Will SweetmanWill Sweetman

BA Hons (Lancaster) MPhil PhD (Cambridge)

Professor of Asian Religions
Room: Richardson 5S3, 5th Floor, Richardson South Tower
Tel: 64 3 479 8793
Email: will.sweetman@otago.ac.nz

Will Sweetman studied Philosophy and Religious Studies at the University of Lancaster and received his doctorate from the University of Cambridge. He has taught at universities in London and Newcastle, and held research fellowships at Cambridge, Halle and Hamburg. He is currently Head of the School of Social Sciences. Will is a member of the Heterodox Academy and an ordained Dudeist priest.


Every year Will teaches the section on Hinduism in an introductory paper (RELS102). He also teaches papers directly connected with his research interests: religion in the south of India (RELS212/312), and interactions between Asian religions and the West (RELS220/320). His other teaching includes a paper on the culture of the body in Asian religions (RELS209/309), and another on World Christianity (RELS205/305). All of these papers are also offered by distance learning.

Papers taught in 2024

First semester
Hinduism & Buddhism
Second semester
Hindu Texts: The Bhagavata Purana

Click on the paper code for further information about the paper, including prescriptions and timetables.

^ Top of page


Map of South IndiaWill's research interests centre on interactions between the religions of Asia and the West in the modern period. His doctoral research examined accounts of Hinduism in English, Dutch, German and French writers from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The results of this research were published as Mapping Hinduism. He continues to work in this area and is currently engaged in a study of Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg's works on Hinduism, in particular the Genealogie der malabarischen Götter (1713). He has recently published an edition of Ziegenbalg's catalogue of his library of over one hundred Tamil Hindu manuscripts, including some that are not otherwise recorded. Many of his publications are available for download at academia.edu.

Postgraduate Supervision

Will welcomes inquiries from prospective Ph.D. candidates working on topics in the areas of Asian religions, historical and theoretical questions in the study of religion, inter-religious encounters in colonial contexts, and Christian mission in Africa and Asia.

Current Postgraduate Students

Cherie Coley, (MA) 'Rasa: The Theories and Psychology of Aesthetics, Emotion, and Liberation'

Karina Guthrie, (PhD, primary supervisor) 'Negotiating Agency: The History of Women’s Participation in Traditional Hatha Yoga Practice'

Phra Akbordin Rattana (PhD, co-supervisor) 'On the Two Bodies of the Buddha in Pussadeva’s Pa?hamasambodhi'

Recent Completions

Woramat Malasart, (PhD 2024) 'The Dhammakaya Lemmata from Core Text to Commentary: Buddhist Practices, Manuscript Transmission and Textual Formation in Traditional Buddhism in Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia'

Alistair Savai’i Knewstubb (MA 2022) 'Buddhist contemplative techniques will not cause a scientific revolution'

^ Top of page

Selected publications

BooksCover of BM

(ed. with Aditya Malik) Hinduism in India: Modern and Contemporary Movements. New Delhi: Sage, 2016 [Details] [Preview] [Review]

Hinduism. 4 vols. Critical Concepts in Religious Studies. London: Routledge, 2014 [Details]

Bibliotheca Malabarica: Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg's Tamil Library. Paris/Pondicherry: EFEO/IFP, 2012 [Read online] [Review] [Review]

(translator) Ute Hüsken, Visnu's Children. Prenatal life-cycle rituals in South India. (Ethno-Indology. Heidelberg Studies in South Asian Rituals 9). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2009 [Preview]

Mapping Hinduism: 'Hinduism' and the study of Indian religions. 1600-1776. Halle: Verlag der Franckeschen Stiftungen zu Halle, 2003 [Download]

A Discovery of the Banian Religion and the Religion of the Persees: a critical edition of two early English works on Indian Religions. Lampeter: Edwin Mellen, 1999 [Preview]

^ Top of page

Articles and book chapters

Forgeries, Falsifications, Fictions, Fälschungen? Some Early Modern European “Vedas”,’ Entangled Religions 15/1 (2024)

The Accommodation of Caste in the Tranquebar Mission (1706–1746),’ in Markus Friedrich and Holger Zaunstöck, ed., Jesuit and Pietist Missions in the Eighteenth Century: Cross-Confessional Perspectives. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2022: 175–93.

