While there is no common accord among scholars on the propriety of the use of ‘Hinduism’ as a religion, there is a wider acceptance of the fact that Hinduism gained currency in the writings of British administrator-scholars in the first half of the 19th century. In 1816, the noted Orientalist scholar H.H. Wilson had commented that “Hindu religion has been hitherto employed in a collective sense” to designate ‘a faith and worship of almost endlessly diversified description’. Taking this relatively recent use of Hinduism in administrative and scholarly writings as a point of entry, my talk will query the perceptions and conceptualization of ‘modern’ Hinduism. When and how did Hinduism become modern and in what sense? Is modern tied to ‘scientific’? What are the productive possibilities and grave dangers in calling Hinduism modern? In other words, does it help us understand and analyse the historical processes and their socio-cultural (and political) ramifications that the study of religions is meant to entail?
Ishita Banerjee-Dube is associate professor at the Colegio de México’s Center for Asian and African Studies in Mexico City. She has written Divine Affairs: Religion, Pilgrimage, and the State in Colonial and Postcolonial India (2001); Emergent Histories (Anthem Press, forthcoming); Fronteras del Hinduismo (El Colegio de México, forthcoming); and edited Caste in History (Oxford University Press, 2010). Her articles have appeared in Subaltern Studies, Studies in History, and Estudios de Asia y Africa.