Colonialism and Postcolonialism
COLONIALISM AND POSTCOLONIALISM
COLONIALISM AND POSTCOLONIALISM . Religion, as well as the study of religion, can be located in colonial contexts. Colonialism is the use of military and political power to create and maintain a situation in which colonizers gain economic benefits from the raw materials and cheap labor of the colonized. More than merely a matter of military coercion and political economy, however, colonialism represents a complex intercultural encounter between alien intruders and indigenous people in what Mary Louise Pratt calls "contact zones." In analyzing colonial encounters, scholars need to consider both their material and cultural terms and conditions. In the political economy of colonialism, cultural forms of knowledge and power, discourse and practice, techniques and strategies, played an integral role in the formation of colonial situations.
European explorers, traders, conquerors, and colonial administrators operated with an ideology of territorial expansion and intercultural negation that became thoroughly integrated into European modes of thinking about and engaging the larger world. According to the early nineteenth-century German philosopher G. W. F. Hegel, for example, all great nations "press onward to the sea" because "the sea affords the means for the colonizing activity—sporadic or systematic—to which the mature civil society is driven" (Hegel, 1974, pp. 282–283). By taking to the sea, Hegel argued, colonizers solved certain internal problems, such as poverty, overpopulation, and limited markets, that blocked the development of a mature civil society. But they also encountered "barbarians" in strange lands who were allegedly incapable of developing the maturity of civilization. In relation to such permanent children, Hegel insisted, "the civilized nation is conscious that the rights of the barbarians are unequal to its own and treats their autonomy as only a formality" (Hegel, 1967/1821, p. 219). In this formulation, with its thematics of distance and difference, denial and domination, the philosopher only recapitulated the basic ingredients of a European culture of colonialism.
On colonized peripheries, however, indigenous people deployed a range of strategies for engaging these European territorial claims and cultural representations. On the one hand, reversing the alien terms of European religious signification was an option. During the era of sixteenth-century Spanish conquests in the Americas, for example, the conquistadors were armed with a theological formula, the Requirement, that was designed to be read before a gathering of natives to enact a ceremony of possession that certified Spanish claims on new land. In a carefully constructed chain of references, the Requirement announced to Native Americans that the Spanish conqueror who stood before them represented the authority of the king of Spain in Castile, who represented the authority of the pope in Rome, who represented the authority of the apostle Peter in Jerusalem, who represented the ultimate authority of the supreme God who had created heaven and earth. Although the Requirement invited the natives to freely convert to Christianity, the text concluded that those who refused would experience the force of total warfare and that the deaths and damages that resulted would be their fault (Seed, 1995, p. 69).
In response to this colonial ultimatum, indigenous people could submit or resist. But people also found ways to reappropriate and reverse the chain of references that spanned the Atlantic Ocean to link the New World with the Old. For example, the Andean nobleman Guaman Poma, who had lived through the Spanish conquest of the Inca empire, the subjugation of the Andean people, and the dispossession of native lands, published a book in 1621 that reversed the terms of the Requirement. Drawing upon the new Christian resources, Guaman Poma argued that under colonial conditions the world was "upside-down." To restore the proper order of the world, he proposed, the chain of references established by Spanish colonization had to be reversed. According to Guaman Poma, the restoration of Inca political sovereignty would reveal the order of a world in which the mineral wealth of Peru supported the Spanish king in Castile, who supported the Catholic pope in Rome, who supported the religion of the God of heaven and earth. In reversing these alien religious terms, therefore, Guaman Poma tried to intervene in a world that had been turned upside down by Spanish colonization (Adorno, 2000).
On the other hand, reworking the familiar terms of indigenous religious signification was also an option. In Africa, for example, indigenous myths of sea and land were recast to make sense out of the strange encounters and violent oppositions of colonial contact. During the seventeenth century, many Africans concluded that white people who came from the sea actually lived under the ocean. Drawing on earlier mythic themes, this identification of Europeans with the sea became a symbolic template for interpreting the colonial encounter. Using this symbolic framework, Africans could reconfigure the encounter in terms of the mythic opposition between sea and land.
