Between 1789 and 1832, Great Britain created a comprehensive portrait of Hinduism that exhibited it as a coherent system of beliefs and practices operating by means of clear, regular, and often sinister principles. Hindus responded in print beginning in the second decade of the 19th century. This important period of rapidly expanding inter-religious and intercultural encounter is set in the midst of a century of radical transformation in the manner in which Britain conceived and conducted colonialism. Post-colonial theory and the work of Subaltern studies have tended to render the role of religion in these encounters as a mask for other motives. In contrast, a history of religions approach to these critical years of Britain’s attempts to comprehend Indian religious traditions presents a different picture. Focusing on religion highlights Hindu contributions to the modern idea of Hinduism and displays a continuity with prior Hindu identities that is erased by the idea that Britain “invented” Hinduism.
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