The Language of Disenchantment: Protestant Literalism and Colonial Discourse in British India

Paperback | October 24, 2012

byRobert A. Yelle

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The Language of Disenchantment explores how Protestant ideas about language influenced British colonial attitudes toward Hinduism and proposals for the reform of that tradition. Protestant literalism, mediated by a new textual economy of the printed book, inspired colonial critiques of Indianmythological, ritual, linguistic, and legal traditions. Central to these developments was the transposition of the Christian opposition between monotheism and polytheism or idolatry into the domain of language. Polemics against verbal idolatry - including the elevation of a scriptural canon over heathenish custom, the attack on the personifications ofmythological language, and the critique of "vain repetitions" in prayers and magic spells - previously applied to Catholic and sectarian practices in Britain were now applied by colonialists to Indian linguistic practices. As a remedy for these diseases of language, the British attempted tostandardize and codify Hindu 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 paganoracles and Jewish ritual. By recovering the historical roots of the British re-ordering of South Asian discourses in Protestantism, Yelle challenges representations of colonialism, and of the modernity that it ushered in, as simply rational or secular.

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The Language of Disenchantment explores how Protestant ideas about language influenced British colonial attitudes toward Hinduism and proposals for the reform of that tradition. Protestant literalism, mediated by a new textual economy of the printed book, inspired colonial critiques of Indianmythological, ritual, linguistic, and legal ...

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 Aft...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:288 pages, 9.25 × 6.12 × 0.68 inPublished:October 24, 2012Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0199925011

ISBN - 13:9780199925018

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Table of Contents

AcknowledgmentsAbbreviationsPreface1. Orientalism and the Language of Disenchantment2. "A Disease of Language": The Attack on Hindu Myth as Verbal Idolatry3. "One Step from Babel to Pentecost": Colonial Codification, Universal Languages, and the Debate over Roman Transliteration4. "Vain Repetitions": The Attack on Hindu Mantras5. The Hindu Moses: Christian Polemics against Jewish Ritual and the Secularization of Hindu LawAfterwordNotesBibliography