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Debating Authorities

Gender and the Interpretation of Religion(s) in Colonial India

Configurations of religion(s) in colonial India are not only intrinsically connected to newly created political and legal frameworks, but also to debates about which texts and practices, religious norms and values are authoritative. The rights and duties of women and gender-relations at large were a major issue in these debates as the status a religion accorded to women became a benchmark in assessing normative claims in social and political arenas. Women from different backgrounds participated increasingly in these debates in voicing their ideas about what is (their) religion, about social reforms, political and personal freedom. They queried established religious authorities and normative practices and interpreted religious texts and concepts in various and highly contested ways. Although these interpretations were influential they have not been given much attention in academic studies as they were deemed lacking authority, being unoriginal etc.

The project deals with these interpretations and the institutional and socio-political contexts as well as personal constellations that shaped them. It focusses on the ways in which religious ideas and practices (mostly Hindu, Buddhist, Christian) were positioned and addressed colonial, nationalist and social reformist agendas as well as the constructions of gender they entailed.