Universalising Inclusivism—and Its Limits: Bhaktivinod and the Experiential Turn

In: Journal of South Asian Intellectual History
Lucian Wong University of Oxford

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This article argues that colonial Hindu attempts to universalise strategies of ‘inclusivism’ to negotiate religious diversity are, at times, marked by tensions and ambiguities that are indicative of the forceful persistence of restrictive concerns associated with pre-colonial Hindu inclusivist modalities. It does so by way of an examination of the writings of Kedarnath Datta Bhaktivinod (1838–1914), a prominent Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava theologian and leader in late nineteenth century Bengal. The article demonstrates that, while Bhaktivinod’s early model of Vaiṣṇava inclusivism may instantiate the pervasive universalising impulse of modern Hindu discourse, close reading of his corpus reveals a significant transition in his strategy for dealing with diversity that is undergirded by an implicit shift in his experience-oriented epistemology. In sum, this transition problematises the notion that his inclusivist practice can be taken as a definitive index of rupture from pre-colonial Gauḍīya theology.

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