2002 Indic Colloquium
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Richard King

Contact Information




University of Derby
Western Road Mickleover
Derby, DE3 5GX, UK



011-44-(0)1332-622222 (ext 2100 is an office)



011-44-(0)1332-622746 an office fax


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Background Information

Author of three highly praised and significant books:


Cartographies of the Imagination:
The Discourse of 'Religion' and the Mapping of Indic Traditions After Colonialism

The colonial domination of the West over 'the rest' in recent centuries has caused many western categories, ideas and paradigms to appear more universal and normative than they might otherwise have seemed. The category of 'religion' is one such category and could be described as a key feature in the imaginative cartography of western modernity. The concept serves as a cognitive map for surveying, classifying and interpreting diverse cultural and historical terrain and allows a distinction to be drawn between 'secular' and 'religious' spheres of human life. 'Religion' has also provided a putative unity for an academic discipline known as the study / history of religions. As Hans Kippenberg has recently argued, however, the emergence of this discipline in Europe was bound up with processes of modernization and diverse attempts to theorize the nature of modernity (Kippenberg, 1997, Entdeckung Der Religiongeschischte / Discovering Religious History in the Modern Age, 2002, Princeton).

It would appear that the era of European (though not necessarily western) domination of the globe has come to an end. As the age of overt imperialism fades, so does the illusion that European world-views and epistemologies constitute the normative means of interpreting the world. What then is the status of the 'study of religions' as an academic discipline in this new context? Recently, there has been a number of works that have called into question the central unifying concept of the field, namely the category of religion itself. In Orientalism and Religion (King, 1999, Routledge) for instance, I argued that the category of "religion" is the product of a culturally specific discursive history characterized by the imprints that Christian theology, the Enlightenment and secular modernity have left upon it. As such its continued unreflective use cross-culturally, whilst opening up interesting debates and interactions over the past few centuries (and creating something called 'inter-faith dialogue' and 'the world religions') has also closed down avenues of exploration and other potential cultural and intellectual interactions. This paper will further explore some of the implications of the translation of Indic traditions into the 'discourse of religions' and the implications of this for the future of the comparative study of religions.

Read the entire paper in PDF format (72K, 21 pp.)