RMF Summary: Week of April 2 - 8, 2012 - Part 1

April 2
On CNN: How Abrahamic religions justified slavery
... How religion has been used to promote slavery ...

Interview with Rajiv Malhotra on where his work fits into Hindu Traditions
Karthik shares: New interview with Rajiv Malhotra on where his work fits into Hindu Tradition. ... 

April 2
Rajiv responds: This is one of my best interviews, as it clarifies many issues raised since the book came out. I urge you to read it and post your own comments on that blog please.

April 3
Harmeet Singh's review
Has anyone read the review by Harmeet Singh, now posted on Amazon page for the book? I wonder if anyone could comment on the Brhadarankyaka Upanishad line he...

April 4
Kannada scholars digested and forgotten
Venkat shares: Senior Litterateur and scholar Prof T V Venkatachala Shastry said that the contribution of the Western scholars (missionaries) in popularising Kannada was invaluable but unfortunately, what is disheartening is the fact that the local scholars who had helped the foreign scholars have been forgotten to the extent that there are no
documentations on these scholars at all....

Ravi adds:
"....KATHRI ( an interesting acronym in itself), the  Karnataka Theological Research Institute, in association with Central Institute of Indian Languages (CIIL) - presumably a Govt undertaking with it's own bureaucratic-political trajectory. So in essence the KATHRI is carrying forward the colonial / missionary torch aided & abetted by Indian govt policies......

As Rajiv has said before, once a culture feels proud of "outsourcing" it's knowledge production to wonderful foreigners & theologians, it can merely watch from sidelines as control of categories is wrested away from it...."

Priyadarshi comments:
"...1. This is not the case with Kannada alone but with many other Indian languages. Naturally, the Western scholars/translators received aid and input from local experts of any language. In erstwhile Fort William College of Calcutta, where several modern Indian languages were developed, there were Pundits and Asst Pundits to help the British scholars. History records some names like Mrityunjaya Tarkalankar and Jagganath Tarkalankar.
2. However, modern nationalists loathe to admit that there all modern Indian languages are directly or indirectly indebted to English. There was hardly any prose literature in any Indian language prior to the advent of English...

3. True fruition of modern literature in Kannada happened in 1920s, much after the rise of modern literature in other Indian languages. This is perhaps because today's Karnataka was administratively fragmented into various parts. ... Fortunately, it was an English education officer who found out that the language of this part was actually Kannada not Marathi.

4. R.S. Mugali in his book History of Kannada Language (Sahitya Academy, 1976) gives credit to Christian missionaries like Kerry, Maccerrel, Rieve, Kittel, Rice and Caldwell for developing modern Kannada language although their main objective might have been to spread Christianity. It is but natural they could not work without local support. 

5. Let us not blame the West alone. There may be any number of Indian academics who had benefited from local experts and then summarily dumped them without sharing the limelight..."

Rajiv responds:
"I am copying my AAR Conference paper presented at the panel discussed in message 2497. You will see the Kannada scholars becoming digested in a new light of a wider syndrome:

Panch (Five) Asymmetries in the Dialog of Civilizations:
A Hindu View...

To have a genuine dialog of civilizations, the 'other' side (in this case the Hindus) must be present as themselves and not via proxy, must be able to use their own framework to represent themselves, and must be free to anthropologize and criticize the west without fear of undue censorship or academic reprisal. However, five asymmetries resulting from the present imbalance of power often obstruct this dialog today.
Before describing these asymmetries, I wish to clarify that I represent neither pole of what has become a bipolar fight for the representation of Indian culture: I am not representing the Hindutva view, which should not be conflated with Hinduism, because: (i) Hindutva is a political mobilization, (ii) it is a recent 20th century construct in response to contemporary situations, and (iii) it assumes a specific (reductionist) package of stances, whereas most Hindus pick and choose positions from an a la carte menu of choices.....
The five asymmetries, of which the first three concern academic translationsof Indic culture, are:....

