Imagined Hinduism: British Protestant Missionary Constructions of Hinduism, 1793-1900

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Imagined Hinduism: British Protestant Missionary Constructions of Hinduism, 1793-1900. By Geoffrey A. Oddie. New Delhi: SAGE Publications, 2006. Pp. 375. Rs 780 / £45 / $79.95; paperback Rs 450 / £14.99 / $36.95.

There is no end in sight to academic discussions of the validity (if valid at all) and meaning of "Hinduism." Christian academics confused by the seeming cacophony emanating from Indological studies now have at hand a brilliant introduction to the debate based on the history of British Protestant missionary discussions of Hinduism.

Noted mission historian Geoffrey Oddie (Honorary Research Associate, Department of History, University of Sydney, Australia) does not propose a solution for this conundrum; rather, he analyzes one particular aspect of the root of the problem. Precursors to the British Protestant missionary analysts of Hinduism are introduced and discussed in some depth; these are European travelers, Roman Catholic missionaries (de Nobili, Dubois, etc.), South Indian Protestant missionaries (Ziegenbalg in particular), British Protestant friends of missions (Charles Grant, Claudius Buchanan, and Bishop Heber), and the Orientalists.

By the time William Carey and William Ward began wrestling with Hindu realities, a consensus of opinion had developed: "the Orientalists thought of Hinduism as an all-India unified phenomenon, based on Sanskrit and still controlled, policed and enforced by brahmans" (p. 100). Oddie sought information on the training in Britain of nineteenth-century missionaries; most noteworthy was a focus on language, which led to dependence after arrival in India on (usually) Brahman informants (language teachers), who encouraged the self-aggrandizing view of Brahmanic influence on Hinduism.

One of Oddie's central insights is how missionary students of Hinduism were in a unique position, forerunners of later anthropologists, as many of them faced, described, and analyzed the practical religion of the people of India. …


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