Ancient to Modern (Religion, Power and Community in India)

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Item Code: IDL055
Publisher: Oxford University Press, New Delhi
Author: Ishita Banerjee-Dube & Saurabh Dube
Edition: 2009
ISBN: 019569662X
Pages: 398 (13 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.9" X 5.7”
Weight 570 gm
Book Description
From the Jacket
Religion, power, and community are major issues in twenty-first century India. Ancient to Modern analyses these intertwined issues from varied perspectives across different regions of India. It reflects on recent historiography and opens up spaces for dialogue and debate.

The essays explore different aspects of religion in the context of identity discussions of heretical and ascetic in the ancient and medieval period to everyday expressions of caste and community in the modern and contemporary era, they straddle scholarship on Hinduism as well as Christianity.

Eminent contributors combine history and anthropology, archival work and field research, and textual analysis and theoretical exegesis in essays written specifically for this volume. Through diverse approaches, each chapter probes and unsettles established understandings and accepted verities, opening up themes for critical reflection across different periods.

A substantive introducing highlights critical questions in the historical study of religion and power in pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial South Asia. Dedicated to David N. Lorenzen – a renowned scholar of cultural history and popular religion in pre-colonial India – the introduction also provides a short intellectual portrait.

This interdisciplinary volume will interested scholars, researchers, and students of Indian history, politics, sociology, anthropology, and religion.

Ishita Banerjee-Dube is professor of History, Centre for Asian and African Studies, El Colegio de Mexico.

Saurabh Dube is Professor of History, Centre for Asian and African and African Studies, El Colegio de Mexico.

The idea of a volume of essays in honour of David N. Lorenzen was hatched between the two of us – with Ishita providing the lead – around three years ago. The conspiracy was concretized over a splendid dinner with Romila Thapar at her home in New Delhi. With a tentative list of contributors in hand, when we approached David’s friends and interlocutors, colleagues and friends, the response was overwhelming. (Indeed, only one scholar found it impossible to meet the admittedly hurried deadline that we set for the authors.) A promise is one thing, while to deliver on it is another. All the contributors sent their papers within the stipulated time frame. Besides, there is a little more to the picture. Together, we have managed to cover not only the different epochs of history but the overlapping arenas of its study – religion and community, ideology and power – that have interested David over a long and distinguished career.

And so, we would like to begin by thanking the contributors to this volume: for writing their essays, responding to endless queries, ironing out minor glitches, and rarely losing their humour through the process. It has been a pleasure for both of us – together and separately – to work once a pleasure for both of us – together and separately – to work once more with the Oxford University Press team. Out students and friends provided pleasant distractions. Finally, along with the other authors of the work, we would like to acknowledge our warm gratitude to David Lorenzen for his intellectual contribution and generous friendship, delivered to some over many years and to others over several decades.

There are very few scholars of South Asia who have concerned themselves with vastly different eras in the history of the subcontinent, while addressing a clutch of common concerns. David Lorenzen has a prominent place within this limited legion. It is a matter of great pleasure, then, to present a book of essays in honour of this distinguished scholar. The reach and scope as well as the unity and influence of Lorenzen’s scholarship should be evident from the presence, in the volume, of a range of questions and subjects, centring nonetheless on be obvious, as well, from the stature of the contributors to this book, scholars studying the ancient, medieval, and modern ‘Introduction’ has three parts. First, we provide a short intellectual portrait of David Lorenzen. Next, we explore the critical categories of religion, power, and community. Finally, we consider how these themes are played out in the chapters themselves.


David Lorenzen is a remarkable scholar. Our effort here is to highlight aspects of his contributions to worlds of learning, while keeping in view his becoming modesty. It follows, too, that the statement ahead drawn on our close intellectual association and warm personal friendship with David, as colleagues at El Colegio de Mexico, over the last decade: but the terms of such closeness appears only between the lines in the brief description.

After talking his degree at Wesleyan University, Lorenzen conducted his doctoral research under the supervision of A.L. Basham – at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London and later at the Australian National University, Canberra – and then taught at Wisconsin State University during the cultural and political upheavals of the Vietnam years between 1968 and 1970. Over the last three-and-a-half decades, Lorenzen has been a faculty member of the Centre for Asian and African Studies, El Colegio de Mexico in Mexico City. He has also held visiting professorships at the University of lowa and Harvard University.

During this time, Lorenzen taught a range of courses on the history of the subcontinent (extending from the ancient to the contemporary period) and South Asian society and religions (especially Hinduism and Buddhism). He also conducted a variety of seminars concerning questions of historical and anthropological theory. In several theoretical seminars that we have participated with David at El Colegio de Mexico, the two of us have been struck by his openness toward contending ideas expressed by students and faculty, itself indicative of his truly liberal qualities as a teacher and a person. When combined with his wide-ranging interests and intellectual generosity, these qualities make David an amiable critic and an accessible scholar. Unsurprisingly, over the years there have been many, many collogues and students who have learned much and gained greatly from his genial and generous persona.

David Lorenzen’s contributions to the world of scholarship extend even farther. He has played a significant role in promoting the critical study of Hindu traditions and Indian history – in scholarship on South Asia in the English language across different continents to be sure, but equally in studies of the subcontinent in the Spanish language in Ibero-America. In addition to his research and teaching, Lorenzen has done this in distinct capacities, including as the editor of the journal Estudios de Asia y Africa and as director of the PhD programme at the Centre for Asian and African Studies. This Centre is the largest and most prestigious of its kind in Latin America that trains masters’ and doctoral degree students form many parts of the Spanish-speaking world.

