Curating Rajiv Malhotra's Works. Online Resource, Database, Crowd Sourcing, and Expert Feedback on Contemporary Hinduism, Dharmic India, and topics covered in 'Breaking India', 'Being Different: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism", 'Indra's Net: Defending Hinduism's Philosophical Unity', 'The Battle For Sanskrit', and the newly released book 'Academic Hinduphobia'.
Pdf of book is available for free download here. From the foreword by S.N Balagangadhara
Non-white and non-Christian cultures will increasingly have a significant
impact on the affairs of the humankind in this millennium. Here, India will be
a global player of considerable political and economic impact. As a result, the
need to explicate what it means to be an Indian (and what the ‘Indianness’ of
the Indian culture consists of) will soon become the task of the entire
intelligentsia in India. In this process, they will confront the challenge of
responding to what the West has so far thought and written about India. A response
is required because the theoretical and textual study of the Indian culture has
been undertaken mostly by the West in the last three hundred years. What is
more, it will also be a challenge because the study of India has largely
occurred within the cultural framework of America and Europe.
What our text books say:
The standard textbook story, which has schooled multiple generations
including mine, goes as follows: caste system dominates India, strange and
grotesque deities are worshipped in strange and grotesque ways, women are
discriminated against, the practice of widow burning exists and corruption is
Where were our thinkers before:
If these properties characterize India of today and yesterday,
the puzzle about what the earlier generation of Indian thinkers were doing turns
into a very painful realization: while the intellectuals of European culture
were busy challenging and changing the world, most thinkers in Indian culture
were apparently busy sustaining and defending undesirable and immoral
practices. Of course there is our Buddha and our Gandhi but that is apparently
all we have: exactly one Buddha and exactly one Gandhi. If this portrayal is
true, the Indians have but one task, to modernize India, and the Indian culture
but one goal: to become like the West as quickly as possible.
However, what if this portrayal is false? What if these
basically Western descriptions of India are wrong? In that case, the questions about
what India has to offer the world and what the Indian thinkers were doing
become important. For the first time, the current knowledge of India will be
subject to a kind of test that has never occurred before.
Why “for the first time”:
Why ‘for the first time’? The answer is obvious: the prevailing knowledge
of India among the English-educated elite was generated primarily when India
was colonized. Subsequent to the Indian independence, India suffered from
poverty and backwardness. In tomorrow’s world, the Indian intellectuals will be
able to speak back with a newly found confidence and they will challenge
European and American descriptions of India. That is, for the first time, they
will test the Western knowledge of India and not just accept it as God’s own truth.
This has not happened before; it will happen for the first time. Generations of
Indian intellectuals have accepted these descriptions as more or less true. The
future generations will not be so accommodating
though: they will test these
answers for their truth. More than most, they realize that answers to these and
allied questions about the nature of Indian culture have the potential to
ignite an intellectual revolution on a world scale.
From the preface by Arvind Sharma
On relations between academic community and the
Hindu Community in the US.
The relations between the academic community and the Hindu community
in North America have recently come to be characterized by a sharp debate,
which has also spilled over into journalism and on to the Internet. It was
prompted by the reservations expressed by a significant number of Hindus in
North America over the way Hinduism is portrayed in the Western academia and by
the vigorous response of the academic community to such criticism.
What defines the book:
This book singes with the sparks that flew as the psychoanalytic
approach to the study of religion became the lightning rod of the grievances of
the Hindus, particularly those residing in the United States, against a cross-section
of the academic community in North America devoted to the study of Hinduism. It
documents the way these grievances were articulated and ventilated, as well as
the response from the world of the Western academia and, to a certain extent,
from the media, as the issue came to a head.
How should the book be viewed:
It seems to me that the issue first needs to be viewed on the
broadest canvas possible, namely, that of history, before one turns to the details.
