Orientalism and the Modern Myth of "Hinduism"

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Abstract

Is there really a single ancient religion designated by the catch-all term 'Hinduism' or is the term merely a fairly recent social construction of Western origin? This paper examines the role played by Orientalist scholars in the construction of Western notions of Indian religion by an examination of the origins of the concept of 'Hinduism'. It is argued that the notion of 'Hinduism' as a single world religion is a nineteenth century construction, largely dependent upon the Christian presuppositions of the early Western Orientalists. However, exclusive emphasis upon the role of Western Orientalists constitutes a failure to acknowledge the role played by key indigenous informants (mostly from the brāhmana castes) in the construction of modern notions of 'the Hindu religion'. To ignore the indigenous dimension of the invention of 'Hinduism' is to erase the colonial subject from history and perpetuate the myth of the passive Oriental. The paper concludes with a discussion of the accuracy and continual usefulness of the term 'Hinduism'.

Orientalism and the Modern Myth of "Hinduism"

in Numen

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