In the aftermath of Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978), European representations of Eastern cultures have returned to preoccupy the Western academy. Much of this work reiterates the point that nineteenth-century Orientalist scholarship was a corpus of knowledge that was implicated in and reinforced colonial state formation in India. The pivotal role of native informants in the production of colonial discourse and its subsequent use in servicing the material adjuncts of the colonial state notwithstanding, there has been some recognition in South Asian scholarship of the moot point that the colonial constructs themselves built upon an existing, precolonial European discourse on India and its indigenous culture. However, there is as yet little scholarly consensus or indeed literature on the core issues of how and when these edifices came to be formed, or the intellectual and cultural axes they drew from. This genealogy of colonial discourse is the subject of this essay. Its principal concerns are the formalization of a conceptual unit in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, called “Hinduism” today, and the larger reality of European culture and religion that shaped the contours of representation.
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