Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Imperial Encounters: Religion and Modernity in India and Britain

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Imperial Encounters: Religion and Modernity in India and Britain

Article excerpt

PETER VAN DER VEER. Imperial Encounters: Religion and Modernity in India and Britain. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press 2001. Pp. x + 205, bibliography, index. $17.95 (paper).

The big thesis driving van der Veer's little book is very appealing. The encounters between the imperial power (Britain) and the colonized people (India) are best viewed as utterly interactive. It is not the case that the imperial power simply dictates to the colonized what to be and what to become, or that the force of cultural influence moves straight from the imperial power to the colonized. We are already aware, for instance, that the colonized people take only what they will from the intruder and that they make out of what they take something quite different and unexpected, much to the consternation of the conqueror. We also know that the conquering people take from the colonized what they will and remake even that in their own image. The book asks us to notice several steps beyond these realizations, however. The conqueror and the conquered become locked in a relationship in which both sides change as a consequence of the other. Both become something else, different from each other, under the impact of their profound mutual interdependence, and both start to look more and more alike in ways that surpass how they were previously.

The book is really a collection of essays, almost a miscellany, about several nineteenth and twentieth-century themes pertinent to that grand vision of interactive history. The themes are well-handled in themselves: spiritualism, muscular Christianity and Hindu honor, Max Müller and orientalist scholarship, and the question of Aryan origins, prefaced by a review of religion and morality in the two regions. The Church of England naturally figures in most of the chapters, in Britain as well as India, and questions of race and gender are prominent. …

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