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Translating Dharma: Scottish Missionary-Orientalists and the Politics of Religious Understanding in Nineteenth-Century Bombay


A consideration of colonial Bombay enriches the understanding of the activities and ideas of Christian missionaries and Orientalists in India and elucidates British conceptions of “the religions of India” and the production of colonialist knowledge. This article focuses on nineteenth-century Scottish missionary-Orientalists and examines how they and other Bombay-based Protestant missionaries understood the concept of religion, Christianity, and the structure, similitude and distinctiveness of “the religions” at the crucial moment when newly “discovered” religions were gaining recognition and a new vision of “world religions” was coming into being. It considers the writings on the religions and ethnographic scholarship of the Bombay Scottish missionaries, as well as their extensive and multifaceted interactions with Bombay's Hindu, Muslim, Jain, Parsi, Jewish, Roman Catholic and Andivasi communities. More specifically, it details the ways in which Bombay missionaries applied and related the concept of religion to diverse configurations of language, text, and practice that they understood as isomorphic species of the religion genus. By examining how Christian missionaries who were also Orientalists conceptualized a number of “religions” and interacted with numerous communities this article seeks to elucidate the presuppositions that shaped the ways in which Hinduism and the other “religions” of nineteenth-century Bombay were imagined.

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CHUCH OF SCOTLAND MISSIONARY ARCHIVE. National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh, United Kingdom.
CHURCH MISSIONARY SOCIETY ARCHIVES. Birmingham University Library, United Kingdom.


Indian Antiquary


Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal


Journal of the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society


Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland


Oriental Christian Spectator


American Mission Press


Bombay Tract and Book Society


Religious Tract Society


William Whyte

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