I. Anthropologist Versus Native Informant:
While unintentional in some cases, scholars often seem to operate on the notion that distance (intellectual, cultural, geographic) produces objectivity.But distance has been the antithesis of dialog, and reciprocity is the key to dialog.[2]Western anthropologists use native informants, who are typically poor and lesseducated villagers paid to produce the data, and who typically place thescholar on a pedestal because of their own limited material resources and theglorification of India's xenophile elite...
II. Western Scholar of Texts Versus Pandit:
The use of pandits is another method by which the west re-maps Indianculture. Many pandits are simple and straightforward, not aggressive comparedto many western scholars, not into power games or concern for royalty orintellectual property rights, and are trusting of western intentions. Themis-appropriation of basmati rice and other intellectual property may be usedas an analog to appreciate that the Indian ethos does not emphasize personalownership of know how (including spiritual knowledge), and that some of whatthe west does is unethical and exploitative as per the pandits' own system ofprofessional ethics....
III. Cognitive Scientist Versus Yogi/Meditator:
The laboratory measurement of higher states of consciousness achieved by advanced yogis and meditators is at the cutting edge of transpersonal and humanistic psychology, mental health, neuroscience, and phenomenology. And some Indic theoretical models are at the center of the philosophy of quantum physics based emerging worldviews. But many ancient Hindu-Buddhist inner science discoveries are being mis-appropriated and/or plagiarized:
  • 'Lucid Dreaming' is the western name for Indo-Tibetan nidra yoga, and Stanford's Stephen LaBerge is nowadays the acknowledged discoverer.
  • 'Mindfulness Meditation' is Jon-Kabat Zinn's trademarked repackaging of vipassna.
  • Herb Benson repackaged TM into his 'Relaxation Response' and now runs a multimillion dollar business based at Harvard, claiming these as his discoveries. Numerous spin-offs in mainstream stress management and management consulting theories came from this source.
  • Rupert Sheldrake recently 'came out' in an interview acknowledging that his famous theory known as 'Morphogenic Resonance' was developed while researching in India's ashrams.
  • Ken Wilbur started out very explicitly as an interpreter of Sri Aurobindo's philosophy for the benefit of psychologists, but now places himself as the discoverer on a higher pedestal.
  • Esalen Institute appropriated J. Krishnamurti and numerous other Indic thinkers into what its contemporary followers regard as it own 'New Worldview'.
  • Thomas Berry, Brother Keating (successor to Bede Griffiths), and others have constructed the New Liberal Christianity, using Indic appropriations. Jewish scholars have likewise constructed the 'non-dualistic Kabala' based on Vedanta.
This is only part of a long list: the core of the emerging 'western'worldview and cosmology involving physics, cognitive science, and biology isbeing rapidly built upon repackaged Indic knowledge,.....
IV. RISA Versus HinduDiaspora:
The Hindu Diaspora, which includes non-Indian Hindus in yoga-meditation centers, is usually kept out of the RISA fortress. Huston Smith, in the Spring2001 Harvard Divinity Bulletin, describes certain western scholars' attitude towards Hinduism as "colonialism updated". When compared to science,technology, business, and other professions where Indians now routinely achieve the highest positions, Indology remains perhaps the last holdout of colonialism. Indians with self-esteem and experience in dealing with westerners are seldom included as dialog representatives in a joint enterprise to study the tradition.
Meanwhile, Indian Marxists and Macaulayites—born again as 'progressives' after the Cold War—dominate India's academe, and often power broker and become strategic allies with western academicians as experts on India.But there are many contradictions in these intellectual sepoys: (i) While many are Subalternists, India's masses, classics and culture are often alien to them, and they disrespect and caricaturize Hinduism in a reductionist Eurocentric way. (ii) Instead, they know mainly western thought and hermeneutics. (iii) Yet, their careers are based on being proxies for the very tradition that they regard as a scourge.[5] The phenomenon of South Asianizing, which has emerged from this confluence of excessive ethnography and Indian Macaulayism, has subverted Hinduism's universal truth claims.....

V. Asymmetric Hermeneutical Power:
There is asymmetry in the license to criticize: RISA and its scholars control the vyakhya (i.e. hermeneutics, right to criticize, what is deemed important and interesting, etc.) , manage the adhikara (i.e.appoint those in charge of gate-keeping the academic channels), and sometimes even field the persons who represent the Hindus. Any in-bred, pedigree-based, closed system is likely to slip into stagnation. When opposed by truly independent outsiders (i.e. those who do not seek visas, PhDs, jobs, tenure, etc.), some RISA members have resorted to intimidating name-calling to affect censorship.Sometimes, this attack on the messenger deflects from the message. The trial of Sri Ramakrishna in absentia, with no defense side allowed, is an example of what happens under such asymmetries of power.
But Hindus have a long standing tradition of making fun of their gods,since they do not fear blasphemy. Hindus can summon a god, argue and make fun of him, even scold him with impunity—in a process called 'nindastuti'....

 ....6. As one example only, those adopting a literalist interpretation of Indian texts are often deemed as fanatics, nationalists,and fundamentalists. But in Bible Studies, literalist interpretations are a well-respected hermeneutical approach. George Gallup's book of surveys of Americans' religious beliefs says that over 50% of all Americans believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible. Yet, we don't denounce the majority of Americans as fundamentalist-fanatics. In the case of Islam, the Koran is viewed as the literal history and not metaphorically by the mainstream.Personally, I prefer the metaphorical interpretation of all religious texts,but feel that literalist interpretations are a person's right without facing abuses...."

[there is a lot of material in this post below that provides us a glimpse of the kind of debate that was ongoing in the 1990s. I'm heavily excerpting. Be sure to read the content in its entirety from the egroup link below]. 
April 4 
One of my interventions with AAR more than a decade ago - a bit of history
[Preface by Rajiv:

In the 1990s, I was having numerous debates and arguments with the US academy over their Hinduphobia. At that time hardly anyone else in the diaspora supported me and most of the "leaders" felt things were going just great. "Look at how many temples we have built" I was told. "I go to campuses and nobody bothers me for practicing my faith", said many. I went to as many academic events as I could to debate them, and found myself all alone. The focus of "activists" was 100% India based - Ayodhya fund-raising, impressing visiting politicians from India, etc.
I got tired of making attempts to gather support on US based issues. Indians were drunk in their new wealth and material success in the US. Nobody wanted to hear any bad news or rock the boat.

