Empire of ReligionImperialism and Comparative Religion

Empire of ReligionImperialism and Comparative Religion

David Chidester

Print publication date: 2014

ISBN: 9780226117263

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

Providing a new history of the study of religion, Empire of Religion locates knowledge about religion and religions within the power relations of imperial ambitions, colonial situations, and indigenous innovations. The book uncovers the material mediations—imperial, colonial, and indigenous—in which knowledge about religion was produced during the rise of an academic study of religion between the 1870s and the 1920s in Europe and North America. Focusing on one colonial contact zone, South Africa, as a crucial site of interaction, the book shows how imperial theorists such as Friedrich Max Müller, E. B. Tylor, Andrew Lang, and James Frazer depended upon the raw materials provided by colonial middlemen who in turn depended upon indigenous informants and collaborators undergoing colonization. Reversing the flow of knowledge production, African theorists such as W. E. B. Du Bois, S. M. Molema, and H. I. E. Dhlomo turned European imperial theorists of religion into informants in pursuing their own intellectual projects. By developing a material history of the study of religion, Empire of Religion documents the importance of African religion, the persistence of the great divide between savagery and civilization, and the salience of complex mediations in which knowledge about religion and religions was produced, authenticated, and circulated within imperial comparative religion. Empire of Religion shows how knowledge about religion and religions was entangled with imperialism from European empires to the neoimperial United States.