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.
In opening up new ways to understand the history of pre-modern and modern India, Hatcher gives scholars in history, religious studies, and theology new material to rethink Hindu-Christian relationships…Delightful reading.
This ambitious book challenges some of our basic assumptions about the beginnings of modern Hinduism and our understandings of its present. Brian Hatcher bravely spans the Indian subcontinent, from Arabian Sea to Bay of Bengal, to compare two foundational religious movements of the early nineteenth century. Working outside the usual framework of ‘reform,’ Hatcher explores the fundamental problems and possibilities of religion in early colonial modernity.
Brian Hatcher makes us radically rethink the master tropes of the study of religion. The alternatives he proposes and his delineation of the ‘Empire of Reform’ are of immense value to any project that has not already escaped the strictures imposed by the discourses of coloniality, modernity, and globalization.
In Hinduism Before Reform, Hatcher engages with two important early colonial religious movements in India to argue that what we think of as ‘Hinduism’ is intricately involved in an ‘empire of reform’ bequeathed to us by the British Raj, the Enlightenment, Protestant missionaries, and Indian reformers. The result is at once radically plural, culturally provocative, and intellectually persuasive. Readers are in very good and very sure hands on every page of this sophisticated mind-bender.
In this major contribution to the discourse on religion and reform, Brian Hatcher spotlights two contemporaneous religious innovators in early colonial India: Rammohun Roy and Swaminarayan. The result is a splendid, nuanced reassessment of what we now call ‘modern Hinduism.’
- 336 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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