Swami Tyagananda had refused to go public with his criticism of Kripal's new book (that won him AAR awards and a Harvard post-doc to launch his career!) which was attacking Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda's integrity. He said "I am a monk and we dont fight". I worked with him privately and got the first copy of his critique posted online at my own site. Once the precedence was set, he also posted it at other places himself and went public with his critique. My articles starting with Risa Lila on Sulekha started a huge storm that blew up in the faces of the academics; and all these "Hindu activists" were still sleeping, holding "like-minded people's" meetings to discuss petty issues and egos. No sign of strategic thinking at all. Disconnected from the ground reality.

Thats when I decided to take the war into the academy by using the internet, until such time as the academics could no longer ignore me. This worked. Jack Hawley started a "research" project called "Hinduism Here" which was projected as a way to study American-based Hinduism. Its real intention was to dig up dirt on various Hindu groups and send this material to US authorities for investigation. His spies were caught in Arsha Vidya Gurukulam and it sparked a debate within that organization on what posture ought to be taken towards such intrusions. At one AAR conference, Harvard's top scholar on Hinduism said that the FBI ought to be doing surveillance on Hindu groups just as it does on Islamic ones!

The material below is from one of the AAR panels that I was invited to more than a decade ago. It was meant to serve as a sort of "in house hearing" of my gripes. I was sandwiched between speakers faithful to the academy at both ends, some making nuanced and oblique hints of criticism, but muted and within the boundaries of permitted criticism. I used to run one of the largest egroups in those days, called "IndicTraditions" where many of you got to know me first.

Infinity Foundation supported dozens of scholars to shift the discourse. We learned a lot on how the machinery works versus what it appears to be from the outside. Gradually things have changed quiet a lot. Hinduphobia is less blatant but its still there.
Today there is a new breed of leaders who dont know any of this history or background. The sangh has tried to reinvent itself and even co-opt many of these new groups that started independently.

Many scholars and organizations we backed had sold out along the way - an old story of how the west has perfected this art of co-opting Indians very diplomatically. Many of the old guard of activist leaders (who had blocked my initiatives in the 1990s) as well as scholars I had funded and who later sold out, have now come together to launch "pioneering" initiatives to bring a new kind of presence of dharma in the academy. I wish them well. Many are well meaning and should succeed. Others are self-serving - the same old minds repackaged with new vocabulary that they have picked up from all this new discourse.

Defamation/Anti-Defamation –Hindus in Dialogue with the Western Academy
A panel discussion held at the annualmeeting of the American Academy of Religion in Denver on November 17, 2001.

A panel discussion held at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Denver on November 17, 2001
A Word ofWelcome
    John StrattonHawley
    BarnardCollege, Columbia University
    The Vedanta Society, Boston
    V. V. Raman
    RochesterInstitute of Technology
    Edwin Bryant
    Vasudha Narayanan
    University of Florida
    Rajiv Malhotra
    The Infinity Foundation
    Ann Grodzins Gold
    Syracuse University
    Emory University
    K. J. Somaiya Bharatiya
    Sanskriti Peetham


John Stratton Hawley
Barnard College, Columbia University

In the course of the last five years, the form, content, history, andauthority of Western academic scholarship about Hinduism have been vigorouslyquestioned by practicing Hindus. Major landmarks along the way have been theinternational conference on "Revisiting Indus Saraswati Age and AncientIndia" (Atlanta, 1996), the AAR panel on "Who Speaks for Hinduism?"(Orlando, 1998), and the renewed controversy about Jeffrey Kripal's Kali's Child in the light of Swami Tyagananda's rejoinder Kali's Child Revisited, or, Didn't Anyone Check the Documentation? (distributed at the AAR, 2000). Recently the institutional reality of the AAR itself has become a target of criticism.
This panel is an attempt to gather various strands of that debate, includingthe voices of some of the major participants to date. Inevitably, we findourselves re-engaging controversies that are already familiar to many readers,but our principal hope is to step aside from the particulars of these debates and try to understand better the dynamics that underlie them. As our title suggests, we feature a sense of defamation, experienced in very different ways by different members of the panel. In addition to providing perspectives on this history of tension, hurt, and attack, several of our panelists draw attention to moments of concord and cooperation.
The text that follows is a written representation of what our panelists saidin Denver. Inmost cases, it is the text from which panelists they actually read. Rajiv Malhotra's contribution is the exception to this rule, in that he spoke from notes; those notes form the basis for the text he presents here. There was also lively discussion. Alas, we cannot reproduce that discussion here, but we hop that by publishing the remarks on which it was based, we will allow it to continue.
In the course of the year 2001, several statements circulated in anticipation of our panel at the AAR. I would like to quote from three of these as a way of marking the terrain on which our discussion takes place. They provide us with three signposts—three points of orientation to keep in mind as wade into the conversation that follows. The first characterizes that conversation as a game. The second sees it as a sort of cold war. The third suggests what it might mean if it were to be seen from the perspective of a court of law.
Signpost 1: The Game
The first of these signposts was erected by one of our panelists, RajivMalhotra, on February 15, 2001, as a message to hcs-l@...:
"It's basically a game, in which one side controls the rules, appointsthe referees, and even fields most of the players on behalf of the other side!It started with 18th and 19th century Indology, now re-labeled as Orientalism and found to be heavily catering to missionary, colonialist, and racist agendas. The tradition was established that Western scholars study 'primitive'cultures through informants, and there was no pretence of symmetry or honest conversation as peers. At that time, the political power asymmetry required that this had to be so.
"But the methodology remains largely unchanged today. Notice how 'Hindu reactions' must be represented by scholars who 'gather data' on the informants 'reactions and not by bringing in Hindus to speak for themselves. The three examples of proposed panels I mention above [including the panel we reproduce here - ed.] suffer from this asymmetry."
Signpost 2: The Cold War
The second signpost was staked down by Dr. S. Kalyanaraman, a member of the listserv Indictraditions. Anticipating the AAR's annual meeting in November, and with it the convening of a panel just such asours, he wrote as follows to Indictraditions@yahoogroups.com on April 1, 2001:

