What can the shifting British interpretations of sati in the period between 1650 and 1830 tell us about the changes in how the British saw themselves as colonizers? This is the central question that this thesis seeks to resolve. From 1650 to about 1750, British interests in the Indian subcontinent were similar to other Europeans traveling in the area, characterized by the establishment of trading posts and dependence on the governing Mughals. From the beginning of this time period, European travelers were grappling with making sense of the Hindu practice of widow immolation, or sati. Early accounts by French and Italian travelers inferred that while the practice was striking in nature. Europeans had little authority to intervene. Over time, the British in particular were examining the practice within the context of their Protestant moral code. British travelers concluded that sati was reprehensible due to brahmins and Mughal governors dictating the fates of Hindu widows as opposed to male heads of household. Through this dismissal of sati, we can demonstrate how the British were inadvertently coming to understand themselves as uniquely Protestant colonizers in India as their judgment on widow immolation was informed by their adherence to familial privacy. Dramatists also picked up on this shift in appraisal in contemporary theatrical works on India as British playwrights such as Mariana Starke and W.T. Moncrieff echoed British sentiments that called for the "rescue" of Hindu widows by the British and perhaps the eventual conversion to Christianity.


Justin Biel

Committee Member

Chad McCutchen

Committee Member

Jameel Haque

Date of Degree




Document Type



Master of Arts (MA)

Program of Study



Social and Behavioral Sciences



Rights Statement

In Copyright