Was Hinduism Invented?

Was Hinduism Invented? : Britons, Indians, and the Colonial Construction of Religion

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The appearance of "religion" as a category describing a set of practices and beliefs allegedly an aspect of all cultures dates only from the modern period, emerging as Europe expanded trade abroad and established its first colonial relations in the 17th and 18th centuries. The invention of Hinduism can be seen in the encounter between modernity's greatest colonial power, Britain, and the jewel of her imperial crown, India. 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 religion. The Bengal Presidency, home of Calcutta - the 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, Brian Pennington offers a fascinating portrait of the process by which "Hinduism" came into being. He argues against the common idea that the modern construction of religion in colonial India was simply a fabrication of Western Orientalists and missionaries. Rather, he says, it involved the active agency and engagement of Indian authors as well, who interacted, argued, and responded to British authors over key religious issues such as image-worship, sati, tolerance, and conversion. Pennington 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 to produce the very religions that colonialism thought it "discovered." While post-colonial theory can illuminate issues of power and domination, he demonstrates, history of religions reminds us of the continuing importance of the sacred and spiritual dimensions of the peoples under colonial rule.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 260 pages
  • 162.6 x 236.2 x 25.4mm | 476.28g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • numerous plates
  • 0195166558
  • 9780195166552
  • 2,021,941

Review quote

Pennington gives us an insightful, creative, judicious, critical, and honest book that goes a long way to restoring some balance into the discussion about colonialism and Hinduism. I cannot recommend this book enough. * Carl Olson, International Journal of Hindu Studies *show more

About Brian K. Pennington

Brian K. Pennington is Associate Professor of Religion at Maryville College in Tennessee.show more

Rating details

9 ratings
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