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  • Public Philology: Constructing Sectarian Identities in Early Modern South India

    Elaine M. Fisher

    Chapter from the book: Fisher, E. 2017. Hindu Pluralism: Religion and the Public Sphere in Early Modern South India.


    Nīlakaṇṭha and his contemporaries were faced with navigating the radical sectarianization of south India’s Hindu religious landscape, which in the early seventeenth-century was still in the process of unfolding. For Smārta-Śaiva theologians, much was at stake in representing themselves as orthodox Hindus with a convincing interpretation of Hindu scripture. Instead of circulating their devotional poetry to a wider public, Smārta-Śaiva theologians engaged in a project we can describe as “public philology”—text criticism that serves as public theology. On the one hand, they established normative standards for the interpretation of exoteric Śaiva classics of mythology and liturgy; Other public theological ventures were scarcely veiled attacks on the scriptural canons of a rival sectarian community, designed to discredit that community’s claim to scriptural orthodoxy. This chapter examines how public philology contributed to the increasing sectarianization of Hinduism, widening the gulf between Śaiva and Vaiṣṇava philosophy, and how sectarianism contributed in turn to an increasing philological or text-critical sensitivity in Sanskrit discourse.

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    Fisher, E. 2017. Public Philology: Constructing Sectarian Identities in Early Modern South India. In: Fisher, E, Hindu Pluralism. California: University of California Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1525/luminos.24.d

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    Published on Feb. 28, 2017


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