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Before Hinduism: Missionaries, Unitarians, and Hindoos in Nineteenth-Century America

  • Michael J. Altman

Abstract

American interest in and knowledge of religion in India began before Americans imagined Hinduism as a coherent world religion. In the eighteenth and nineteenth century, Americans used a variety of terms to describe, represent, and imagine the religious culture of India: Gentoos, Hindoos, religion of the Hindoos, Hindoo religion, Brahmanism, heathenism, and paganism. Each term meant different things to different writers at different times. But there was no Hinduism, a world religion originating in India and comparable to others, in America prior to the late nineteenth century. Americans read and wrote about “Hindoos” and “Hindoo religion,” something altogether different from Hindus and Hinduism. This article analyzes two examples of American representations of Hindoo religion before Hinduism. First, it examines American missionary reports about “Hindoo heathenism” written by American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions missionaries and published in American missionary journals in the early nineteenth century. Second, it examines the Unitarian interest in Rammohun Roy and his growing popularity in New England during the 1820s and 1830s. Unitarian interest in Roy and ABCFM missionary reports exemplify the ways Protestant questions and interests shaped the American understanding of religions and the eventual construction of “world religions” such as Hinduism to suit American Protestant concerns.

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1. Mather, Cotton, India Christiana. A Discourse, Delivered unto the Commissioners, for the Propagation of the Gospel among the American Indians Which Is Accompanied with Several Instruments Relating to the Glorious Design of Propagating Our Holy Religion, in the Eastern as Well as the Western, Indies. An Entertainment Which They That Are Waiting for the Kingdom of God Will Receive as Good News from a Far Country (Boston: Company for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England and the Parts Adjacent in America, 1721).

2. Ibid., 22. Emphasis in the original.

3. Mather, Cotton, The Diary of Cotton Mather, II, 1709-1724, vol. 8, Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society 7 (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1912), 365–66. Throughout his writing about the Danish mission Mather refers to the “Malabarian mission” and the native Indians there as “Malabarian.” This is odd because the Danish mission was in Southeast India, while the Malabar coast is on the southwest side of the peninsula. It is most likely that “Malabarian” was Mather's term for all native peope living in South India.

4. Ibid., 8:366. Emphasis in original.

5. Silverman, Kenneth, “Cotton Mather's Foreign Correspondence,” Early American Literature 3 (December 1, 1968): 172–85; Splitter, Wolfgang, “The Fact and Fiction of Cotton Mather's Correspondence with German Pietist August Hermann Francke,” New England Quarterly 83 (March 2010).

6. Splitter, “The Fact and Fiction of Cotton Mather's Correspondence with German Pietist August Hermann Francke,” 107.

7. Mather, India Christiana, 85–86.

8. Ibid., 28. Emphasis in original.

9. Chidester, David, Savage Systems: Colonialism and Comparative Religion in Southern Africa (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1996), 16 .

10. Mather, India Christiana, 29. Emphasis in original.

11. There is a great deal of debate about the origin of the terms “Hindu” and “Hinduism” in the West and in South Asia. For my purposes, I am focusing on the coinage and use of the terms within the American context. For more on the South Asian history of the terms, see Pennington, Brian, Was Hinduism Invented? Britons, Indians, and the Colonial Construction of Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 168–72; Sharma, Arvind, “On Hindu, Hindustān, Hinduism and Hindutva,” Numen 49, (January 1, 2002): 136 ; Lorenzen, David N., “Who Invented Hinduism?” Comparative Studies in Society and History 41, (October 1, 1999): 630–59; Frykenberg, Robert Eric, “The Emergence of Modern ‘Hinduism’ as a Concept and Institution: A Reappraisal with Special Reference to South India,” in Hinduism Reconsidered, ed. Sonthheimer, Gunther-Dietz (New Delhi: Manohar, 1989), 2949 .

12. Stietencron, Heinrich von, “Hinduism: On the Proper Use of a Deceptive Term,” in Hinduism Reconsidered, ed. Sontheimer, Gunther-Dietz and Kulke, Hermann (New Delhi: Manohar, 1989), 33 .

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid.

15. King, Richard, Orientalism and Religions: Postcolonial Theory, India and “the Mystic East” (London: Routledge, 1999), 107 .

