Luther in the Tropics: Karsandas Mulji and the Colonial


J. Barton Scott


Journal of the American Academy of Religion


One of the standard narratives that scholars tell about the encounter of Asian religions with colonial modernity is the narrative of “Protestantization.” This article rethinks that narrative through close readings of texts written by the two protagonists of one of nineteenth-century India's most emblematic events: the Maharaj Libel Case (1862). During and after this scandalous trial, reformer and journalist Karsandas Mulji was cast as an “Indian Luther.” His opponent Jadunathji Brizratanji Maharaj, meanwhile, was depicted as an unreformed advocate of priestly tyranny. The article rereads the relationship between Mulji and the Maharaj in order to suggest how Protestantism might be refigured and retheorized from the colonial margin. Arguing that, in the nineteenth century, “reform” served as a site for the exchange of mobilized ascetic technologies, it tracks how ascetic technologies of self-discipline connected the religious worlds of Protestantism and Hinduism.



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