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Guru English

Guru English: South Asian Religion in a Cosmopolitan Language

Srinivas Aravamudan
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Guru English
    Book Description:

    Guru Englishis a bold reconceptualization of the scope and meaning of cosmopolitanism, examining the language of South Asian religiosity as it has flourished both inside and outside of its original context for the past two hundred years. The book surveys a specific set of religious vocabularies from South Asia that, Aravamudan argues, launches a different kind of cosmopolitanism into global use.

    Using "Guru English" as a tagline for the globalizing idiom that has grown up around these religions, Aravamudan traces the diffusion and transformation of South Asian religious discourses as they shuttled between East and West through English-language use. The book demonstrates that cosmopolitanism is not just a secular Western "discourse that results from a disenchantment with religion, but something that can also be refashioned from South Asian religion when these materials are put into dialogue with contemporary social move-ments and literary texts. Aravamudan looks at "religious forms of neoclassicism, nationalism, Romanticism, postmodernism, and nuclear millenarianism, bringing together figures such as Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, Mahatma Gandhi, and Deepak Chopra with Rudyard Kipling, James Joyce, Robert Oppenheimer, and Salman Rushdie.

    Guru Englishanalyzes writers and gurus, literary texts and religious movements, and the political uses of religion alongside the literary expressions of religious teachers, showing the cosmopolitan interconnections between the Indian subcontinent, the British Empire, and the American New Age.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2685-8
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xvi)
    (pp. 1-25)

    It is a truism, universally acknowledged, that English dominates the globe today as no language ever has in the recorded history of humanity. Despite the linguistic diversity of a world that features more than five thousand natural languages by some counts, a mere one hundred languages account for the mother tongue of 95 percent of the world’s population, twenty-five languages for about 75 percent, and just twelve languages for about 60 percent.¹ Second in terms of total number of speakers, English dominates by virtue of its stranglehold on global organizations as an international auxiliary or link language. Barring theories of...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Theolinguistics: Orientalists, Brahmos, Vedantins, and Yogis
    (pp. 26-62)

    European comparative frameworks dominated the first attempts to render South Asian religious practices into English. By resituating ancient Sanskrit texts and granting them greater performative force than they had at that point in time, the British orientalists demonstrated a neoclassical sensibility. The recent Mughal hegemony in northern India was displaced by a convergent account of Hinduism as the religion of the majority population. The textualism of such an approach also favored Brahmanical interpreters of Hindu religion over popular practitioners. An antiquarian idealization of texts and doctrines allowed for a rationalizing account of the revelations behind Hindu practices and an etiological...

  6. CHAPTER TWO From Indian Romanticism to Guru Literature
    (pp. 63-104)

    Indian Romanticism was the product of European intellectual diffusion, even as it also signaled prospective metaphysical futures. When related to its European precursors, is this late Romantic strain in colonial India an echo? a copy? a supplement? a displacement? a fantasized influence? a catachresis? If the late eighteenth century in Europe generated long-lived species of Romanticism that have subsequently billowed outward into numerous afterlives, what remains outside this family of Romanticisms? Dead classicisms? Liberal individualisms of various sorts? Industrial capitalism anchored in a variety of alternative modernities? The anachronistic continuation of Romanticism beyond the so-called Romantic Age is matched by...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Theosophistries
    (pp. 105-141)

    While the ecumenical showcasing of Indian religious leaders in the West took place in the context of the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893 discussed in the first chapter, the Theosophical Society was an important intermediary for the dissemination of modern Hinduism and Buddhism. The Theosophical Society was founded earlier, in New York in 1875, by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and Henry Steel Olcott. Flirting with Dayananda’s Arya Samaj and integrating itself into the Buddhist and Hindu aspects of spiritual tradition, Theosophy was a cosmopolitan alternative when compared with the parochial nature of the Raj. Founded in the transidiomatic...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR The Hindu Sublime, or Nuclearism Rendered Cultural
    (pp. 142-183)

    As defined by Robert Jay Lifton and Richard Falk, nuclearism is a general deformation of attitudes toward weaponry created by a “psychological, political, and military dependence on nuclear weapons.”¹ Ashis Nandy has subsequently argued that this deformation is well in place the world over, and therefore, “the culture of nuclearism is one of the true ‘universals’ of our time.”² In this context, Guru English is a transidiomatic vehicle for state-sponsored rationalities to gain philosophical cover and cosmopolitan appeal. When the philosophy behind nuclear weaponry is associated with as well as interrogated by the premier religious text taken up by modern...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Blasphemy, Satire, and Secularism
    (pp. 184-219)

    Is Guru English a euphemization of Hindu English, itself standing in for other “Indic” religions? Are South Asian and diasporic Muslims also in dialogue with the multilayered phenomenon of Guru English, whether as register, discourse, environment, or cosmopolitanism? Putting aside the question of its antecedents, is Guru English to be regarded as a more generalized symptom of the crisis of Indian secularism?

    In calling for an anthropology of secularism, Talal Asad has challenged the normative evaluation of particular societies according to the universalizing parameters of Western rationality. The epistemic category of the secular has to be differentiated from the political...

  10. CHAPTER SIX New Age Enchantments
    (pp. 220-264)

    Guru English has been the name for something like a theory of excess. Such a theory does not disprove the functional role of orientalism in colonial rule or displace the serious outcomes of the ongoing politics of religion in postcolonial South Asia and elsewhere. What might seem on occasion to be a frivolous counterculture of free-floating migrancy and diasporic delight can also, at other moments, integrate itself seamlessly with new forms of capitalist exploitation and still elsewhere associate itself with alternative explorations of critical agency and social transformation. A focus on the productivity of Guru English in a number of...

    (pp. 265-270)

    While this study sketches some historical and literary instances of Guru English in multiple contexts and investigates a number of ancillary phenomena under the rubric, it is neither a full-fledged survey of the four aspects (register, discourse, environment, and cosmopolitanism) of Guru English nor an exhaustive monograph of particular movements or practitioners, or of the vast range of the literature that could be summoned up under this rubric. There is an immense range of scholarship available to track the impact of particular religious leaders and movements in South Asian and diasporic contexts, and likewise, there are many works of literary...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 271-312)
  13. Index
    (pp. 313-330)