What do you do when your narrative of religious modernity includes only one of two contemporary and highly influential religious innovators? Try to tell a different story! Looking at the lives of Sahajanand Swami in Gujarat and Rammohun Roy in Bengal, what might we say about their accomplishments if we deferred applying the category of reform? Could we bring them together in one interpretive frame? If so, what new critical possibilities might arise? These are some questions I hope to pose in this lecture.
Brian Hatcher’s research focuses on the transformation of Hinduism in colonial and contemporary South Asia, with a special interest in early colonial Bengal. His publications explore issues of religious reform, vernacular modernity, and the colonial world of Sanskrit. An expert on the life and work of Ishvarchandra Vidyasagar, he is also known for his interpretations of “bourgeois Hinduism,” Hindu eclecticism, and the “empire of reform.” His most recent book, Hinduism Before Reform (Harvard University Press, 2020), offers the first in-depth comparison of the early histories of the Swaminanarayan Sampraday and the Brahmo Samaj, situating their origins in a distinctive early colonial moment as a way to bypass familiar models of modern Hindu reform.