This dissertation examines the discourse about Hinduism in the American public sphere from the early nineteenth century to the early twentieth century. Hinduism in the United States has often been cited as beginning with Swami Vivekananda's appearance at the World's Parliament of Religions in 1893 and becoming more widespread after an increase in Indian immigration beginning in 1965. This dissertation argues that Hinduism was part of the fabric of American religious life much earlier than 1893. It traces the development of the prevailing American views of Hinduism as both a savage and spiritual religion. It also examines the Indians who came to the United States to work, learn, missionize and incite revolution, and how they became public interlocutors on Hinduism. Many of these Indians have been largely forgotten and this dissertation aims to recover their stories and their voices. A central argument of this dissertation is that American discourse on Hinduism significantly influenced the social, political and legal status of Indians in America. Policy and legal decisions about Indians' eligibility to immigrate to and be naturalized in the United States often hinged on the question of whether Indians could be considered racially white. Both Americans and Indians were concerned about whether Hindus' reputed Aryan heritage was sufficient to make them white under the law. This dissertation looks at how Indians of all religions recognized that Americans' views of them were directly tied to how Americans saw Hinduism. Indians propagated their own images of Hinduism to ameliorate Americans' views of their country and people. They used Hinduism to build support for India's struggle for independence from British rule and to argue that Indians had a place in the United States. This dissertation examines the American experiences of notable Indians, including Swami Vivekananda, Swami Rama Tirtha, Baba Bharati and Swami Yogananda, as well as key developments, such as the Parliament of Religions and the rise of anti-Indian exclusionism, in writing this story of American Hinduism
Ph. D. University of Pennsylvania 2014. Department: Religious Studies and History. Supervisor: Sarah Barringer Gordon. Includes bibliographical references.