Fascinating article in The University of Chicago Magazine about the conflict between Hindu intellectuals and American academics. Here’s a selection from the article, but I recommend reading the whole thing.
Malhotra notes that “a peculiar brand of ‘secularism’ has prevented academic religious studies from entering [India's] education system in a serious manner.”? Therefore, unlike other religions, he writes in an e-mail interview, “there is a lack of Indic perspective that would…provide equivalent counter balance”? to Western scholars’ theories, creating an “asymmetric discourse.”? Further, he says, most of the Hinduism scholars are “either whites or Indians under the control of whites. One does not find Arabs, Chinese, blacks, Hispanics, etc., engaged in this kind of Hinduphobia racket.”? He’s begun to research “whiteness studies,”? which analyzes the “anthropology of white culture and uncovers their myths. … I am researching issues such as white culture’s Biblical based homophobia, deeply ingrained guilt of sex (Garden of Eden episode) and condemnation of the body. … I posit that many white scholars are driven into Hinduism studies by their own private voyeurism or fantasy, or an attempted escape from white culture’s restrictions….”
The Indian/white, or insider/outsider, issue has been debated in both academia and the Hindu community. [...] For Sharma, author of Classical Hindu Thought: An Introduction (Oxford, 2000), the debate has shades of gray. “Both the insider and the outsider see the truth,”? he writes in an e-mail interview, “but genuine understanding may be said to arise at the point of their intersection. At this intersection one realizes that the Shivalinga [the icon of the god Shiva] is considered a phallic symbol by outsiders but rarely by Hindus themselves, or that the Eucharist looks like a cannibalistic ritual to outsiders but not to Christians.”? He continues, “If insiders and outsiders remain insulated they develop illusions of intellectual sovereignty. Each is required to call the other’s bluff.”?
There’s a fine line, some scholars say, between legitimate Hindu concerns and the right-wing political wave that has recently hit India. Although Malhotra, for example, condemns the violence and threats, he has acknowledged in a Washington Post article that the Hindu right has appropriated his arguments. Just as he points to certain Western academics, arguing they perpetuate what he calls the “caste, cows, curry, dowry” stereotypes, in India, says Vijay Prashad, AM’90, PhD’94, a Trinity College assistant professor of international studies, “the Hindu right has taken education as an important field of political battle,” trying, for instance, to install conservative textbooks in schools.
Malhotra’s goal is to “rebrand India,”? says Prashad, a self-described Marxist who studied history and anthropology, not religious studies, at Chicago, and who has debated Malhotra in online forums. But “scholars, to me, are not in the business of branding.” Malhotra and others “have created the idea that there is one Indic thought,”? Prashad says, but “there are so many schools of thought within Hinduism.” [...]
For Doniger it’s a matter of considering multiple explanations. Both Courtright and Kripal, she says, “applied psychoanalysis in a limited way, and they found something that is worth thinking about. They said this could be one of the things that’s going on here, not the only thing.”? She understands that Indians are sensitive to postcolonial threats to their culture. “For many years Europeans wrote anything they wanted and took anything they wanted from India,”? she says. “Even now so much of Indian culture is influenced by American political and economic domination. And India is quite right to object to that.”? The protesters, however, have transferred that concern to an intellectual level, arguing “that Western scholars have pushed out Indian views the same way Coca-Cola has pushed out Indian products.”? But, she argues, “it’s a false model to juxtapose intellectual goods with economic ones. I don’t feel I diminish Indian texts by writing about or interpreting them. My books have a right to exist alongside other books.”?
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