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Peter GottschalkReligion, Science, and Empire: Classifying Hinduism and Islam in British India

Oxford University Press, 2012

by Kristian Petersen on April 13, 2015

Peter Gottschalk

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When did religion begin in South Asia? Many would argue that it was not until the colonial encounter that South Asians began to understand themselves as religious. In Religion, Science, and Empire: Classifying Hinduism and Islam in British India (Oxford University Press, 2012), Peter Gottschalk, Professor of Religion at Wesleyan University, outlines the contingent and mutual coalescence of science and religion as they were cultivated within the structures of empire. He demonstrates how the categories of Hindu and Muslim were constructed and applied to the residents of the Chainpur nexus of villages by the British despite the fact that these identities were not always how South Asians described themselves. Throughout this study we are made aware of the consequences of comparison and classification in the study of religion. Gottschalk engages Jonathan Z. Smith’s modes of comparison demonstrating that seemingly neutral categories serve ideological purposes and forms of knowledge are not arbitrary in order. Here, we observe this work through imperial forms of knowledge production in South Asia, including the roles of cartographers, statisticians, artists, ethnographers, and photographers. In the end we witness the social consequences of British scientism and its effects on the construction of the category of religion in South Asia. In our conversation we discuss mapmaking, travel writing, Christian theology, the authority of positioning, the census, folklore studies, ethnographies, royal societies, museums, indigenous identifications, and theories for the study of religion.


Tremper Longman IIIPsalms: An Introduction and Commentary

April 6, 2015

The Psalms have given voice to the prayers and petitions of generations of Jews and Christians alike. They represent the deepest longings of kings and desperate men, the righteous and the penitent, all “seeking the face of God” (27:8 and 105:4). But they often seem formidable poetically, as finely wrought articulations expressions of both grief […]

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Paula KaneSister Thorn and Catholic Mysticism in Modern America

March 31, 2015

Sister Thorn and Catholic Mysticism in Modern America (UNC Press, 2013) is a detailed journey into the life of Margaret Reilly, an American Irish-Catholic from New York who entered the Convent of the Good Shepherd in 1921, taking the name Sister Crown of Thorns. During the 1920s and 1930s, Sister Thorn became known as a stigmatic […]

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Emily AndersonChristianity and Imperialism in Modern Japan: Empire for God

March 27, 2015

When one thinks of the connection of religion and imperialism in Japan, one automatically thinks first of Shintō and second of Buddhism. Christianity does not usually figure into that story. However, Emily Anderson, in her new book Christianity and Imperialism in Modern Japan: Empire for God (Bloomsbury, 2014), shows how and why it must be […]

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Emily Alice KatzBringing Zion Home: Israel in American Jewish Culture, 1948-1967

March 26, 2015

World War Two and the establishment of the State of Israel significantly altered American Jewish attitudes toward Zionism. American Jews supported Israel during times of conflict, like the 1948 war. However, it was not until 1967 that Israel rose to the top of the American Jewish political agenda. Emily Alice Katz, in her new book, […]

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Raymond FarrinStructure and Qur’anic Interpretation: A Study of Symmetry and Coherence in Islam’s Holy Text

March 23, 2015

Interest in the structure of the Qur’an has its beginnings in the ninth century CE with Muslim scholars. Since that time, Muslim and Western scholars have debated the coherence of the Qur’an’s structure. Raymond Farrin, professor of Arabic at the American University of Kuwait, opens his newest book, Structure and Qur’anic Interpretation: A Study of Symmetry and […]

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Tanya StorchThe History of Chinese Buddhist Bibliography: Censorship and Transformation of the Tripitaka

March 18, 2015

Tanya Storch’s recent book, The History of Chinese Buddhist Bibliography: Censorship and Transformation of the Tripitaka (Cambria, 2014), focuses on the development of Chinese Buddhist catalogs from their first appearance in the third century to the eighth century, when printed editions of the canon took over the catalog’s role of identifying and delimiting the Chinese […]

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Mark Dennis and Darren Middleton, eds.Approaching Silence: New Perspectives on Shusaku Endo’s Classic Novel

March 15, 2015

What does it mean to be a martyr? What does it mean to be an apostate? How should we understand people who choose one or the other? These are the questions asked by Shusaku Endo in his novel Silence, in which he tells the story of Japanese Catholics and foreign missionaries during Japan’s “Christian Century” […]

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Rick StrassmanDMT and the Soul of Prophecy: A New Science of Spiritual Revelation in the Hebrew Bible

March 15, 2015

DMT and the Soul of Prophecy: A New Science of Spiritual Revelation in the Hebrew Bible (Park Street Press, 2014) asks a number of provocative questions about drugs, consciousness, prophecy, and the Hebrew Bible—with attention to how a particular chemical can help us understand mystical experience. DMT (dimethyltryptamine) is a molecule endogenous to several mammals including […]

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Kelly James ClarkReligion and the Sciences of Origins

March 10, 2015

Kelly James Clark acknowledges that for many people in the contemporary West it can seem as though scientists, from Darwin and Dawkins, have succeeded in disproving religion: God is simply not a convincing scientific hypothesis. Written in a readable and fast paced style, Religion and the Sciences of Origins (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014) turns this idea on its […]

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