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Guest Lecture | Anne-Julie Etter (Paris): "Surveying Religion through Material Remains in Early Colonial India"


FNO 02/ 40-46


Material remains are usually not dealt with by the abundant literature on the construction of Hinduism pondering on the respective roles of Europeans and Brahmins. Yet, they have played an important role in the delineation of Indian religions. Europeans have used monuments and statues as sources in order to understand and study Indian religious practices and concepts and to outline India’s religious history, notably for examining the respective antiquity of and relationships between Brahmanism, Jainism and Buddhism.

In order to be used as sources, these material remains had to be deciphered. This raises the problem of concepts and methods through which they were described and analysed. This presentation aims at highlighting the existence of a religious bias in the reading of architecture and iconography on the one hand and at examining the impact of such bias on the study of Indian religions on the other.

This bias is itself twofold. Firstly, it pertains to the influence of Christian concepts and ideas on the interpretation of remains belonging to what came to be called the religion of the Gentiles, idolatry or the religion of the Hindus. Secondly, it relates to the influence of Brahmanical concepts through the resort to Brahmin informants, who tended to absorb Jain and Buddhist remains within the realm of Brahmanism.