devāstaṃ parāduryo’nyatrātmano devānveda. May the gods abandon him who thinks the gods dwell anywhere other than in the self.
(Bṛhadāranyaka Upaniṣad 2.4.6)
garbhe chilām joge chilām. When I was in the womb, I was in mystical union.
(Ramakrishna Paramahamsa in Kathāmṛta 1.173)
The anthropologist and social scientist Stanley Kurtz has noted that Hindu society now stands “second to none as a generative locus of scholarship in the field of psychological anthropology” (Kurtz 1992:30). The same could be said about Hinduism’s role in the historical genesis, development, and present conceptual status of the comparative study of religion. From the time of the Sanskritist and comparativist Max Müller and his Sacred Books of the East project (1875), which in some sense simultaneously founded the discipline and defined its Asian focus, through the early researches of Mircea Eliade on Indian yoga, whose Tantric structures secretly informed much of his later pioneering work in the discipline (Kripal 1999), down to the oeuvres of any number of accomplished contemporary historians of religions, no complex of religious traditions has generated so much comparative scholarship as what is now called “Hinduism.”
Certainly this Hindocentric tendency can be partly explained as a function of colonialism and the long shadows it has cast over both modern Indian and Western constructions of Hinduism and the Western enterprise of making sense of religion, two civilizational projects which have deeply informed one another within these same colonial and now postcolonial spaces. It also, no doubt, has something to do with the general orientalist structure that came to define India as the archetypal religious land of wonder and wisdom against the West’s more prosaic and pragmatic worldview. Developed from ancient tropes dating as far back as Alexander’s campaign into northwestern India (327-325 BCE) and early Christian Gnosticism (c. 200 CE) (Halbfass 1988:2-23)—contrary to what is often implied, “orientalism” did not originate with European colonialism—the structure was revitalized in the modern period by European and American