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Translating the ‘Other’: Early-Modern Muslim Understandings of Hinduism


This essay examines the theme of inter-religious translation in the context of early modern India. More specifically, it considers the prominent 18th century Sufi master and scholar Mirzā Maẓhar Jān-i Jānān's (d.1781) translation of Hindu thought and practice as reflected in his Persian letters on this subject. Through a close reading of the content and context of his translation project, I show that while according the Hindu ‘other’ remarkable doctrinal hospitality, Jān-i Jānān's view of translation was firmly tethered to an imperial Muslim political theology committed to upholding the exceptionality of Muslim normative authority. Interrogating his negotiation of hospitality and exceptionality and the notions of time that undergirded that negotiation occupies much of this essay. I also explore ways in which Jān-i Jānān's translation of Hinduism might engage ongoing scholarly conversations regarding the rupture of colonial modernity in the discursive career of religion in South Asia. In the Euro-American study of religion, many scholars have shown the intimacy of modern secular power and the reconfiguration of religion as a universally translatable category. But what conceptual and historiographical gains might one derive by shifting the camera of analysis from the colonial reification of religion to the inter-religious translation efforts of a late 18th century thinker like Jān-i Jānān who wrote at the cusp of colonial modernity? This question hovers over the problem-space of this essay.

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Arvind Mandair , Religion and the Specter of the West: Sikhism, India, Postcoloniality, and the Politics of Translation (New York, 2009)

James Laine ., Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India (Oxford, 2003)

Yohanan Friedmann , “Muslim views of Indian religions”, Journal of the American Oriental Society, VC, (April–June 1975), pp. 214221

Audrey Truschke , Culture of Encounters: Sanskrit at the Mughal Court (New York, 2016)

Mohammad Khalil , Islam and the Fate of Others: The Salvation Question (New York, 2012)

Arvind Mandair , Religion and the Specter of the West: Sikhism, India, Postcoloniality and the Politics of Translation (New York, 2009)

Andrew Nicholson , Unifying Hinduism: Philosophy and Identity in Indian Intellectual History (New York, 2010)

David Lorenzen , “Who Invented Hinduism?”, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 41, No. 4 (October 1999), pp. 630659

Lawrence Venuti , The Translator's Invisibility: A History of Translation (London and New York, 1995)

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Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society
  • ISSN: 1356-1863
  • EISSN: 1474-0591
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-the-royal-asiatic-society
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