Such a historical perspective is best developed by utilizing the
distinction regularly drawn in the study of religion between the insider and
the outsider, notwithstanding some problems of definition involved in invoking
this distinction. From the point of view of this distinction, the study of
religion, in the intellectual history of humanity, seems to exhibit a fourfold
typology in terms of the modalities of transmission involved, in the context of
the various religious traditions over the past few centuries: (1) insider to
insider; (2) outsider to outsider; (3) outsider to insider and (4) insider to
outsider. (For further expansion of this idea, please read page
Where are we now:
If the perspective presented above possesses some measure of verisimilitude,
then we are now at a turning-point in the relationship among the interlocutors
in the study of religion. Historical changes, however, are not linear, even
when their direction is discernible. Historical changes are more like the
changes in ocean flows caused by tides. It is sometimes not apparent that the
tide has begun to turn, even when it has. And even as the tide advances there
are backflows, which tend to confuse the onlooker. Such a tidal shift generates
eddies and undercurrents. The going is not as smooth as at high tide, when the scene
takes on a serene aspect and the ocean seems to bare its bosom to the moon, as
Wordsworth might say.
The four encapsulating expressions:
• The response threshold
• Cognitive versus non-cognitive approaches
• Bias and error
• The genetic fallacy
What is the response threshold:
We owe this expression to Prof. Eric J. Sharpe. He writes: A
“response threshold” is crossed when it becomes possible for the believer to
advance his or her own interpretation against that of the scholar.
The response threshold (in today’s discourse on the
study of religion)
implies the right of the present-day devotee to advance a distinctive
interpretation of his or her own tradition—often at variance with that of
Western scholarship—and to be taken entirely seriously in so doing.
What one is thus experiencing now in the academic world is the crossing
of the response threshold by the Hindu community in North America. This Hindu
community in North America has now reached the demographic critical mass, when
its reactions can no longer be disregarded. This raises the question: How are
we to react when members of the faith community, and not just members
of the student community or colleagues in the academic community,
cross the response threshold?
What is Cognitive Vs Non-Cognitive Approaches:
It is clear from the documentation provided in the book that the
protest is not always about facts which may be adjudicated on the basis of evidence
but often about interpretations, especially psychoanalytic ones, which do not seem
susceptible to such verification. The main achievements of modern science proceeded
from the falsifiability of its hypotheses but such does not seem to be the case
here. We thus need to distinguish
clearly between cognitive and non-cognitive approaches to the study of
religion. (For more on this, please read page XV and XVI,
What is Bias and Error:
In this book, the critics of the academics claim in essence that
the academics are either biased or in gross error when dealing with some aspects
of Hinduism. However, fallibility is a human condition—no one is either
infallible or capable of achieving Archimedean objectivity.
Both common sense and humanity demand that some procedures be devised
in our field for distinguishing between random human error and error caused by
bias (conscious or unconscious). Only a person guilty of the latter should
reasonably be put in the dock, as it were.
The task might appear insurmountable on the face of it, but
there is good news. Statistics as science is concerned with, and indeed has, evolved
ways of distinguishing between random error and
error (or bias) through the
process known as hypothesis-testing. (For more on this please read
page XVII, Preface)
What is Genetic Fallacy:
Members of both the Hindu and the academic community have expressed
deep distress at the ad hominem nature of the attacks leveled on or by the members
of the two communities. This book, to which this preface is being written, itself
attests unabashedly to such a state of affairs. The Hindu community wonders if
the academic community can ever evoke Hinduism without condescension and the
academic community wonders if the Hindu community can evoke Hinduism without
One scientist offers the following telling if homespun
illustration of the genetic fallacy: the theory of relativity is false because
Einstein was not a good husband or a mere clerk. Character assassination can
kill the person (metaphorically speaking) but not the proposition.
This is not to say that a person’s background has no bearing on the
discussion, for, after all, an expert’s statement may not always be treated the
same way as that of one who is not. But such background only affects the credibility of
the proposition, not its falsity. After all, experts can also commit mistakes.
