Hindu Christian Faqir: Modern Monks, Global Christianity, and Indian Sainthood (AAR Religion, Culture, and History)

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9780199987696: Hindu Christian Faqir: Modern Monks, Global Christianity, and Indian Sainthood (AAR Religion, Culture, and History)

In the mid-nineteenth century, the American missionary James Butler predicted that Christian conversion and British law together would eradicate Indian ascetics. His disgust for Hindu holy men (sadhus), whom he called "saints," "yogis," and "filthy fakirs," was largely shared by orientalist scholars and British officials, who likewise imagined these religious elites to be a leading symptom of India's degeneration. Yet within some thirty years of Butler's writing, modern Indian ascetics such as the neo-Vedantin Hindu Swami Rama Tirtha (1873-1906) and, paradoxically, the Protestant Christian convert Sadhu Sundar Singh (1889-1929) achieved international fame as embodiments of the spiritual superiority of the East over the West.

Timothy S. Dobe's fine-grained account of the lives of Sundar Singh and Rama Tirtha offers a window on the surprising reversals and potentials of Indian ascetic "sainthood" in the colonial contact zone. His study develops a new model of Indian holy men that is historicized, religiously pluralistic, and located within the tensions and intersections of ascetic practice and modernity. The first in-depth account of two internationally-recognized modern holy men in the colonially-crucial region of Punjab, Hindu Christian Faqir offers new examples and contexts for thinking through these wider issues. Drawing on unexplored Urdu writings by and about both figures, Dobe argues not only that Hinduism and Protestant Christianity are here intimately linked, but that these links are forged from the stuff of regional Islamic traditions of Sufi holy men (faqir). He also re-conceives Indian sainthood through an in-depth examination of ascetic practice as embodied religion, public performance, and relationship, rather than as a theological, otherworldly, and isolated ideal.

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Timothy S. Dobe is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Grinnell College. His research focuses on South Asian religions, especially Hinduism and Christianity, asceticism, sainthood, comparison, colonialism, and performance.

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"Hindu Christian Faqir is a much-welcome addition to the scholarship on modern Hinduism and Christianity, as well as, more broadly, on transnational religion in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries It spans continents and disciplines and opens the history of modern Hinduism to multiple scholarly audiences, including scholars working not only in religious studies and South Asian studies, but also in ethnic studies, diaspora and transnational studies, and global cultural history. This is a book that builds bridges-between the ascetic bodies of Hindu history and the raced and gendered bodies of empire, between the global cultural flows of 'Guru English' and the shifting semantics of religion in modern Punjab. I hope that it gets the broad readership that it deserves."--J. Barton Scott, History of Religions


"Interrogating the construction of sainthood in colonial India and the modern West, Dobe highlights the creative agency of two Indian holy men--one Hindu, one Christian. He demonstrates that sainthood is less about miracles and heavenly charisma than about specific kinds of performance grounded in local contexts and shared vernacular traditions. In the embodied comparative projects of these two 'upstart saints,' Dobe finds clues for rethinking colonial religion. Unsettling in the best way possible!" --Brian A. Hatcher, author of Bourgeois Hinduism


"Timothy S. Dobe's innovative approach successfully incorporates bodily practice, ascetic performance, and a detailed understanding of context into his comparative textual study. By highlighting the multiple functions of sainthood in religious and social contexts and across religious traditions, Hindu Christian Faqir contributes to a broader approach to comparative study and a more nuanced understanding of colonial religion."--Journal of Hindu-Christian Studies


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