This important book explores the emergence and subsequent refinement of the idea of Hinduism as it developed among British Protestant missionaries in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The author demonstrates how the missionaries' construction of Hinduism grew out of their own roots in post-Enlightenment Europe, their Christian conception of 'religion', the colonial reality of India, and their need to 'know the enemy' in order to spread Christianity more effectively.
Drawing upon missionary writings, Geoffrey Oddie shows how the early view of Hinduism as pagan or heathen settled into the dominant paradigm of Hinduism as a unitary, brahman-controlled 'system', ridden with idolatry, ritualism, superstition and sexual licence. This 'other' was compared with evangelical Christianity, in which inward devotion counted for more than outward ritual, and where the individual was free from oppression and 'priestcraft'.
Finally, this book looks at the impact of these representations of Hinduism in India and the West. By the late nineteenth century, as the author demonstrates, the missionaries' increasing acquaintance with Hinduism not only prompted a more sympathetic approach, but a revision of the unitary model. Some even spoke of 'the many Hindu religions'. Among Hindu leaders, in contrast, the notion of being 'Hindu' and of Hinduism as one 'system' had taken hold.
Issues of topical interest discussed in this book include the nature of knowledge, notions of 'religion', concepts of 'Hinduism', the Orientalism debate, and the relationship between missionaries and empire. This fascinating and thorough work of scholarship will appeal to all those interested in South Asian history, religion and society, as well as to students and scholars of anthropology, theology, philosophy, intellectual history and political science.