Under the impact of British colonization in nineteenth-century southern Africa, myths of the sea were reworked to make sense of the military incursions, dispossession of land, and new relations of power. As the Xhosa chief Ngqika observed, since the Europeans were people of the sea—the "natives of the water"—they had no business on the land and should have stayed in the sea. The Xhosa religious visionary and war-leader Nxele developed this political observation about sea and land into an indigenous theology that identified two gods, Thixo, the god of the white people, who had punished white people for killing his son by casting them into the sea, and Mdalidiphu, the god of the deeps, who dwelled under the ground but had ultimate dominion over the sea. Similarly, during the first half of the nineteenth century, a Zulu emergence myth was reworked in terms of this colonial opposition between land and sea. In the beginning, uNkulunkulu created human beings, male and female, but also black and white. Whereas black human beings were created to be naked, carry spears, and live on the land, white human beings were created to wear clothing, carry guns, and live in the sea.
For these African religious thinkers, therefore, the mythic origin—the primordium—was clearly located in the new era that opened with the colonial opposition between people of the sea and people of the land. By appropriating foreign religious resources and recasting local religious resources, indigenous people all over the world struggled to make sense out of colonial situations.
An important facet of the European colonial project, however, was the assertion of control over not only material but also symbolic, cultural, and religious resources. In nineteenth-century southern India, for example, British colonial interventions in religion on the Malabar coast succeeded in reifying religious differences and separating religious communities of Hindus and Christians that had lived in harmony for centuries. Tracing their traditional origin to the first-century apostle of Jesus and their spiritual power to ongoing connections with Christian holy men of West Asia, the Saint Thomas Christians of the Malabar coast had maintained close relations with the Hindu rulers of the region. Sharing the same military disciplines and upper-class status with the Hindu rajas, the Saint Thomas Christians received patronage, financial support, and royal protection for their churches, shrines, and festivals. In exchange, the Christians supported the shrines and participated in the festivals of the Hindu ruling class.
This interreligious cooperation changed dramatically, however, after the British East India Company established its domination of the region in 1795. Between 1810 and 1819, under the authority of the British resident Colonel John Monro, the network of economic, social, and religious exchange between Christians and Hindus was broken. Directing state funds for the construction and repair of their churches, Monro exempted Saint Thomas Christians from paying taxes and tributes to Hindu officials. Since these funds were also used to support Hindu temples, shrines, and festivals, Saint Thomas Christians were thereby removed from the system of mutual exchange by which high-caste Hindus and Christians had cooperated in supporting religion. Increasingly, Saint Thomas Christians became targets for the animosity of high-caste Hindus. By the 1880s, riots frequently broke out between them, and annual religious festivals, which had been events of interreligious celebration, became occasions for interreligious provocation. During these festivals, Hindus and Saint Thomas Christians marched past each other's shrines, as one observer reported, "howling, screaming, and crying out obscene words" (Bayly, 1989, p. 294).
British colonial interventions, therefore, had succeeded in reifying the boundaries between two religions—Hindu and Christian—that had been part of the same network of social class, martial culture, and religious worship in southern India. As many analysts have observed, the British colonial reification of religious boundaries not only reinforced a certain kind of European Christianity in India but also produced the modern religious classification "Hinduism." Under colonial conditions, the primary categories of the study of religion—"religion" and "religions"—emerged as potent signs of identity and difference.
Colonial Comparative Religion
As a sustained reflection on religious difference, the study of religion has its historical roots not only in the European Enlightenment but also in this long history of colonialism. On the frontiers of colonial encounter, European explorers, travelers, missionaries, settlers, and colonial administrators recorded their findings on indigenous religions all over the world. With remarkable consistency over a period of five hundred years, these European observers reported that they had found people in the Americas, Africa, and the Pacific Islands who lacked any trace of religion. At the beginning of the sixteenth century, the explorer Amerigo Vespucci observed that the indigenous people of the Caribbean had no religion. In the seventeenth century, the traveler Jacques le Maire insisted that among the inhabitants of the Pacific Islands there was "not the least spark of religion." In the context of expanding trading relations in eighteenth-century West Africa, the trader William Smith reported that Africans "trouble themselves about no religion at all." Well into the nineteenth century, European observers persisted in claiming that the aboriginal people of Australia had "nothing whatever of the character of religion, or of religious observance, to distinguish them from the beasts that perish" (Chidester, 1996, pp. 12–13).
As this global litany of denial accumulated, it developed multiple layers of strategic significance in European colonial encounters with indigenous people. Because they supposedly lacked such a defining human characteristic as religion, indigenous people had no human rights to life, land, livestock, or control over their own labor that had to be respected by European colonizers. In this regard, the denial of the existence of any indigenous religion—this discovery of an absence—reinforced colonial projects of conquest, domination, and dispossession.
