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Empire of ReligionImperialism and Comparative Religion$
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David Chidester

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780226117263

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2014

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226117577.001.0001

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Spirit of Empire

Spirit of Empire

(p.257) Chapter Nine Spirit of Empire
Empire of Religion

David Chidester

University of Chicago Press

Focusing on the authentication of knowledge about religion and religions, this chapter examines three versions of authenticity—interfaith, theosophical, and critical—that emerged within imperial comparative religion. Interfaith comparative religion, which is illustrated by the Religions of Empire Conference organized in 1924 by the colonial agent and nature mystic Francis Younghusband, was authenticated by adherents describing their own faiths. The presentation by South African Albert Thoka demonstrated problems in this approach by rendering African religion as nature mysticism. Theosophical comparative religion, which invoked secret wisdom as authentic knowledge, directly challenged mainstream scholarship. In 1927, the theosophist Patrick Bowen published his discovery of secret wisdom among the Zulu of South Africa that was authenticated by being the same as Theosophy. Critical comparative religion, which relied on the authenticating power of the footnote, is illustrated by comparing the handling of the Zulu term Itongo (spirit) by Friedrich Max Müller, E. B. Tylor, Andrew Lang, and James Frazer.

Keywords:   authentication, Frazer, interfaith, Lang, Max Müller, Theosophy, Thoka, Tylor, Younghusband, Zulu religion

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