A vigorous debate has churned for at least a decade over the status of the label "Hinduism," but the question at the heart of these debates-Is there any set of pan-Indian practices and identities that one can meaningfully gather under a single label?-has been around for much longer. These disputes generally spring from the ambiguity and multivalency of the adjective "Hindu." At least since the sixth-century B.C.E. reign of Darius of Persia, the word "Hindu" has, by turns, signified regional, religious, or cultural identifications, and from the early twentieth century, in some contexts it has also been charged with nationalist connotations.1
On one side of the debate over the appropriateness or utility of the term "Hinduism" are the constructionists,2 those who claim that in scholarly practice the category Hinduism vacuums up a miscellany of Indic traditions, ideas, and communities that, at their core, have so little in common that their collective identification under this umbrella is at best misleading and at worst an exercise in ideological subterfuge. Stated succinctly, this line of reasoning asserts that "there is hardly a single important teaching in `Hinduism' which can be shown to be valid for all Hindus, much less a comprehensive set of teachings."3 Some of the strongest statements of these positions are well-known but worth repeating here. Robert Frykenberg has put the matter this way:
There has never been any such thing as a single "Hinduism" or any single "Hindu community" for all of India. Nor, for that matter, can one find any such thing as a single "Hinduism" or "Hindu community" even for any one socio-cultural region of the continent. Furthermore, there has never been any one religion-nor even one system of religions-to which the term "Hindu" can accurately be applied. No one so-called religion, moreover, can lay exclusive claim to or be defined by the term "Hinduism." The very notion of the existence of any single religious community by this name ... has been falsely conceived .4
More bluntly still, Frits Staal has insisted, "Hinduism does not merely fail to be a religion; it is not even a meaningful unit of discourse. There is no way to abstract a meaningful unitary notion of Hinduism from the Indian phenomena."5
Many postcolonial critiques of the same spirit finger some antagonist whose interests the construction and deployment of the concept "Hinduism"have served. The earlier chapters of this book pursue just such an argument with regard to Christian polity in Britain, the colonial state, and Hindu elites. Christian missionaries are often high on the list of those who charge that western interests misperceived or falsified data for their own ends6 and produced a systematized representation of disparate regional and caste practices to different ends in both Britain and India in order to counter that constructed tradition with the rational and moral character of Christianity. The expansion of the colonial administration of India in the nineteenth century also demanded a coherent and stable catalog of Hindu laws, sects, ritual practices, and so forth, an end that an essentialized Hinduism certainly furthered.7
Again, although it is clear from my earlier arguments that I think there is more to the story, the bureaucratization of the colonial state abetted the reification of Hinduism. In the twentieth century, Hindu nationalists, it has been regularly observed, awoke to the political fruits that the concept of a nationally and historically cohesive tradition could yield.,, Nationalist groups have pieced together a "syndicated Hinduism" in recent historical memory to suggest a monolithic, ancient religion and have thereby sought to manufacture a certain historical integrity and communal unity for all of India. Some observers find that this nationalist revision of contemporary and historical religious pluralism represents a problematic but politically effective assemblage of practices and ideas intended to remake Indic traditions in the image of Christianity and Islam.9
Others have recently argued, in a general way about religion and also specifically about Hinduism, that the categories serve today to justify university religion departments and to legitimize the religious publishing industry by rationalizing the trade in an entity of dubious ontological status.'°
On the other side of the issues echo a variety of voices that insist that, however diffuse, variegated, multivalent, and internally contested, "Hinduism" as an analytic category and descriptive label is both meaningful and reasonably true to observed social and historical realities. Among scholars advocating a version of this position are those such as David Lorenzen and Will Sweetman, who argue that the scholar's employment of "Hindu" and "Hinduism" derive from attention to the fact that precolonial and colonial-era Hindus often could espouse a common religious identity long before European bureaucracy and scholarship imposed one on them. "Hinduism" therefore not only possesses some legitimacy with respect to the current era, but aptly corresponds to historically attested indigenous self-understandings."
Others defending the Hinduism category take a slightly different tack. Wendy Doniger tries to liberate it from the expectation that it will correspond to a fixed set of consistent, noncontradictory beliefs and rituals. She suggests the term be used to invoke the idea of a common Hindu conversation on caste, karma, asceticism, and a divine pantheon. Hindus, she holds, share distinctive concepts among themselves but also vigorously debate their meaning. Hinduism is therefore best imagined not as a closed circle of beliefs and practices with a clear boundary, but by means of a Venn diagram of partially overlapping circles to indicate those shared but contested categories.- Doniger concludes, "it has proved convenient for us to call this corpus of concepts “Hinduism” have served. The earlier chapters of this book pursue just such an argument with regard to Christian polity in Britain, the colonial state, and Hindu elites. Christian missionaries are often high on the list of those who charge that western interests misperceived or falsified data for their own ends and produced a systematized representation of disparate regional and caste practices to different ends in both Britain and India in order to counter that constructed tradition with the rational and moral character of Christianity. The expansion of the colonial administration of India in the nineteenth century also demanded a coherent and stable catalog of Hindu laws, sects, ritual practices, and so forth, an end that an essentialized Hinduism certainly furthered.' Again, although it is clear from my earlier arguments that I think there is more to the story, the bureaucratization of the colonial state abetted the reification of Hinduism. In the twentieth century, Hindu nationalists, it has been regularly observed, awoke to the political fruits that the concept of a nationally and historically cohesive tradition could yield.,, Nationalist groups have pieced together a "syndicated Hinduism" in recent historical memory to suggest a monolithic, ancient religion and have thereby sought to manufacture a certain historical integrity and communal unity for all of India. Some observers find that this nationalist revision of contemporary and historical religious pluralism represents a problematic but politically effective assemblage of practices and ideas intended to remake Indic traditions in the image of Christianity and Islam.9 Others have recently argued, in a general way about religion and also specifically about Hinduism, that the categories serve today to justify university religion departments and to legitimize the religious publishing industry by rationalizing the trade in an entity of dubious ontological status.'°
On the other side of the issues echo a variety of voices that insist that, however diffuse, variegated, multivalent, and internally contested, "Hinduism" as an analytic category and descriptive label is both meaningful and reasonably true to observed social and historical realities. Among scholars advocating a version of this position are those such as David Lorenzen and Will Sweetman, who argue that the scholar's employment of "Hindu" and "Hinduism" derive from attention to the fact that precolonial and colonial-era Hindus often could espouse a common religious identity long before European bureaucracy and scholarship imposed one on them. "Hinduism" therefore not only possesses some legitimacy with respect to the current era, but aptly corresponds to historically attestesindigenous self-understandings."
Others defending the Hinduism category take a slightly different tack. Wendy Doniger tries to liberate it from the expectation that it will correspond to a fixed set of consistent, non contradictory beliefs and rituals. She suggests the term be used to invoke the idea of a common Hindu conversation on caste, karma, asceticism, and a divine pantheon. Hindus, she holds, share distinctive concepts among themselves but also vigorously debate their meaning. Hinduism is therefore best imagined not as a closed circle of beliefs and practices with a clear boundary, but by means of a Venn diagram of partially overlapping circles to indicate those shared but contested categories.12
Doniger concludes, "it has proved convenient for us to call this corpus of concepts Hinduism; naming is always a matter of convenience of the namers, and all categories are constructed."13
Gabriella Eichinger Ferro-Luzzi's defense of the term is similar. She describes Hinduism as a polythetic concept, one for which we can easily identify prototypical features such as worship of major Hindu gods, pilgrimage, and the invocation of certain concepts like dharma, that crisscross and overlap in different combinations in any particular variant of Hinduism."
On balance, I find these defenses persuasive and reflective of the evidence provided by the Indian testimony on the matter found in places such as the Samacar Candrika. In fact colonial-era sites on which the modern notion of Hinduism was erected-in nineteenth-century Anglican polity, among Christian missionaries working in India, and in an infant print media among Indian elites-has shown clearly that the constructionists, for all their disregard of such testimony and their often intractable attributions of immeasurable power and creativity to colonialism, have one thing right: colonial modernity decisively altered the character and evolutionary course of Hindu religion. The early nineteenth century displayed an accelerating drive to codify what, by the last quarter of that century, was commonly known among English speakers as "Hinduism." The question cannot simply be put to rest by demonstrating the ways that Hindus conceived their common identity before the arrival of European powers, an important qualification recently offered by Lorenzen and Sweetman. New religious institutions, new forms of religious subjectivity, and new markers of religious identity, all definitely emerged in some manner from the creative agency of Hindus in the context of early nineteenth-century developments, especially the consolidation of the colonial state and the introduction of Protestant missionaries to British India. These social and religious transformations are so significant and so widespread that it seems unnecessarily fussy to insist that Hinduismin the sense of a cohesive and reasonably uniform religion comparable to contemporary Abrahamic or Semitic traditions-was not the offspring of nineteenth-century colonialism.