16. Pennington, Was Hinduism Invented? 3–4.

17. Ibid., 171.

18. Ibid., 169.

19. I use the “Hindoo” spelling with colonial double o to emphasize the fact that Americans are constructing a representation of the South Asian other that they label “Hindoo.” There is no Hindoo or Hinduism in American culture until someone labels something as such. For more on this, see Altman, Michael J., “Hindoos, Hindus, Spelling, and Theory,” Religion in American History, accessed September 4, 2014, http://usreligion.blogspot.com/2014/09/hindoos-hindus-spelling-and-theory.html .

20. “Fragment of a Vision,” Massachusetts Missionary Magazine 5 (November 1807): 225.

21. Ibid.

22. Ibid.

23. I use the term “evangelical” to indicate Trinitarian Protestants with an actively outward focus. Such Protestants were attracted to revivalism and missionary societies. Also, many missionary societies used the word “evangelical” in the titles of their periodicals. I use the term not as a substantive definition but in order to distinguish one sort of New England Protestant from others. In this sense, some New England Protestants thought of themselves as “evangelical” in order to distance themselves from other Protestants. This difference is most pronounced in the subtitle of Robert Baird's 1844 book, Religion in America: or an account of the origin, relation to the state, and present condition of the evangelical churches in the United States : with notices of the unevangelical denominations.

24. Elsbree, Oliver Wendell, The Rise of the Missionary Spirit in America, 1790-1815 (Philadelphia: Porcupine Press, 1980), 104 .

25. For more about these debates and their history, see Wright, Conrad, The Beginnings of Unitarianism in America, (Boston: Starr King Press, 1995) and The Unitarian Controversy: Essays on American Unitarian History, (Boston: Skinner House Books, 1994).

26. For Buchanan's role in British evangelical and missionary culture, see Davidson, Allan K., Evangelicals and Attitudes to India, 1786-1813: Missionary Publicity and Claudius Buchanan, Evangelicals and Society from 1750, no. 4 (Oxfordshire: Sutton Courtenay Press, 1990); Pennington, Was Hinduism Invented? 85–93; Oddie, Geoffrey A., Imagined Hinduism: British Protestant Missionary Constructions of Hinduism, 1793-1900 (New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2006), 7583 .

27. I refer to “Juggernaut” throughout this discussion to highlight the difference between the representation of Juggernaut thatmoved throughout evangelical print culture and the Jagannath of the Puri temple. One is the construction of British and American evangelical cultures and reflects their concerns, imaginations, and desires. The other is an Indian religious culture with a long history before and after the British East India Company. For more on Jagannath, see Cassels, Nancy Gardner, Religion and Pilgrim Tax under the Company Raj, South Asian Studies / Heidelberg University, New Delhi Branch, South Asia Institute, no. 17 (New Delhi: Manohar Publications, 1988); Kulke, Hermann and Schnepel, Burkhard, eds., Jagannath Revisited: Studying Society, Religion, and the State in Orissa (New Delhi: Manohar, 2001).

28. Buchanan, Claudius, “India,” Panoplist 3, (August 1807): 136–39; Buchanan, Claudius, “An Important Letter from the Rev. Claudius Buchanan,” Connecticut Evangelical Magazine and Religious Intelligencery 2, (October 1809): 388–93; Buchanan, Claudius, “An Important Letter from the Rev. Claudius Buchanan,” The Adviser; Or, Vermont Evangelical Magazine 1, (November 1809): 286–87.

29. Buchanan, “India,” 136.

30. Ibid.

31. Ibid. 32. Ibid.

33. Ibid.

34. Pennington, Was Hinduism Invented? 90.

35. Buchanan, Claudius, The Works of the Reverend Claudius Buchanan, LL.D. Comprising His Eras of Light, Light of the World, and Star in the East; to Which Is Added Christian Researches in Asia. With Notices of the Translation of the Scriptures into the Oriental Languages, 6th American ed. (Boston: Samuel T. Armstrong, 1812), 106 .

36. Ibid.

37. Ibid., 105.

38. Ibid., 101.

39. Ibid., 106.

40. Ibid., 104.

41. Ibid.

42. Ibid., 195.

43. Pennington, Was Hinduism Invented? 91.

44. Ibid., 69.

45. Ibid., 92.

46. “Work in Press,” The Panoplist, and Missionary Magazine 4, (August 1811): 143.