Obviously, the discovery of an absence of religion implied that European commentators in colonial situations were operating with an implicit definition of religion, a definition that was certainly informed by Christian assumptions about what counted as religion. More significantly, however, these denials indicated that the term religion was used as an oppositional term on colonial frontiers. In its ancient genealogy, of course, religio was always a term that derived its meaning in relation to its opposite, superstitio. On contested colonial frontiers, however, the conceptual opposition between religion and superstition was often deployed as a strategic denial of indigenous rights to land, livestock, or labor. In the eastern Cape of southern Africa, for example, the beliefs and practices of indigenous Xhosa people were explicitly denied the designation "religion" during the first half of the nineteenth century by European travelers, missionaries, settlers, and colonial magistrates who were trying to establish British military control over the region. Supposedly lacking any trace of religion, the Xhosa allegedly were immersed in superstition. Invoking the defining opposite of religion in this particular colonial situation, the traveler Henry Lichtenstein, for example, reported that the Xhosa's "superstition, their belief in magic or enchantment, and in omens and prognostics, is in proportion to their want of religious feelings" (Lichtenstein, 1928, pp. 301, 311–313). As a recurring motif in European reflections on religious difference in open frontier zones, this opposition between religion and superstition served the colonial project by representing indigenous people as living in a different world.
How did European observers move from the denial to the discovery of indigenous religions in colonial situations? Although that question has to be investigated through detailed attention to historical conditions in specific regions, a general answer can be suggested by the experience of the Xhosa in the eastern Cape of southern Africa. According to the reports of every European commentator, the Xhosa lacked any trace of religion until 1858, when they were placed under a colonial administrative system—the magisterial system—that had been designed by the Cape governor, Sir George Grey, for the military containment, surveillance, and taxation of indigenous people in the eastern Cape. Following his researches on indigenous traditions in Australia and New Zealand, Grey was both a professional colonial administrator and an amateur scholar of religion. It was the new context of colonial containment, however, that inspired the magistrate J. C. Warner to be the first to use the term religion for Xhosa beliefs and practices. Insisting that the Xhosa had a religious system, Warner worked out a kind of proto-functionalist analysis by determining that Xhosa religion was a religion because it fulfilled the functional "purposes" of providing psychological security and social stability. Although Warner hoped that the Xhosa religion would ultimately be destroyed by military conquest and Christian conversion, he concluded that in the meantime their indigenous religious system could function to keep them in their place just like the colonial magisterial system.
Throughout southern Africa, the European "discovery" of indigenous religions can be correlated with the colonial containment of indigenous people. While the discovery of a Zulu religious system followed the imposition of the colonial location system in Natal in the 1840s, the recognition of a Sotho-Tswana religious system was delayed until the colonial reserve system was imposed after the destruction of their last independent African polity in the 1890s. By that point, however, when colonial administrators assumed that every African in the region was contained with the urban location system or the rural reserve system, European commentators found that every African in southern Africa had been born into the same "Bantu" religion.
The southern African evidence suggests, therefore, that the "discovery" of indigenous religions under colonial conditions was not necessarily a breakthrough in human recognition. As a corollary of the imposition of a colonial administrative system, the discovery of an indigenous religious system was entangled in the colonial containment of indigenous populations.
Ironically, the colonial project of containment that sought to keep people in place at the same time generated theoretical terms for the displacement of indigenous people. Throughout the colonized world, European observers developed theories of history, genealogy, and descent that traced indigenous people back to cultural centers in the ancient Near East. In the Americas, for example, European travelers, missionaries, and colonizers during the seventeenth century argued that Native Americans were descended from ancient Israel, a claim that was stated succinctly in 1650 in the title of Thomas Thorowgood's book, Jews in America, or Probabilities That the Americans Are of That Race. By implication, if they were actually Jews from ancient Israel, then Native Americans did not actually belong in America.
In southern Africa, European commentators also traced the genealogy of indigenous people back to the ancient Near East. Anticipated by the early eighteenth-century findings of the German visitor Peter Kolb, who traced the Khoikhoi or "Hottentot" religious system of the subjugated indigenous people of the Cape back to the Judaism of ancient Israel, nineteenth-century European commentators argued that all Africans in southern Africa came from the north. The Xhosa had been ancient Arabs, the Zulu had been ancient Jews, and the Sotho-Tswana had been ancient Egyptians. Besides transposing the religious differences of the ancient Near East onto the southern African landscape, thereby reifying the ethnic, cultural, and religious differences that had been shaped by colonialism, this fanciful genealogy also implied that indigenous Africans were not actually indigenous to southern Africa because they originally belonged in the Near East. Similarly, a British colonial comparative religion that traced Hinduism back to ancient Indo-European migrations that originated in Siberia or Persia could work not merely as a historical reconstruction but also as a strategy of displacement. Pursuing this contradictory dual mandate of structural containment and historical displacement, colonial comparative religion operated throughout the world to deny, discover, locate, and displace the beliefs and practices of the colonized.