This is, however, not the remarkable claim it might seem at first blush. Something similar could be said of all modern religious forms. A bit too much, it seems to me, has been made over the ruptures and discontinuities of the early nineteenth century. Hinduism as we conceive it today is indeed the creation of the nineteenth century, but so are a host of modern religions and modern social institutions. Constructionists are only making a more specific daim about the effects of modernity that have impacted many social formations and relations the globe over. Continuity and the triumph of historical memory over sustained, deliberate, and widely dispersed interventions are also parts of the story we must not overlook. There is, first of all, the matter of what we might regard as the sheer mass and inertia of embodied and embedded tradition. It defies common sense to maintain that a relatively small band of scholars and other observers could virtually invent a religious tradition from fragments of insight and re-present it to its presumed practitioners without inviting an incredulity that is absent from the historical record. Robert Frykenberg, in a move that seems to undercut his major thesis about the constructedness of Hinduism, points out in a footnote that the ratio of Europeans to Indians in the civil services was over I:I,000.15
He maintains that [d]enigrators of Orientalism give too much credit to Europeans and too little to hosts of Native Indians (mainly Brahmans and others imbued with Brahmanical world views; but also Muslims imbued with Islamic world views) for the cultural constructions (and reconstructions) of India. These Indian elites did as much to inculcate their own views into the administrative machinery and into the cultural framework of the Indian Empire as anything done by the Europeans whom they so outnumbered and with whom they worked so closely.16
Western historiography itself has also intervened to deny Hindus their history. The habit of casting competing groups as either "reformers" (e.g., the Brahmo Samaj) or "orthodox" (e.g., the Dharma Sabha) has for too long obscured the modern character of emerging Hindu organizations; their mutually shared goals, interests, and strategies; and their common passion for preserving and embodying the ancient past.17
Constructionist arguments work also to bolster the weight given to missionary or imperial formulations of Hinduism and to undermine an appreciation of prior indigenous awarenesses of a pan-Indian Hindu identity." I agree, in this context, that too much blame or credit has been assigned to colonialism and share the exasperation of those who cannot accept that "everything was invented in the nineteenth century."19 Such purportedly anticolonial arguments inevitably end up undermining themselves by assigning all things modem and Indian to foreign influences and nurturing a neo-nostalgia for a pristine, precolonial India that scholarship more sensitive to both western and Indian political exercises in purism would guard against.20
There are, I am arguing, powerful historical and political reasons for resisting the most sweeping claims of constructionists. The utter discontinuity with the past, both European and Indian, that a strict constructionist reading of the historical record entails is unwarranted. The body of evidence of precolonial iterations of a Hindu identity is growing. More telling, I believe, is the absence of contemporaneous Hindu contestation of the clearly developing category "Hinduism." Reforming and orthodox groups did not unreflexively borrow or strategically recast a half-cooked British idea .21
The very articulation of the colonialist concept "Hindu" was already a collaborative undertaking; discursive interactions between Britons and Indians contributed to the dialogic and heteroglot production known as "Hinduism."22
The largely unacknowledged pandits who interpreted text and rite for British travelers, traders, and rulers were themselves promoting specific ideas about Hinduism's unifying principles, historical trends, soteriology, and so forth. A spokesperson such as Bhabanicaran Bandyopadhyaya might have located its core in caste and rite; a reformer such as Rammohan Roy might locate it in a Vedic monotheism. What the contested nature of the category among these indigenous theologians indicates is not (or not merely) a rearrangement of power under a colonial administration but, more fundamentally, the clear fact that the category madesense; the emergent concept Hinduism resonated with some prior self-understanding. There would have been no basis for an intercultural debate (i.e., between British rulers and Indian subjects) or an intracultural one (between opposing Indian groups) on issues related to Hindu teaching without some implicit acceptance of the very category already in place. There were loud and vociferous debates in both registers in the early nineteenth century over what properly constituted Hindu society and rite. To my knowledge, however, there was no corresponding debate either among Indians or between Indians and Britons about the appropriateness of the category itself. One would expect to find Hindus raising some objections to the privileging of an imputed unity over a diversity that was manifest to Hindus and Europeans alike in popular newspapers of the day, in the reproduction of Indian public opinion included in virtually every English-language newspaper in India, or in Hindu tracts that answered specific Christian charges about Hindu belief and practice, but I have come across no such discussion, nor has any scholar to whom I have posed the issue. As we have seen, as the idea of Hinduism slowly took shape, Hindus themselves could resist western proposals about the content and character of the ideas and practices that would define such an entity, and they could also debate one another about specific Hindu matters, but they did not argue for the incommensurability of what were coming to be understood as Hinduism's variants. Hindus themselves informed and countered missionary and Orientalist constructions of Hinduism, but they did not call the project itself into question. The deafening silence among indigenous elites on this issue, an issue which, it is critical to remember, had occupied Europeans for centuries at this point, cannot be accounted for by attributing only the basest political opportunism to those elites who did mobilize around the idea. A gaping absence of indigenous critique of the category "Hindu" itself must suggest, at the very least, a ready acceptance of the label among many Hindus and that the concept itself corresponded to some elements of Indian self-understanding. It seems even more likely that the idea, if not the label, was already common Indian currency. The British did not mint this coin; they traded in it because Hindus handed it to them. The historical role of the colonizer was not to invent Hinduism either by blunder or by design, but to introduce an economy of concepts and power relations that dramatically enhanced the value of such identity markers.
Behind some constructionists' antipathy to the term "Hinduism" is a conviction that any essentializing of Indic traditions functions in a hegemonic manner. Many have voiced an opposition to essentialism on the basis of its capacity to deny Indians historical or social agency and to augment the West's sense of its own superiority. These were the two major concerns of Inden's 1990 book Imagining India. In deconstructing the multiple ways that the West has essentialized India, Inden was attacking "the idea that humans and human institutions . . . are governed by determinate natures."23
The academic practice of representing India by imputing essential natures to it obscures the activity of "relatively complex and shifting human agents" who "make and remake one another through a dialectical process in changing situations."24 Any characterization of a human institution by reference to its essences must, Inden argues, describe a static, ossified entity.25 His challenge to western representations of India has reflected a much wider movement. From the postmodern celebration of difference to subaltern studies' resurrection of non-elite knowledges, the scramble to denounce the identification and deployment of essences freighted with ideological weight has been a very noticeable feature in the recent study of Hinduism and religion as a whole. From many corners there has risen an effort to deconstruct and undermine such essences in the interests of restoring agency and giving voice to subaltern formulations of religious identity that may be lost in the imposition of homogenizing wholes.
The attack on essentialized representations of Hinduism, whether those of a brahmanical elite or of western academic discourses, has led to important advances in the field of religious studies and also trained our gaze on religious minorities and communities that might embrace understandings of a tradition that do not reflect dominant interests. What I suggest, however, is that essentialism in and of itself is neither the gravest of descriptive sins nor the loyal servant of hegemony. To paraphrase Talal Asad, some things really are constitutive and essential to a social formation, but they are nonetheless potential targets of subversion and the certain future victims of historical change.26
The rush to condemn all essentializing discourses also threatens the historian's responsibility to name a social phenomenon's constitutive and characteristic elements. The essential, like its cousin, the definition, plays a critical role in the life of any historical analysis or social theory-not necessarily, however, because it is truly of a thing's essence, but precisely because of its imposture. As hypothesis, preliminary proposal, guiding idea, or provisional conclusion, the naming of a set of qualities, characteristics, or principles that constitute or identify a thing is always part of the historian's and theorist's art, as is the meticulous critique of prevailing historiography and theory. Essentialism and the deconstruction of imputed essences is the heart and soul of social and historical inquiry, the means by which it attains greater clarity and further insight.
