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Religious Reform and Public Debates

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Print can be found in books, journals, newspapers, and prints of famous paintings, as well as in everyday goods like theatrical programs, official circulars, calendars, diaries, advertisements, and street corner theatre posters. We read printed literature, see printed images, get news from newspapers, and keep track of public debates in print.

Factors Giving Rise to a Desire for Reforms

  1. Impact of British Rule: Invaders from the past settled in India and interacted positively with the culture of the country. When the British arrived, India had a stagnated civilization and decadent culture in comparison to enlightened Europe.
  2. Opposition to Western Culture: As a result, initiatives were made in the nineteenth century to revitalize ancient institutions and realize the potential of traditional culture.
  3. Awareness among enlightened Indians: The public is aware of the flaws in India’s social structure and culture. Bengalis with an English education developed a dislike for Hindu religion and culture and embraced behaviors that were disrespectful to Hindus.
  4. Ripe Social Conditions for Reform
    • Religious and Social Ills: Caught up in a labyrinth of religious nonsense. Priests have a negative influence on people’s thinking. Idolatry and polytheism, as well as a monopoly on scriptural knowledge, aided them.
    • Depressing position of women: Female infanticide, child marriage, polygamy, sati, etc prevailed.
    • Caste Problem: Poor plight of untouchables or SCs.

Religious Reforms and Public Debates

Different groups responded to the changes occurring inside colonial society in various ways, offering a variety of new interpretations of different religions’ beliefs. Some critiqued established methods and advocated for reform, while others refuted reformers’ claims. These disputes took place both in public and in print. Not only did printed tracts and newspapers propagate new ideas, but they also influenced the tone of the debate. The general public can now engage in these public debates and share their opinions. As a result of these disagreements, new ideas evolved.

Many people began to reinterpret established religious faiths and express their opinions after reading literature. In Italy, Menocchio reinterpreted the Bible’s message and expressed his views about God. This enraged the church, and he was put to death. Following this, the church retained control over publishers and, beginning in 1558, began to keep a list of prohibited books.

This was a period of heated debates between social and religious reformers and Hindu orthodoxy over issues such as widow immolation, monotheism, Brahmanical priesthood, and idolatry. As the dispute progressed in Bengal, pamphlets and newspapers emerged, disseminating a variety of ideas. The concepts were printed in the daily, the spoken language of ordinary people to reach a wider audience. In 1821, Ram Mohan Roy started publishing the Sambad Kaumudi, and Hindu orthodoxy ordered Samachar Chandrika to oppose his beliefs. Jam-i-Jahan Numa and Shamsul Akhbar, two Persian newspapers, began publication in 1822. The Bombay Samachar, a Gujarati daily, debuted the same year.

Muslims and The Deoband Seminary

The ulama in north India was greatly concerned about the demise of Muslim kingdoms. They were concerned that colonial rulers would push conversion and modify Muslim personal laws. To combat this, they used low-cost lithographic presses to print Persian and Urdu translations of sacred scriptures, as well as religious publications and tracts.

The Deoband Seminary, founded in 1867, released tens of thousands of fatwas instructing Muslim readers on how to conduct themselves in daily life and explaining the implications of Islamic beliefs. Throughout the nineteenth century, a slew of Muslim sects and seminaries sprang up, each with its own interpretation of faith and eager to expand its following and oppose the impact of its opponents. They were able to conduct their battles in public thanks to the use of Urdu print.

According to the Hanafi school of Islamic law, the school teaches manqulat. Nanawtawi developed modern methods of learning in this seminar, including classroom teaching, a definite and carefully selected curriculum, lectures by academic experts in their disciplines, test periods, merit prizes, and a printing press. Students were taught in Urdu, and occasionally in Arabic for religious or cultural and literary reasons, or in Persian for cultural and literary purposes. 

The curriculum is based on a heavily modified version of Dars-e-Nizami, an 18th-century Indo-Islamic syllabus. Students study the Quran and its exegesis, Hadith and its commentary, and juristic judgment supported by textual and rational evidence. They also study Muhammad’s biography, Arabic grammar, Arabic language and literature, and Persian.