Reflections on Hindu Studiesvis-á-vis Hindu Practice
Swami Tyagananda 
The Vedanta Society, BostonTwo years ago, after I was invited to join the United Ministry at Harvard asthe Hindu chaplain, I was curious to know how the chaplains working on thecampus were connected with Harvard's Divinity School. When I asked aminister about it, she shrugged her shoulders and said, "We don't have toomuch connection with them really. They study religion whereas we are practitioners."This answer surprised me. I had naively assumed that since both the chaplains and the Divinity School were involved with religion, they would naturally share common interests and goals.
Later when I got to know more people on the campus—at Harvard as well as inother colleges in and around Boston—Igot a clearer picture. I saw that there was indeed a wall separating religious studies from religious practice, but it was not uncrossable. Some scholars are practitioners and some practitioners are scholars. While there is often a tension between what ministers think and what ordinary practitioners believe—and this tension complicates the picture—we still must acknowledge thatthe scholar/practitioner divide is real and it merits discussion.
Although much of what I say will probably be applicable to religious studyand practice in general, I shall use examples from Hinduism studies in the Westand from the life of practicing Hindus, since that is the context of thisdialogue.
Many factors are responsible for the split between the academy and thepracticing community. One factor is the focus of the two groups. Those whostudy Hinduism in an academic setting want to know about Hinduism, andnot all scholars want that knowledge to influence the direction of their lives.This is not to deny that many of those who do study Hinduism do so forreligious reasons. On the other hand, practicing Hindus study their traditiontoo, but they do so with the clear intent of transforming their lives. Thisdifference in focus leads to differing approaches to Hindu philosophy andreligious personalities.
On the Gore and Glory of Western Indology
V. V. Raman  Rochester Institute of Technology

The field of inquiry and commentary which has come to be known as Indologyhad its origins, like Sinology, Egyptology, and other such disciplines, in theexploratory, intrusive, and scholarly interests of European colonialism,missionary zeal, and Enlightenment. Many centuries earlier, Islamicexpansionism had shown a similar enthusiasm for understanding, interpreting,translating, and critiquing the literature, philosophy, and traditions of otherpeoples.
Aside from genuine intellectual curiosity, there were at least two othermotivations for the Western pursuit of Indology. One was the need to have aclear understanding of the history and culture of the people the colonialistswanted to (had to) govern. The otherwas to use that knowledge to persuade Hindus that theirs was a religion which,with all its inner light, needed to be replaced by a better religion, namely,Christianity. This is why not only independent scholars, but alsogovernment-affiliated thinkers and missionaries took interest in Indology.
For almost two centuries, as a result of the efforts of Western scholars,with ever increasing collaboration with Hindu academics and religious thinkers,Indology has been flourishing and evolving. Thanks to the untiring dedicationof such people, much of ancient Hindu history has been reconstructed. Thanks toa number of Western archaeologists the even more ancient Indic civilizationswere unearthed. The rich treasures of Sanskrit as well as Tamil and othervernacular literatures have been translated, commented upon, and propagated tothe world by the exertions of Western scholars and linguists. Herein lies theglory of Western Indological scholarship.
However, the colonizing and Christianizing motivations of early Indologistsare, in retrospect, offensive to Neo-Hindus today. More regrettably, in theview of some, many Indian minds have been transformed to the Western mode ofthinking and analyzing historical and spiritual matters. This is drasticallydifferent from traditional modes. As a result, a deep chasm has arisen not onlybetween English-educated Indian scholars who think like their Westerncolleagues and their non-English speaking compatriots whose approach toreligion and tradition are untouched by modern ways, but also between anawakened body of modern Indians who have recognized the self-serving Euro-centricinterpretations, unintentional mis-portrayals, and intentional distortions ofIndia's rich culture, ancient traditions, and complex religions. All this isthe gore of Western Indological scholarship.
The happy collaboration between Western and Indian scholars has thus beensubject to some serious assaults. A number of post-modern Hindu thinkers havebeen seeing in much of Indology, past and present, many culture-insensitive andracially motivated factors with more hidden agenda than had been surmised thusfar. A new movement has already taken its initial steps whose goal is toexpose, condemn, and keep away what is considered to be cold-bloodedscholarship with a hidden-agenda with little reverence or sensitivity for theliving religion that is Hinduism. In this new vision, which incidentally, has anumber of Western scholars among its protagonists, a great many supposedlysympathetic Indologists are, in fact, wolves in sheep's skin.

