Ulster Logo
Link to facebook  Link to INCOREinfo on twitter  Link to INCORE rss feed    Linkedin link Linkedin link

The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest


Imperial Encounters: Religion and Modernity in India and Britain
Peter van der Veer

Princeton University Press
216pp., PB $17.95, ISBN -0-691-07478-X

The book owes its theoretical foundations to the major theses posed by the celebrated Orientalism by E. Said and Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707-1837 by L. Colley and attempts to deepen into them by analyzing a variety of mutual interactions that linked Britain and India during a shared colonial experience. It proposes a multidisciplinary view other than the narrative history which is based on the study of nationalism, religion, secularity, comparative philology, racism and gender in order to examine these reciprocal interchanges.

Therefore, Imperial Encounters deals with both the concept of Orientalism, namely the authoritative scientific Western approach to the East, and the process by which British and Indian nationalisms were constructed and interrelated in the era of imperialism. On the one hand, Van der Veerīs discourse is highly indebted to Saidīs analysis of the European attitudes towards the East, although he enriches it as he partly covers German Orientalism that Said did not fully tackle in his book. The author analyzes the British response towards India shedding light into the adaptations that notions like religion, secularity, nationalism, gender, science, race and language encountered due to this historical experience. His major contribution here is the fact that he does not pay attention solely to how British imperialism changed Indian culture but also aims to explain the transformations the other way around. In this regard, he draws a more accurate picture of the consequences imperialism also caused in the metropole, making national history and imperial history the two sides of the same coin.

On the other hand, the author follows Colleyīs assumption that nationalism is formed and reinforced by invented traditions that are allegedly rooted in the past. However, he intends to complete her analysis by suggesting that ?when the British defined themselves as a nation in reaction to the Other beyond their shores, that the Other is French and Catholic, one needs to add that increasingly in the nineteenth century the Other is also Indian and Hindu? (page 158). Thus, Van der Veer argues that the nationalization of religion, the emergence of a ?muscular? Christianity that provided a new concept of manhood, the making of an imperial task, the rise of spiritualism, the resort to racist and philologist theories for policy purposes were all reactions of the metropole to a hostile colony as well as a defence against Indian nationalism.

Nevertheless, in spite of the authorīs efforts to deepen into the making of British nationalism, the part devoted to the way Hinduism appropriated, selected and reinterpreted many of the British responses to serve Indian national interests stands out by far. The study of the major transformations that the Hindu religion suffered owing to Western influences is fascinating and so is the revealing explanation of how Hinduism manipulated Orientalist tools such as comparative philology and racist theories in order to privilege the Hindu population over others during the forge of Indian nationalism.

On the whole, although the book is a stimulating piece of work, it may seem to lack a sense of inner structure since it is comprised of a series of essays that are not strongly related to each other, which together with the absence of a historical introduction to the matter may weaken its main thesis.

Isabel Bernal, PhD Candidate, University of Seville

Disclaimer: © INCORE 2010 Last Updated on Monday, 10-Aug-2015 12:20
contact usgoto the search page
go to the top of this page