As the book is primarily concerned with psychoanalysis and its application
to Hinduism, it may not be out of place to cite the following comments of Erich
Fromm on the genetic fallacy (sometimes alluded to as the psychogenetic fallacy
in certain contexts):
Freud himself states that the fact that an idea satisfies a wish
does not mean necessarily that the idea is false.
The criterion of validity does not lie in the psychological
analysis of motivation but in the examination of evidence for or against a
hypothesis within the logical framework of the hypothesis (For more
on this please read page XVIII, Preface)
For About the contributors, please refer pages XIX,
XX and XXI of the book
Chapter 1: Why this book is important.
Indeed, hateful speech and false information can create a
climate in which . . . violence is to be expected . . . So how long will it be
before a crazed gunman attacks a crowded Hindu temple in America, believing, .
. . that Hindus are possessed by demons? How many children will grow up
believing Hinduism is a ‘filthy’ religion, or that Hindus worship the devil?
When they grow up, how will such children treat their Hindu co-workers and
neighbors? Will they give them the respect due to a fellow citizen and human
Jeffery D. Long, Chair, Department of Religious Studies
This book is a chronicle of an important attempt to start a new kind of
dialog in India-related cultural and post-colonial studies. Unlike the debates
internal to the academy which privilege Western theories, institutions and
networks of influence, this dialog brings practitioners of Indian traditions as
equals at the table. Each side (the ‘outsiders’ and the
‘insiders’, respectively) has its limitations and blind spots in examining the
traditions, and each is burdened by its baggage. Yet each view has merits and
deserves to be considered with due respect.
The debate challenges Western portrayals of India, her religions
and problems. Indian culture is defined by a series of abuses, such as caste,
sati, dowry murders, violence, religious conflict, instability, immorality,
grotesque deities and so forth. The problems in India are not seen as
historical and economic in origin, but as essences of the traditions, cultures
and civilization of India, making it a ‘chaotic and even desperate country’. In
its most insidious form, this view implies that unless Indians are rescued from
their culture by external intervention, they are doomed. Indians simply lack
the agency to chart their own destiny and are in need of foreign care in their
own best interest. What is startling is that these ideas which formed the
keystone of moral rationalizations offered by the British for colonialism and
exploitation continue to enjoy wide academic respectability in the West today.
What has changed over time, as other scholars have noted, “is the intellectual
jargon that clothes these ‘analyses’”.
The starting point of this book is a searching analysis of how
elements of the American academy, notably the powerful American Academy of
Religion (AAR), like to imagine India and Hinduism. In contrast to how American
Business Schools view India—as a place of opportunity, problems and problem-solving
creativity—these scholars project a generally negative, chaotic and backward
view of India.
The problems of India are seen by Americans as inseparable from the
problems of Hinduism. Attempts by secular Indians to distance themselves from
Hinduism have led to an academic vacuum about Indian traditions which has been
filled by external voices which often have their own agendas.
The research and writings of religion scholars go beyond the discipline’s
boundaries, penetrating the mainstream media, and directly impact the American
public perception of India via museum displays, films and textbooks. AAR’s
Religions in South Asia group can be identified as a key source of Western
academic influence over India-related studies.
Input from these scholars can also have an impact on US foreign policy.
For instance, a recent conference at the University of Chicago featured Wendy
Doniger, Martha Nussbaum, Amartya Sen, among others, talking about generic
‘Hindu groups’ as being the most serious threat to India’s democracy. Indeed,
in the conference announcement, Nussbaum claims that Americans are wrong to be
focusing on Islamic fundamentalism as a threat to democracy. She alleges that
“Thinking about India is instructive to Americans, who in an age of terrorism
can easily over-simplify pictures of the forces that threaten democracy . . . In India, the threat to democratic ideals comes not
from a Muslim threat, but from Hindu groups.”
