The essays explore different aspects of religion in the context of identity discussions of
heretical and ascetic in the ancient and medieval period to everyday expressions of caste and
community in the modern and contemporary era, they straddle scholarship on Hinduism as well as
Eminent contributors combine history and anthropology, archival work and field research, and
textual analysis and theoretical exegesis in essays written specifically for this volume. Through
diverse approaches, each chapter probes and unsettles established understandings and accepted
verities, opening up themes for critical reflection across different periods.
A substantive introducing highlights critical questions in the historical study of religion and
power in pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial South Asia. Dedicated to David N. Lorenzen – a
renowned scholar of cultural history and popular religion in pre-colonial India – the
introduction also provides a short intellectual portrait.
This interdisciplinary volume will interested scholars, researchers, and students of Indian
history, politics, sociology, anthropology, and religion.
Ishita Banerjee-Dube is professor of History, Centre for Asian and African Studies, El
Colegio de Mexico.
Saurabh Dube is Professor of History, Centre for Asian and African and African Studies, El
Colegio de Mexico.
And so, we would like to begin by thanking the contributors to this volume: for writing their
essays, responding to endless queries, ironing out minor glitches, and rarely losing their humour
through the process. It has been a pleasure for both of us – together and separately – to work
once a pleasure for both of us – together and separately – to work once more with the Oxford
University Press team. Out students and friends provided pleasant distractions. Finally, along
with the other authors of the work, we would like to acknowledge our warm gratitude to David
Lorenzen for his intellectual contribution and generous friendship, delivered to some over many
years and to others over several decades.
PORTERIAT OF THE HISTORIAN AS A CRITICAL INTELLECT
David Lorenzen is a remarkable scholar. Our effort here is to highlight aspects of his
contributions to worlds of learning, while keeping in view his becoming modesty. It follows, too,
that the statement ahead drawn on our close intellectual association and warm personal friendship
with David, as colleagues at El Colegio de Mexico, over the last decade: but the terms of such
closeness appears only between the lines in the brief description.
After talking his degree at Wesleyan University, Lorenzen conducted his doctoral research under
the supervision of A.L. Basham – at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London and later
at the Australian National University, Canberra – and then taught at Wisconsin State University
during the cultural and political upheavals of the Vietnam years between 1968 and 1970. Over the
last three-and-a-half decades, Lorenzen has been a faculty member of the Centre for Asian and
African Studies, El Colegio de Mexico in Mexico City. He has also held visiting professorships at
the University of lowa and Harvard University.
During this time, Lorenzen taught a range of courses on the history of the subcontinent
(extending from the ancient to the contemporary period) and South Asian society and religions
(especially Hinduism and Buddhism). He also conducted a variety of seminars concerning questions
of historical and anthropological theory. In several theoretical seminars that we have
participated with David at El Colegio de Mexico, the two of us have been struck by his openness
toward contending ideas expressed by students and faculty, itself indicative of his truly liberal
qualities as a teacher and a person. When combined with his wide-ranging interests and
intellectual generosity, these qualities make David an amiable critic and an accessible scholar.
Unsurprisingly, over the years there have been many, many collogues and students who have learned
much and gained greatly from his genial and generous persona.
David Lorenzen’s contributions to the world of scholarship extend even farther. He has played a
significant role in promoting the critical study of Hindu traditions and Indian history – in
scholarship on South Asia in the English language across different continents to be sure, but
equally in studies of the subcontinent in the Spanish language in Ibero-America. In addition to
his research and teaching, Lorenzen has done this in distinct capacities, including as the editor
of the journal Estudios de Asia y Africa and as director of the PhD programme at the Centre for
Asian and African Studies. This Centre is the largest and most prestigious of its kind in Latin
America that trains masters’ and doctoral degree students form many parts of the Spanish-speaking
As is generally acknowledged, David Lorenzen is one of the Foremost scholars of cultural history
and popular religion in pre-colonial India. Based on his doctoral research, Lorenzen’s first book
was a path breaking study of the Kapalikas and the Kalamukhas, two extinct Hindu sects that were
also considered as having been lost to history. It is not simply that is the only major work on
the subject. It is also that the book continues to be widely used, discussed, and cited three
decades later. This is true also of several of Lorenzen’s other writings based upon the Sanskrit
tradition, some of them included in his recent collection of essays Who Invented Hinduism,
especially those on the life of Sankara and on warrior-ascetics in pre-colonial India.
From the middle of the 1970s, Lorenzen began a large project studying the Kabirpanth, a popular
religious formation in north and central India with an extensive constituency among the lower
castes within Hindu with an extensive constituency among the lower castes within Hindu society.
This research is based upon a combination of meticulous textual study of the Hindi language and
related vernacular materials and fieldwork among the Kabirpanthi ascetics. The project has
resulted in several books and scholarly essays in the English and the Spanish languages,
constituting a truly impressive corpus in scholarship on devotional and popular Hinduism. It
warrants emphasis, too, that Lorenzen’s interests in classical and popular Hinduism have led to
other through to several essays, including the remarkable, much cited, and widely taught ‘Who
David Lorenzen’s ever-active research agenda currently concerns a significant project on the
relationship between Franciscan missionaries and Hindu society, particularly in the eighteenth
century. This study represents a new direction in Lorenzen’s work, while building on his earlier
interests and scholarly training. Together, it critically conjoins Lorenzen’s extensive work in
the Franciscan archives and long years of study of varieties of Hindi and Italian language
materials with his strong background in textual interpretation and keen interest in broader
theological and philosophical issues.
The project makes salient contributions to historical scholarship. While the past three decades
have seen important research on eighteenth-century India, much of this work has been concerned
with issues of political economy and state formation, often tending to treat questions of
religion and culture as derivative upon politics and economy. Lorenzen’s project not only
redresses this imbalance, but brings to light previously unused sources for important regions in
north India that have themselves been little studied in writings on eighteenth-century South
Asia. Equally, in the South Asian context, research on evangelical entanglements, understood
broadly, has so far been rather limited, and rarely conducted in a dialogue with the newer
pathways that have been initiated elsewhere. Lorenzen’s project addresses several of the
important questions in the field, particularly through its focus on the important questions in
the field, particularly through its focus on the relationship of Franciscan friars with beliefs
and practices in the subcontinent in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Much of this is
evident in Lorenzen’s recent and forthcoming publications as well as in his ongoing writing,
including an intellectual biography of Marco della Tomba. Significant strands of this research
and writing are crucially present, too, in his magisterial Who Invented Hinduism.
From the beginning, David Lorenzen has shown an abiding interest in theoretical issues, but
expressed such concerns in distinctive ways, he has always read widely, very widely, mercifully
ever escaping the strictures and limitations of mere scholarly specialization. In doing this, he
has been guided as much by his formative interests in biology, psychology, and philosophy as he
has by his long engagements with Marxism, anthropology, and history. David is a modernist who
wants to find patterns in the past and the present, but without excising the constitutive details
of social arenas through the means of analytical abstractions. If he is sensitive to the
particularities of historical worlds and contemporary ones, mere platitudes of cultural
difference do not suffice for him. David is a humanist who finds similarities between
African-American Blues and the compositions of nirgun bhakti (devotion to a formless
Lord/Absolute), yet he also always probes – in the critical tradition (as distinct from lazy
assertions) of the Enlightenment spirit – the received wisdom and ready assumptions of modern
knowledge. All of this suggests an intellect that cannot be easily pigeon-holed, simply
compartmentalized, into a neat slot.
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