When Scholarship Matters:The Indo-Aryan Origins Debate
Edwin Bryant Rutgers University

Everyone in the field of South Asian studies by now knows about, and islikely exasperated by, the debate over the origins of the Vedic-speakingIndo-Aryans. We have all, I think, heard something of the voices that haveemerged, primarily from Indian archaeologists and historians, as well as fromthe Hindu diaspora, challenging the idea of an external origin for thislanguage and cultural group, and claiming an Indigenous origin for the Vedicculture (a view I have termed the 'Indigenist' position). Fueled by suspicionof the racist and elitist biases of colonial Indology, and, according to itsdetractors, by the imperatives of Hindu nationalism, this view provokes endlessdiscussions, as anyone with the patience to follow the Indo-Aryan migrationdebates on the Indology nets and other conferences in the West can attest. Thesedebates all-too-often degenerate into emotional name-calling, as accusations of'neo-colonial chauvinism' from one side, and assertions of 'Hindu nationalisticdogma' from the other, inevitably start to be bandied about, while thescholarly value of the discussions rapidly evaporates.
Most western Indologists, on the whole, have remained unconvinced by thelimited exposure they have had with the all-too-often selective quality of theIndigenist arguments they encounter, which they view as indicative of anationalism that seeks authenticity in unscholarly interpretations of historyand pre-history, and some scholars are becoming exasperated by the polemicalrehashing of the racist genesis of western Indology. While the debate is viewedby most western Indologists as, at best, peripheral to serious scholarship and,at worst, as an annoying—and, in the present-day Indian context, politicallydangerous—disturbance, it is ferociously contested in India, where it issituated in much more of a mainstream academic context.
The Indigenist stress on the continuity of Indian history, and the genericuse of the term 'Vedic culture', with its ahistorical and monolithic overtonesand troublesome implications for minority cultures, is the feature of the'Indigenist' position, that is most troubling to opponents of this view. Theconcerns of those who fear the ideological corollaries underpinning suchinterpretations are by now well-known: if the Vedic Indo-Aryans are interpretedas being indigenous to India, then the 'Vedic Civilization' and all thatdeveloped from it can be construed as 'truly Indian' and all subsequentcultural groups known to have immigrated into India can be depicted as'Others'. Indigenism, consequently, is generically stereotyped as a discoursepromoting communal tension.

Defamation and Diaspora Hindus:
Notes on Internet Discussions
University of Florida
Should there be a lakshman rekha, a line self-imposed or otherwise, thatscholars should not cross? If so, who should draw the line and who should moveit?
My task today is to talk about "defamation" on the internet. Thereis some ambiguity attached to the term in the context of today's discussion: wedeal with the alleged defamation of Hinduism on the one hand, and defamation ofscholars on list serves and web pages on the other. I will spend most of mytime today outlining a list of issues that concern some Hindus about listserves where most of the discussants are non-Hindu. I will focus primarily onRISA-L and, to a lesser extent, on Indology. In this enterprise, I would liketo acknowledge the help of a former Indian/Hindu student from the University of Florida who took some advanced levelreading courses on Vedanta, specifically the Sri Vaishnava tradition, with me.He would like to be identified as "a recent resident in the US, anengineer by profession but very much interested in scholarly Hindustudies." He sent me a long document with specific problematic issues inRISA-L, and it seemed to reaffirm the tenor of many internet discussionscriticizing western scholarship. However, he does say that this critical reportdoes not mean that he holds the "RISA scholars in contempt per se;"and says that this is only an anthology on what he considers to be the"bad aspects."
Many moons ago, when western scholars studied and wrote about Hinduism,Hindus had little control over what was said and how information wasinterpreted and disseminated. The audience for the articles and books was alsoEuro-American scholars. Obviously that has changed now—we all know that thereare Indo-American, Hindu scholars in the academy, and second generation Hindusin our classrooms. More important to our discussion today, there are manyHindus who are reading and listening in on academic discussions. While in thepast, there had been groups of Hindus rather bemused and occasionally evenflattered at the attention that American or European scholars seemed to lavishon their texts and rituals, now there are some in the United States who arewary and angered at the way in which they perceive Hinduism is being portrayedin classrooms and more particularly at the AAR. It is, of course, hard to getnumbers in this quest and I certainly do not want to generalize about how"Hindus" feel about so called "western" scholarship. Justspeaking from my anecdotal experience, most Hindus are not aware of a greatdeal of "western" scholarship and have not made an attempt to knowmore about it.

