I gave the following paper at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion to the Religion and Popular Culture Group in November of 2008. This is the first in a series of old conference papers I’m putting on this blog in order to open the up to a larger audience. The full text of the article I discuss is available through the Making of America Collection by Cornell University here .
As many of you may know, this year’s AAR conference here in Chicago coincides with the 115th anniversary of the World’s Parliament of Religion held in this same city. And while there are probably papers being given this weekend championing the importance of the Parliament and what it meant for American religious history, I take a little different perspective. Contrary to the popular narrative that the Parliament served as America’s great introduction to Asian religions in America, my most current and ongoing research project has been to delve into sources prior to the World’s Parliament of Religion in order to build a history for Hinduism in America that precedes, and in some ways preconditions, the World Parliament of Religion.
Today, I would like to use one example from that research to explore two inter-related points regarding colonial knowledge, popular culture, and American religious history. First, as I have partly revealed, I challenge the “great event” history that locates the beginning of Hinduism in America with the World Parliament of Religion. Second, I explore how colonial knowledge seeps through leaks in the colonial project and finds its way into popular culture. I address these points through the example of an 1878 Harper’s New Monthly Magazine article entitled, “Juggernaut.” So, I will begin with a brief background of Harper’s New Monthly . Next, I will move through a close reading of the article, and finally, I will conclude with some thoughts as to how this article addresses these points.