47. Buchanan, Claudius, “Two Discourses Preached before the University of Cambridge, on Commencement Sunday, July 1, 1810; and a Sermon Preached before the Society for Missions to Aftica and the East, at Their Tenth Anniversary, July 12, 1810: To Which Are Added Christian Researches in Asia,” The Panoplist, and Missionary Magazine 4, (September 1811): 174–78; Buchanan, Claudius, “Dr. Buchanan's Christian Researches in Asia,” The Panoplist, and Missionary Magazine 4, (October 1811): 221–29; “The English Reviewof Buchanan's Researches,” Connecticut Evangelical Magazine and Religious Intelligencer 4 (October 1811): 382–93; “The English Review of Buchanan's Researches,” Connecticut Evangelical Magazine and Religious Intelligencer 4, (November 1811): 429–35; “The English Review of Buchanan’s Researches,” Connecticut Evangelical Magazine and Religious Intelligencer 4, (December 1811): 458–70; “Review of Christian Researches,” The Adviser; Or, Vermont Evangelical Magazine 4, (May 1812): 147–59; “The English Review of Buchanan's Researches,” The Adviser; Or, Vermont Evangelical Magazine 4, (June 1812): 173–83; “The English Review of Buchanan’s Researches,” The Adviser; Or, Vermont Evangelical Magazine 4, (July 1812): 200–206.

48. Ibid., 59–61.

49. “On the Ruinous Effects of Ardent Spirits,” The Panoplist, and Missionary Magazine 5, (February 1813): 416–17.

50. For more on the history of the ABCFM see Andrew, John A., Rebuilding the Christian Commonwealth : New England Congregationalists and Foreign Missions, 1800-1830 (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1976); Corr, Donald Phillip, “‘The Field Is theWorld’: Proclaiming, Translating, and Serving by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, 18101-40” (Ph.D. diss., Fuller Theological Seminary, 1993); Phillips, Clifton Jackson, Protestant America and the Pagan World: The First Half Century of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, 1810-1860 (Cambridge, Mass.: East Asian Research Center, Harvard University, 1969); Shenk, Wilbert R., ed., North American Foreign Missions, 1810-1914: Theology, Theory, and Policy (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2004); for a larger history of American missionaries in India, see Pathak, Sushil Madhava, American Missionaries and Hinduism (Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1967).

51. While at sea on their way to India, the Judsons and Luther Rice had an awakening and became Baptists. Rice returned to America to organize a Baptist missionary movement, and the Judsons established a Baptist mission in Burma.

52. Elsbree, The Rise of the Missionary Spirit in America, 110–14.

53. Newell, Harriet, “Letter from Mrs. Newell,” The Panoplist, and Missionary Magazine 5, (April 1813): 515 .

54. Ibid.

55. “Juggernaut and His Worship,” Monthly Paper of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, no. 11 (May 1833).

56. For the history of hook-swinging and colonial attempts to suppress it, see Oddie, Geoffrey A., Popular Religion, Elites, and Reform: Hook-Swinging and Its Prohibition in Colonial India, 1800-1894 (New Delhi: Manohar, 1995).

57. Hall, Gordon and Newell, Samuel, “American Missionaries,” The Panoplist, and Missionary Magazine 13 (July 1817): 323 .

58. Hall, Gordon, “Journal of the Rev. Gordon Hall, Missionary at Bombay,” The Panoplist, and Missionary Magazine 12 (December 1816): 571 .

59. Hall, Gordon and Newell, Samuel, “Journal of the Mission at Bombay,” The Panoplist, and Missionary Herald 14 (February 1818): 79 .

60. Hall, Gordon and Newell, Samuel, “Journal of the Bombay Mission,” The Panoplist, and Missionary Magazine 13 (December 1817): 560 .

61. Ibid.

62. Hall and Newell, “American Missionaries,” 324.

63. Jackson, Carl T., The Oriental Religions and American Thought: Nineteenth-Century Explorations (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1981), 90 .

64. Bardwell, Horatio, “Mission at Bombay and the Vicinity,” The Panoplist, and Missionary Herald 16 (October 1820): 457 .

65. Hall, Gordon and Newell, Samuel, “Journal of the Bombay Mission,” The Panoplist, and Missionary Magazine 13 (November 1817): 526 .

66. Hall, Gordon, “American Missionaries,” The Panoplist, and Missionary Magazine 12, (November 1816): 507 .

67. Ibid.

68. Ibid., 505.

69. Hall, Gordon, “Journal of the Rev. Gordon Hall,” The Panoplist, and Missionary Magazine 13 (January 1817): 35 .

70. Hall, “Journal of the Rev. GordonHall, Missionary at Bombay,” 571.

71. John Nichols, “Extracts from the Journal of Mr. Nichols at Salsette,” The Panoplist, and Missionary Herald 16 (August 1820): 374.