It might be useful here to make a distinction between two variants of essentializing, representations. There is the kind of "hard essentialism" that determines asocial formation, such as a religion or culture, to be the passive product of an inherent principle that generates that formation's beliefs, practices, and identities. Inden's analysis of western ideas about Hinduism as a tangled jungle or as the product of imagination unbridled by reason finds fault with just this sort of representational strategy. Hard essentialism posits timeless core essences that travel through history taking on and shedding accretions such that their external forms are ultimately identical and impervious to substantial transformation or innovation. This is a fundamentally antihistorical method, and one that the study of religion has largely outgrown, a fact that its most vocal detractors steadfastly ignore. Such a hard essentialism may be polemical, as we see in many evangelical representations of Hinduism, that Hinduism is fundamentally centered on the logic of idol worship. In other instances, hard essentialism may evince nostalgic or romantic themes, as in some Christian appropriations of eastern spirituality and New Age syncretisms. The harshest critics of the study of religion paint the discipline with the broad brush of hard essentialism, imagining it a uniform, monophonic discourse still deeply invested in the homogenizing methods of the mid-twentieth century for which Mircea Eliade has become the most prominent effigy.27
There is a less egregious form of essentialism, a kinder and gentler version, what we might think of as "soft essentialism," which makes the simple claim that a social formation-religion as such, a religion, a gender, and so forth-possesses key identifying properties and characteristics. I have in mind here the colloquial use of the term "essential," as in the phrase, "Essentially, what I am saying is x." In this sense, "essentially" means only "more or less," "basically," "in sum," or "chiefly." A soft essentialism is provisional and fully amenable to critique and revision, and we ought not confuse it with the ossifying, hegemonic uses of hard essentialism. Neither, moreover, should scholars in religious studies departments quietly accept the gross distortions of our discipline that suggest it is solely in the business of reifying and essentializing dynamic, variable, and multiform personal and social experiences.
There is no serious doubt about the proposition that colonial and proto-nationalist discourses in India functioned, and functioned effectively, by means of the articulation of a cohesive Hinduism oriented around some historical, textual, or social core essence. From the very moment of their pronouncement, however, such core essences have been challenged. Indeed, however dominant the early nineteenth-century discourses that identified Hinduism as a social and religious system generated from a text (e.g., the Vedas or the Gita), a ritual logic (that of sacrifice or idol worship), a mythical imagination (the fecund "spirit of polytheism"), or a system of social ordering (caste as defined by brahmanical or merchant elites), such essentialist claims have quickly met with two critical responses. On the one side, there have always arisen the competing claims that Hinduism coheres in one or another of these essences. On the other, there have sounded the frustrated British protestations that there was no one thing that distinguished Hindu practice or identity; namely, that there was no Hinduism at all. Given the daims about the ubiquity of western essentialism, it is important to note that this second response has always been present in western representations of Hinduism and in intercultural dialogue throughout the history of European and Indian contact. It is, in fact, a mark of careful and fruitful scholarship that one attempts both to identify the essence of some perceived social reality and also carefully to articulate how and why such an essentialism may be misleading in the messy world of actual human institutions and relations. We must both theorize and question theory; demonstrate its critical relevance to organic and shifting constellations, and remind ourselves of its always provisional and homogenizing character. Theories, concepts, and constructions simultaneously falsify and clarify; that is their nature and the nature of all language. The work of the historian of religion lies precisely along the borderland between that falsification and clarification, the territory where our grander and more ambitious proposals shed light on observable human experience and are, at the same time, humbled by its ineffability.
The question of the nature and appropriateness of "Hinduism" is also an aspect of the larger question about the genealogy of the concept of religion. Many hold it to possess a strictly modern and western lineage and regard its application to traditions that do not emphasize text, faith, and belief, that is, religious formations that are not Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, to represent an arrogant and wholly misleading imposition of a nonindigenous category on Indian social reality. Given what he takes to be the narrow range of its signification and the suggestions of an exclusive identity the word religion conveys in the West, S. N. Balagangadhara, for one, insists that "there simply could be no `religion' in India."28
Two distinct claims are heard among those who argue against the use of the category. The first asserts that "religion" as a concept that describes a set of universal or near-universal human institutions centered on distinctive beliefs and practices that might invite a cross-cultural comparison of one set to another is a historical latecomer, dating only from the European Enlightenment.29 A broader application beyond the post-Enlightenment West, therefore, would normalize modern, western, and especially Christian experience. To classify other traditions as religions distorts them and renders them deviant from an ideal type, because they would fall short in some key respects. The second asserts that to employ "religion" as a term of social analysis lends credence to the unverifiable claims and untenable categories of religious practitioners themselves by reproducing the grammar and vocabulary of religious belief. Religions turn on an acceptance of a supersensible reality that the scientific method must exclude. The end of studying religion, this line of reasoning goes, should be to explain why people express and embody such beliefs at all and what they achieve socially by doing so, rather than to reinscribe religious ideas and social formations in the academy as if they demanded no interrogation themselves.
Religion as a Strictly Modern and Christian Concept
On the first score, it seems easily demonstrable, however, that a category encompassing a variety of cross-cultural beliefs and practices has been a part of western discourses for centuries longer than many believe, and if they only came to be called religions later, the belief that humans possessed distinct, mutually exclusive traditions of belief and rite has remained fairly consistent. When Augustine wrote On True Religion (De Vera Religion), he was contrasting the superstitious rites of Roman pagans with the spiritualized piety of Christians; both qualified as species of the generic category "religion" in his mind, but one was illumined by reason and revelation, the other pocked with vulgar error. Had his opening remarks appeared in the Missionary Papers, they would not have sounded the least incongruous:
The way of the good and blessed life is to be found entirely in the true religion wherein one God is worshiped and acknowledged with purest piety to be the beginning of all existing things, originating, perfecting and containing the universe. Thus it becomes easy to detect the error of the peoples who have preferred to worship many gods rather than the true God and Lord of all things.30
When Augustine used the term "religion," he meant the one, true religion, Catholic Christianity, not chiefly as an institution but as a standard of piety. He nevertheless posited the ubiquity of two general elements of human culture: belief and rite. He remarked that pagans differed passionately on matters of belief but participated in common rites at common temples .31 By contrast, Christians excluded from their rites those who made competing metaphysical claims, however similar in nature those claims were.32
Here, in Augustine's early work, we find several components of(what we commonly take religion to be today: I) a very widespread, if not universal, form of human expression of supernatural reality, 2) a plurality of competing such systems, and 3) their amenability to mutual comparison .33 To leap ahead some centuries to illustrate further,34 the French reformer John Calvin acknowledged the core of genuine pious insight that lay at the heart of other faiths when he made the natural world a primary resource for knowledge about God and declared that Christianity held some characteristic habits in common with pagans. He insisted that "from the beginning of the world there has been no region, no city, in short, no household that could do without religion."35 For Calvin, all human knowledge had suffered the corruption of sin, but what distinguished Christian faith and piety from pagan belief and practice was the former's possession of a revealed truth superseding natural knowledge, available through the scriptural text only to those pre-elected to salvation.36
In short, the case holding that the concept of religion, in terms of a (nearly) universal human artifact subsisting in mutually exclusive systems of belief and practice, possesses a strictly modern genealogy has been overstated. It is clear that the Christian West has always regarded its traditions as one subset among others of the generic concept "religion" and seen religion as a cross-cultural element of human thought and behavior .37 And it is certainly true that, in this respect, the early church was altering the received meaning of the term somewhat from an older Roman conception of religion as the unassailable traditions of one's ancestors and manipulating the idea to its own purposes in order to contrast "true" belief to paganism and heresy.38 That is to say, the modern concept of religion indeed has its roots in Christian, specifically Latin Christian, triumphalism.
It is equally true, however, that just as the term evolved with changed usage to indicate closed systems of competing and mutually exclusive beliefs, it has, since the initiation of colonial contact, continued to evolve beyond its narrow Christian range of meaning.39 Current debate over the term marks one more moment in that evolution. With the Enlightenment and the broadening of European contact with other civilizations, it became possible to speak of religion outside this restricted context-not, to be sure, without a significant distortion that we continue to try to temper. Discourses we call "naturalistic," "rationalistic," "humanistic," "academic," "religious studies," and more began their slow evolution and institutionalization in the university.'° With these developments has come an expanded self-consciousness about the comparative project and the terms by which comparison is conducted and entities compared. The academic usage of "religion" has changed substantially, and under continuing scrutiny, it remains elastic. Its semantic range continues to evolve and expand as scholars critique and examine their own categories and as they apply new data from non-western traditions to the category. Religious studies departments are not, by and large, simply factories for the maintenance of Christian hegemony but do, in very many instances, work assiduously to overcome their own histories and discover truly meaningful and instructive ways to characterize human difference as well as a shared humanity across cultures.
This last point brings me to a second important aspect of the argument that "religion" is a misleading term for describing systems of belief outside the Abrahamic faiths, one distinctly postcolonial in its concerns and intent. There is a great deal of hand-wringing in the field of religious studies and among scholars who study religion from positions in departments of history and sociology not only over the term's hegemonic potential, but also for religious studies' sloppy demarcation of what counts as its data. A glance at one recent program of the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion might bear some of these charges out. It suggests that such disparate phenomena as transgender activism, the television serial The Sopranos, the sarin gas attacks on Tokyo's subways in 1995, the Harry Potter phenomenon, zazen, family planning, Kierkegaard's ethical thought, the Ku Klux Klan, the camp meeting, and, I cannot resist including him, Hanako the toilet ghost all have a share in some nebulous undertaking named "religion." The alleged ubiquity and centrality of this imagined entity to human societies serves to justify the existence of this professional association and provides its raison d'etre.41 Whereas one might maintain that its ability to theorize such divergent human expressions and experiences is precisely the strongest argument for the relevance and institutional legitimacy of religious studies '42 others might perceive an ill-defined object of study. The more serious corollary to this charge, however, is that the study of religion as such is tantamount to an uncritical acceptance, even promotion, of discourses that invoke beings whose presence and existence are not at all in evidence. To take the statements of religious practitioners at face value and to seek to interpret their meaning for those practitioners is-the argument goes-merely to describe what the insider believes and experiences and not to engage in any second-order, explanatory method.
These objections to the practice of religious studies, namely, that its founding concept is simultaneously empty and hegemonic, and that the discipline gives voice to and advances insider approaches to religion (i.e., mythological, theological) over outsider accounts of religious behavior (i.e., social scientific, biological, etc.), implicitly raise questions about the historical processes by which Hinduism came to be understood as one species in a genus of universal human behaviors and hence comparable to others. S. N. Balagangadhara and Richard King have both cast suspicion on the application of the concept religion to Hindu traditions in India, especially because, in each of their views, "religion" refracts its content through a prism of Christian categories. It thereby suggests orderly social realities or dosed systems of thought about the origins of the cosmos that are easily distinguishable from their political and social surroundings-things not characteristic of Indian traditions." In response, Will Sweetman notes that religion was not an ossified, static concept into which Hinduism was forced in the eighteenth century but rather an elastic category that continued to stretch and develop as a result of the encounter with Indian religions." I argue that religion is not and has not been the monothetic concept awkwardly applied to Hindu and other data that so many critics would claim. It has proven, in fact, a very useful, if constructed, category for framing colonial contact and highlighting certain features of intercultural encounter. This book has pursued a religious studies approach to the encounter between Hindus and their (largely Christian) British rulers in the early nineteenth century by demonstrating the indispensability of understanding and foregrounding religious categories, rituals, communities, and beliefs in these interactions. It has shown that to reduce religion to mere social practice or political power would be to fundamentally misrepresent and misunderstand the relations between Britons and Indians. More to the point, it has drawn attention to ways in which Hindus and Christians compared themselves to one another and invoked their mutually shared concepts. These groups themselves articulated their similarities and differences, both in terms of specific beliefs and in their more general nature as socially located entities. Christians and Hindus were already doing, albeit in an unselfconscious way, what all good comparativists do-they enumerated contrasts and likenesses, but also examined to what extent the entities in question were comparable. The degree to which one or another set of cultural expressions is a religion is precisely a matter for comparative analysis, not an issue that the comparative method precludes. To propose that Hinduism is not a religion because only Christianity and related faiths are religions is to imply that Hindus and Christians have nothing to say to one another qua Hindus and Christians and that, in a conceptually clearheaded universe, they shouldn't.
Of graver and more immediate import, however, for early twenty-first-century global politics, are the allegiances the vitiation of the concept of religion subtly declares. The marginalization of religion as a concept also entails the marginalization of religious communities and identities from centers of power and knowledge production. The nullification of religion aims to severely restrict access to the critical analysis of religion at the very historical moment when peoples formerly only represented by religious studies discourses are achieving a measure of self representation in the academy and when "religion," whatever the concept's genealogy, has, in fact, evolved as a category of cross-cultural comparison invoked by insiders to non-Christian religious traditions. This comparative undertaking now cuts a number of ways, in the negative evaluation of Christian (and Jewish) conduct and intentions toward others that might prompt some to terrorist violence, in the peaceful resistance to western hegemonies on the basis of religious convictions, and as the proud assertion of a distinctive history and identity vis-à-vis the Christian West. Whatever their intent, the reification of religion and the comparative study of religion are now rampant global exercises, often undertaken by those who would contest a history of western essentialism, alterization, and distortion of colonized religious ideologies.
To narrow the focus and put the matter somewhat bluntly for clarity's sake, if religion is not a real thing, then likewise it is not meaningful to speak of Hinduism or any other "religious" faith as if it were a real thing. This claim in turn denies and devalues the lived experience of, in this case, Hindus and hits at the very heart of what many regard with the greatest reverence as the core of their received identity. Moreover, this claim excludes their voices from the centers of knowledge production about their defining experiences and emotions on that very basis. The arguments that religion is a meaningless category and Hinduism a bungled western construct best dispensed with effectively undercut the geopolitical aims of some Hindus to be taken seriously after centuries of stereotyping, misrepresentation, and demonization at the hands of the Christian West. To seek to deny, moreover, entrance to a conversation about the social and political character and effect of religion to those who espouse religious points of view on the argument that such voices represent not the scholarship of religion but data for scholars of religion, and to claim this at the same time that one claims that religion is a misleading category for cross-cultural comparison, signals an attempt to trump the self representation card that some non-Christians might now play. It conceals a basic contradiction in the critique of religious studies as nonempirical doublespeak between faulting the discipline for a legacy of imperialism and undermining the authority and agency clairred by those whom imperialism has most directly and negatively affected.
Perhaps the most vociferous recent attack the field that allegedly takes religion as a sui generis, self-evident datum of human cultural life is Timothy Fitzgerald's The Ideology of Religious Studies. Briefly, Fitzgerald's major claims, as I read him, are as follows. First, he contends that the category "religion" itself is empty, precisely for the fact that academic and vernacular usage employs the term to identify an enormously varied set of cross-cultural phenomena such that it comes to have no concrete referent at all. Fitzgerald writes, "Religion cannot reasonably be taken to be a valid analytical category since it does not pick out any distinctive cross-cultural aspect of human life. "45 Second, Fitzgerald argues that all usage of the term "religion" imports an implicitly theological framework into what should remain a strictly anthropological or sociological undertaking.46 He locates this theological core of religious studies in the work of the founding members of the discipline who conceived religion as a variable but universal and innate human response to universally felt experiences of transcendence. F. Max Müller, Mircea Eliade, and Rudolph Otto are among the seminal comparativists and phenomenologists Fitzgerald accuses of mystifying textual and ethnographic data to construct such an instinctive human faculty. Their approaches presume the very thing they must, instead, demonstrate, namely that there is something distinctive about a set of human behaviors that could legitimately be grouped under the concept "religion." Finally, Fitzgerald identifies the form and character of the ideology of religious studies as a "liberal ecumenical" theology guided by the acceptance of the existence of "a transcendent intelligent Being who gives meaning and purpose to human history. "47 The aim of this discourse is to foster fruitful dialogue, peaceful coexistence, and perhaps even, Fitzgerald seems to fear, a mutual recognition of the validity of distinct religious communities.
Others have taken Fitzgerald to task for a series of shortcomings in his book.48 He has been criticized for not tapping fields outside religious studies to see how others address the problems of category formation and taxonomy,49 for recommending a shift to the category "culture," one at least as problematic as "religion,"50 for his reified concept of the West," and for failing to appreciate the complexity of the question of disciplinary boundaries .52 In addition, and most relevant to this book's major approach, however, is Fitzgerald's stereotyped and ill-informed representation of the field of religious studies, which he depicts as a dinosaur lumbering among complex and subtle data, clumsily addressing them with theories and ideas generations out of date and crippled by theological commitments. He confidently makes such wide-ranging and damning statements as this: "All the notable theorists of religious studies have placed their usually outstanding scholarship firmly and explicitly in a theological framework, heavily loaded with western Christian assumptions about God and salvation, even if not Christian in an exact confessional sense."53
In praising Louis Dumont's Homo Hierarchicus, a book that thoroughly reifies caste, Fitzgerald says that "religious studies as religious studies has nothing to offer" about questions of power and its mystification .54 When he surveys the field of religious studies, Fitzgerald sees only the likes of Frazer, Tylor, Müller, and Eliade. His selective vision produces a gross misrepresentation of a discipline. Whether it is attributable to genuine ignorance or simple mischief I cannot say. In the fifty years since Wilfred Cantwell Smith first raised the question about the broad application of the term in his The Meaning and End of Religion, religious studies has been vibrantly self-critical and has eagerly interrogated its own founding concept. Smith's own charge that "the term `religion' is confusing, unnecessary, and distorting"55 and Johathan Z. Smith's judgment that religion is solely the creation of the scholar's study have become virtual mantras in the field, regular reminders that, like "culture" and "society," the thing we study does not exist in nature but serves descriptive ends. Fitzgerald, for all his frequent caveats to the effect that there are many excellent scholars in religious studies departments, displays no sense that religious studies or the study of religion could include any but naive, monotheistic, textually oriented phenomenologists. He locates those who actually critique the phenomenologist tradition in religious studies outside the field, a move that allows him to construct the very thing he attacks while he completely ignores significant advances in the study of religion made in the last twenty-five years by, for example, the contributions of feminism, post-modernism, and ethnography. 56
I find Russell T McCutcheon's body of theory and criticism altogether different from Fitzgerald's. Although both aim toward similar ends, namely to challenge the assumptions and execution of religious studies, McCutcheon's work is far better informed about the field and his critique is both less polemical and harder hitting than Fitzgerald's. Although I will proceed to disagree with many of his major claims, I believe the quality of current debate among scholars who study something they or others identify as "religion" would be much impoverished without McCutcheon's carefully honed and often pointedly satirical characterization of the field.
McCutcheon's work presents a mixture of important insights, significant overstatements, and rhetorically effective misrepresentations of the field of religious studies, and many of its contributions and shortcomings I cannot address here. One strand of his overall critique of religious studies, however, is especially relevant to this book's characterization of religion in nineteenth-century British India. Some wider summary of McCutcheon's larger project is necessary to get me to that one point. In his first book, Manufacturing Religion: The Discourse on Sui Generis Religion and the Politics of Nostalgia, taking Jonathan Z. Smith's famous dictum that religion is solely the creation of the scholar's imagination as his point of departure, McCutcheon maintains that there is no sui generis, self-evident phenomenon that corresponds to our word "religion." We have taken this term in the singular, specific sense to mean a set of beliefs and practices that together constitute a people's distinctive way of constructing and communicating with some other realm that we religious studies scholars, buying into the categories of religious practitioners, have called "the sacred." These constructs, McCutcheon urges, are convenient fictions, and he warns that "rather than simply imagining [religion], we have actively manufactured it.", Academic representations, McCutcheon finds, reproduce and authorize religious identities and categories and thereby are implicated in the maintenance of larger geopolitical and sociopolitical realities. Perpetuation of discourse about sui generis religion is more than an act of fancy for McCutcheon: it colludes in the sustenance of these larger networks of political and social relations. He claims that to protect themselves against this awareness, western scholars of religion have tended to think of religion in terms of decontextualized phenomena, a flawed approach that has favored the study of narrative and essentialist symbolism over concern for local and historical backdrops, formalized ritual over ritual process, and religion as a private and privileged discourse over religion as a nexus of many other social discourses.58
In his most recent book, Critics Not Caretakers: Redescribing the Public Study of Religion, McCutcheon urges that we think of religion as simply "an all too ordinary effect of events in the historical and social world,"59 a "thoroughly human activity with no mysterious distillate left over"60 that must be explained by theory and not simply described by means of the very vocabulary ("sacred," "holy," "worship," etc.) employed by practitioners. The scholar's role as scholar is-and McCutcheon is very prescriptive about this-solely to demystify religious assertions and practices and expose them as one of a society's means for authorizing power .61 In no circumstance should the scholar give voice to or regard religious claims and actions, or the people making them, including theologians in the academy, as anything other than his or her data that unveils the authorizing function of religion .62 Because religion is an everyday affair firmly rooted in its particular linguistic, cultural, social, and political worlds, interreligious understanding is an illusion and a quest best abandoned because such an illusory goal is a part of the European tradition of scholarship not shared by all other traditions and amounts to plundering another's tradition to serve "our" ends .63 McCutcheon rejects the notion of cross-cultural understanding because, among other reasons, he doubts both that "our" categories can be sufficiently mapped over onto those of "the other" and that this other would be at all interested in attempting to understand us.64
There is a fatal blindness in McCutcheon's reasoning on this point, and one that displays either his naiveté or his disregard for the political-a realm about which he claims to care so much. McCutcheon imagines this "other" to be completely uninterested in comprehending "our" ways, but he fails to take account of the contemporary reality in the academy and among many religious communities, namely that what these "others" want is not so much a clearer apprehension of European and American cultural logic (in a globalized economy, this logic is almost everywhere all-too-apparent), but to be understood, on their own terms, according to their own categories, and by means of their own self-representation. In the academic study of Hinduism, powerful and angry Hindu voices have criticized the academic representation of Hinduism and exposed the divergent aims and contexts that motivate religious practitioners and students in the secular study. 65 I remain in complete agreement with Brian K. Smith's demand that scholarship not abrogate its responsibility to contradict false historical, social, or political claims made by religious practitioners'66 but I maintain that responsible scholarship on religion must seek productive engagement with practitioners that does not scoffingly dismiss their faith. In discounting all religious claims and demanding that only the theorist versed in sophisticated theory-theory forged almost exclusively in academic institutions in or modeled on those in Europe and the United States-be recognized McCutcheon and those similarly disposed reveal their own neocolonialist and elitist agenda. To behave as if the concerns of religious communities do not and should not matter to the scholar of religion, a creature that McCutcheon has thoroughly documented as having great effect on and influence over the practice and understanding of religion, seems arrogant, misguided, and decidedly dangerous. To proceed in such a way, moreover, at this highly charged historical moment when religion and religious identity are invoked by actors in many regional and global dramas as motives for escalating violence, severely undercuts McCutcheon's claim to be fundamentally concerned about the public role of the scholar of religion. To assume that role for McCutcheon means only one thing: to call into question-using the power of the classroom, the microphone, and western critical discourses-the most cherished beliefs, values, and identities of those who may already resent the power of western discourses to characterize them and shape their destinies. In the years immediately following the period this book covers, as some Indian groups began to master the technologies and institutionalizing strategies that would allow them a measure of self representation, Thomas Babbington Macaulay issued, as a statement of government policy, the famous opinion that "a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia."67 McCutcheon's casual dismissal of religious identity and his exclusion of religious practitioners from the study of religion is tantamount to the same condemnation.
Christians and Hindus
Both Hindus and Christians, are a part of today's conflicts and recriminations in India today. Both Christian and Hindu, our forebears or contemporaries, have pursued policies and strategies to which I might vehemently object, were themselves political agents plotting specific ends but also bearers of social and historical processes beyond their control or cognizance.
In fact two events of 1999 marked a crisis in global Hindu-Christian relations. They cannot in any way be said to represent these relations as a whole, but their wide dissemination through mass media in Europe, Australia, the United States, and India have galvanized opposition of certain segments of each group to one another and communicated to the world that intractability is a hallmark of Hindu-Christian relations at the dawn of the new millennium. That year opened with the horrific murder by right-wing Hindu nationalists of the Australian medical missionary Graham Staines and his two young boys while the family slept in their car outside a hospital Staines had founded. Staines had worked with lepers in India for forty years. Many Indian Christians responded with fear and retreat, and Christians outside India expressed shock and alarm. The second event was the publication of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention's pamphlet highlighting the Hindu holiday Divali and urging Christians to pray that Hindus would find the "true" light of Jesus Christ.68
Fiercely evangelical in tone and crafted to appeal to the lurid fascination with the erotic and bizarre evident in CMS publications nearly two hundred years before, the pamphlet provoked outrage from Hindus and non-Hindus across the globe by rehearsing for its Christian audience the well-worn yarn that "more than boo million people are lost in the hopeless darkness of Hinduism."69 In both cases, members of the offended communities reacted with a polemic about the other that projected a monolithic, unified enemy and suggested that Hindus or Christians were uniformly in broad support of these acts. Hindus, especially nationalists with access to microphones and Web sites, suggested that all Christians were ardent evangelicals with no appreciation or understanding of Hindu traditions, whereas Christians lamented the decline of the tolerance they had once admired in Hinduism and the mobilization of popular opinion against Christians in India.
