Hindoos, Hindus, Spelling, and Theory

What is the relationship between spelling and theory? I often tell people my research is about “Hinduism in nineteenth century America.” But it’s really not. It’s not about Hinduism at all. It can’t be because the idea of “Hinduism,” a world religion comparable to other world religions, isn’t invented until the late nineteenth century. That’s kind of the point of my research. Most other scholars writing about this period will still use the term “Hindu” to describe the people that Americans or Britons were describing during this period. But when an American missionary or Unitarian pastor refered to the people in India doing something that they recognize as religion they most often used the term “Hindoo.” Hindoo–that double O of colonialism.

So, here’s the question: Is the difference between Hindoo and Hindu just a matter of spelling? Or is there more going on here?

On the one hand, you could argue that though the sources read Hindoo, it makes sense for the scholar today to write Hindu, even when talking about the 1820s. There are all sorts of terms that we alter when we bring them into the present from the past. No one puts the long S in their scholarly prose, for example. So, maybe Hindoo to Hindu is just like taking that long s out of Congress in the Bill of Rights?

The long s in "Congress" from the Bill of Rights

The long s in “Congress” from the Bill of Rights

But maybe it’s not. It seems to me a Hindu is actually someone quite different from a Hindoo. That is, a Hindu is someone tied up with this world religion called Hinduism. There is the Hindu American Foundation, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (or World Hindu Council), and the Pew Research Center tallies up the number of “Hindus” in America. But in the early nineteenth century, a Hindoo was a product of the American and British imagination. When I discuss what Americans thought about India and the people who lived there and these things they did that Americans thought were religion, I am not talking about people in South Asia. I’m talking about representations of people in South Asia. These Hindoos are imaginary. “Hindoos” and their religion were invented by Europeans and Americans. During this period, people in India did not present themselves to an American audience. Rather, they were represented by American and European authors to an American audience and in that process they were represented as Hindoos.

Perhaps the one exception to this would be the Indian reformer Rammohun Roy who wrote in English to an American and British audience. However, Roy self-identified as a “Hindoo,” as in his work “A Defence of Hindoo Theism.” Swami-Vivekananda-Hindoo-Monk-posterEven as late as the 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions, Americans represented Swami Vivekananda, the South Asian who garnered an audience throughout America, as a “Hindoo Monk.” Vivekananda and Rammohun Roy served as transitional figures as Hindoos became Hindus. That is, as South Asians went from imagined representations to immigrants representing themselves in American culture. In 1893 Vivekananda was a “Hindoo monk” but by 1930 he is part of a “Hindu Movement” in Wendell Thomas’s book Hinduism Invades America. Vivekananda goes from Hindoo to Hindu, from a South Asian represented by Americans in Chicago to the founder of a movement representing itself in America.

Here’s the shift from Hindoo to Hindu in one handy Ngram. The lines cross in the year 1884:

Screen Shot 2014-09-02 at 1.23.53 PM

 

For most of my brief career I’ve fallen back on the term “Hindu religions” to describe whatever it was that Americans and the British were trying to describe in their writing. But I’ve decided to eject that term from my work going forward because it implies that there is something there that is essentially “Hindu” before someone labels it as such. There is no there there, however. There is only the discourse about whatever people in South Asia seem to be doing to Europeans and Americans. So, I’m going back to Hindoo, colonial Os and all, to emphasize that nothing is “Hindu” or “Hindoo” until someone categorizes it as such. And then, once categorized, my job is to unpack the conflicts, arguments, ideologies, claims, and competitions behind that categorization. But I am curious to hear from others on this question–and similar questions about, say, “evangelical” or other such categories. Is this all simply a word game?

 

On Swami Vivekananda’s 150th Birthday: Beginnings and Endings

Tomorrow marks Swami Vivekananda’s 150th birthday. Vivekananda haunts me. He was a man who meant and continues to mean many things to many people. But for me, Vivekananda will always represent a limit or a boundary. When I started the research project that became my dissertation, I started with Vivekananda and then turned and looked backward. In American religious history, Vivekananda represented the beginning of Hinduism in America. He brought Raja Yoga and the Vedanta Society. His speech at the World’s Parliament of Religion was the dawning of a new pluralism in America. I wanted to know what happened before that. I wanted to turn Vivekananda into the ending. What did Americans think about India and Hindus and yoga and Brahma and Krishna before 1893–before the Swami came to Chicago? That has been the driving question of my research for the past seven years, across my masters and Ph.D. work, and through two universities.

