Jakob de Roover, the author of the article ‘Untangling the Knot’ makes a remarkable contribution to the ongoing debate surrounding Penguin India’s withdrawal and pulping of Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: an Alternative History. His article imagines a character—an Indian Hindu man—whose representative status is vague at best. This character encounters versions of Hinduism in his primary school that don’t address the reality of his domestic experience of it, versions that eventually fill him with self-loathing. Lacking the intellectual means with which to challenge these representations, he is frustrated and eventually joins his voice to the chorus of the Hindu Right that offers him relief if not explanations. Meanwhile, his daughter, as imagined by de Roover, chooses to study the humanities in the U.S.A and, while enrolled for a PhD in Religious Studies, is “disappointed by the shallowness of the teaching and research”. She finds that “Hinduism studies appears to be in a state of theoretical poverty”. She refuses “to take on the role of the native informant” and “begins to voice her disagreement with her teachers. This is not appreciated and she soon learns that she has been branded ‘Hindutva’.”
Nowhere in this article does de Roover offer even a single concrete demonstration of the “shallowness” or “theoretical poverty” of North American Hindu Studies. Moreover, his article rests on the unproven assumption that ethnicity is a factor—indeed the factor—determining current pedagogy in North American Hinduism Studies. On this assumption, the daughter-character necessarily perceives herself as a Hindu. Not only does this not necessarily have to be the case, it should also be obvious that there are infinite ways of being Hindu. Or Muslim. Or anything else. Moreover, de Roover imagines without justification the daughter’s teachers to be necessarily only non-native American scholars of Hinduism. These teachers supposedly cast her in the role of the native informant. Apart from the lack of any empirical evidence of this in the article, one wonders what to make of such implicitly essentialist notions of “Hindu”, “native” and “non-native”? One doesn’t have to have read the theorist of post-colonial identity, Edward Said, to expect a modicum of reflexivity in the use of such categories of identity. Nor does one have to be familiar with the English poetry (that adapted an American Modernist minimalism by discovering its elective affinities with ancient Tamil poetry) and scholarship (bringing European Folklore Studies and semiotics to bear on pre-modern Tamil and Kannada literatures) of the founder of South Asian Studies in the University of Chicago, A.K. Ramanujan, to expect a minimum of intellectual sophistication in not simplistically equating ethnicity with scholarly identity. So much for shallowness and theoretical poverty.
De Roover writes: "For decades now, secularists have set the agenda and funded research projects and centres for 'humiliation and exclusion studies'." Nowhere in his article does he specify what he understands by “secularists”, leaving one to wonder what his quarrel with secularists—whatever this label designates—may be.
Elsewhere, he charges North American scholars of religion with identifying only certain questions as “central” to scholarly inquiry into religion and then lists these questions. Again, he fails to demonstrate even one instance of the purported centrality of these questions to this group of academics. To take a random example from among many possible ones, Andrew Nicholson’s book, Unifying Hinduism: Philosophy and Identity in Indian Intellectual History (2010), doesn’t care to even pose the questions de Roover identifies as central. Nor does his book attempt to explain late medieval Hinduism through “Marx and Freud to Foucualt and Zizek”. Still less does it “repeat the same story, in a jargon that makes it even more opaque”. Rather, it path-breakingly demonstrates that “between the twelfth and sixteenth centuries c.e., certain thinkers began to treat as a single whole the diverse philosophical teachings of the Upanisads, epics, Purānas, and the schools known retrospectively as the ‘six systems’ —saddarśana— of mainstream Hindu philosophy”, thus disproving two theories as to the origins of what we today designate “Hinduism”—that it is as old as the Vedas, as Hindu Nationalists are wont to claim; and that its unity is merely a result of colonial period European Orientalist scholarship, as some academics argued until recently.
That we need new “hypotheses that make sense of current developments in India” can’t be denied. That there may be scholarly problems with Doniger’s book is also plausible. That we need to be more open than we have been to alternative ways of authoring textbooks is also a welcome suggestion. That banning books and the government’s surrender in the face of demands for such bans is abominable can’t be asserted enough. But I am surprised that a website as aware of contemporary scholarly currents as Outlook consented to publish an article that maligns all contemporary South Asianist scholarship (except that of S.N. Balagangadhara) with such unsubstantiated claims as the ones I have cited above.
Prashant Keshavmurthy is Assistant Professor of Persian Studies, Institute of Islamic Studies, McGill University
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
'SNB showed that 'Hinduism' either as a religion or as a way of life doesn't exist in India. It just exists as an experiential entity in the Western experience as well as in the semitic experience of India'
There is no such thing as a coherent 'Western' or 'Semitic' experience of India. That's just not possible, unless you believe in telepathy, or some extreme form of Sapir-Whorf silliness or Rupert Sheldrake type mumbo jumbo.