72. Stone, Cyrus, “Extracts from Mr. Stone's Private Journal,” The Missionary Herald 25 (September 1829): 266 .

73. Ramsey, William, “Journal of Mr. Ramsey: Heathen Worship–Hindoo Indolence,” Missionary Herald 28 (May 1832): 148 .

74. Hall, Gordon and Newell, Samuel, “Extracts from the Journal of Messrs. Hall and Newell, at Bombay,” The Panoplist, and Missionary Magazine 13 (August 1817): 371 .

75. Ibid.

76. American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, “Extracts from a Joint Letter of the Missionaries, Dated January 1829,” Missionary Herald 25 (November 1829): 340 .

77. Hall, Gordon, “Extracts from the Journal of Mr. Hall,” Missionary Herald 18 (July 1822): 220 .

78. Kling, David, “The New Divinity and the Origins of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions,” in North American Foreign Missions, 1810-1914: Theology, Theory, and Policy, ed. Shenk, Wilbert R. (Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 2004), 13 .

79. Ibid., 24.

80. Phillips, Protestant America and the Pagan World, 273.

81. Pennington, Was Hinduism Invented? 96.

82. Ibid.

83. Robertson, Bruce Carlisle, Raja Rammohan Ray: The Father of Modern India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1995), 12 .

84. Ibid., 19.

85. Roy, Rammohun, Translation of an Abridgement of the Vedant, Or, Resolution of All the Veds (London: T. and J. Hoitt, 1817), iiiiv .

86. Singh, Iqbal, Rammohun Roy: A Biographical Inquiry into the Making of Modern India, vol. 1 (New York: Asia Publishing House, 1958), 88 .

87. Fitzclarence, Lieutenant-Colonel, Journal of a Route across India, through Egypt, to England, in the Latter End of the Year 1817, and the Beginning of 1818 (London: John Murray, 1819), 106 .

88. Collet, Sophia Dobson, The Life and Letters of Raja Rammohun Roy (Calcutta: A. C. Sarkar, 1913), 123 ; Robertson, Raja Rammohan Ray, 10–24; Zastoupil, Lynn, Rammohun Roy and the Making of Victorian Britain (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2010), 2526 .

89. “A Remarkable Hindoo Reformer,” Christian Disciple 5 (April 5, 1817): 123–26; “Account of Rammohun Roy,” Boston Recorder 2 (April 29, 1817): 69.

90. The Missionary Register article was itself a reprint of an article from another British magazine,Christian Observer.

91. “A Remarkable Hindoo Reformer,” 123; “Account of Rammohun Roy,” 69.

92. “Account of Rammohun Roy,” 69.

93. “A Remarkable Hindoo Reformer,” 124; “Account of Rammohun Roy,” 69.

94. “A Remarkable Hindoo Reformer,” 124; “Account of Rammohun Roy,” 69.

95. “Account of Rammohun Roy,” 69.

96. Ibid.

97. “A Remarkable Hindoo Reformer,” 126.

98. Tudor, William, “Theology of the Hindoos, as Taught by Ram Mohun Roy,” North American Review and Miscellaneous Journal 6 (March 1818): 386–93; Mott, Frank Luther, A History of American Magazines, 1850– 1865, vol. 2 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1938), 223 .

99. Jackson identifies Tudor as the author of the anonymously published article, see his Oriental Religions and African Thought, 34.

100. Tudor, “Theology of the Hindoos, as Taught by Ram Mohun Roy,” 386.

101. Ibid., 387.

102. “Rammohun Roy: The Celebrated Hindoo Reformer,” Boston Recorder 4 (September 18, 1819): 156.

103. Roy, Rammohun, The Precepts of Jesus, the Guide to Peace and Happiness, Extracted From the Books of the New Testament Ascribed to the Four Evangelists. To Which Are Added the First and Second Appeal to the Christian Public, in Reply to the Observations of Dr. Marshman of Serampore (New York: B. Bates, 1825), xviii .

