Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Ania Loomba


Although the Republic of India was founded as a secular democracy, the country has long been plagued by sectarian violence between its Hindu majority and Muslim minority. Scholars have examined how the 1940s Indian nationalist movement and the 1947 Partition of the subcontinent laid the foundation for communal tensions, but the long-standing conception of India as a fundamentally Hindu nation has received less attention. This dissertation examines colonial Bengal at the turn of the twentieth century in order to trace the longer history behind the widespread belief that India is a fundamentally Hindu nation—the animating tenet of contemporary Hindutva ideology. Reading works composed in Bengali and English, I demonstrate how the Bengali novel played a central role in perpetuating and, at times, contesting this Hindu cultural imagining by strategically exploiting elements of indigenous oral and literary traditions alongside key themes of British Orientalist discourse. The dissertation argues that turn-of-the-century Bengali writers were paramount in politicizing the emerging understanding of India as the mythic Hindu utopia “Bharat,” a term lifted from ancient religious texts that, for many Hindus today, represents not just India’s true identity but also its only acceptable future.

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