Civilizing Missions in Colonial and Postcolonial South Asia

Civilizing Missions in Colonial and Postcolonial South Asia

From Improvement to Development

Edited by Carey A. Watt & Michael Mann

Anthem South Asian Studies

Anthem Modern South Asian History

This collection provides a historical exploration of the tensions and complexities of civilizing missions undertaken by British or Indian states or organizations in nineteenth- and twentieth-century South Asia.

PDF, 344 Pages


March 2011

£18.36, $30.36

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About This Book

‘Civilizing Missions in Colonial and Postcolonial South Asia’ demonstrates how the civilizing mission can serve as an analytical rubric with relevance to many themes in the colonial and postcolonial eras: economic development, state building, pacification, nationalism, cultural improvement, gender and generational relations, caste and untouchability, religion and missionaries, class relations, urbanization, NGOs, and civil society.

While some chapters investigate civilizing initiatives that were driven by the British Raj or Indian postcolonial state, the book also considers many examples of nongovernmental undertakings. For example, examining the role of missionary educational endeavours shows how missionary bodies could operate in an ambivalent space between Indians and the colonial state. Moreover, analysis of Indian civilizing efforts carried out by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the nationalist movement or postcolonial Indian states gives us interesting opportunities to scrutinize how the civilizing mission could be internalized as a form of 'self-civilizing' by Indians. Some papers also show the global linkages of civilizing efforts in the British Empire, while others examine long-term continuities through broad comparative analyses covering the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This takes us into the postcolonial era (beyond 1947, into the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries), and such 'transgressions' across the colonial divide give this volume added appeal.


‘The present set of essays is a valuable contribution to the ongoing discourse made relevant in the wake of neocolonialism and invasion of independent nations carried out in the name of progress of “less civilized” societies. […] [S]uch [a] broad spectrum of continuities of the “civilizing mission,” within and beyond India in the colonial and postcolonial periods, adds to the appeal of this volume. […]This volume should therefore be a necessary addition to the library of every student of history.’ —Vinod John, ‘Religious Studies Review’

Author Information

Carey A. Watt holds a PhD in South Asian history from the University of Cambridge, and is currently Associate Professor of History (South Asia/World) at St. Thomas University in Canada.

Michael Mann holds a PhD from the University of Heidelberg and is currently Professor of South Asian History and Culture at Humboldt University, Berlin.


Anthem South Asian Studies

Anthem Modern South Asian History

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Relevance and Complexity of Civilizing Missions c. 1800-2010; Part One. The Raj’s Reforms and Improvements: Aspects of the British Civilizing Mission; 1. Conjecturing Rudeness: James Mill’s Utilitarian Philosophy of History and the British Civilizing Mission; 2. Art, Artefacts and Architecture: Lord Curzon, the Delhi Arts Exhibition of 1902-03 and the Improvement of India’s Aesthetics; Part Two. Colonialism, Indians and Nongovernmental Associations: The Ambiguity and Complexity of ‘Improvement’; 3. Incorporation and Differentiation: Popular Education and the Imperial Civilizing Mission in Early Nineteenth Century India; 4. Reclaiming Savages in ‘Darkest England’ and ‘Darkest India’: The Salvation Army as Transnational Agent of the Civilizing Mission; 5. Mediating Modernity: Colonial State, Indian Nationalism and the Renegotiation of the ‘Civilizing Mission’ in the Indian Child Marriage Debate of 1927-1932; Part Three. Indian ‘Self-Civilizing’ Efforts c. 1900-1930; 6. ‘Civilizing Sisters’: Writings on How to Save Women, Men, Society and the Nation in Late Colonial India; 7. From ‘Social Reform’ to ‘Social Service’: Indian Civic Activism and the Civilizing Mission in Colonial Bombay c. 1900-20; Part Four. Transcending 1947: Colonial and Postcolonial Continuities; 8. Female Infanticide and the Civilizing Mission in Postcolonial India: A Case Study from Tamil Nadu c. 1980-2006; 9. Philanthropy and Civilizing Missions in India c. 1820-1960: States, NGOs and Development; Afterword: Improvement, Progress and Development; List of Contributors; Index


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