The Language of Disenchantment: Protestant Literalism and Colonial Discourse in British India (AAR Reflection and Theory in the Study of Religion)

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9780199925018: The Language of Disenchantment: Protestant Literalism and Colonial Discourse in British India (AAR Reflection and Theory in the Study of Religion)

The Language of Disenchantment explores the ways in which Protestant ideas concerning language influenced British colonial attitudes toward and proposals to reform Hinduism. Protestant literalism, mediated by the textual economy of the printed book, inspired colonial critiques of Indian mythological, ritual, linguistic, and legal traditions. Central to these developments was the transportation of the Christian opposition of monotheism and polytheism or idolatry into the domain of language. Polemics against verbal idolatry that had been applied previously to Catholic and sectarian practices in Britain -including the elevation of a scriptural canon over heathenish custom, the attack on the personifications of mythological language, and the critique of "vain repetitions" in prayers and magic spells-were applied by colonialists to Indian linguistic practices. In order to remedy these diseases of language, the British attempted to standardize and codify Indian traditions as a step toward both Anglicization and Christianization. The colonial understanding of a perfect language as the fulfillment of the monotheistic ideal echoed earlier Christian myths according to which the Gospel had replaced the obscure discourses of pagan oracles and Jewish ritual. By uncovering the historical roots of the British re-ordering of South Asian discourses, Yelle's work challenges representations of colonialism, and the modernity that it ushered in, as simply rational or secular.

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About the Author:


Robert A. Yelle is Assistant Professor in the Department of History and the Helen Hardin Honors Program at the University of Memphis. He received a Ph.D. in the History of Religions from the University of Chicago. A former Guggenheim Fellow, he is the author of Explaining the Mantras and The Semiotics of Religion, and co-author of After Secular Law.

Review:


"The Language of Disenchantment is a rich contribution to scholarship on the growth and globalization of Christian language ideology [Yelle] effectively shows how various British colonial legal and religious projects in India were underpinned by Christian, specifically Protestant, language ideologies [I]n pointing out the Christian roots of secularization, Yelle demonstrate[s] that 'what we call secularization appears in some cases to represent the process by which a particular religion has attempted to transcend its own past and limits."--Reviews in Anthropology


Yelle trac[es] some of the ways in which colonial-era scholarship and rule effectively transferred from Europe to India a hermeneutic that proclaimed itself secular and rational yet whose roots lay in key themes from Europe s Judaeo-Christian heritage, from the writings of St. Paul through to the Reformation Yelle s scholarship stretches across colonial encounters with Hindu myth, Indian languages and the practice of using mantras and is intended to take forward arguments made by Max Weber and developed by the likes of Talal Asad about the Protestant Christian roots of disenchantment , modernity and the religious-secular dichotomy The result is a highly readable account Yelle offers the sort of balance and clarity with which postcolonial writing has not always been synonymous. --Journal of Ecclesiastical History


"The exactness of the present volume's title belies its successful demonstration of a much larger claim: that British colonialism in India was a profoundly protestant project Yelle's achievement lies in how he demonstrates [this] through detailed use of a range of sources from protestant theology, the Hindu reform movements and colonial debates It is certainly the case that the intellectual history of British India has not given the same attention to the protestant roots of secular governmental enterprises as its metropolitan counterpart. Yelle has produced a densely packed, highly nuanced argument. The richness and range of examples will add greatly to our understanding of the protestant dimensions of British India and give new vigour to the enduring debate about colonialism and modernity."--Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History


"Yelle is able to ambitiously engage with the history of colonialism in a way that is both unique and engaging--through his analyses, he is able to add a new and valuable theological dimension to the conversation about India's engagement with British colonial powers Yelle has written a book that effectively contributes to the fields of India Studies, Postcolonial Studies, and Hindu-Christian Studies. Yelle is successfully able to debunk claims to the universality of Western reason as produced by Protestant, post-Reformation thought Yelle concludes that by continuing to expose the origins of the myth of disenchantment-- as he has done in this book--we are able to broaden our awareness about the impact of this mode of thinking and its pervasiveness in our quest for modernity."--Journal of Hindu-Christian Studies


Theoretically rich and provocative...will command a place on reading lists of South Asian history seminars for generations to come. Yelle offers an excellent account of how Protestant literalism in the guise of attacks on Indian religions by Christians and Orientalists alike actually derives from older polemics aimed at, in earlier guises, Jews and Catholics, and then neatly reappearing in colonial India. This allows him to argue that the disenchantment Weber famously articulated actually has, like Orientalism and secularism, theological roots in the Christian world. Yelle s research is meticulously documented and presented. --Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History


"Theoretically rich and provocative...will command a place on reading lists of South Asian history seminars for generations to come."--Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society


"Yelle's scholarship is impeccable and nearly exhaustive-patently first-rate. The writing is precise, clear, and rich. Most importantly, the historical thesis about the theological roots of disenchantment and the Christian origins of modernity is, in my opinion, unanswerable. The book is profound and makes a very real and very important contribution to the fields of intellectual history, history of religions, Indian history, the history of Christianity, the history of the study of religion, and, perhaps most interesting of all, the philosophy of language."--Jeffrey J. Kripal, J. Newton Rayzor Professor of Religious Studies, Rice University


"Highly creative... Yelle directly challenges modern secularists who claim that modernity represents the triumph of rationality over religious superstition and of supposedly neutral, value-free judgment over prejudice... Yelle has written a fascinating, if also controversial, book, one that has important things to say to a wide number of disciplines." --The Marginalia Review of Books


"Yelle s work on British critiques of South Asian mythological, ritual, linguistic, and legal traditions offer new insights on modernity, secularization, religious literalism, and colonialism." --New Books in Religion


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