Panch (Five) Asymmetries in theDialog of Civilizations:
A Hindu View
Rajiv Malhotra
The Infinity Foundation
(excerpted earlier in this post)

Toward Context Sensitivity
Ann Grodzins Gold
Syracuse University
I accepted Jack's invitation to join this session with an emotion I can onlydescribe as dread. Prior to his email, I had firmly decided not to go to Denver, and indeed hadalready become involved in organizing a session for AAA (it makes for a killerNovember to do both I can tell you). A couple of weeks ago, when I thought Ihad better organize my thoughts, I looked for the AAR file on my computer anddiscovered I had named the folder, last spring, "Denver01misery". Ihave to say that—in the wake of September 11 and its aftermath of ongoingviolence—last spring's dread and misery have seemed to me nothing if not petty,and even unworthy of further consideration. However, Laurie's email, with thebold dictionary definitions of "defamation," somewhat re-kindled bothemotions.
I do not wish to squander my remaining nine-and-a-half minutes rehearsingthe sorrows of last winter, but it isn't possible to ignore them completelybecause that is why we are here. Luckily, I had been reading Saurabh Dube'sstill unpublished book manuscript Stitches on Time. Saurabh was aparticipant in the "Who Speaks for Hinduism?" session a few yearsback—a session to which today's might seem a kind of less mellow, or moremelancholy, sequel. For some editorial reason I don't understand, hiscontribution was not included in the JAAR volume that emerged from thatsession, but will be part of his new book which he has given me permission tocite.
Dube argues that at the heart of the "Who speaks" forum was theanxiety of Western scholars, "under threat from vociferous critiques of apostcolonial provenance" and thus fearing that they would be denied theright to speak. He writes quite evocatively, even poetically, of"anxieties and aggressions produced within everyday encounters andquotidian confrontations in academic arenas . . . "—experiences many of usshare, whatever our religious or ethnic identities. Dube does find somepotential value in dealing with all of this, a challenge to think through"the ambiguities and ambivalences, contradictions and challenges, and predicamentsand possibilities at the heart of the current cultural politics of identitiesand the contemporary political cultures of scholarship."
But he also questions the terms in which the challenge wasformulated. Reasonably enough, he observes, "Many speak about Hinduism.Some speak around Hinduism. For a few it is perhaps possible to speak fromwithin Hinduism(s). But speaking for Hinduism? . . . . " Theimplication is; how can that be?
So, the primary lesson I take from Dube is the foolishness of imagining orreifying a singular entity over which any of us should indulge in tug-of-war. Iknow this has been said before, more than once, but it seems to get just asregularly forgotten.
Dube is not at all sanguine about the prospects of finding what he calls a"talking cure" to these problems. Yet, if the ready alternative tothe talking cure in today's mental health world is a pill, we in academia havenot yet synthesized a quick chemistry of equilibrium. Thus we find ourselveshere, trying once again for a talking cure, in a case that could seem stillmore hopeless.
Rather than embracing hopelessness, I will suggest that if there is a cureit lies in two related practices: 1) sharing or diffusing any and all claims toauthority among all concerned; and 2) remaining sensitive to contexts—bothpoints to which I shall return. But first I do need to explain a little aboutmy own close encounter with Rajiv Malhotra and the Infinity Foundation, whichwas one major impetus for Jack's organizing this session.
I don't want to speak in terms of defamation but of pain. Both parties tothis encounter were wounded, I believe, in their deepest sense of self. Both,moreover, felt self-righteous to the bone. In terms of understanding whatactually took place at last year's AAR, bothparties' memories could not be more totally at odds. Were we in the same roomat the same time?
Interestingly enough, my paper—the one Rajiv found objectionable—was aboutthe workings of memory. And our divergent interpretations of the memory panelgo to support this paper's major point. Its opening sentences were these:
Various readings have characterized memory, from one perspective or another,as a "brightly lit theater of the world"; a "mirror of the darkabyss of the mind" (both cited in Hutton 1993); the breaking waves of theocean (Halbwachs 1992); lava that "melts away the earth" from thedead and makes them live again (old Jewish lady cited in Myerhof 1992);"not only a spring, flowing from the well of the past, but also a tomb,whose contents climb like withered ivy to the mind" (Langer 1991: 69);"a roadway full of potholes, badly in need of repair, worked on day andnight by revisionist crews" (Kirmayer 1996).
I think as we look at the disparate interpretations from Rajiv and from me asto what took place in my paper and the session, we can see just such processes:the revisionist crews are hard at work, the waves of the ocean are shaping theshore.
To speak from my viewpoint then, briefly: In my paper about memory I tookexamples from an oral history project I've been working on, collaborativelywith an Indian co-author, since 1993. These examples were of memories gatheredin interviews with women and men from a leatherworking community, a few of whomrecollected abuse by some members of the Kshatriya community, about fifty yearsback, although often in veiled terms.
The word Hinduism appeared exactly once in the paper, in the phrase:"devotional expressions within Hinduism" from the bottom of theritual hierarchy—with a reference to well-known poets such as Raidas andChokhamela. I argued that, as these poet-saints had done before them,disempowered persons in the twentieth century might find in Hinduism's mythicand devotional expressions sources of and mediums for strength and resistance.
To Rajiv, just by mentioning disempowered persons residing in India, I wasdefaming Hinduism. He had come to the AAR tolearn the ways that American academics dealt with what he prized and held mostdear. What he saw and heard in my talk, which used slides, was not what Ithought I was showing: old women, looking back from a happier time in thenineteen-nineties to recollect some of the sufferings of their youths, underthe rule of kings and colonizers. Rather, he saw defamation at work, and theexperience upset him so much he left the session before it was over. For Rajiv,images of leather workers, and their critiques of the behaviors of a fewabusive land owners in a small kingdom sixty years ago, were assaults on hisexistence as a Hindu in America.
He subsequently published an account of his anger on his web site and in anewsletter, referring to my paper as an example of "typical Hindubashing."
Now, I felt assaulted. To me, the words "Hindu-bashing" burn sobadly I can neither write nor speak them without a shudder in my gut. I felt asif my twenty years of appreciation for and participation in Indian culture, andmy whole self, professional and human, had been assaulted (of course this isthe crux of Euro-American postcolonial anxiety to which Dube points; this isnot hitting close to home, this is home).