‘Where does the name Hinduism come from?,’ ‘Why do Hindus not eat beef?,’ ‘What do Hindus think about Christianity?’ in Steven Ramey, ed., Hinduism in 5 minutes. London: Equinox, 2022: 36–38, 140–42, 200–2.

Missionaries and Orientalists,’ in Tracy Coleman, ed., Oxford Bibliographies: Hinduism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021

Sisyphus and I: Or, Theologians I Have Known in Three Decades as Religionswissenschaftler,’ Journal for the Academic Study of Religion 32/2-3 (2019): 145–65

The Absent Vedas,’ Journal of the American Oriental Society, 139/4 (2019): 781-803

Reading Jesuit Readings of Hinduism,’ in Robert Maryks, ed., Jesuit Historiography Online. Leiden: Brill, 2019

Will Sweetman and Ines G. Županov, ‘Rival Mission, Rival Science? Jesuits and Pietists in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century South India,’ Comparative Studies in Society and History, 61/3 (2019): 624–53

‘The Dravidian Idea in Missionary Accounts of South Indian Religion’ in Sekhar Bandyopadhyay and Aloka Parasher Sen, ed., Religion and Modernity in India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2016: 67–83

‘Hinduism and Modernity’ in Will Sweetman and Aditya Malik, ed., Hinduism in India: Modern and Contemporary Movements. New Delhi: Sage, 2016: 23–40

‘Empire and Mission: Protestant Beginnings in India and the “pious clause”,’ Social Sciences and Missions, 28/1 (2015): 11–31

'The Cessation of the Oracles: Authenticity and Authority in Jesuit Reports of Possession in South India' in Anand Amaladass and Iñes G. Županov, ed., Intercultural Encounter and the Jesuit Mission in South Asia. Bangalore: Asian Trading Corporation, 2014: 156–76

'Retracing Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg's Path' in Esther Fihl and A. R. Venkatachalapathy, ed., Beyond Tranquebar: Grappling Across Cultural Borders in South India. Hyderabad: Orient Blackswan, 2014: 304–21

'Südasiatische Religionen' in Friedrich Jaeger, ed., Enzyklopädie der Neuzeit, vol. 13: 65–75. Stuttgart: Metzler, 2011

'Hinduism—History of Scholarship' in Denise Cush, Catherine Robinson and Michael York, ed., Encyclopedia of Hinduism. London: Routledge, 2008: 329–39

'Colonialism all the way down? Religion and the secular in early modern writing on south India' in Timothy Fitzgerald, ed., Religion and the Secular: Historical and Colonial Formations. London: Equinox, 2007: 117–34

'Heathenism, idolatry and rational monotheism among the Hindus: Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg's Akkiyanam (1713) and other works addressed to Tamil Hindus' in Andreas Gross, Y. Vincent Kumaradoss and Heike Liebau, ed., Halle and the Beginning of Protestant Christianity in India. 3 vols. Halle: Verlag der Franckeschen Stiftungen zu Halle, 2006: 1249–75

'Hinduism' in Rachel Dwyer, ed., Keywords in South Asian Studies. London: SOAS, 2005

'The Prehistory of Orientalism: Colonialism and the Textual Basis for Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg's Account of Hinduism' New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies 6/2 (2004): 12–38

'"Hinduism" and the history of "religion": Protestant presuppositions in the critique of the concept of Hinduism' Method & Theory in the Study of Religion 15/4 (2003): 329–353

'Unity and Plurality: Hinduism and the Religions of India in Early European Scholarship', Religion 31/3 (2001): 209–224

^ Top of page

University of Otago Religious Studies Programme