Religious Criticism, Public Reason and Affect in the Reformist Age

Early Arya Samaj and the Religious Controversies

  • Mohinder Singh (Autor/in)

Identifier (Artikel)


Several movements for religious and social reform emerged among the religious communities in 19th century India as varied responses to the colonial ‘civilizing
mission’. The work of reform among the Hindus and Muslims involved both the defence of their respective religious traditions and simultaneous critiques of established religious practices and institutions seen as corrupt or inauthentic. Both Hindus and Muslims inherited rich traditions of reason, reasoning and rational argumentation as well as of internal religious innovation and reforms. What is new about the 19th century reformist discourses, is the imbrication of these concepts with the Western conceptions of reason and science. The public sphere that emerged in this wake involved diverse forms of polemics and contests within religious traditions (i.e., between the orthodox and the reformers within a tradition) and between the religious traditions. The colonial state protected religious criticism, subject to public peace and order. However, public order frequently became a concern for the state as both these dimensions of religious controversies tended to generate affects—hurt feelings, passions, public enthusiasm—often leading to violence. A large number of court cases were also filed as a consequence. The public sphere of the religious controversies was also exposed to the global circulation of concepts, images and rhetorical figures. This article attempts to explore the rational and affective dimensions of the religious controversies in the early 20th century India by focusing on an important document related to the history of the reformist organisation Arya Samaj relevant for this theme.