Research Papers Hindu Religious Traditions

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.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.

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They have tapped into postcolonial anxieties and puritanical attitudes toward sex.

Many see the continuing rise of the Hindu nationalist, or Hindutva, movement -- a right-wing ideology that views India as a Hindu nation -- as providing ideas and fuel for the struggle, but not everyone who shares in the suspicion of academe is an ideologue. Nussbaum has written that many who join or sympathize with the campaign against academe in the U. are not affiliated with the Hindu right at all but rather are Indian immigrants seeking “a positive image of their tradition to present to their children” and sensitive to perceived insults to India’s history or Hinduism by (as the narrative goes) “callous American orientalist scholars.” At the heart of all this is a widely shared sense that Hinduism and the integrity of India are under assault by Western academics.

I raised issues concerning serious errors, omissions or blatant biases.

I quickly learned that critical feedback of a serious nature -- especially from those outside the control of the academic establishment -- was not welcome.

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.Of course it is not this way at all: Wendy was drawn to Hinduism because it struck her as a religion more joyful and less puritanical than the religions dominant in the West, and it’s natural that her work would emphasize that aspect.” A figure at the center of the critique of Doniger and other Western scholars is Rajiv Malhotra, a retired information technology executive and philanthropist who in 1994 founded the Princeton, N.J.-based Infinity Foundation to support the academic study of Hinduism in the U. He quickly became one of Hindu studies’ most visible -- and vehement -- critics.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.The distrust and even disdain with which many practicing Hindus view the scholars who study their religion would likely surprise many outside the confines of the field.A cultural and religious war is raging in which Western academics are the enemy.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).Among Pollock’s stated offenses in the eyes of the petition signers was his support for recent statements condemning the arrest of a student leader at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University on the charge of sedition.


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