Heathen, Hindoo, Hindu: American Representations of India, 1721-1893

ISBN : 9780190654924

Michael J. Altman
359 Pages
156 x 235 mm
Pub date
Sep 2017
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Heathen, Hindoo, Hindu is a groundbreaking analysis of American representations of religion in India before the turn of the twentieth century. In their representations of India, American writers from a variety of backgrounds described "heathens," "Hindoos," and, eventually "Hindus." Before Americans wrote about "Hinduism," they wrote about "heathenism," "the religion of the Hindoos," and "Brahmanism." Various groups interpreted the religions of India for their own purposes. Cotton Mather, Hannah Adams, and Joseph Priestley engaged the larger European Enlightenment project of classifying and comparing religion in India. Evangelical missionaries used images of "Hindoo heathenism" to raise support at home. Unitarian Protestants found a kindred spirit in the writings of Bengali reformer Rammohun Roy. Transcendentalists and Theosophists imagined the contemplative and esoteric religion of India as an alternative to materialist American Protestantism, while popular magazines and common school books used the image of dark, heathen, despotic India to buttress Protestant, white, democratic American identity. Americans used the heathen, Hindoo, and Hindu as an other against which they represented themselves. The questions of American identity, classification, representation and the definition of "religion" that animated descriptions of heathens, Hindoos, and Hindus in the past still animate American debates today.


Chapter 1: Heathens and Hindoos in Early America
Chapter 2: Missionaries, Unitarians, and Raja Rammohun Roy
Chapter 3: Hindoo Religion in American National Culture
Chapter 4: Transcendentalism, Brahmanism, and Universal Religion
Chapter 5: The Theosophical Quest for Occult Power
Chapter 6: Putting the Religion in the World's Parliament of Religion

About the author: 

Michael J. Altman is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama. His research interests include American religious history, Asian religions in America, colonialism, and critical theory.

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