Imperial Comparative Religion
In his inaugural lectures on the science of religion in 1870, F. Max Müller, who has often been regarded as the "founder" of the modern study of religion, demonstrated that the culture of British colonialism and imperialism permeated his understanding of the academic study of religion. First, the study of religion was a science of distance and difference. The distance between the metropolitan center and the colonized periphery was conflated with the difference between the civilized and the barbarian, the savage, or the primitive. In developing a comparative method for the study of religion, Müller and other metropolitan theorists played on this theme of distance and difference in order to infer characteristics of the "primitive" ancestors of humanity from reports about contemporary "savages" living on the colonized periphery of empire. "Though the belief of African and Melanesian savages is more recent in point of time," as Müller observed in his 1870 lectures, "it represents an earlier and far more primitive phase in point of growth" (Müller, 1873, p. 25). In similar terms, E. B. Tylor, the "father of anthropology," asserted that the "hypothetical primitive condition corresponds in a considerable degree to modern savage tribes, who, in spite of their difference and distance…seem remains of an early state of the human race at large" (Tylor, 1871, vol. 1, p. 16). Whatever their differences, nineteenth-century metropolitan theorists of religion, such as Müller, Tylor, John Lubbock, Herbert Spencer, Andrew Lang, W. Robertson Smith, and James Frazer, employed a comparative method, which came to be known as the comparative method, that used reports about the different, the exotic, and the savage from distant colonized peripheries to draw conclusions about the evolutionary origins of religion.
Second, the study of religion was a science of denial and domination. "Let us take the old saying, Divide et impera," Müller proposed, "and translate it somewhat freely by 'Classify and conquer'" (Müller, 1873, pp. 122–123). More than merely a rhetorical flourish, this "old saying" provided legitimation for an imperial comparative religion that aspired to global knowledge over the empire of religion. Classification according to language gave Müller a measure of conceptual control over the library of the sacred texts of the world. But imperial conquest enabled him to develop theories of religion that were anchored in British India and British South Africa. In his last work to be published before his death, the pamphlet The Question of Right between England and the Transvaal (1900), which was printed and widely distributed by the Imperial South African Association, Müller asserted that the British Empire "can retire from South Africa as little as from India" (p. 11). These two imperial possessions, he suggested, were essential for maintaining the global power and authority of the British Empire.
But they were also essential for Müller's imperial comparative religion that mediated between "civilized" Great Britain and the "exotic" and "savage" peripheries of empire. While his edition of the Rig Veda and his expertise on the religious heritage of India were made possible by the financial support of the East India Company, Müller's imperial comparative religion rested on comparative observations that depended heavily on the British possession of South Africa. Although he observed that in the empire of religion there was "no lack of materials for the student of the Science of Religion" (Müller, 1873, p. 101), Müller knew that those raw materials had to be extracted from the colonies, transported to the metropolitan centers of theory production, and transformed into the manufactured goods of theory that could be used by an imperial comparative religion.
In his relations with South Africa, for example, Müller was engaged in a complex process of intercultural mediation in order to transform raw religious materials into theory. First, Africans on the colonized periphery were drawn into this process as informants—often as collaborators, sometimes as authors—as they reported on religious innovations, arguments, and contradictions in colonial contexts. The Zulu informant Mpengula Mbande, for example, reported arguments about uNkulunkulu, tracking African disagreements about whether he was the first ancestor of a particular political grouping, the first ancestor of all people, or the supreme god who created all human beings.
Second, local European "experts" on the colonized periphery synthesized these religious conflicts and contradictions into a "religious system." Relying heavily on Mbande's local fieldwork, the Anglican missionary Henry Callaway became the leading authority in the world on Zulu religion, and, by extension, on "savage" religion in general, by publishing his classic text, The Religious System of the Amazulu (1868–1870). Like other "men on the spot" in colonized peripheries, Callaway corresponded with the metropolitan theorists in London.