Unlike in India, the academic study of religion in the USA is a
major discipline involving over 8,000 university professors, most of who are members
of the AAR. Within this organized hierarchy, the study of Hinduism is an
important and influential discipline. This book argues that the discipline has
been shaped by the use of preconceived Eurocentric categories that are assumed
to be universal by Western syndicated research. Most internal
criticism or ‘peer-review’ comes from among scholars who are interrelated in
different ways, and it largely excludes practitioners of Hinduism. The
producers and distributors of this specialized knowledge comprise a sort of
closed, culturally insular cartel, which has disastrous consequences for
original thinking about India and Hinduism.
This book is about a recent intellectual challenge to this state
of affairs, and the responses and counter-attacks from the academic Religious
Studies establishment in America. As a result of this debate, Indian-Americans
and others have started to systematically critique the misrepresentation of
their traditions with the hope of widening the range of ideas presented in the
academy. This generated a groundswell of support among Indians worldwide and
appreciative participation by many academic scholars. At the same time,
however, it has brought anger from many entrenched academicians who see the status quo of
power being threatened.
Section I is a summarization of Rajiv Malhotra’s path-breaking paper
critiquing the academic study of Hinduism, an event which many academicians
have recognized as a ‘tipping point’ in opening up a serious debate. The
problems he exposes and the evidence he cites are extensive and worrisome. The
evidence shows serious problems with the training and competence of academic
scholars of Hinduism, and raises questions about parochial lenses and sloppy
methodology. Most troubling are the questions he raises about the rigorousness
of peer review, and about whether scholars are in fact free to publish
critiques of powerful living academics without fear or favor. Malhotra has argued
that these mechanisms of quality control and self-correction which the academy
relies upon have corroded into ineffectiveness in the case of Hinduism studies.
These issues should deeply concern anyone who cares about the health of our
academic programs. (For more on this, please refer pages 4 and 5)
Section II contains various other scholarly and thoughtful
essays, many of which resulted from Malhotra’s attempts to start a critique of
academic Hinduphobia. Included are essays and summarization of papers from
noted academic scholars like Prof S.N. Balagangadhara, Dr Alan Roland, Prof
Somnath Bhattacharya, Yuvraj Krishna and Yvette Rosser, among others. These
essays by experts in various fields highlight serious problems with the use of
Eurocentric lenses and methodologies to Indic thought and culture and also
raise questions about the level of scholarly training in the academy.
Section III chronicles what transpired in the wake of all this intellectual
ferment. It describes both the community activism by the Indian-American
community and the actions and reactions of many scholars from the academic
Section IV examines how this debate played out in the American mainstream
media—such as in Washington Post and New York Times—as
well as niche publications like the diaspora press and alumni magazines.
It provides an account of well-entrenched stereotypes and tropes
as well as of attempts to challenge them. (for more on sections II, III
and IV, please refer pages 5, 6)
We wish to be clear that the entire blame of biased and
selective portrayals of Hinduism and Indian Culture cannot be laid at the doorstep
of the American Academy of Religion or even of biased scholars within it.
Indians themselves have contributed to the problem in significant ways.
In order to engage in a serious academic study
of Hinduism, Indians have to go to American, British or Australian universities
because there are hardly any opportunities available for such study within
India. In other words, unlike all other major world religions, Hinduism does
not have its own home team, by which we mean a committed group of academic
scholars who are both practitioners of the faith and well-respected in the
academy at the highest levels.
Authenticity of representation and full participation in shaping
the understanding of one’s culture has implications beyond the fields of
anthropology, cultural and religious studies.
For one, Indian-American, and especially Hindu-American children
are often the target of cultural and racial bias in the classroom. By and large
the civilizational achievements of India in science and technology in its long
history, or its contributions to modern American lifestyles like yoga,
vegetarianism, non-violent political protest and the like are largely ignored
in the classroom setting. When academically licensed misportrayal of the
oppressiveness, weirdness and dangerousness of Indian culture and religions is
added to this mix, it has a powerful impact on Hindu-American children, many of
who try to hide their religious identity. The pride that Christian-American children
take in their civilzational contributions to the world is lacking in many
Indians, and this leads to emotional pain and self-alienation.