Among Hindus

Print fostered the reading of religious books among Hindus as well, particularly in vernacular languages. In 1810, the first printed edition of Tulsidas’ Ramcharitmanas was published in Calcutta. Cheap lithographic editions inundated north Indian markets by the mid-nineteenth century. Numerous religious books in vernaculars were published by the Nawal Kishore Press in Lucknow and the Shri Venkateshwar Press in Bombay beginning in the 1880s. These could be easily read by the faithful at any time and place because they were printed and portable. They might also be read aloud in front of huge audiences of illiterate men and women.

As a result, religious literature reached a large number of people, sparking discussions, disputes, and controversies within and between religions. Print not only encouraged the printing of opposing viewpoints inside communities, but it also linked communities and people across India. Newspapers disseminated information from one location to another, resulting in the formation of pan-Indian identities.

Anglo–Indian Journalism

This term refers to newspapers established in India by Englishmen primarily to meet the communication needs of persons from the British Isles who have settled in British provinces in India. The early English newspapers arose from the petty social and political dissatisfaction of Britishers settled in Calcutta, Bombay, Madras, and other British provinces, rather than any indigenous necessity. They were English magazines for English citizens, founded by English settlers.

Journalists such as James Silk Buckingham and Sir William Hunter were prominent among them, as were intellectuals such as William Carey, who were also missionaries, journalists, writers, and teachers in the 18th century, and Robert Knight, T. J. Bennett, and F. M. Coleman in the 19th. Robert Knight was the inaugural editor-in-chief of the Times of India, and afterward of the Statesman. Many notable Englishmen, like Rudyard Kipling, Charles Lawson, Pat Lovett, and others, worked as editors and journalists in India’s numerous English newspapers.

Children, Women, and Workers

Children began to read as a result of their education. Children’s books were introduced to the market. In 1857, the first children’s press was established in France. In 1812, the Grimm brothers published a new version of a collection of folk stories in Germany. Women began to read and write at the same time. Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, and T.S. Eliot were all outstanding female novelists. They changed the way women were perceived in society. In England, libraries aided in the education of laborers and the lower middle class. Workers even began to write.

FAQs on Religious Reform and Public Debate

Question 1: Give some examples of print around us.


Books, journals, newspapers, artworks, official circulars, calendars, diaries, ads, cinema posters, and other forms of print can be found all around us.

Question 2: Which city in China became the hub of the new print culture?


Shanghai emerged as the epicentre of the new print culture, catering to western-style schools. There was now a steady transition from manual printing to machine printing.

Question 3: Who brought the knowledge of woodblock printing to Europe/Italy?


After several years of exploration in China, Marco Polo, a brilliant adventurer, returned to Italy. In 1295, he carried wood-block printing technique with him.

Question 4: What did Mercier proclaim about the power of print in bringing enlightenment and destroying the basis of despotism?


“The printing press is the most powerful engine of progress,” author Louise-Sebastien Mercier asserted in eighteenth-century France, “and public opinion is the force that will sweep despotism away.” “Tremble, therefore, oppressors of the world, Tremble before the virtual writer,” he exclaimed, certain of print’s power to impart enlightenment and undermine oppression’s underpinnings.

Question 5: How was the increase in demand for books met in Europe in the fourteenth century?


Europe’s increased demand for books was satisfied in the following ways:

  • Booksellers all around Europe began to export books to a variety of countries. 
  • Book fairs were held in several locations. 
  • Handwritten manuscripts were also produced in order to accommodate the increased demand. Booksellers employed skilled handwriters. One bookshop may hire up to 50 scribes at any given time.
  • Woodblock printing was widely utilised to satisfy demand, but despite these efforts, there was still a tremendous need for even faster and cheaper reproduction of texts, which was met by Johann Gutenberg’s development of the printing press.

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Last Updated : 13 Mar, 2023
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