In twenty-first century India, “religious sentiments” are often in the news. Bollywood films are said to wound them. So are tweets, political cartoons, Netflix shows, stand-up comedy routines, and scholarly books.
Most of these controversies hinge on the interpretation of a single law:
section 295A of the Indian Penal Code, concerning insults intended to outrage “religious feelings.”
Slandering the Sacred explores the cultural, intellectual, and legal pre-history of this law, moving between colonial India and imperial Britain, as well as between secular law and modern religion. It shows us how the history of law and religion is intricately connected to an idea of the intimate.
What this book provides is an unexpected history which anchors a much larger inquiry into secularism and empire, insult and affect, outrage and free speech. In the words of one reviewer, “J. Barton Scott has written a book as witty as it is scholarly. Slandering the Sacred is an enthralling and colourful history of a law, a page-turner about a penal code.”
J. Barton Scott is Associate Professor of Historical Studies and the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto. He is the author of Spiritual Despots: Modern Hinduism and the Genealogies of Self-Rule (2016).