language. This development of interest in Indian culture led a group of scholarly East India Company civil servants to set up a society for the study of Indian culture in 1784, the Asiatic Society of Bengal. In the first two volumes, those for 1789 and 1790, of that society's journal, Asiatik Researches, Sir James Jones published three seminal articles sympathetic to Hinduism, which reached a wide audience not only in Britain but also in western Europe. Principal Robertson's An historical disquisition ofthe knowledge the ancients had of India (1791), which had gone through four editions by 1804, completed the leading echelon of sympathetic writings on India. Robertson, like Jones and the others, admired much in Indian society and culture, particularly its long continuity with the past that neither Muslim nor European conqueror had been able to break. Robertson, who never visited India, defended caste in terms that made it sound like a kind of welfare state, or at least an arrangement that led to social stability and relative prosperity for all. In his discussion of caste he insisted that,

The arrangements of civil government are made, not for what is extraordinary, but for what is common; not for the few, but for the many. The object of the first Indian legislators was to employ the most effectual means of providing for the subsistence, the security, and happiness of all the members of the community over which they presided.12

Jones, Robertson and the others who presented a sympathetic picture of Hindu society to the west were, however, all agreed on their aversion to much of Hindu 'religion' or 'popular Hinduism' as some termed it. Most of them insisted that some of the practices were so awful that they could not be recounted. In making this distinction they were doing what some twenty-first century scholars do: write as if it were possible to divide neatly and clearly Hindu 'religion' from Hindu social relations and Hindu philosophy. Most modern scholars of Hinduism, whether Indian or European, do not consider such a tidy separation possible to sustain.13

Just as fifty years earlier, Deists and anti-Christian intellectuals had used the Jesuit enthusiasm for Confucianism to challenge the authority of the Bible and the uniqueness of Christianity, so, in the last quarter of the eighteenth century, similar intellectuals used the writings of these admirers of Hindu philosophy and society to the same end. These writings, needless to say, did not encourage the new wave of evangelical Protestant activists, whether they were formally missionaries or not, to adopt a sympathetic attitude towards Hinduism.

It was William Ward ofthe Baptist mission at Serampore in Bengal (founded in 1793) who set the tone of the new Protestant Christian approach to Hinduism. It should be noted that, like all the other members of that mission,

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment