Orientalism’s Hinduism, Orientalism’s Islam, and the Twilight of the Subcontinental Imagination

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Using the figure of the ethnic Pathan/Pashtun as a trope in South Asian culture, this essay provides a genealogical account of the modern emergence of Hindu–Muslim “religious” conflicts played along the lines of nation-thinking in the Indian subcontinent. This modern phenomenon begins in the late 18th century, with the orientalist transcriptions of a vast conglomerate of diverse Indic faiths into a Brahminical–Sanskritic Hinduism and a similar telescoping of complex Islamic intellectual traditions into what we can call a “Mohammedanism” overdetermined by Islamic law. As such, both these transcriptions had to fulfill certain Christological expectations of western anthropology in order to emerge as “religions” and “world religions”, that is, when, as Talal Asad has shown, “religion” was constructed as an anthropological category within the parameters of European secular introspection and the modern expansion of empire. Both Hinduism and Islam therefore had to have a book, a prophetic figure, a doctrinal core, and a singular compendium of laws. Upper caste Sanskritic traditions therefore dominated Hinduism, and a legal supremacist position dominated the modern reckoning of Islam at the expense of philosophy, metaphysics, poesis, and varieties of artistic self-making. Together, the two phenomena also created the historical illusion (now industrialized) that Brahminism always defined Hindu societies and the Sharia was always a total fact of Islam.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1034
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2023


  • Hindutva
  • political monotheism
  • political theology
  • Indian politics
  • fascism
  • secularism
  • Bollywood
  • Hindu nationalism
  • religious nationalism
  • Islamicist fundamentalism


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