism Invented?

Show Summary Details

Preview

Is “Hinduism” a legitimate term for the widely varying religious practices of India that are commonly called by that name? The appearance of “religion” as a category comprising a set of practices and beliefs allegedly found in every culture dates from the modern period, emerging as Europe expanded trade abroad and established its first colonial relations in the 17th and 18th centuries. Hinduism emerged in the encounter between modernity’s greatest colonial power, Great Britain, and the jewel of her imperial crown, India. Around the turn of the 19th century, officials of the British colonial state and Christian missionaries helped cement the idea that regional and sectarian traditions in India possessed a sufficient coherence to be construed as a single, systematic religion. This encounter was deeply shaded by the articulation and development of the concept of “religion”, and it produced the now common idea that Hinduism is a unified religion. The Bengal Presidency, home of Calcutta — capital of colonial India and center of economic gravity in the eastern hemisphere — emerged as the locus of ongoing and direct contact between Indians and colonial officials, journalists, and missionaries. Drawing on a large body of previously untapped literature, including documents from the Church Missionary Society and Bengali newspapers, this book presents a portrait of the process by which “Hinduism” came into being. It argues against the common idea that the modern construction of religion in colonial India was simply a fabrication of Western Orientalism and missionaries. Rather, it involved the active agency and engagement of Indian authors who interacted, argued, and responded to British authors over key religious issues such as image-worship, satī, tolerance, and conversion. This book retells the story of Christians’ and Hindus’ reception of each other in the early 19th century in a way that takes seriously the power of their religious worldviews to shape the encounter itself and help produce the very religions that colonialism thought it “discovered”. While post-colonial theory can illuminate issues of power and domination, the history of religions reminds us of the continuing importance of the sacred and spiritual dimensions of the peoples under colonial rule.

Keywords: Hinduism; missionaries; India; Great Britain; colonialism; Calcutta; evangelical Christianity; Orientalism; inter-religious dialogue; post-colonial theory

Book.  256 pages.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Hinduism

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »


Table of Contents

Introduction in Was Hinduism Invented?

Chapter

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Colonial Legacies in Was Hinduism Invented?

Chapter

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.