In his published account, Rajiv wrote about the AARmeetings in general:
What would shock most Hindus attending this [AAR]for the first time would be the nature of portrayal of Hinduism in Americaneducation. It is nothing like what you would find at a temple, ashram or Hindugathering. Rather, it is mainly an arms-length 'objective' view typicallydominated by graphic details of the social ills of Hindu society—caste, women'sabuse, poverty, pollution, superstitions, animal worship, animal sacrifice andthe like. This material permeates college teaching about Hinduism and India in a bigway, and in many instances also secondary schools.
Notice two things in Rajiv's published report that are crucial to mymessage. One is the statement that goings-on at the AARare "nothing like what you would find at a temple, ashram or Hindugathering." The other is the immediate leap from AARto college teaching. The issue of context is very important in both thesestatements.
Is this an impasse beyond healing? Frankly, I felt initially that it was—myimpulse was to withdraw. "Why should I deal with this? I'll go to theanthropology meetings."
However, nothing is ever that easy. For one thing, I have always been myselfdeeply concerned with false impressions of Hinduism prevalent in the US; as Iteach it at the introductory level almost every year, I have to counteractthese perspectives in my courses. So I find myself in considerable sympathywith my so-called "defamer" (who responded with prompt and kindconsideration to my impassioned protest, immediately removing my name from hispublications and assuring me that it was nothing personal, and I had simplybeen in the wrong place at the wrong time). Once again, context is all.
A.K. Ramanujan, as everyone here of my generation probably knows, wrote awonderful essay, published in 1990 but widely circulated and cited muchearlier, titled "Is there an Indian way of thinking?" I wish I couldread you the whole thing! For the question is phrased in multiple fashions withmultiple answers and subtle nuances that simply refuse summarizing. In it Ramansuggests that if there is any characteristic pattern of Indian thought, it is"context-sensitivity." He finds commonalities of context-sensitivityin his father who was both a mathematician and an astrologer, in Sanskritgrammar, in Tamil aesthetic theory, and in the Laws of Manu—which prescribe(this just happens to be the example Ramanujan selected) a smaller fine for aKshatriya who defames a Brahmin than for a merchant (hmmm).
As the Infinity Foundation seeks to showcase the many contributions of Indiccivilization to the world, I would hope that this subtle one ofcontext-sensitivity might be included not only as subject but as practice. (Inmany ways it seems to me to anticipate recent important philosophical argumentssuch as Donna Haraway's about "situated knowledge.")
The AAR is, I believe, a context, anacademic forum, where we should be able to present our current research—theoreticallyframed—to a limited audience of scholars. If, when presenting work here, wemake no claims to be speaking "for Hinduism" we should be taken atour word. There are many other contexts in which we behave differently. Forexample, I teach almost every year, Religion 285, a basic introduction toHinduism. In that class I am acutely sensitive to my position as aEuro-American outsider, in front of an audience that always includes Hindus aswell as Christians, Jews, and occasional Muslims and Buddhists. I am acutely and perpetually alert to the possibilities for mis-representation, to the concerns of insiders, and to the prejudices of outsiders. I do not talk ofuntouchable women in that introductory course. I teach the Upanishads,Valmiki's Ramayana, the Gita, Kabir and the Virashaivite poets in Ramanujan'sbeautiful translations.
This teaching has been a learning experience for me since I first steppedinto the classroom—fall 1985, Cornell, as a new visiting assistant professor ina class called "Perspectives on South Asian Culture." I planned touse a lot of films, and the first one I showed I had thought quite exemplary inits clear illustration of ritual action: "Hindu Sacraments ofChildhood."
This film features South Indian Brahmins in the city of Madras, urban elites, performing elaboraterituals for infants and children that are right out of fourth centuryGriyasutra texts.
In my class, a young Punjabi, non Brahmin, raised his hand the minute thefilm was over, and declared in no uncertain terms, "nobody in India doesrituals like this any more . . . "
As a novice teacher, I couldn't help but be deflated; my authority had beenchallenged, and by an insider! I tried to explain that such rituals mightindeed be rarely performed, or not at all where he was from, but that someBrahmins in South India were evidently still doing them; or at least they were,when the film was made . . .. I expect I sounded rattled and defensive and abit lame. One problem of course is with the false claims of the title "HinduSacraments of Childhood." This has to be contextualized as South IndianBrahmins, who care about ritual, in the nineteen sixties, demonstrating theirvalued cultural performances for an American Sanskritist and his film crew. Ilearned later from Dan Smith, the film maker, that the whole thing was staged,as no polluting, barbaric foreigner would have been allowed to be present atthe real rituals . . ..
This does not mean that with appropriate contextualization we could notstill gather some knowledge of life cycle rituals from these documentaries(though now dated in style as well as content).
The larger lesson I have carried through another fifteen years of teachingis always to talk about multiplicity, and context; and always to offer to shareauthority with students, especially Indian students, in a fashion they cantrust.
Luckily Indiagave us the fable of the blind man and the elephant, and I bring this up in myfirst class. I tell the students of South Asian descent that rural Rajasthan ismy piece of the elephant, while theirs may be urban Bombay,or New Jersey(and I must credit and thank Joyce Flueckiger for helping me arrive at my ownstrategies by telling me hers).
Over the years, I have significantly altered my syllabus content as a directresponse to objections and suggestions from Hindu students; I no longer showvideos with animal sacrifice; I no longer try to deal with Ayodhya in atwo-week unit at the end—not on the grounds that such conflicts should behidden, but that two weeks are not enough in an introductory course to produceanything but confusion—which was clear enough to me from the Euro-Americanresponse papers. I don't feel as if I am succumbing to censorship in thesenegotiations, but rather sharing authority and being sensitive not only tostudent identity issues, but to the context of an introductory course; acontext that I would insist is quite different from that of the AAR—which isindeed neither a "temple, ashram or Hindu gathering," nor a collegeclassroom....