There may be textual 'availability cascades' but, even from my limited reading, I know that in fact, for both Islam & Christianity, such textual 'paramparas' were conflicting ab ovo. Al Maturidi is different from Al Biruni and, arguably, both earlier and more influential. Similarly, the Jesuits who forged a Purana which fooled Voltaire represent a totally different and conflicting textual availability cascade which was just as influential, if not more so, as the Willam Carey type Missionary nonsense that influenced Macaulay.
However, even the search for textual availability cascades doesn't yield a useful research program because people who write books, more especially if they are Professors, tend to be stupid, self-aggrandizing and incapable of any type of honesty, intellectual or otherwise.
Doniger, I suppose, could be placed in a tradition that includes people like Malfatti- at one time very influential- but Doniger didn't read Malfatti. Nonsense doesn't need a Daddy or Mummy, it gives birth to itself by a process that violates Section 322.
BTW was Pollock Prashant's favourite teacher at Columbia?
If so, poor old Prashant still has a long way to go, in the apple polishing dept. before he matches up to the great Vishva Adluri (vide socioproctology.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/vishva-adluri-sheldon-pollock-deep.html) who has shown that Western Indology can move forward from Modi bashing to taking on Adolf Hitler himself by proving that them pesky Hindus wrote some stuff long ago which nice German scientists, studied in a scientific manner, and that turned them totally Nazi coz Pollock said so.
Thus Western Indology can save Western Civilization by defeating Adolf Hitler who is like a real bad guy.
Now you and I know Hitler was defeated 70 years ago and that Western Colonialism stopped being viable around that same time, but the Pollock School pretend otherwise so as to sell their worthless books.
(A German pedant) Grunendahl writes- 'In this endeavour, too, Adluri merely echoes Pollock, who “had set the stage for radically rethinking…[the] scholarly dogmas on India” (257) by declaring that “in a post-colonial and post-Holocaust world,…these traditional foundations and uses of Indology have disappeared,…crumbled” and led to a feeling of “impotence” and “loss of purpose” (Pollock 1993: 111, 113); in short, Indologists “no longer know why they are doing what they do” (88). Consequently, we can only expect an “Indology beyond the Raj and Auschwitz” (114) from “self-consciously responsible scholarship in late twentieth-century America”
"As Pollock’s post-Orientalist messianism would have us believe, only late twentieth-century (and now twenty-first-century) America is intellectually equipped to reject and finally overcome Eurocentrism” and “European epistemological hegemony,” that is, “a pre-emptive European conceptual framework of analysis [that] has disabled us from probing central features of South Asian life, from pre-western forms of ‘national’ (or feminist, or communalist, or ethnic) identity or consciousness, pre-modern forms of cultural ‘modernism,’ pre-colonial forms of colonialism”
Prashant is worried that Jakob doesn't present the works of Prashant's favorite teacher at Columbia. How to understand this situation. One example (ad hoc one): Jakob maligns all south asian scholars but for SN Balangadhara (SNB). Maybe, this explanation buys this scholar a tenureship or a promotion at Columbia (of course, this is my adhoc explanation too!).
The other way is to look at this is that Jakob may not subscribe to the theoritical stance of other south asian scholars. In other words, not accepting theories of a set of scholars does NOT entail that one is maligning the latter set of scholars.
There are multiple theoretical positions abt religion in south asian studies.
1. God gave mankind a religion (this is the view of Semitic theologies)
2. Every culture has its set of religion (this is the secular translation of the semitic theological theoretical claim).
3. Postcolonials say that British colonialism constructed Hinduism and that Hinduism exists the way Indian railway system exists, after the latter was handed over to Indians after independence.
4. religion (as a phenomenon) is not a cultural universal. This is the claims of SNB research program. SNB showed this via a set of arguments, via building a hypothesis about the phenomenon that religion is. Based on this hypothesis and arguments, SNB showed that 'Hinduism' either as a religion or as a way of life doesn't exist in India. It just exists as an experiential entity in the Western experience as well as in the semitic experience of India. SNB doesn't say that Western scholars, missionaries, travellers, Islamic travellors/rulers have been hallucinating. Instead, his hypothesis explains why (a) religion is not universal, why (b) people from cultures with religion are compelled to see religion everywhere; his research explains this in a non ad hoc fashion.
5. Hindusim exists in India (this is defended by Batra, Rajiv Malhotra and majority of Hindus you encounter
Just because one argues from the theoretical point of (4), it doesn't mean that the defenders of (1), (2), (3) and (5) have been maligned.
