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date: 04 December 2020

Social and Religious Reform in 19th-Century Indialocked

  • William GouldWilliam GouldSchool of History, University of Leeds


The 19th century in India, and especially the last quarter, was a period in the development of what were to become India’s major new religious movements, with lasting significance into the century that followed, within India and beyond. Essential to these movements was the notion of social “reform” and its associated idea of religious revival. These twin concepts involved a range of debates about existing religious traditions for Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs, the need to adapt them to social and political transformations, ideas about the “modern,” and institution building around education and social work. The very concept of community identity also underwent change, with the establishment, for example, of the idea of “Hinduism” as a world religion. The three main contexts to these debates were the formalization of the colonial state, the development of the socio-religious institution, and the impact of anti-colonial nationalism. The nature of colonial power in India shifted from trade expansion and conquest, to formal crown colony control over the course of the 19th century, and this had a profound impact on the nature of religious movements, ideas about reform, and social change. India’s main religious traditions confronted an array of challenges: direct, in the form of missionaries, and indirect, in the shape of new social and political ideas. Partly in response to these changes, an array of ideologues built new organizations that reshaped the institutional landscape of India. Finally many of the leaders and intellectual influences of these organizations became pivotal to debates about national belonging and political representation as the century came to a close.

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