The European Encounter with Hinduism in India

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The European Encounter with Hinduism in India | Jan Peter Schouten

The European Encounter with Hinduism in India

Jan Peter Schouten

Currents of Encounter, 62


February 2020


In The European Encounter with Hinduism Jan Peter Schouten offers an account of European travellers coming into contact with the Hindu religion in India. From the thirteenth century on, both traders and missionaries visited India and encountered the exotic world of Hindus and Hinduism. Their travel reports reveal how Europeans gradually increased their knowledge of Hinduism and how they evaluated this foreign religion. Later on, although officials of the colonial administration also studied the languages and culture of India, it was – contrary to what is usually assumed – particularly the many missionaries who made the greatest contribution to the mapping of Hinduism.

Dr. Jan Peter Schouten (1949) studied theology and sociology in Amsterdam and Utrecht. He is a retired minister of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands. He has published monographs and articles on Hinduism, including Jesus as Guru(Brill/Rodopi, 2008).

Acknowledgements IX
  List of Illustrations XI
 1A Functioning Temple
 2A Long History of Encounter
 3The Prehistory of Dialogue
 4Terminological Relativisation
  1The First Visitors: Marco Polo and the Franciscan Friars
 1Beyond Byzantium
 2The Mongol Advance
 3Marco Polo
 4People with Dog’s Heads
 5A Strange Culture
 6A Separate Caste
 7The Friars Speak
 9Another Civilisation in View
  2Knowledge is Power: Nicolò de’ Conti and Jan Huygen van Linschoten
 1Traders Make their Way to India
 2A Penitent Apostate
 3A Corporate Spy in Action
 4A Humanistic Work
 6Shocking Religious Phenomena
 7A Dutchman in a Portuguese City
 8Caste Hierarchy
 9Religious Customs and Religious Faith
 11An Unknown World
  3A Foreign Culture Baptised: The Jesuits Roberto de Nobili and Thomas Stephens
 1Travels to Asia
 2Jesuits in Mission
 3A Promising Young Man
 4In the Capital
 5 A Christian Sannyāsī
 6De Nobili’s Appeal for Brahmins
 7Opposition from the Church
 8Local Customs
 9 Conversion and Accomodatio
 10Affinity with Hinduism?
 11Caste as a Stumbling Block
 12De Nobili as an Example?
 13Thomas Stephens in Goa
 14The Purāṇa
  4Dutch Ministers in the VOC : Rogerius and Baldaeus
 1The Oldest Manual
 2Pastor and Missionary
 3Rogerius’ Career in the East
 4Study on Hinduism
 6An Honest Report
 7The Structure of the Book
 8An Appealing Book
 9Baldaeus and Mythology
 12Other Ministers
  5A Pietistic Preacher in Danish Territory: Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg
 1A Danish Undertaking
 2Pietistic Germans
 3Preaching in Tamil
 4Sources of Language and Religion
 5The “Malabar Correspondence”
 6On the Path to Salvation?
 7Systematic Work
  6A Disappointed Missionary: Abbé Dubois
 1Reading for the Curious
 2A Costly Manuscript
 3Missionaries in Turbulent Times
 4A Hindu among the Hindus
 5Mission Impossible?
 6A Manual
 7Inclusion of the Lower Castes
  7British Government Officials: John Muir and Nascent Indology
 1The East Indian Company
 2An Influential Translation
 3A Learned Society
 4The Serampore Trio
 5‘Little Britain’ in a Foreign Society
 6The Christian Faith Disseminated
 7Writing in Sanskrit
 8Divine Properties
 9Hindus Respond to the Challenge
 10Other Research into Hinduism
  8The Image of the East in the West: Nineteenth- century British India in Fiction and Travel Reports
 1Romantic Orientalism
 2The First Detective Novel
 3Emily Eden: A Lady Travelling in a Strange Land
 4Mary Carpenter: A Visitor in Search of Renewal
 5D.C. Steyn Parvé: Fear of Rebellion in the Colonies
 6Willam Urwick: A Reflective Tour
 7A Princely Picture of India: Prince Bojidar
  9Missionaries from Switzerland: The Basel Mission in South India
 1A Minister Honoured
 2On the Road in a Mission Field
 3A New Beginning
 4Church in India—An Indian Church?
 5Mapping a Language
 6Examining the Liṅgāyats
 7In Search of a Point of Contact
 8An Exceptional French Swiss
 9Back in Europe
 10To America
 11The Brahmanical Culture
 12Pantheism and the Vedas
 1A Fascinating Country
 2Wondrous Phenomena
 3A Major Stumbling Block
 4Minor Stumbling Blocks
 6A Broad Interest
 7Another Religious Structure and Culture
 8Idols and Monotheism
 9Plurality and Colourfulness
 10Nascent Dialogue
  Index of Names

The European Encounter with Hinduism in India is a masterful reflection on Western visitors to India from Marco Polo on, and then too on the colonial era missionary encounters with Hindu texts, practices, and believers. Sensitive to political as well as religious issues, Schouten introduces a wide range of materials very ably, and at every point offers insights into the views and strategies of missionary scholars and educated colonial officials. Readers are prompted to take a new and long view on how the West discovered India, and inevitably to reassess our current political, cultural and religious reactions to the great traditions of Hindu India. – Francis X. Clooney, SJ, Professor of Comparative Theology, Harvard University.

In the history of European contact with India, Roberto de Nobili takes pride of place. This Jesuit was a towering figure; he learned Sanskrit, studied the Veda’s, and wore Brahmin dress (described in rich detail in this book). By doing so, he tried to reach the highest caste in India and started telling the story of the ‘fifth Veda’, the gospel. He created a dilemma for the Christian churches by accepting the caste system (that still exists until today, even though it is perhaps less influential than several centuries ago). The Christian churches in India struggled to integrate Indian culture into their Christian liturgy. They rightly argued that in the guise of Christian mission, colonialism dictated Western habits and should therefore not be seen as universally binding. The Protestant missionaries in India, were convinced of the idolatrous nature of Hinduism. But even they were forced to acknowledge Indian culture as a valid incentive for the Churches in India. As an expert in Hinduism and Christian theology, Jan Peter Schouten is the perfect author to write about the confrontation between Europe and India. – Marcel Poorthuis, Professor of Interreligious Dialogue, Tilburg University.

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