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

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Drawing on a large body of previously untapped literature, including documents from the Church Missionary Society and Bengali newspapers, Brian Pennington offers a 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-workshop, sati, tolerance, and conversion. Pennington retells the story of Christians' and Hindus' reception of each other in the early nineteenth century in 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."
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"In redressing an overemphasis upon Western colonial influences, Pennington's book is an important corrective." —Journal of Religion

"In redressing an overemphasis upon Western colonial influences, Penningtons book is an important corrective." —Journal of Religion

"The flourishing of new knowledge of India's past by British and European scholars and administrators, the emergence of a post-theological notion of religion based on an comparative paradigm of universal religiousness in the contexts of cultural specificity, an increasingly insistent Protestant mission movement, a secular utilitarian notion of civilization, and a new discourse of Hindu among Indians in India were taking place simultaneously in the early nineteenth century. Brian Pennington has investigated each of these threads and their interwoven complexity and located them within the matrix of the post-colonial academic study of religion. A worthy and worthwhile contribution to understanding a misunderstood past.—Paul B. Courtright, Professor of South Asian Religions, Emory University

"Pennington has written an important book that redirects attention to historical agents that mainstream postcolonial scholarship has largely either oversimplified or passed over. He helps to advance a new wave of scholarship that rejects the essentialism of stereotypical, unitary visions not only of 'the East' but also of 'the West.'"—Steven S. Maughan, Albertson College

"I read this study of cultural encounters between early-19th-century Hindus and British Christians with a sense of profound relief. The work complicates and problematises the simplifications that much of postcolonial studies operate with. By producing a richly textured account of religious debates and evangelical traditions in Britain, it not only provides a historical context for missionary lives, it also teases apart the multiple and contradictory strands within evangelicalism, normally taken to be a seamless monolith. Changes within modern Hinduism, similarly, are shown to be authentically internal developments that accommodate, but are not dictated by, the influence of new cultural encounters. Pennington deftly combines social and doctrinal themes, and his reading of Bengali, colonial, and missionary print cultures is stimulating. This is a book of many histories, all of which are complex and unexpected."—Tanika Sarkar, Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University

"Was Hinduism Invented? is a timely and cogent reconsideration of Hinduism as a word, a concept and, refreshingly, a reality that became apparent in sharp focus in 19th-century British India. Penningtons command of primary sources combines with alertness to current issues in the study of religion to demonstrate why Hinduism, properly understood, sheds new light on how and on what terms India and the West discovered one another, why Hindus and Christians relate as they do today, and how religions are best conceived and studied."—Francis X. Clooney, SJ, author of Divine Mother, Blessed Mother: Hindu Goddesses and the Virgin Mary

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195326000
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 260
  • Product dimensions: 9.20 (w) x 6.10 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

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

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Table of Contents

1 Introduction 3
2 The other without and the other within 23
3 "Scarcely less bloody than lascivious" 59
4 Polymorphic nature, polytheistic culture, and the orientalist imaginaire 101
5 Constructing colonial dharma in Calcutta 139
6 Colonial legacies : some concluding thoughts 167
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