As Hindus around the world remember and celebrate the life of the Swami, I celebrate as well, but for very different reasons. As I said, for me Vivekananda represents the end. He is the last figure in my dissertation. So, as I put the finishing touches on this dissertation, look toward a defense in a couple months, a graduation shortly after that, and eventually a book, I celebrate the life of Vivekananda. Because without him I would never have found this research topic. And without him it would not have an ending.

Shut Up and Start Writing

Time for final check in. We’ve done this for six weeks now and I hope it’s been helpful. It seems that most of us are interested in keeping this going so here’s what I’m thinking. Let’s keep this going as a sort of writing support group. We’ll keep checking in with our goals for the week and reporting what we did the previous week but I’ll stop numbering each week.

This group has been really helpful in forcing me to be thoughtful about planning out my work. Sure I didn’t always hit my goals, but I was approaching my work much more strategically. I also liked the chance to reflect back on my work week that these posts give and the great feedback and encouragement you fellow writers give. Thanks so much for your participation and great comments every week!

I spent a lot of time reading through sources and taking a lot of notes. I wrote a couple hundred words a day but most of my work went into my moleskine not my computer. Until today. All that note taking paid off and I tore off 1100 solid words today. That made me happy.

For next week, I want to keep going at about 1000 words a day average. I want 5000 more by the end of the week. I’ve put in the time and thought in the past couple of weeks, now it’s time to crank it out. I need to get this chapter and a separate 10000 word encyclopedia article done by the end of the month.

Along with your check in and goals for the week I would love to hear from y’all about what this group has done help you and any suggestions for changes as we take this into the fall. What do y’all think about this group overall?

Shut Up and Start Writing Week 6: The Home Stretch

We have hit the home stretch. Much like a runner in the Olympics, it is time to hit our “kick” and sprint to the finish. This is the last week of our summer writing group so let’s get as much as we can out of it.

As far as last week, I did not get the 3000 words that I wanted but I did write everyday. I’ll take that. I’m trying to balance the “the best dissertation is a done dissertation” with my own desire that it be a really really high quality piece of work. Perhaps the perfect is the enemy of the good, but I’m worried I’ll end up with the mediocre instead.

For this final week I want to keep the daily pomodoro of writing going and I still want to shoot for 3000 words. I had hoped to finish this chapter by now or at least be close but that’s not going to happen. I want it done but not rushed, so I’m shooting for an August 31st completion and hoping I end up done early so I can pat myself on the back.

How was everyone’s week? I’ll post one final post next weekend so we can reflect on the whole writing group and what we got done. Also, be thinking if you want to no continue this into the fall in some form or another.

Shut Up and Start Writing Week 5: IKEA edition

Random household chores got in my way this week. Part of those chores involved two trips to IKEA and two nights assembling furniture. That said, I think most of that stuff is done and I can finish out the summer with some heavy duty writing. I did not reach the 3000 words I had hoped but I got about 1000 on the screen and I wrote for at least one pomodoro 3 out of the 5 days. That’s not bad.
For this week I want to finish what I failed last week. At least one pomodoro every day and 3000 words by the end of the week. I need this chapter drafter by August 15.
How did yall do?

Writing Group Week 4: Free Bates Edition

I have no reason for the above picture. I just like it.

So, how was everyone’s week? Sorry for the late post. I’ll do better next week.

I hit my goal. I’ve got a good outline of where this chapter is heading. I still have some primary sources  to go through next week but I can do that as I write. I’m trying to remember the whole “write before your ready” adage as I tend to put off writing too long. So for next week, I want to spend at least one pomodoro period each day actually writing into the word processor and I want to get at least 3000 words into said word processor before the end of the week.

How yall doing?

Shut Up and Start Writing Week 3

How are things going for everyone? We’re two weeks in and I know this group has been super helpful for me. I have a tendency to piddle around in the early stages of a new chapter. Having a clear goal for the week definitely pushed me to figure it all out. I did reach my goal and I have a nice list of sources that I will be going through this coming week. My goal this week is to go through the sources and come up with a very general outline of where this chapter is going. I wrote a blog post this past week that was me thinking out loud a bit about the chapter and I have some general idea of some themes I’m intrigued by. By the end of the week, though, I want a good solid outline of the major points/figures/texts I’m going to work through in the chapter.

What about yall? How’s it going? What can we do to help you? What’s your goal for this week?

Just remember, Success Kid loves you and is proud of you.