However, his exposition of the Zulu "religious system" was dissected by those metropolitan theorists in the service of a third mediation, the mediation between the "primitive" ancestors of humanity, who could supposedly be viewed in the mirror of the Zulu and other "savages" on the colonized peripheries of empire, and the "civilized" European. What was construed as a religious system in the colony, therefore, was taken apart and reassembled in London as religious data that could be used in support of an evolutionary progression from the primitive to the civilized.
The colonial situation, as Jean Paul Sartre observed, "manufactures colonizers as it manufactures colonies" (Sartre, 1965, pp. xxv–xxvi). On colonial peripheries and at imperial centers, nineteenth-century comparative religion played a role in manufacturing European colonial discourse, especially through its representations of "others" in colonized regions such as "exotic" India and "savage" South Africa. As Nicholas Dirks has proposed, these efforts contributed to manufacturing colonizers as "agents of Western reason" (Dirks, 1992, p. 6). In the twenty-first century, we must still wonder about the colonial and imperial legacies that have been inherited by the academic study of religion. In our attention to structure and history, morphology and genealogy, psychological and social functions, and other analytical concerns, do we reproduce the containments and displacements of "others" that were so important to European colonial and imperial projects? However this question might be answered, it is clear that a critical academic study of religion must be self-reflexive and self-critical of the political implications of its theory and practice.
As we find in postcolonial studies generally, postcolonial prospects for the academic study of religion are largely a matter of location. In Orientalism (1978), Edward Said used the analytical term strategic location to capture the subject position of European authors in relation to the broad discursive formations of European colonialism and imperialism. In more recent developments within postcolonial theory, however, attention has shifted away from the critique of European colonial representations of "others" to a recovery of the subjectivity and agency of the colonized. At the risk of oversimplifying the complex theoretical controversies that have raged in this emergent field, we can identify two extreme positions in postcolonial studies—indigeneity and hybridity —that are relevant to the future of the academic study of religion.
First, indigeneity represents a range of analytical strategies based on the recovery of place, the authenticity of tradition, and the assertion of self-determination in a project to forge postcolonial meaning and power on indigenous terms. Privileging the self-representation of indigenous people who have passed through the experience of colonization, indigeneity generates analytical terms for recovering the purity of local traditions from the defiling effects of global imperialism. Drawing inspiration from political struggles against colonialism, indigeneity engages the precolonial not merely through a romantic politics of nostalgia but also through the liberation movements of the colonized world.
In this respect, the work of the radical psychiatrist Frantz Fanon, who actively identified with the liberation struggles of colonial Africa, has informed an understanding of indigenous tradition that is both postcolonial and postromantic. "Colonization is not satisfied merely with holding a people in its grip and emptying the native's brain of all form and content," Fanon observed. "By a kind of perverted logic, it turns to the past of oppressed people, and distorts, disfigures and destroys it" (Fanon, 1963, p. 170). While the recovery of a "pure" tradition from colonial distortions and disfigurements was therefore part of his postcolonial project, Fanon linked that recovery of the past with a present of struggle—armed, violent struggle—against colonialism. Although Fanon's position has been characterized as a type of "nativism," it was an indigeneity that sought to forge a new humanity in the modern world by means of a militant anticolonialism.
Certainly, many examples could be cited of postcolonial religious indigeneity in which religious "traditionalists" have deployed "modern" means to assert their power, place, purity, and authenticity. Insisting that the only indigenous religion of India is Hinduism, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has actively engaged in electoral politics on the platform of "Hinduness" (Hindutva ) in ways that have not just recovered but have actually redefined what it means to be a Hindu in contemporary Indian society. Rejecting colonial constructions of African mentality, a variety of African movements have nevertheless promoted visions of African humanity and personality, communalism and socialism, in the interests of a postcolonial African renaissance. Arguing that indigenous land should be regarded as sacred and communal rather than alienable property, Native Americans continue to press cases for the recovery of traditional sacred land in the modern courts of law in the United States. The failure of almost all of these land claims has suggested to many scholars of Native American religion that the long history of colonial occupation, with its denial, containment, and displacement of indigenous religion, has not ended in America.