Sure, the theoretical view of (4) clubs (1), (2), (3) and (5) as belonging to the the same paradigm but with theoretical differences.
How to settle this theoretical dispute?
By coming up with a theory that explains (in non adhoc fashion) more phenomona that SNB's theory does.
Of course, if you are a PhD student in south asian studies at Columbia, Chicago, and JNU, you won't learn the lesson that to criticize the theory of a competition, one has to come up with a better hypothesis. Just plausibility arguments won't cut it!!
For instance, Rajiv Malhotra, who belongs to (5) criticizes Wendy, etc from his set of theories. However, Jakob and his team does not subscribe to Rajiv's theories. This doesn't mean that Rajiv is maligned. Instead, one can look at Rajivs works and one can see that he presents adhoc explanations.
Where are your Columbia friends, Prashant, the friends that subscribe to one of these theoretical positions: (1), (2), (3) and (5) ? Where are they in this Wendy's affair? Why are they mum? Why are they busy in pseudo-issues like 'free speech", etc. It is like one is appealing to appeal court on the technical grounds (like whether the way collected evidence violates constitution), instead of looking at the deeper issues that Jakob has rised about religion and caste system.
Of course, people like Nivedita menon doesn't know the trivial truth that facts are theory-laden. If this is the level of south asian scholarship, no wonder these people are engaged in "free speech", "ideology driven", "dichotomizing essentialims", "knowledge power dichotmoy".
"This is not to say that Balagangadhara aint as silly as Doniger- the truth is anyone who studies Hinduism in a Western University is either a moron or a careerist credentialist swine."
While that is a fine "even handed" thing to say, it is not entirely easy to study hinduism in Indian universities, or pretty much do any research of worth, which is why Indians need to migrate out of India to study topics that should be studied in India by Indian scholars. The point is that Wendy and her gang of ignorant sycophants worked very hard to shut out any scholarly work that was not from their gang of inbred cretins who called themselves "indologists" while wrongly translating and interpreting sansrit texts and pretending to be experts in sanskrit -- their worst crime is their refusal to engage other scholars in the study of ancient texts in sanskrit and instead descending to name calling such scholars as "fundamentalist hindus" instead of defending their eminently worthless ideas, which anyway slowly were exposed as utter garbage. The behavior of this crowd goes against all norms of scholarly enquiry, which is their worst crime against the institution of research and intellectual integrity. And these cretins have the audacity to question the honesty and integrity of anyone who dares pose questions on their interpretations of sanskrit texts.
Nowhere in this article does Dr. Keshavmurthy offer even a single concrete demonstration of the absence of “shallowness” or “theoretical poverty” in North American Hindu Studies.
Instead he cites Andrew Nicholson (vide http://socioproctology.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/andrew-nicholsons-unifying-hinduism.html) superbly silly book on Vijnanabhikshu and A.K Ramanujan, who was not a Religious scholar (Pollock says he helped him with his Sanskrit) but rather an Eng Lit Lecturer with a PhD in Linguisitics.
This is not to say that Balagangadhara aint as silly as Doniger- the truth is anyone who studies Hinduism in a Western University is either a moron or a careerist credentialist swine.
Incidentally, Keshavmurthy CAN write very good English and he's a fine Persian scholar but, poor fellow, I think he's terrified of getting labeled as a Hindutva type (Vide http://socioproctology.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/prashant-keshavmurthy-gadamerian-gestapo.html).
The truth is that Hinduism appeals to middle aged men like me not because we suddenly want to march around in khaki knickers but because Hindu scripture and Itihasa is more open to Sciencey stuff. Yuddhishtra, in the Mahabharata, actually has to study Game theory and Probability theory so as to overcome his Vishada and rule as a Just king.
Professors write stupid books because, by and large, Professors ARE stupider than average. It's demoralizing having to teach kids year after year.
In any case, some subjects- Religion, Philosophy, Ethics, Welfare Economics-- are intrisically enstoopidifying (what? that's a word. Look it up).
"Nor does one have to be familiar with the English poetry (that adapted an American Modernist minimalism by discovering its elective affinities with ancient Tamil poetry) and scholarship (bringing European Folklore Studies and semiotics to bear on pre-modern Tamil and Kannada literatures) of the founder of South Asian Studies in the University of Chicago, A.K. Ramanujan, to expect a minimum of intellectual sophistication in not simplistically equating ethnicity with scholarly identity."
And that's just one sentence. The author is in dire need of a lesson in writing simple, lucid English.
@11, Peter Veer:
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