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Chapter 5 - Reading World Religions in the 1890s

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 August 2023

Dustin Friedman
Affiliation:
American University, Washington DC
Kristin Mahoney
Affiliation:
Michigan State University
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Summary

This chapter surveys the market for popular works on world religions that exploded in Britain during the 1890s. Critics have explored how scholars like the Oxford Sanskritist F. Max Müller laid the groundwork for religious studies in the twentieth century by mapping global religions onto a global hierarchy of languages and cultures. Such work tends to confirm our view of Orientalism as an extension of imperial power-knowledge. However, middle-class liberals, evangelical missionaries, and occult enthusiasts all had their own reasons for exploring the religions of the world. Their fascinations unfolded against the backdrop of imperial power but were seldom reducible to it. In addition, studying these publications can challenge our association of the “Naughty Nineties” with radicalism and subversion by showing the importance that middlebrow religious culture played in broadening religious horizons. Popular Victorian publications on Buddhism, Islam, Zoroastrianism, and Hinduism would lay the basis on which Anglo-American religious liberalism could flourish into the postwar period.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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