Scholars regularly assert that at Chicago's World's Parliament of Religions in 1893 Swami Vivekananda initiated Hinduism in America. Many histories of Hinduism in America reproduce this type of synthesizing narrative. But how was Hinduism defined by Vivekananda and how was it understood by his American audience? How did it relate to the various South Asian religious practices and beliefs that are subsumed under this term Hinduism?
In Heathen, Hindoo, Hindu: American Representations of India, 1721-1893
(Oxford University Press, 2017), Michael J. Altman
, Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama, tackles literary and visual accounts of religion in India to understand the production of the category Hinduism in America. He provides an episodic genealogy of the ways in which South Asians were constructed in the American imaginary. Instead of reclassifying the various terminology used by missionaries, columnists, or Transcendentalists as Hinduism Altman carefully plots the social, political, and theological claims invested in those terms.
In our conversation we discuss early American religious culture, category construction, evangelical knowledge production, orientalist discourses, displays of South Asia material culture, Unitarians, Transcendentalists, and the Theosophical Society, Rammohan Roy, Protestant morality and national culture, public schools education, missionary accounts, and the contours of American Religious Studies.
Kristian Petersen is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Nebraska Omaha. He is the author of Interpreting Islam in China: Pilgrimage, Scripture, and Language in the Han Kitab
(Oxford University Press, 2017). He is currently working on a monograph entitled
The Cinematic Lives of Muslims, and is the editor of the forthcoming volumes
Muslims in the Movies: A Global Anthology (ILEX Foundation) and
New Approaches to Islam in Film (Routledge). You can find out more about his work on his website, follow him on Twitter @BabaKristian, or email him at email@example.com.