104. Ibid., xxv.

105. Collet, The Life and Letters of Raja Rammohun Roy, 55–77; Jackson, The Oriental Religions and American Thought, 33; Killingley, Dermot, Rammohun Roy in Hindu and Christian Tradition: The Teape Lectures 1990 (Newcastle upon Tyne: Grevatt and Grevatt, 1993), 138–43; Robertson, Raja Rammohan Ray, 39–42; Singh, Rammohun Roy 1:216–43.

106. Smith, Southwood, “Rammohun Roy,” Christian|Register (November 23, 1821): 57 .

107. H. T., “Rammohun Roy,” Christian Register (December 7, 1821).

108. Roy, Rammohun, “Letter: Clapton (Eng.), September 3, 1821,” Christian Register 1 (January 4, 1822): 81 .

109. “Reply of the Baptist Missionaries at Calcutta, to Rammohun Roy,” Christian Watchman 4 (March 29, 1823): 61.

110. Ibid.

111. “Rammohun Roy,” Christian Watchman (November 29, 1823): 202; “Unitarianism in India,” Boston Recorder 8 (December 6, 1823): 193.

112. “Rammohun Roy,” Missionary Herald (September 1824, 301): The use of “Hindooism” here is interesting. The term is uncommon in the American sources and used here by a Briton in Calcutta. Roy himself used “Hindooism” in 1816 and “Hinduism” in 1817. Lorenzen notes that despite its use here and there, the term Hinduism did not come into common British use until the second fourth of the nineteenth century. As I argue here, it did not come into common American use until much later. Lorenzen, “Who Invented Hinduism?,” 631–632.

113. “Rammohun Roy,” The Missionary Herald (September 1824): 301.

114. “Rammohun Roy,” Christian Watchman (September 11, 1824): 159.

115. Reed, David, “Rammohun Roy,” Christian Register (September 10, 1824): 226 .

116. Reed, David, “Rammohun Roy,” Christian Register (September 17, 1824): 230.

117. Greenwood, Francis W. P., “Spirit of Orthodoxy,” Unitarian Miscellany and Christian Monitor 6 (October 1, 1824): 215 .

118. Tuckerman, Joseph, “Is Rammohun Roy a Christian? Or, in Other Words, Is He a Believer in the Divine Authority of Our Lord?” Christian Examiner and Theological Review 3 (October 1826): 361 .

119. Zastoupil, Rammohun Roy and the Making of Victorian Britain, 94.

120. Ibid.

121. Ibid.

122. Bean, Susan S., Yankee India: American Commercial and Cultural Encounters with India in the Age of Sail, 1784–1860 (Salem, Mass.: Peabody Essex Museum, 2001), 193 .

123. Jackson, The Oriental Religions and American Thought, 35–36; Lavan, Spencer, Unitarians and India: A Study in Encounter and Response, 3rd ed. (Chicago: Exploration Press, 1991), 4172 .

124. Moore, Adrienne, Rammohun Roy and America (Calcutta: Brahmo Mission Press, 1942), vii, 23 .

125. Jackson, The Oriental Religions and American Thought, 36.

126. Bean, Yankee India, 193.

127. Holifield, E. Brooks, Theology in America: Christian Thought from the Age of the Puritans to the Civil War (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2005), 5 .

128. Ibid., 174.

129. Seager, Richard Hughes, The World's Parliament of Religions: The East/West Encounter, Chicago, 1893 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995); Seager, Richard Hughes, ed., The Dawn of Religious Pluralism: Voices from the World's Parliament of Religions, 1893 (La Salle, Ill.: Open Court, 1993).

130. Guernsey, A. H., “Juggernaut,” Harper's New Monthly Magazine 57 (July 1878): 222–29.

131. Masuzawa, Tomoko, The Invention of World Religions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005); see also Lee Schmidt's critique of this Eurocentrism: Leigh E. Schmidt, “Review of the Invention of World Religions: Or, How European Universalism Was Preserved in The Language of Pluralism by Tomoko Masuzawa,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 74 (March 1, 2006): 229–32.

132. Masuzawa, The Invention of World Religions; King, Orientalism and Religion.

133. See, for example, Masuzawa, The Invention of World Religions; Pals, Daniel L., Eight Theories of Religion, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006); Preus, J. Samuel, Explaining Religion: Criticism and Theory from Bodin to Freud (Atlanta, Ga.: Scholars Press, 1996); Sharpe, Eric J., Comparative Religion: A History (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1975); Strenski, Ivan, Thinking about Religion: An Historical Introduction to Theories of Religion (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2006).

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