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Translocal Lives and Religion

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This volume examines the intellectual trajectories of remarkable individuals who interacted with religious discourses, doctrines or practices in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Inspired by S. Subrahmanyam and S. Gruzinski’s historiographical model of “connected histories”, this book introduces the approach of “connected religion” and invites the study of cross-cultural and “translocal” encounters by bringing together documents that represent diverse aspects of the story and reconstructing a narrative from diverse standpoints, with analytical potential. Testing this approach through specific cases of interactions between Asia and Europe, the volume explores the little-known stories of actors such as migrants or expatriates interacting with religious discourses, and of religious leaders producing and propagating beliefs and practices. The cases pose questions that can be applied to further contexts, such as: the significance of improved travels and communications for the diffusion of religious content across national, cultural and institutional boundaries; the impact of specific individuals, charismatic or not, well-established or subaltern in the reconfiguration of institutional forms of religion; and the role of the South Asian referent in legitimating the propagation of specific religious views. Offering both an innovative methodological framework and original cases based on new research, the book will be of interest to scholars of religion, to specialists of South Asia in late modernity and to the broader public.

Published: Feb 8, 2021


Section Chapter Authors
List of Figures Philippe Bornet
Foreword Sujit Sivasundaram
Editor's Preface Philippe Bornet
Part I: Introduction
1. From Comparative to Connected Religion: Translocal Aspects of Orientalism and the Study of Religion Philippe Bornet
Part II: Transnational Trajectories and Individual Appropriations of Religion
2. "In-Between" Religiosity: European Kāli-bhakti in Early Colonial Calcutta Gautam Chakrabarti
3. The Making of the Ideal Transnational Disciple: Unravelling Biographies of Margaret Noble/Sister Nivedit Gwilym Beckerlegge
4. The Curious Case of the Drs. D’Abreu: Catholicism, Migration and a Kanara Catholic Family in the Heart of the Empire, 1890-1950 Dwayne Menezes
5. Religion and the "Simple Life": Dugald Semple and Translocal "Life Reform" Networks Steven Sutcliffe
6. Re-discovering Buddha’s Land: The Transnational Formative Years of China’s Indology Minyu Zhang
Part III: Religions on the Move
7. Charles Pfoundes and the Forgotten First Buddhist Mission to the West, London 1889-1892: Some Research Questions Brian Bocking
8. Travelling Through Interstitial Spaces: The Radical Spiritual Journeys of Pandita Mary Ramabai Saraswathi Parinitha Shetty
9. A "Christian Hindu Apostle"?: The Multiple Lives of Sadhu Sundar Singh (1889-1929?) Philippe Bornet
10. The Chen Jianmin (1906-1987) Legacy: An "Always on the Move" Buddhist Practice Fabienne Jagou
PART IV: In Summary
11. Afterword Maya Burger
End Matter
Index Philippe Bornet


This landmark collection of essays takes the reader on a journey into the connected history of religions in late modern Asia and Europe. With its focus on individual lives lived in local contexts and integrated into a larger global framework, the book adds a new and fascinating dimension to studies of religious transfers and adaptations.
Professor Karénina Kollmar-Paulenz, University of Bern

For opening up such a rich vista of histories of experience while fore-grounding religion, which surely is a key theme in late modern history, while placing these at the heart of connected approaches, the authors of this volume deserve congratulations. This is a volume that is worthy of wide reading by Asianists, global historians and scholars of religious studies and should be read from start to finish; the intertwining of cases generates an assembly which is telling for this age. This assembly gets to the contortions of this period with subtlety and nuance.
From the Foreword by Sujit Sivasundaram, Professor of World History and Fellow, Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge University 

This book reminds us that the turn from the nineteenth to the twentieth centuries was a time of lively spiritual experimentation. Perhaps all periods are times of lively experimentation! Too many people in our contemporary world think that they’ve invented a new meditational technique, or hit upon a particular lacuna in someone’s religio-philosophical belief system, that has never been invented or filled before. In a certain sense, that’s possible, but I believe that mostly people take old wine skins and put new wine in them. These skins don’t last forever. Eventually new wine skins are fashioned, and that’s the wonderful thing about studying religion in the field of Religious Studies—there’s no end to innovation, as this book demonstrates.
Nova Religio

An evident strength of this edited collection is how challenging it is to capture its complexity, nuance, and substance in this short review. There is so much that points to further research and discussion. This volume is a fine contribution and insightfully highlights the impact a focus on translocal lives and “religious exchanges” (xv) can have on the study of religion(s).
Journal of Contemporary Religion

Offers insights into unexplored vistas of religious transfers between Asia and Europe in the late modern period.The rare photographs in the support of writing are what make it more significant for a student of history. Together, all ten stories seem to argue that interaction with micro settings is the key to unlocking the in-depth religious experience of a particular persona.
Reading Religion