Social Science Research Council Research AMP Mediawell

Introduction: Roundtable on Religion as Polity Formation: Revisiting Modern Religion in Imperial India

Bose, Neilesh
Journal of the American Academy of Religion

BRINGING together insights from socio-legal studies, histories of Christianity, secularism studies, and political economy, this roundtable explores recent approaches to religion in colonial India. Highlighting three areas of research in the history of colonial India, these sites of engagement include the political economy of the Swaminarayan community, Christianity’s impacts on Dalits, particularly in Bengal, and law and secularism in the Panjab. Rather than focus on only one linguistic-regional formation within India, this roundtable aims to explore the most current discussions in religion and history across various sites of dynamism at multiple points in time and space within the broader colonial South Asian context.1 These sites show a broader transformation at play in the space of religion in colonial India than mere reaction to colonial rule and are relevant to understanding contexts where imperialism, modernity, and mimesis appear as central concerns for the study of religion. Moving beyond considerations of religion only via discourses of colonial power (Asad 1993, 2003), this roundtable focuses on how religion in colonial India—for a variety of historical actors—drew on a range of inspirations, sources, and political energies. It is therefore a focus on those sites of social and spiritual acts that mark historical departures for modern political life, such as the formation of collective life and self-formation within emergent colonial state forms.