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The Brahmin, the Aryan, and the powers of the priestly class : puzzles in the study of Indian religion

Marianne Keppens (UGent) and Jakob De Roover (UGent)
(2020) RELIGIONS. 11(4).
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Abstract
The classical account of the Brahmin priestly class and its role in Indian religion has seen remarkable continuity during the past two centuries. Its core claims appear to remain unaffected, despite the major shifts that occurred in the theorizing of Indian culture and in the study of religion. In this article, we first examine the issue of the power and status of the Brahmin and show how it generates explanatory puzzles today. We then turn to 18th- and 19th-century sources to identify the cognitive conditions which sustained the classical account of the Brahmin priest and allowed for its transmission. Three clusters of concepts were crucial here: Christian-theological ideas concerning heathen priesthood and idolatry; racial notions of biological and cultural superiority and inferiority; and anthropological speculations about ‘primitive man’ and his ‘magical thinking’. While all three clusters were rejected by 20th- and 21st-century scholarship, the related claims about Brahmanical ritual power continue to be presented as facts. What accounts for this peculiar combination of continuities and discontinuities in the study of (ancient) Indian religion? We turn to some insights from the philosophy of science to sketch a route toward answering this question.
Keywords
Indian religion, Brahmin, ritual, priesthood, Aryan invasion theory, magical thinking, homology, Vedism

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MLA
Keppens, Marianne, and Jakob De Roover. “The Brahmin, the Aryan, and the Powers of the Priestly Class : Puzzles in the Study of Indian Religion.” RELIGIONS, vol. 11, no. 4, 2020, doi:10.3390/rel11040181.
APA
Keppens, M., & De Roover, J. (2020). The Brahmin, the Aryan, and the powers of the priestly class : puzzles in the study of Indian religion. RELIGIONS, 11(4). https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11040181
Chicago author-date
Keppens, Marianne, and Jakob De Roover. 2020. “The Brahmin, the Aryan, and the Powers of the Priestly Class : Puzzles in the Study of Indian Religion.” RELIGIONS 11 (4). https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11040181.
Chicago author-date (all authors)
Keppens, Marianne, and Jakob De Roover. 2020. “The Brahmin, the Aryan, and the Powers of the Priestly Class : Puzzles in the Study of Indian Religion.” RELIGIONS 11 (4). doi:10.3390/rel11040181.
Vancouver
1.
Keppens M, De Roover J. The Brahmin, the Aryan, and the powers of the priestly class : puzzles in the study of Indian religion. RELIGIONS. 2020;11(4).
IEEE
[1]
M. Keppens and J. De Roover, “The Brahmin, the Aryan, and the powers of the priestly class : puzzles in the study of Indian religion,” RELIGIONS, vol. 11, no. 4, 2020.
@article{8658765,
  abstract     = {{The classical account of the Brahmin priestly class and its role in Indian religion has seen
remarkable continuity during the past two centuries. Its core claims appear to remain unaffected,
despite the major shifts that occurred in the theorizing of Indian culture and in the study of religion.
In this article, we first examine the issue of the power and status of the Brahmin and show how it
generates explanatory puzzles today. We then turn to 18th- and 19th-century sources to identify the
cognitive conditions which sustained the classical account of the Brahmin priest and allowed for its
transmission. Three clusters of concepts were crucial here: Christian-theological ideas concerning
heathen priesthood and idolatry; racial notions of biological and cultural superiority and inferiority;
and anthropological speculations about ‘primitive man’ and his ‘magical thinking’. While all three
clusters were rejected by 20th- and 21st-century scholarship, the related claims about Brahmanical
ritual power continue to be presented as facts. What accounts for this peculiar combination of
continuities and discontinuities in the study of (ancient) Indian religion? We turn to some insights
from the philosophy of science to sketch a route toward answering this question.}},
  articleno    = {{181}},
  author       = {{Keppens, Marianne and De Roover, Jakob}},
  issn         = {{2077-1444}},
  journal      = {{RELIGIONS}},
  keywords     = {{Indian religion,Brahmin,ritual,priesthood,Aryan invasion theory,magical thinking,homology,Vedism}},
  language     = {{eng}},
  number       = {{4}},
  pages        = {{19}},
  title        = {{The Brahmin, the Aryan, and the powers of the priestly class : puzzles in the study of Indian religion}},
  url          = {{http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/rel11040181}},
  volume       = {{11}},
  year         = {{2020}},
}

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