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This article examines Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King” through the lens of Freemasonry’s interreligious ideology. In British India, members of “The Craft” offered what scholar James Laine calls a meta-religion, a fraternity whose emphasis on interreligious tolerance masks power relations between colonizers and colonized. When he became a Freemason, Kipling’s lifelong fascination with India’s religious diversity translated into enthusiasm for the sect’s unifying aspirations. In this context, “The Man Who Would Be King” stands out for how sharply it contests that enthusiasm. The story’s Masonic protagonists determine to find glory and riches in Kafiristan, a borderland region known for its idiosyncratic polytheism. Initially offering an ideal staging ground for Masonic triumphalism, the region ultimately upends Freemasonry’s goal of unifying imperial subjects under a metareligious banner: Kipling’s deployment of the fantastic frames Kafiristan as a borderland, not only between Empire and wilderness, but also between incommensurable visions of reality.


This work was originally published in Religion and the Arts, available at



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