Religious freedom and political culture: The Arya Samaj in colonial north India

Author: 
Adcock, Catherine S.
Year: 
2007

     This dissertation situates one Hindu reform organization--the Arya Samaj--within a wider context of changing interpretations of religion, religious freedom, and the secular state at the turn of the twentieth century. By tracing a shift in the interpretations of religious freedom that shaped public discourse in the United Provinces and Punjab between 1880 and 1930, it questions the view that the roots of twentieth century Hindu nationalism are to be found in nineteenth century religious reform. It explores three arenas of Arya Samaj practice: religious controversy; the Cow Protection campaign to ban the slaughter of cattle; and the suddhi rite of "purification" for conversion and case uplift. It examines how the contours of the discursive object "religion" were described in each case, and how situated within a field of political signification.
     It shows that until 1920, Arya Samajists, colonial officials, and others drew upon the European scientific discourse of universal religion in order to identify the forms of practice which, as properly "religious," qualified for protection under the principle of religious freedom. In these decades, dominant interpretations of religious freedom supported a widespread culture of controversy, coded as religious proselytizing. In the course of debates in the 1920s about the Shuddhi Movement, Hindus in the Congress succeeded in supplanting the discourse of universal religion by a discourse of Hindu tolerance, which recast proselytizing as an intolerant practice opposed to religious freedom. This historical development is not adequately portrayed as a liberalization of attitudes to religious difference. Rather, the discourse of Hindu tolerance was imbricated with debates about caste and untouchability, and it was also mobilized to portray Muslims as temperamentally uncivil and intolerant.
     By tracing the (discontinuous) history of articulations of religion and religious freedom, this dissertation contributes to the historiography of forms of secular politics in modern India. Moreover, it points to tensions in Arya Samaj discourse which indicate that the political semantics of religion in the political culture of colonial north India did not reproduce the contours of European conceptions of religion, neither as they figured in authoritative European knowledges, nor as they organized colonial state practice.

Advisor(s): 
Mahmood, Saba
Department: