Religion and the Modern Self: Discussing J. Barton Scott's Spiritual Despots

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Friday, March 24th, 2017

Friday, March 24, 20174:00PM - 6:00PM208N, North House, 1 Devonshire Place
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Book Launch


Historians of religion have examined at length the Protestant Reformation and the liberal idea of the self-governing individual that arose from it. In Spiritual Despots, J. Barton Scott reveals an unexamined piece of this story: how Protestant technologies of asceticism became entangled with Hindu spiritual practices to create an ideal of the “self-ruling subject” crucial to both nineteenth-century reform culture and early twentieth-century anticolonialism in India. Scott uses the quaint term “priestcraft” to track anticlerical polemics that vilified religious hierarchy, celebrated the individual, and endeavored to reform human subjects by freeing them from external religious influence. By drawing on English, Hindi, and Gujarati reformist writings, Scott provides a panoramic view of precisely how the specter of the crafty priest transformed religion and politics in India.

J. Barton Scott is assistant professor of Historical Studies and the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto. His research bridges the study of modern South Asian religions and the cultural history of the study of religion, with particular attention to questions of colonialism, media, and public culture. He is the author of Spiritual Despots: Modern Hinduism and the Genealogies of Self-Rule (Chicago, 2016) and the co-editor of Imagining the Public in Modern South Asia (Routledge, 2016), and his published articles have appeared in journals including Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East and the Journal of the American Academy of Religion. His current research clusters around several themes and questions, including the history of liberalism in colonial India, the mediation and legal regulation of religious controversy, and the global travels of the Victorian self-help book.

Malavika Kasturi teaches South Asian history in the Department of Historical Studies, and is graduate faculty at the Departments of History and the Centre for the Study of Religion. Her past research analysed the reconstitution of the family and martial masculinities amongst elite lineages in British India, against the backdrop of colonial ideologies, political culture and material realities. Malavika Kasturi is currently finalising a book manuscript which explores the intersection of monasticism with a host of political bodies espousing visions of the Hindu ‘nation’.

Ruth Marshall is associate professor, at the Department for the Study of Religion and the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto. Her research and teaching engage with contemporary intersections of religion, politics and public life, interrogating articulations of religion, secularism and democratic theory from an interdisciplinary and comparative perspective. Ruth Marshall’s past research covers a range of empirical issues based on many years of fieldwork in West Africa with a theoretical interest in questions of subjectivity, citizenship, political exclusion and violence.

Srilata Raman is associate professor of Hinduism at the University of Toronto and works on medieval South Asian/South Indian religion, bhakti, historiography and hagiography, religious movements in early colonial India from the South as well as modern Tamil literature. Srilata Raman’s academic interests include Sanskrit and Tamil intellectual formations in South India from pre-colonial times to modernity, neo-Hinduism, Colonial Sainthood and modern Tamil literature. Her current work focuses on early colonial Tamil Saivism and the reformulations of religion, linked to notions of the body.


Rachel Ostep


Kajri Jain
Associate Professor of Indian Visual Culture and Contemporary Art, Department of Visual Studes

Christoph Emmrich
Director, Centre for South Asian Studies

J. Barton Scott
Assistant professor, Department for the Study of Religion and Department of Historical Studies

Malavika Kasturi
Associate Professor, Department of Historical Studies

Ruth Marshall
Associate professor, Department for the Study of Religion and Department of Political Science

Srilata Raman
Associate professor, Department for the Study of Religion


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