Michael Altman’s Heathen, Hindoo, Hindu turns a critical eye toward history of Hinduism in America and the nationalist, orientalist discourses of formative debates, from the Colonial era up to Chicago’s World Parliament, in order to revise the standard “Transcendentalist-Theosophist-Vivekananda-1965” trajectory (xvii). Taking a genealogical approach to his historical sources, Altman shows how ‘hazy notions’ of Indian religion variously served as discursive foils and straw-men against white, Protestant American identity. When these Americans talked about religion in India, Altman argues, they were really “talking about themselves” (xxi) and constituting their own racial, national, and religious identities (140).
From the NBR description:
Scholars regularly assert that at Chicago’s World’s Parliament of Religions in 1893 Swami Vivekananda initiated Hinduism in America. Many histories of Hinduism in America reproduce this type of synthesizing narrative. But how was Hinduism defined by Vivekananda and how was it understood by his American audience? How did it relate to the various South Asian religious practices and beliefs that are subsumed under this term Hinduism?
In Heathen, Hindoo, Hindu: American Representations of India, 1721-1893 (Oxford University Press, 2017), Michael J. Altman, Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama, tackles literary and visual accounts of religion in India to understand the production of the category Hinduism in America. He provides an episodic genealogy of the ways in which South Asians were constructed in the American imaginary. Instead of reclassifying the various terminology used by missionaries, columnists, or Transcendentalists as Hinduism Altman carefully plots the social, political, and theological claims invested in those terms.
In our conversation we discuss early American religious culture, category construction, evangelical knowledge production, orientalist discourses, displays of South Asia material culture, Unitarians, Transcendentalists, and the Theosophical Society, Rammohan Roy, Protestant morality and national culture, public schools education, missionary accounts, and the contours of American Religious Studies.
Over at the OUP Blog I have a new post, drawing on the research in Heathen, Hindoo, Hindu, about the origins of the word “juggernaut” in colonial India. Here’s a bit: Continue reading “At The OUP Blog: The Origins of Juggernaut”
I’m excited to have a chapter in a great new book from Oxford University Press, The Business Turn in American Religious History. The book is edited by Amanda Porterfield, Darren Grem, and John Corrigan. Continue reading “Chapter in New Volume ‘The Business Turn in American Religious History’”
Thanks to John Fea for featuring me and my new book in the Author’s Corner over at his blog. Here’s a bit of the interview:
Back at the 2015 North American Association for the Study of Religion meeting I was part of a panel responding to Jason Blum’s paper “On the Restraint of Theory.” The proceedings of that entire conference have to been published as an excellent little book edited by Aaron W. Hughes about the role of theory in religious studies during our current moment: Theory in a Time of Excess: Beyond Reflection and Explanation in Religious Studies Scholarship. Continue reading ““It’s Hard Out Here for a Theorist” in Theory in a Time of Excess”