I am not suggesting a moral equivalence between them, but I mention these two incidents for several reasons. The first is their obvious inheritance from the colonial events and encounters narrated in this book. The ghosts of the colonial past have not seen fit to lurk quietly in the shadows but have brought the force of the troubled past to bear on the present. 70 Robert Frykenberg has called Hindu nationalism the "twin" of British interventions in Hindu traditions," and I would at least agree that the always-vehement and sometimes-violent opposition of Hindu nationalists toward Christianity in India is but a late product of the imperial manipulations of religions and the circumstances of aggressive missionary interrogation of Hinduism beginning with the work of men like Abbé Dubois, William Carey, Claudius Buchanan, and William Ward. Although horror at such violence and despair at the current state of Hindu-Christian relations seems an appropriate and natural response, it is difficult not to ascribe a very significant measure of culpability for this state of affairs to the strategies consciously adopted since the colonial era by Christians hoping for the religious transformation of the subcontinent, strategies that have sown resentment deeply in Indian public opinion. I must stress that this argument speaks only to history and its ghosts-not to the motivations or intentions of any contemporary actors. There can be no excusing or rationalizing senseless violence or grave insult. But if relations between Hindus and Christians are to improve, history demands that Christians, particularly non-Indian Christians, take the lead in healing the breach by confessing their affront to the dignity and honor of Hinduism.
Among foreign missionaries, Staines was, by all reliable accounts, a humanitarian of the most compassionate and engaged stripes. He devoted his life to the alleviation of suffering and seems never to have been involved in the demonization of Hinduism or the arrogant propagation of Christianity that many Hindus, with justification, find deeply offensive .72 The Staines murders were tragic in themselves and also for their impact on Hindu-Christian relations. The Staines' deaths and the attention the Indian and foreign press gave them called yet again to Hindu minds the idea that Christianity was itself largely a foreign force and presence in India. The rightful fury over these crimes obscured the fact that the great measure of suffering and persecution of Christians in India is of Indians themselves, whose homes and churches were reduced to ashes in large numbers in a frightening series of incidents in the late I990’s." Moreover, to Christians the world over, Hinduism became associated with terror and mob violence.
That the Baptist Divali pamphlet has become emblematic of Christian attitudes toward Hindus is itself deeply troubling because it came to suggest that all Christians alike regard Hinduism with disdain. The tract was profoundly wounding to Hindu sensibilities rubbed raw by hundreds of years of abuse at the hands of a very vocal minority of non-Indian Christians who have possessed neither the courtesy nor the self-control to address alien ideas and practices with honest inquiry. Both instances stand as enormous stains on the reputations of two great faiths whose practitioners, by and large, deserve far better representation.
These events point first and perhaps most importantly to the need for an awareness of how poor the state of information that most Hindus and Christians have about one another is and how easily bad information can be mobilized for violence and insult. Evangelical polemic about Hinduism at times seems to have progressed little beyond the juvenile and lurid representations purveyed by the CMS Missionary Papers.
If the Baptist Divali pamphlet serves to demonstrate this ignorance among Christians, a 1999 Indian publication titled Christianity and Conversion in India makes the case about Hindus clearly enough." Its pages are filled with thirdhand rumormongering and simple confusion about the realities of global Christianity, which it then marshals to contend that the failure of Christianity in the West has forced its few remaining zealous practitioners to turn to the developing world to compensate for the empty pews in Europe and the Americas. It devotes almost an entire chapter to a speculative episode that is of minor interest to even rabid western conspiracy theorists: the alleged murder of Pope John Paul I in the Vatican a month after his election as pontiff in 1978. The book names this murder, utterly unsubstantiated and seldom discussed seriously in the West, a major crisis in the Christian world that has so drastically eroded the faith of western Christians that evangelists now turn to India to convert her masses to a dying faith .75 Most pervasive among the book's flaws is the consistent representation of Christianity as a uniform global system, which it often identifies with Roman Catholicism as when, for example, it cites declining enrollment in Catholic seminaries and claims that "without priests, Christianity cannot survive. "76 In this and other places, the book displays complete ignorance about the vibrant and robust state of many strands of Christianity in the West. It is of paramount importance that both Christians and Hindus come to recoguze the enormous diversity of communities who call themselves by those names.77
Clearly, there is a role for the academic study of religion in stemming these streams of appalling misinformation, but the question of what role is hardly a simple one. The academic study of religion is itself an heir to western exoticization and demonization of religion, and Hindus, in particular, are suspicious of the motives and representations of scholars .78 This fact is painfully evident in the successive waves of controversy over the academic study of Hinduism initially set in motion by Jeffrey J. Kripal's Kali's Child, a book that many scholars regard as a sensitive portrayal of the Hindu ascetic and teacher Ramakrishna, but many Hindus see as a blasphemous denigration of one of their most revered modern teachers .79 The origin of the ancient Aryans, the import of archaeological remains at the disputed Babri Masjid, the character of past Muslim rule over areas of the subcontinent, and the validity of psychoanalytic interpretation all have erupted as sites of conflict between Hindus and scholars of Hinduism. The fact that the study of religion is nearly absent from post-Independence institutions of higher education in India and has, therefore, very few Hindu voices representing the discipline to Hindus in India, further contributes to the perception that the academic study of religion is a western enterprise dismissive of Hindu traditions.80
Global capitalism, the commodification of religion, and the voraciousness of the mass media are each also responsible in some measure for irritating the sensibilities of religious practitioners and provoking a defensiveness that can hinder progress in interreligious understanding. This contemporary situation impacts all religious groups, but two examples will suffice to make the point about Hindus and Christians. A satirical Web site that actually aims to lampoon the commodification of religion and feigns to sell toy "action figures" of various gods and goddesses, armed with modern assault weaponry, has offended Hindus and Christians alike by offering Jesus Christ (complete with "ninja-messiah throwing nails") and Krishna ("cosmic warrior and lover of many women") for sale .81 An episode of the popular cartoon Xena: Warrior Princess offended Hindus when an episode featured Krishna and Hanuman coming to the aid of its superhero protagonist.82 The invocation of religious symbols for commercial or satirical purposes has contributed to an atmosphere of mistrust and suspicion in which the offended quickly leap to a wounded reclamation of their revered icons, especially in those from societies less accustomed to a freedom of speech as permissive as that in North America and Europe. Although secular market forces help erode traditional values and symbols, they are encouraging a defensive vigilance that leaves religious communities unwilling or unable to assume the posture of openness necessary for fruitful dialogue.
Hindu-Christian encounter takes place all over the globe, but it is in India where contact between Hindus and Christians is most immediate, public, and of greatest historical duration."83 Here, religion and politics nowhere display or aspire to the separation they enjoy in the West.84 The character of Hindu-Christian relations shifts with the changing national and international concerns prevailing in the times and places that give rise to encounter. It is critical, therefore, if we are to cast an eye toward the future of such relations, to remind ourselves that Hindu violence against Christians is of very recent historical provenance. It has stemmed largely from Hindu anger and litigation over the right of Christians to proselytize non-Christians in India.85 By virtue of Christianity's association with the United States and, to a lesser degree, Europe, Hindu-Christian conflict in India has invited the close scrutiny of the press both in India and elsewhere. The Indian press writes for a public informed by and sensitive to its colonial history and postcolonial struggles with that history, whereas the western media is encouraged by noble as well as base motives to cover "trouble spots," particularly those that affect western interests. Hindu nationalist organizations preaching the notion that India is historically and culturally a Hindu nation foster the conflict that attracts this attention. Those religions that did not originate in India-Christianity and Islam in particular they declare foreign transplants whose practitioners can find acceptance only by acknowledging their foreignness and thereby accepting a secondary status in the life of the nation. "Hindutva" organizations such as the Vishva Hindu Parishad convey this message in both public speech and public ritual spectacle, celebrating Christians and Muslims who identify themselves culturally and nationally as Hindus at the same time that they depict Islam and Christianity as foreign threats to Indian society and state .86 However, even when Christians explicitly identify themselves as Indian, there is often deep suspicion among Hindus of Christian duplicity. It is readily believed that Christian communities are footholds for foreign influences and also that Christians will adopt whatever disguise might suit their ultimate and governing end: conversion. The recent introduction of anti-conversion bills in state legislatures has been one expression of this suspicion. The now centuries-old Catholic movement to adopt Hindu symbols, concepts, and lifestyles and thus "Indianize" Catholicism, to take another example, has been intensely controversial, with many Hindus regarding "Catholic" ashrams as fraudulent conduits for foreign capital expended for conversion.87
It is important to point out that, for all its sites of conflict, India has also offered numerous models for cooperation and mutual appreciation between Hindus and Christians. No one concerned about the state of relations between these two increasingly global communities should forget the rich store of historical and contemporary resources for imagining peaceful and productive engagement between them. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, Hindus and Christians in South India had developed indigenous strategies and patterns for living together. There is ample contemporary evidence, moreover, of day-to-day cooperation and coexistence of Hindus and Christians. Even in ritual settings, there can be much room for rapprochement. The most successful mutual religious undertakings seem to be those that spontaneously and organically evolve at the grassroots level, whereas contrived institutional settings such as Catholic ashrams often incite Hindu resentment.88 Even assertions of difference among Hindus and Christians in South India employ the common idioms and grammars of divinity that underscore their shared religious sensibilities and make for a kind of civil theology that publicly stages and debates religious claims.89 Living together certainly does not mean living without conflict or competition. An intricate web of relationships and attitudes binds Hindus and Christians in the state of Kerala but also pits one community against the other.90 In short, current circumstances in India give no clear signal about the future of Hindu-Christian relations, offering reason for optimism as well as anxiety.
