Research Papers Hindu Religious Traditions

Tension boiled over again in 2014, when the book by Wendy Doniger, a professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School and probably the most prominent American scholar working in Hindu studies today, was withdrawn from circulation in India after its publisher settled a lawsuit claiming that it defamed followers of the faith. In February scholars in India initiated a petition calling for the removal of a major Sanskrit scholar, Columbia University’s Sheldon Pollock, from the general editorship of a Harvard University Press series of Indian classical texts on the grounds that his writings “misrepresent our cultural heritage” and that he had “shown disrespect for the unity and integrity of India” (this of a scholar who has received the Indian president’s award for Sanskrit, as well as the Padma Shri Award, one of the Indian government’s highest civilian honors).

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In turn scholars might say they’re the ones under attack.

Academics who have written controversial things about Hinduism have reported receiving death threats and hate mail, and the overall level of vitriol in the social media sphere where many of these debates play out is high.

Also in February, the University of California at Irvine accepted a faculty committee’s recommendation to walk away from gifts for endowed professorships in Indian religions from donors with specific ideas about how Hinduism should be studied.

The faculty committee concluded that that any association with the Dharma Civilization Foundation, which has publicly stated its views about specific scholars whose work it finds problematic and which has sought in particular to promote scholarship by Hindus, about Hindus, “is inconsistent with UCI’s core values as a public university that fosters diversity, inclusion, toleration and respect.” And now at the K-12 level, the struggle over how Hinduism is taught in California public schools has been renewed.

He asserts, for example, that “Western women, such as the famous professor herself, who are suppressed by the prudish and male chauvinistic myths of the Abrahamic religions, find in their study of Hinduism a way to release their innermost latent , but they disguise this autobiography as a portrayal of the ‘other’ (in this case superimposing their obsessions upon Hindu deities and saints).” (Such language presages that of the later legal complaint in India against Doniger’s book, which described her approach to studying Hindu scriptures as “that of a woman hungry of sex.”) “Though the academy became increasingly defensive as a response to my article, the Hindu public intellectuals and activists gradually woke up,” Malhotra said.

“They started to see things differently and began speaking about experiences that validated what I was writing about.I think that there should be more appreciation of the good teaching that is happening in colleges and universities about the Hindu tradition -- and there is a lot of that.” Accusations of Colonialism and Orientalism Nussbaum, the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago and a leading figure in the humanities, is the author of the book-length study (Oxford University Press, 2015).Nussbaum said via email that the disputes over Hinduism and Indian history are not new. “For about 20 years at least, members of the Hindu community in the U. have been carrying on a well-funded campaign to substitute an ideological Hindu-right version of Indian history for serious historical scholarship.” Nussbaum said that this version of history, propagated by the Hindu right since the 1920s, overstates the age of the Vedas by at least 1,500 years and makes false claims for Hindu indigeneity to the Indian subcontinent (where, as Nussbaum summarized the narrative, they lived “peacefully, with no conflict or strife, until Muslims arrived to create strife and try to dominate Hindus” -- and until the British Christians arrived to participate in the oppression of Hindus after that). is a particularly fertile ground for the struggle, since most Americans don’t know anything about India, and even second-generation Indians are often ready to believe what they are told.So they say that the (correct) representation of Indian history and the history of sexuality is a Western plot, cooked up to defame Hinduism and Indians.Unfortunately, in the absence of scholarly knowledge, the public is all too ready to believe such tales.Wendy Doniger of my own university has been a particular target, because of the zest and humor with which she depicts the sex lives of the gods and heroes -- following the ancient texts, but pointing to features of the texts that the Hindu right doesn't want to hear about.The story they then circulate is that Wendy is a kind of Circe figure, luring in young scholars and getting them to say inappropriate and defamatory things about India.This version of history also holds -- again falsely, Nussbaum said -- that “traditional Hinduism was highly puritanical about sexual matters, and the sexual element has been introduced by leftist and Western scholars.” “India is one battleground for such ideas, since textbooks were massively rewritten during the first domination of the Hindu right, and they are now being rewritten again,” Nussbaum said. Forty percent of Americans of Indian origin are Gujarati, where the Hindu right has immense strength.” “The other factor is that most scholars of India in the U. in the older generation are not from India,” Nussbaum continued.“They are Americans who love India’s civilization and religion and who have developed great scholarly skill and knowledge, rather the way that other scholars develop knowledge of ancient Greek and Roman religion, although they are not Greek and Roman.“Not being a passive donor, I read seriously whatever was being produced in academic Hinduism studies,” Malhotra said in written answers to questions.“This engagement was my full-time work and not a side hobby.


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