As is generally acknowledged, David Lorenzen is one of the Foremost scholars of cultural history and popular religion in pre-colonial India. Based on his doctoral research, Lorenzen’s first book was a path breaking study of the Kapalikas and the Kalamukhas, two extinct Hindu sects that were also considered as having been lost to history. It is not simply that is the only major work on the subject. It is also that the book continues to be widely used, discussed, and cited three decades later. This is true also of several of Lorenzen’s other writings based upon the Sanskrit tradition, some of them included in his recent collection of essays Who Invented Hinduism, especially those on the life of Sankara and on warrior-ascetics in pre-colonial India.

From the middle of the 1970s, Lorenzen began a large project studying the Kabirpanth, a popular religious formation in north and central India with an extensive constituency among the lower castes within Hindu with an extensive constituency among the lower castes within Hindu society. This research is based upon a combination of meticulous textual study of the Hindi language and related vernacular materials and fieldwork among the Kabirpanthi ascetics. The project has resulted in several books and scholarly essays in the English and the Spanish languages, constituting a truly impressive corpus in scholarship on devotional and popular Hinduism. It warrants emphasis, too, that Lorenzen’s interests in classical and popular Hinduism have led to other through to several essays, including the remarkable, much cited, and widely taught ‘Who Invented Hinduism?

David Lorenzen’s ever-active research agenda currently concerns a significant project on the relationship between Franciscan missionaries and Hindu society, particularly in the eighteenth century. This study represents a new direction in Lorenzen’s work, while building on his earlier interests and scholarly training. Together, it critically conjoins Lorenzen’s extensive work in the Franciscan archives and long years of study of varieties of Hindi and Italian language materials with his strong background in textual interpretation and keen interest in broader theological and philosophical issues.

The project makes salient contributions to historical scholarship. While the past three decades have seen important research on eighteenth-century India, much of this work has been concerned with issues of political economy and state formation, often tending to treat questions of religion and culture as derivative upon politics and economy. Lorenzen’s project not only redresses this imbalance, but brings to light previously unused sources for important regions in north India that have themselves been little studied in writings on eighteenth-century South Asia. Equally, in the South Asian context, research on evangelical entanglements, understood broadly, has so far been rather limited, and rarely conducted in a dialogue with the newer pathways that have been initiated elsewhere. Lorenzen’s project addresses several of the important questions in the field, particularly through its focus on the important questions in the field, particularly through its focus on the relationship of Franciscan friars with beliefs and practices in the subcontinent in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Much of this is evident in Lorenzen’s recent and forthcoming publications as well as in his ongoing writing, including an intellectual biography of Marco della Tomba. Significant strands of this research and writing are crucially present, too, in his magisterial Who Invented Hinduism.

From the beginning, David Lorenzen has shown an abiding interest in theoretical issues, but expressed such concerns in distinctive ways, he has always read widely, very widely, mercifully ever escaping the strictures and limitations of mere scholarly specialization. In doing this, he has been guided as much by his formative interests in biology, psychology, and philosophy as he has by his long engagements with Marxism, anthropology, and history. David is a modernist who wants to find patterns in the past and the present, but without excising the constitutive details of social arenas through the means of analytical abstractions. If he is sensitive to the particularities of historical worlds and contemporary ones, mere platitudes of cultural difference do not suffice for him. David is a humanist who finds similarities between African-American Blues and the compositions of nirgun bhakti (devotion to a formless Lord/Absolute), yet he also always probes – in the critical tradition (as distinct from lazy assertions) of the Enlightenment spirit – the received wisdom and ready assumptions of modern knowledge. All of this suggests an intellect that cannot be easily pigeon-holed, simply compartmentalized, into a neat slot.


List of Illustrationsix
Ishita Banerjee-Dube and Saurabh Dube
1.The Puranas: Heresy and the ‘Vamsanucarita’28
Romila Thapar
2.Sankara and Puranic Religion49
R. Champakalakshmi
3.’Never Have I Seen Such Yogis, Brother’: Yogis, Warriors, and Sorcerers in Ancient and Medieval India86
David Gordon White
4.Visualizations of the Horrific in Buddhist Tantric Literature114
Benjamin Preciado-Solis
5.In Search of Ramanand: The Guru of Kabir and Others135
Purushottam Agrawal
6.Fighting over Kabir’s Dead Body171
Linda Hess
7.Orientalist Museum: Roman Missionary Collections and Prints207
Ines G. Zupanov
8.The Missionary and the Orientalist236
Thomas R. Trautmann
9.Witnessing Lives: Conversion and Life History in Colonial Central India259
Saurabh Dube
10.Speaking of Caste? Colonial and Indigenous Interpretations of Caste and Community in Nineteenth-century Bombay291
Frank F. Conlon
11.Sanatana Dharma as the Twentieth Century Began: Two Textbooks, Two Languages312
John Stratton Hawley
12.Customs and Canons: Bhima Bhoi in the Literary Tradition of Orissa337
Ishita Banerjee-Dube
13.Living Above Hippopotamus Street: Religion and Community in Working Class North India356
Daniel Gold
Note on Contributors387

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