In the late 1980’s, just as the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party was beginning to experience considerable electoral success and Christianity began to assume a prominent place in Hindu nationalist rhetoric, a collection of essays edited by Harold Coward tided Hindu-Christian Dialogue was published. It remains the only work of its kind, although the Society for Hindu-Christian Studies has grown significantly in recent years and publishes a journal annually, Hindu-Christian Studies Bulletin, which continues to foster dialogue and provide a forum for exchange between Hindus and Christians. Coward's book offered an assessment of the state of Hindu-Christian dialogue then, and its predictions for the future that may be instructive to our current state. In his essay for that volume, Richard W Taylor noted a general lack of interest in dialogue and identified a growing suspicion among Hindus that dialogue was a cover for proselytization, especially since such conversations were generally initiated and framed by westerners.91 As we have seen, these concerns persist. In a companion essay, Klaus Klostermaier also anticipated the continued rise of Hindu nationalism.92 He issued a call for the greater involvement of scholars of religion who could, he imagined, further Hindu-Christian understanding by helping to imagine new articulations of dialogic possibilities.93
On the role of scholars in these efforts, Hindu-Christian studies is all too familiar with the double-edged sword the academic study of religion can wield. The field can indeed promote mutual understanding by clarifying the history and nature of the traditions in question, especially by describing the great internal diversity that characterizes both Hinduism and Christianity. The canons of the discipline, however, often put scholars at odds with practitioners, Hindu and Christian alike, because many academics aim to render the historical and metaphysical claims of religious faith both as their partisans experience them and as mythologized reflections of merely human desires. It is exactly this "both" that triggers the offended sentiment. Although some might regard this "bothness" as a mark of careful and sensitive scholarship, one that attends to the norms of historiography, ethnography, and hermeneutics, it can strike the devout practitioner as a profound violation. The scholar's craft consists in carefully sketching the contours of a people's imaginings and institutions, thereby revealing, even if unintentionally, humanity in all its depravity and beauty, all its high-mindedness and pettiness, all its elegance and folly. No social institution captures these poles of a people's moral range more than religion; none, however, is more jealously guarded by those who inhabit it. As a consequence, the scrutiny of religious agents and experiences by the academic study of religion has routinely invited misunderstanding and offense.
Scholarship must find a new voice with which to speak about religion, forge a language and set of interpretive practices that remain faithful to the demands of rigorous analysis and historical accuracy by refusing to capitulate to religious sentiment as the ultimate jury for what may be said about it.
Our world simply cannot afford the disdain or disregard for religious belief and identity that marginalizes some religious subjectivities from the production of knowledge about them or the feverish resentment and violence such a marginalization invites.
1. Sharma, "Of Hindu, Hindustân, Hinduism and Hindutva."
2. I take the term from Lorenzen, "Who Invented Hinduism," 630
3. Heinrich von Stietencron, "Hinduism: On the Proper Use of a Deceptive
Term," in Hinduism Reconsidered, South Asian Studies 24, ed. Günther-Dietz Sontheimer and Hermann Kulke (New Delhi: Manohar, 1997), 36.
4. Frykenberg, "The Emergence of Modern 'Hinduism,'" 8z.
5. Frits Staal, Ritual and Mantras: Rules without Meaning (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1996), 397.
6. E.g., Heinrich von Stietencron, "Religious Configurations in Pre-Muslim India and the Modern Concept of Hinduism," in Representing Hinduism: The Construction of Religious Traditions and National Identity, ed. Vasudha Dalmia and Heinrich von Stietencron (New Delhi: Sage Publications, 1995) 73-77.
7. On various ways the colonial state mined and catalogued Indian practices, see Cohn, Colonialism and Its Forms of Knowledge, 57-75; Bayly, "Knowing the Country"; Rosane Rocher, "British Orientalism in the Eighteenth Century: The Dialects of Knowledge and Government," in Orientalism and the Postcolonyal Predicament: Perspectives on South Asia, South Asia Seminar Series, ed. Carol A. Breckenridge and Peter van der Veer (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993), 220-25.
8. See the recent formulations of this argument in, for example, Mary SearleChatterjee, "'World Religions' and `Ethnic Groups': Do These Paradigms Lend Themselves to the Cause of Hindu Nationalism?," Ethnic and Racial Studies 23/3 (May 2000): 497-515, and John Zavos, "Defending Hindu Tradition: Sanatana Dharma as a Symbol of Orthodoxy in Colonial India," Religion 31 (2001): 109-23. See also Brian K. Smith's rejoinder that in fact it is a diffuse, not a unified, tradition that Hindu nationalists invoke, "Questioning Authority: Constructions and Deconstructions of Hinduism," International Journal of Hindu Studies 2, 3 (Dec. 1998): 313-39
9. Romila Thapar, "Syndicated Hinduism," in Hinduism Reconsidered, South Asian Studies XXIV, ed. Günther-Dietz Sontheimer and Hermann Kulke (New Delhi: Manohar, 1997) 54-81.
10. Timothy Fitzgerald, The Ideology of Religious Studies (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 10-15 and chapter 7, "Hinduism," 134-55.
11. Lorenzen, "Who Invented Hinduism?," 630-59; Will Sweetman, "Unity and Plurality: Hinduism Ind the Religions of India in Early European Scholarship," Religion 31 (2001): 209-24.
12. Doniger, "Hinduism by Any Other Name," 41
13. Doniger, "Hinduism by Any Other Name," 36.
14. Gabriella Eichinger Ferro-Luzzi, "The Polythetic-Prototype Approach to Hinduism," in Hinduism Reconsidered, ed. Sontheimer and Kulke, 294-304.
15. Robert Frykenberg, citing Peter Schmitlhenwer "Constructions of Hinduism at the Nexus of History and Religion," Journal of Interdisciplinary History 23/3 (Winter 1993): 535, note II.
16. Frykenberg, "Constructions of Hinduism," 534.
17. Zavos, "Defending Hindu Tradition."
18. This claim corresponds roughly to Thomas Trautmann's own view, Aryans and British India, 67-68.
19. Paul Brass, quoted in Lorenzen, "Who Invented Hinduism," 646.
20. Rocher, "British Orientalism in the Eighteenth Century," 243.
21. As Heinrich von Stietencron comes very close to alleging, "Religious Configurations in Pre-Muslim India," 73.
22. See Eugene F. Irschick, Dialogue and History: Constructing South India, i7951895 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994).
23. Inden, Imagining India, 2.
24. Inden, Imagining India, 2.
25. Inden, Imagining India, e.g., 17-18.
26. Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), 18.
27. E.g. King, Orientalism and Religion, 68-70, Russell T. McCutcheon, Manufacturing Religion: The Discourse on Sui Generis Religion and the Politics of Nostalgia (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), and Timothy Fitzgerald, whose polemical diatribe against the field of comparative religious studies is informed only by entirely outdated and outmoded scholarship, Ideology of Religious Studies, 33-53.
28. S. N. Balagangadhara, "The Heathen in his Blindness.. .":Asia, the West and the Dynamic of Religion, Studies in the History of Religions LXIV (Leiden, the Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1994) 394.