While some scholars of religion have embraced indigeneity as their own strategic location, they have had to contend with trends in postmodern, post-structural, and other postcolonial analysis that have generally undermined any confidence in the continuity or uniformity of tradition. With respect to historical continuity, influential research on the "invention of tradition" has shown how supposedly timeless traditions—even the primitive, the archaic, or the exotic traditions that fascinated colonial and imperial comparative religion—can turn out to have been recent productions. For example, the Indian caste system, which has supposedly been a perennial feature of Hinduism from time immemorial, has been investigated in recent research as a complex product of indigenous interests and colonial order. In defense of indigeneity, however, as Rosalind O'Hanlon has argued, it is possible to reject the British colonial "notion of an ageless caste-bound social order" while not attributing the entire historical process to a "colonial conjuring" that produces a picture of Indians "who are helpless to do anything but reproduce the structures of their own subordination" (O'Hanlon, 1989, pp. 98, 104, 100). In this respect, indigeneity has made an important contribution by stressing the agency of the colonized as historical actors in the formation of religious, social, and political structures.
The "invention of structures," however, has also been called into question, most effectively in the work of Benedict Anderson on "imagined communities," which analyzed colonial instruments—the census, the archive, the administrative system, and so on—for the production of an imaginary sense of social uniformity, but also in the general distrust of any "essentialism" that has been the result of postmodern theory. However, even anti-essentialist critics can propose that in some situations a "strategic essentialism" might be necessary to intervene on behalf of the marginal, oppressed, or "subaltern" in struggles over representation in colonial relations. For advocates of indigeneity in the academic study of religion, some form of "strategic essentialism" seems to be necessary in order to pursue an authentic recovery of traditions that however much they might be "invented" or "imagined" nevertheless produce real effects in the real world.
Second, hybridity captures a range of analytical strategies that follow a logic not of place but of displacement. As a strategic location, hybridity is dislocated in migration and diaspora, contact and contingency, margins and mixtures. As a theoretical intervention in both colonial situations and the postcolonial horizon, attention to hybridity rejects the binary distinction between the colonist and the colonized. According to the most vigorous proponent of colonial hybridity, the cultural theorist Homi Bhabha, the analysis of colonial situations should focus on neither "the hegemonic command of colonial authority" nor "the silent repression of native traditions." Rather, analysis should be directed toward the cultural space in between, the intercultural space of contacts, relations, and exchanges. According to Bhabha, intercultural relations in colonial situations are based, "not on the exoticism of multiculturalism or the diversity of cultures, but on the inscription and articulation of culture's hybridity." In the colonial contact zone of intercultural relations, Bhabha insists, "it is the 'inter'—the cutting edge of translation and negotiation, the in-between space—that carries the burden of the meaning of culture" (Bhabha, 1994, pp. 38–39).
As Bhabha and other postcolonial theorists have developed this analysis of cultural hybridity, emphasis has shifted from the self-representation of indigenous people in their traditional places to the translations, negotiations, and improvisations of the displaced. Migrants, exiles, and diaspora communities have received special attention. For example, cultural theorist Stuart Hall has adapted the notion of hybridity as a strategic location for analyzing a dispersed Afro-Caribbean identity that was formed out of the New World that was "the beginning of diaspora, of diversity, of hybridity and difference" (Hall, 1990, p. 235). In clarifying the New World origin of this diaspora identity, Hall has insisted that it does not entail a politics of nostalgia that evokes myths of "scattered tribes whose identity can only be secured in relation to some sacred homeland to which they must at all costs return, even if it means pushing other people into the sea. This is the old, the imperializing, the hegemonizing, form of 'ethnicity'" (Hall, 1990, p. 235). By contrast to such an ethnic, dominating, imperializing, or even indigenous sense of place, purity, and essence, which Hall identifies with the hegemonic constructions of colonialism and imperialism, the diaspora identity that he is interested in exploring "is defined, not by essence or purity, but by the recognition of a necessary heterogeneity and diversity; by a conception of 'identity' which lives with and through, not despite, difference; by hybridity" (Hall, 1990, p. 235).
In the study of religion, this postcolonial notion of hybridity has been anticipated by the term syncretism. Although the term has borne the burden of suggesting impure or illicit mixtures of religion, it has more recently been recovered as a medium of religious innovation. For religious studies, as Ella Shohat has noted in postcolonial studies, "'Hybridity' and 'syncretism' allow negotiation of the multiplicity of identities and subject positionings which result from displacements, immigrations and exiles without policing the borders of identity along essentialist and originary lines" (Shohat, 1992, p. 108). Liberated from the "policing of borders" inherent in colonial constructions of genealogical origins and systemic essences, a postcolonial study of religion can engage the complex and contested negotiations over person, place, and power that inevitably arise in intercultural relations.
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David Chidester (2005)