Religion and Social Reform in Colonial India: The Anti-caste Movement, Feminism, and the Critique of Hinduism”

Friday, January 6, 2017: 11:10 AM
Governor's Square 15 (Sheraton Denver Downtown)
Jana Tschurenev, Göttingen University
Jana Tschurenev will examine the relationship between religious identity and socio-political engagement in colonial India. Over the course of the nineteenth century, “Hinduism“ underwent a profound reconstitution, seeking to position itself internationally as a “world religion“patterned on the model of Protestant Christianity At the same time, several counter-movements arose, which, influenced by liberal political ideas, rejected the Brahmanical, or high-caste, conceptions of social order commonly referred to as varnashrama dharma. Critics of existing caste and gender hierarchies demanded the opening up of education – in both the Sanskrit canon and in modern subjects – to women, “lower caste“ Shudras, and “untouchables.“ In the process, as the paper will show, the engagement with religious ideas and identities took on central importance. Whereas Jotirao Phule, a prominent figure in the anti-caste movement, rejected “Brahmanism“ and proposed a strategic position on the issue of religious identity, Pandita Ramabai, an internationally renowned activist for educational and social reform, converted to Christianity but without abandoning her identity as an “Indian“ grounded in high-caste Sanskrit culture. The paper will examine these complex positioning strategies and the socio-political conflicts in which they were employed. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, the situation became more heated: the rejection of conservative Hindu norms was taken as a form of treason to the nation that was taking shape. Such accusations of collaboration with the imperial project still frame the confrontation of Hindu nationalism and oppositional, particularly Dalit and feminist movements, until today.
<< Previous Presentation | Next Presentation