Toward a Gandhian Pragmatics of Scholarly Collaboration
Laurie Patton
Emory University
Kala Acharya
K. J. Somaiya Bharatiya Sanskriti Peetham
Laurie Patton:
This paper comes as a joint, practical effort of two scholars ofHinduism—one Hindu and Indian and the other non-Hindu and white. We have"represented" each other in our written work and in our lecturesabout "the other." It is, in part, a narrative of the corrections,fumblings, and exhilarations between Hindu and non-Hindu scholarly endeavors.It is also a set of narratives which are informed by certain Gandhianprinciples, and premised on a model of mutual need, mutual correction, andloyal oppositions. The Hindu and the non-Hindu need each other's scholarshipbecause they most profitably are engaged in a process of mutual correction andcompanionship.
We begin by simply drawing your attention to the principles laid down byGandhi in his civil disobedience campaign. In your handout we have translatedthis into a scholarly version which you see underneath the original principles.We view these not as anything we practice successfully—not by any stretch ofthe imagination! Rather we view them as our own impossible ideals.
Nor do we even necessarily view them as Gandhi did, a set of principles bywhich to live unwaveringly. Rather, we take the view that Johannes Fabian doesin his recent article, "Remembering the Other: Knowledge and Recognitionin the Exploration of Central Africa" (Critical Inquiry 26: 1999).In this work he scrutinizes the moments of meeting between two cultures inethnographic narratives: moments where the power balance is momentarilyrighted—between field assistant and anthropologist, between explorer andexplored, colonizer and colonized. These are moments of recognition of need, orof mutual survival.
We assume that, contrary to the scathing critiques which corrode ourrelationships in the past years, these moments of recognition between Hindu andnon-Hindu occur every day; these moments are part of each of our scholarlyrepertoires, and that these moments, not the acrimony, are the basic facts ofevery day scholarly life. These are moments of freedom, in which a"Hindu" scholar can momentarily agree with a so-called"Western" point of view, and a "Western" scholar canmomentarily agree with a so-called "Hindu" point of view, withoutfear of being attacked and branded forever. We argue that these moment shouldbe foregrounded as much as, if not more than, the critique which pitchesnon-Hindu against Hindu, Indian against white, in an increasingly vituperativeand unproductive battle in which neither side is weighed evenly. We are on verymuch the same side here. We all want more Hindus to be involved in the study ofHinduism. We all want our Hindu students to be brave enough to choose SouthAsian studies and not medical school as the path of least resistance.
We assume that these moments of recognition are also results ofconflict—inevitable and intense, between Hindu and non-Hindu scholars. They aremomentary conflicts because the larger project of lokasamgraha, the comingtogether of the world, is for most of us far more important than any givendisagreement. Moreover, the mutual correction that both sides submit to, doesnot assume that either side is always more powerful. Rather, the power balanceis constantly shifting; hence the need for constant mutual correction within alifelong companionship. There will be the power of the one who can afford tovisit a country vs the one who cannot afford the plane ticket; there will bethe power of the funder vs. the relatively controlled position of the funded;the power of the one who has better library resources vs. the one who cannotgather the basic texts necessary for research. At one time, the anthropologistwill be at a loss, unable to decode the ritual without the help of a teacher;at another, the foundation money will be able to dictate the terms of theintellectual project. At another, the moment will come when a pandit will saythat the Western edition of a text is good for his work; and a scholar mightsay that the brilliance of Hinduism that she fell in love with is vibrant andrecognizable in many forms, including those forms she had previously beensuspicious of. These are all moments when power must be recognized andrealigned, just as in Fabian locates these tiny encounters as moments ofcultural change. Both Hindu and non-Hindu are all momentary satyagrahis in thestruggle for a truthful and flexible relationship between the Hindu traditionand its scholars....
(Message over 64k, truncated.)

Here is part-2 of the summary for this week.

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