Skip to main content

30% Off New Releases: Explore the List

Harvard University Press - home
Hinduism Before Reform

Hinduism Before Reform

Brian A. Hatcher

ISBN 9780674988224

Publication date: 03/10/2020

A bold retelling of the origins of contemporary Hinduism, and an argument against the long-established notion of religious reform.

By the early eighteenth century, the Mughal Empire was in decline, and the East India Company was making inroads into the subcontinent. A century later Christian missionaries, Hindu teachers, Muslim saints, and Sikh rebels formed the colorful religious fabric of colonial India. Focusing on two early nineteenth-century Hindu communities, the Brahmo Samaj and the Swaminarayan Sampraday, and their charismatic figureheads—the “cosmopolitan” Rammohun Roy and the “parochial” Swami Narayan—Brian Hatcher explores how urban and rural people thought about faith, ritual, and gods. Along the way he sketches a radical new view of the origins of contemporary Hinduism and overturns the idea of religious reform.

Hinduism Before Reform challenges the rigid structure of revelation-schism­-reform-sect prevalent in much history of religion. Reform, in particular, plays an important role in how we think about influential Hindu movements and religious history at large. Through the lens of reform, one doctrine is inevitably backward-looking while another represents modernity. From this comparison flows a host of simplistic conclusions. Instead of presuming a clear dichotomy between backward and modern, Hatcher is interested in how religious authority is acquired and projected.

Hinduism Before Reform asks how religious history would look if we eschewed the obfuscating binary of progress and tradition. There is another way to conceptualize the origins and significance of these two Hindu movements, one that does not trap them within the teleology of a predetermined modernity.


  • Required reading not only for scholars of Hindu studies and South Asian religions but also for any student or scholar engaged in reflection on the concepts of reform, publics, modernity, and coloniality. The book is also highly recommended for anyone invested in interrogating the persistent colonial legacy of the concepts and categories used in the study of religion…Hatcher shows us a different way of thinking not only about colonial India, but also about what it means to read and understand texts in their respective contexts.

    —Bennett Comerford, Reading Religion


  • Brian A. Hatcher’s previous books include Bourgeois Hinduism and Vidyasagar: The Life and After-life of an Eminent Indian. He is the Packard Chair of Theology at Tufts University.

Book Details

  • 336 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press