Book: Translocal Lives and Religion
Chapter: Editor’s Introduction
Inspired by the historiographical model of “connected histories”, this volume examines the intellectual and geographical trajectories of 9 individuals who interacted with religious discourses, doctrines or practices in the 19th and 20th centuries. Introducing the notion of “connected histories of religion”, the book focuses on situations of interactions over large geographical distances and contributes to reconnect histories that have been separated by historiographical preferences.
The book equally contributes to broader methodological issues of comparative religion by interpreting the trajectories of these transnational actors as building blocks of the global circulation of religious ideas and practices. Interrogating the nature of comparative categories and undermining the idea of discrete institutionalized religions (as in the so-called “world religion model”), it focuses on historical processes that are comparative in nature. In so doing, it provides material to rethink categories, practices or theories related to “religion” under a more dynamic light: the goal is not only to sketch the history of uniquely Christian or Western categories being consistently (mis-)applied to non-Western contexts, but also to map a complex history of appropriations, rejections, or subversions on a global scale, from the 19th century on. This approach can then make an effective contribution to countering Eurocentric tendencies in the field.
Figures who regularly crossed borders, such as missionaries, members of diaspora communities, monks, pilgrims, scholars, tourists or travelling revolutionaries provide fascinating material for such a project. Bringing together select cases of encounters in European and Asian contexts in the 19th and first half of the 20th century, the volume centres on two dimensions: (1) actors interacting with discourses of religion, appropriating, rejecting, subverting ideas or practices for their various needs or interests, and (2) actors producing and propagating religious discourses and practices, using a specific relation to space (travels, temporary or longer stays, targeted visits to specific groups etc.) to achieve their ends. Without being exhaustive, the variety of cases will arouse questions that can be addressed to other contexts.
The chapters deal with the following issues: How did the international contacts and travels of these individuals contribute to the global circulation of discourses and practices about “religion”? How were these conceptions or practices endowed with new meanings, instrumentalized or rejected in the different contexts they crossed? What was the role of different actors – including “subaltern” or secondary actors – in this process? Did such encounters contribute to building stereotyped conceptions of “religion” or did they, on the contrary, extend the range of possible ideas on “religion”? Finally, in which measure are the 19th century and early 20th centuries specific for retracing “connected histories of religion”?
All contributions are original. A preface and a concluding chapter provide an external and synthetic point of view. The volume will be of significance for people working or interested in the study of religion, in Asian studies and in global history, for both undergraduate and graduate levels.