Religious Reformation in the Bengal Renaissance: Prelude to Science Museums in India
Keywords:museum history, science, religious reformation, Rammohan Roy, Bengal Renaissance, Indian nationalism
This essay charts the religious reform thinking of the Bengali Rammohan Roy (1772–1833) and the establishment of science museums in India, within the broader nationalist movement for independence from colonial rule during the late 1800s and early 1900s. The main argument is that there is a connection between the religious reform movement and the development of science museums. The religious reformers embraced modern science and formulated a simultaneously religious and scientific critique of traditional Indian social hierarchies and mores, which they perceived as obstructing the path to independence and flourishing. However, they also argued that the ancient Hindu religion and civilization contains the same ideas that underpinned modern western political and scientific development. Notably, the ‘theistic’ concept of an abstract and universal One God, which is found also in the Vedic scriptures was welcomed, which was not considered to be intrinsically associated with the caste system and other practices the reformers sought to change to the same extent as the popular forms of worship administered by the Brahmins. The development of modern science museums in India is therefore seen here to illustrate three points: the dynamic relationship between religion and science; the concurrent relationship between British and ‘western’ developments; and the use of the ‘local’ Vedic sources for the development of modern cosmology.
This paper is one of a collection that originated in the IAHR Special Conference “Religions, Science and Technology in Cultural Contexts: Dynamics of Change”, held at The Norwegian University of Science and Technology on March 1–2, 2012. For an overall introduction see the article by Ulrika Mårtensson, also published here.
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