Furthermore, as numerous American historians point out, the control of
‘others’ depictions by white Americans has led to their ethnic cleansing,
incarceration, enslavement, invasions and genocides. Native Americans, Blacks,
Jews, Gypsies, Cubans, Mexicans, Chinese, Filipinos, Japanese, Vietnamese and
now Iraqis have suffered brutalities that were legitimized by depictions of
them as primitive/exotic, irrational, heathen, savage and dangerous and as
lacking in human values. Malhotra has raised the alarming possibility that the
failure of Indian-Americans to translate their personal success into respect
for their cultures and traditions is a condition paralleling Jews in Europe not
so long ago, and that in an economic downturn, they could become scapegoats in America.
The view from the business world and from top business schools is
increasingly upbeat. It sees Indians as problem-solvers and the Indian economy
as a positive engine for the world. While keenly aware of numerous Indian
problems, this view does not see them as being inherent pathologies of Indian civilization and therefore unchangeable. Rather,
these problems are the result of historical and economic forces, and Indians
are seen as having the necessary civilizational creativity, will and
wherewithal to address them. This view is counteracted by academic Hinduphobia.
“A country is like a brand because it has a reputation, and because that reputation partly determines its
success in the international domain.
The ability of each country to compete against others for tourists, for
investment, for consumers, for the attention and respect of the media and of
other countries is significantly determined by the power and quality of its
image . . . What seems certain is that India’s brand new image is a fragile one, based on a couple of prominent sectors and a handful
of globally successful entrepreneurs: . . . but it isn’t yet clear how
‘Capitalist India’ fits together in the public imagination with the ‘Indo-chic’
of music, fashion and movies, and with the ‘Traditional India’ image
of a vast, mysterious, culturally rich but chaotic and even desperate country. A clear, single, visionary national strategy is
badly needed—but one that is, of course, rooted in truth and not in wishful thinking.”
Diplomat and public intellectual
Anholt’s point is that unless Indian’s take charge of engaging
with the world concerning how their country and its culture are portrayed, the
economic future of all Indians may be at stake.
As Anholt notes,
“Just like any other country, India needs to consider
perceptions alongside reality, and recognise their almost equivalent importance
in today’s globalised world. India’s brand image may not be complete, up-to-date or even very fair, but so much in the modern world depends on what
people believe to be true, that a good twenty-first century government must
learn to be as good at branding the country as building the country. [Emphasis
Anholt is dead right when he says that unfair perceptions can
have serious economic consequences for India. Even the most successful and admired
Indians can be affected in surprising ways. For instance, in the recent
acquisition of Arcelor by Mittal Steel, the culture, race and religion of
Mittal Steel’s principals, specifically its chairman Lakshmi Narayan Mittal,
played an important role. The New York Times reported
that Arcelor’s principals initially ridiculed the idea of a merger with ‘a
company of Indians’ and it was only after shareholders threatened to revolt
that they backtracked. The Times also reported that the offer by Mittal was
originally mocked as ‘monkey money from an Indian’. Mittal was viewed as “Attila the Hun attacking from the east, taking over
an iconic company from the west.”
This book is also about another major development of our times: the
use of the Internet to bypass old channels of information flow that tend to be
controlled by established power structures. Sulekha.com was merely one of many
web portals catering to Indian interests on the Internet, until the diaspora
challenge to the academic scholars arrived at its doorstep in 2002. This
controversy became the focal point of an energetic and often learned debate on
Sulekha, converting it into an important forum for a large number of immigrants
and others disenfranchised by the existing discourse. The articles on
Sulekha have also been used as reading material in several courses in Hinduism
Studies, South Asian Studies, History, Cultural Studies and Anthropology.
We hope that this book will make a contribution to understanding
what happens when those who know Indian culture best sit on the sidelines and
allow its portrayal to be controlled exclusively by others i.e. by the dominant culture. (For the entire chapter 1, read pages 1-12 of the