29. Peter Harrison, "Religion" and the Religions in the English Enlightenment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 199o), the direct claim is made on,; also,
Wilfred Cantwell Smith, The Meaning and End of Religion (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1978), 37-41.
30. Augustine, De Vera Religion. In Augustine: Earlier Writings, Library of Christian Classics, Ichthus Edition, trans. John H. S. Burleigh (Philadelphia: Westminster
Press, 1953), 218-83, 1.1.
31. Augustine, De Vera Religione 5.8.
32. Augustine, De Vera Religion 5-9
33. On this issue, I am expressing some difference of opinion from Harrison, who argues that the term "religion" emerged as a generic category including distinct, identifiable systems, only after the Middle Ages, especially among reformers, Christian Platonists, and Renaissance thinkers. See 'Religion' and the Religions, esp. 5-18. W C. Smith also claimed that De Vera Religion did not portray systems of "observances or beliefs," a reading I clearly do not accept, The Meaning and End of Religion, 29.
34. W. C. Smith believed the terms "religion" and "religious" were seldom used in the Middle Ages except as designating monastic offices, but Peter Biller has found the term regularly employed in senses rather similar to our contemporary usage. Smith, The Meaning and End of Religion, 31-32; Peter Biller, "Words and the Medieval Notion of 'Religion,' "Journal of Ecclesiastical History 36/3 (July 1985): 351-69.
35. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T MacNeill, transl. Ford Lewis Battles, Library of Christian Classics 20 (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 1.3-1
36. Harrison, 'Religion' and the Religions, 8, 19-28. See Calvin, Institutes 1.6-7.
37. See also Biller, "Words and the Medieval Notion of 'Religion."'
38. King, Orientalism and Religion, 36-38.
39. Will Sweetman, "'Hinduism' and the History of 'Religion': Protestant Presuppositions in the Critique of the Concept of Hinduism," Method and Theory in the
Study of Religion 15/4 (2003): 341
40. J. Samuel Preus, Explaining Religion: Criticism and Theory from Bodin to Freud (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1987).
41. The annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion has over eight thousand scholars of religion in attendance annually. These themes were culled from the program book of the Nov. 17-20, 2001 meeting held in Denver, Colorado.
42. Walter H. Capps, Religious Studies: The Making of a Discipline (Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 1995.
43. King, Orientalism and Religion, 35-61; Balagangadhara, The Heathen in His Blindness, e.g., 384-45.
44. Sweetman, "Unity and Plurality," 218-19.
45. Fitzgerald, The Ideology of Religious Studies, 4.
46. Fitzgerald, as in The Ideology of Religious Studies, 19-24
47. Fitzgerald, The Ideology of Religious Studies, 7.
48. For a fuller critique of Fitzgerald's book, see the series of reviews published together in Religious Studies Review 27/4 (Apr. 2001). They include Benson Saler, "Some Reflections on Fitzgerald's Thesis," 103-5; Gustavo Benavides, "Religious Studies Between Science and Ideology," 105-8; and Frank Korom, "(H)ideology: The Hidden Agenda of Religious Studies," ,o8-,o. Fitzgerald's reply follows these as "A Response to Saler, Benavides, and Korom," 110-15.
49. Saler, "Some Reflections," 104.
50. Saler, "Some Reflections," 103-4.
51. Benavides, "Religious Studies."
52. Korom, "(H)ideology."
53. Fitzgerald, The Ideology of Religious Studies, 33-34.
54. Fitzgerald, The Ideology of Religious Studies, 52.
55. W C. Smith, The Meaning and End of Religion, 50.
56. The data is incompletely reported, but an indication of the increasingly interdisciplinary approaches of many departments of religious studies may be found in the preliminary report of the American Academy of Religion's 2001 survey of religion and theology programs. "Religion and Theology Programs Census: 'The Study of Religion Counts,'" Religious Studies News 16/4 (Fall 2001): i-iii.
57. McCutcheon, Manufacturing Religion, 26.
58. In the same vein, George Alfred James has identified three characteristics of this trend in academic thought about religion-that its practices are ahistorical, atheoretical, and antireductive, Interpreting Religion: The Phenomenological Approaches of Pierre Daniel de la aussaye, W. Brede Kristensen, and Gerardus van der Leeuw (Washington, DC: Catho is University of America Press, 1995) 47-50.
59. Russell T McCutcheon, Critics Not Caretakers: Redescribing the Public Study of Religion (Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Press, 2001), 5.
6o. McCutcheon, Critics Not Caretakers, xi.
61. E.g., McCutcheon, Critics Not Caretakers, 138-89.
62. McCutcheon, Critics Not Caretakers, xiv, 17.
63. McCutcheon, Critics Not Caretakers, 81.
64. McCutcheon, Critics Not Caretakers, 8o.
65. E.g., "Protest Letters for Kali's Child." Sword of Truth, June 3, 2001, http://www.swordoftruth.com/swordoftruth/news/betweenthelines/Kalischildletters.html. See also the exchange between Michael Witzel and David Frawley in the English, language Indian daily The Hindu, 5 Mar., 25 June, 16 July, 6 Aug., 13 Aug., and 2o Aug., 2002, available online at http://www.hinduonnet.com.
66. Brian K. Smith, "Re-envisioning Hinduism."
67. Thomas Babbington Macauley, "Mr. Lord Macaulay's Great Minute," in W.F.B. Laurie, Sketches of Some Distinguished Anglo-Indians (London: W. H. Allen, 1888; repr. New Delhi: Asian Educational Services, 1999), 174.
68. "Divali: Festival of Lights. Prayer for Hindus," (n.p.: International Mission Board, Southern Baptist Convention, 1999).
70. See Brian K. Pennington, "Renaissance or Retrenchment? Hindu-Christian Dialogue at a Crossroads," Indian Journal of Theology 42/1 (2000): 74-87.
71. Robert Eric Frykenberg, "The Construction of Hinduism as a `Public' Religion: Looking Again at the Religious Roots of Company Raj in South India," in Religion and Public Culture: Encounters and Identities in Modern South India, ed. Keith E. Yandell and John J. Paul (Richmond: Curzon Press, 2000), 3-4.
72. Sumit Sarkar, "Hindutva and the Question of Conversions," in The Concerned Indian's Guide to Communalism, ed. K. N. Panikkar (New Delhi: Viking, 1999), 77.
73. Sarkar, "Hindutva and Conversions," 72-75.
74. Indian Bibliographic Centre (Research Wing), Christianity and Conversion in India (Varanasi: Rishi Publications, 1999).
75. Indian Bibliographic Centre, Christianity and Conversion, 54-59
76. Indian Bibliographic Centre, Christianity and Conversion, 95.
77. A need that one theologian, John Brockington, recognizes, Hinduism and Christianity (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992), ix-x. See also Brian K. Pennington,
"Reverend William Ward," 5-6.
78. See John Stratton Hawley, "Who Speaks for Hinduism-And Who Against?" Journal of the American Academy of Religion 68/4 (Dec. 2000): 711-20.
79. Jeffrey J. Kripal, Kali's Child: The Mystical and the Erotic in the Life and Teachings of Ramakrishna (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995); the response by Swami Tyagananda of the Ramakrishna Mission, is "Kali's Child Revisited or Didn't Anyone Check the Documentation?" Evam: Forum on Indian Representations 1/1-2 (2002): 173-90, to which Kripal has responded in turn in the same volume, "Textuality, Sexuality, and the Future of the Past: A Response to Swami Tyagananda," 191205.
8o. Hawley, "Who Speaks for Hinduism," 714-15.
81. From the Jesus Christ Superstore, http://www.Jesuschristsuperstore.net.
82. Rashmi Luthra, "The Formation of Interpretive Communities in the Hindu Diaspora," in Religion and Popular Culture: Studies on the Interaction of Worldviews, ed. David A. Stout and Judith M. Buddenbaum (Ames: Iowa State University Press, 2001), 125-39.
83. For a summary of some discrete sites of this contact between Hindus and Christians, see Sita Ram Goel, History of Hindu-Christian Encounters (New Delhi: Voice of India, 1989).
84. E.g., William S. Sax, "Conquering the Quarters: Religion and Politics in Hinduism," International Journal of Hindu Studies 4/1 (April, 2000): 39-6ô.
85. On the legal status of the right to convert, see Ronald Neufeldt, "Conversion and the Courts," Hindu-Christian Studies Bulletin 13 (2000): 12-18.
86. See, e.g., Lise McKean, Divine Enterprise: Gurus and the Hindu Nationalist.
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