Guru English: South Asian Religion in a Cosmopolitan Language

Guru English is 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 English analyzes 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.


Bernard Bate, US (Yale University)
“A highly engaging, often brilliant and wide-ranging book with broad scholarly appeal. Aravamudan has produced a novel synthesis that goes beyond other works in the field to articulate a vision of the cosmopolitan range of Indic thought within the metropole. The book is an important contribution to postcolonial studies and to scholars working in comparative literature, anthropology, history, and globalization studies.”

Marco Jacquemet, US (University of San Francisco)
“An intellectual tour de force combining literary criticism, archival research, philosophical reflections, and cultural analysis. The elegant merging of various disciplinary fields makes Guru English an important reference tool for a variety of scholars interested in cultural globalization, religious studies, colonial and post-colonial formations, and literary criticism.”
Bruce Robbins,US (Columbia University; MLQ)
“Rich in intelligent readings on a range of topics that are cleverly linked to the resuscitation, re-fashioning, and export of Asian religion.”
Dipesh Chakrabarty, US (University of Chicago)
“Guru English significantly extends the reach of postcolonial criticism by bringing into conversation literary theory and area studies. It presents some of the best analyses to date of the prose through which a colonial construct called ‘Indian spiritualism’ has found both a market and an afterlife in the contemporary world. Aravamudan’s probing examination of the Hindu Right’s language of nuclear triumphalism, of Rushdie’s writings, and of the promises held out by a long line of transnational gurus–from the Maharishi to Deepak Chopra–will establish him as a major cultural commentator of our times.”
Romila Thapar, India (Jawaharlal Nehru University)
“Guru English is an innovative and insightful analysis of the language used during the last two centuries in the discourse on religion in South Asia. The genes of British English were mutated by Indian requirements and the resulting language was indispensable to the redefining of Hinduism. Processed through orientalism, colonialism, and nationalism, it is now moving towards cosmopolitanism and the diaspora. The new texture of this language bears the heightened imprint of cultural and political concerns.”
Smita Lahiri, US (Harvard University; Journal of Asian Studies)
“Srinivas Aravamudan’s important and stimulating second book tracks English-language dabblings in South Asian religion from the close of the eighteenth century to the dawn of the twenty-first . . . Guru English should be universally appreciated for its signal success in demonstrating how the secular and the religious coproduce each other, even (or especially) within cosmopolitan milieus.”
Carl Olson, USA (Allegheny College; International Journal of Hindu Studies)
“Aravamudan provides the reader with a creative, insightful, and provocative work. . . this book represents an important contribution to post-colonial studies, and it deserves to enjoy a wide readership.”
John Plotz, USA (Brandeis University; Modern Philology)
“Aravamudan is not a Believer, then, but he does want to believe, and his interest in achieving the universal without the foundational, and religiosity without full-fledged religion, has led him to map out some remarkably creative and revealing connections.”
Suguna Ramanathan (The Hindu)
“What Srinivas Aravamudan gives us is the way in which Hindu thought can be harnessed to the creation of ‘a quasi-religious awe around nuclear power.’”


Acknowledgments ix
Introduction 1
Chapter One: Theolinguistics: Orientalists, Brahmos, Vedantins, and Yogis 26
Chapter Two: From Indian Romanticism to Guru Literature 63
Chapter Three: Theosophistries 105
Chapter Four: The Hindu Sublime, or Nuclearism Rendered Cultural 142
Chapter Five: Blasphemy, Satire, and Secularism 184
Chapter Six: New Age Enchantments 220
Afterword 265
Notes 271
Index 313

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