Summary of the Neo-Hindu thesis

February 2014
A senior forum commentator recently provided a summary of the thesis of the neo-Hindu cabal that is analyzed in the 'Purva Paksha' section of Rajiv Malhotra's new book 'Indra's Net'. The book is available at, flipkart, Amazon (including Kindle e-format). This blog is published here so that all Indra'sNet audiences around the world can use this excellent summary as a reference resource while reading. Comments welcome.

Surya wrote:
This summary only provides the context but facilitates reading and understanding the book.  

Thesis of neo-Hindu camp:

(1) Hinduism as a modern construct: Hinduism is 'an orchid bred by European scholarship ... In nature, it does not exist.' (Page 50). Hinduism is no more than a collection of amorphous religions that co-exist in the same region and have some commonalities, but these commonalities are far outweighed by divisions and mutual antagonisms.(Page 67).  It is primarily not a religious concept but one of geographic origin.  (Page 94).  Before 19th century, there was no Hindu religious identity that transcended narrow sectarian boundaries.(Page 50).  Before 'Hinduism' came into use, the natives of India referred only to sampradayas (lineages of traditions), which were orthodox and narrowly defined. (Page 94). Instead of seeing Hinduism as a religious system, it would perhaps be more accurate to view it as a multidimensional socio-religious process which has undergone radical transformations over the last hundred years and continued to change. (Page 94). Hinduism then is a joint construct of Britain and India, Christians and Hindus, who devised 'something that the later 19th century would take for granted: a coherent, pan-Indian Hinduism.' (Page 134)

(2)  Neo-Hinduism as a modern variation of Hinduism under Christian and Western Secular Influences: In 1800s, Indian leaders suffered a deep inferiority complex about the weakness of India compared with Europe, and attributed this weakness to Hinduism's inability to adapt to modern times. (Page 68) 1800s was a time when Protestant and Catholic missionaries constantly denigrated and criticized the Hindu scriptures.  Their attacks were troubling to Hindu reformers of the Brahmo Samaj.  Under these conditions, Western Unitarians arrived in India as a welcome relief, for they interpreted Hindu theology as being open, rational, experiential, and science-friendly.  Sensing a good-fit, Brahmo Samaj sent its bright youth to Unitarian Seminaries in England for training.  Following this, Brahmo Samaj started to adapt the framework of Unitarian Christianity in order to identify alternative sources of authority within Hinduism that would support this kind universal and scientific ideology based on experience. This is the advent of neo-Hinduism (as distinct to and discontinuous from native traditions). (Page 53).  The neo-Hindu dogma of equality of all religions emerged originally in the 19th century from the ideology of European Enlightenment. The neo-Hindu concept of Dharma was clearly prompted by the philosophy of Saint Augustus and Philosopher John Stuart Mill but expressed completely in Indian terms. (Page 70).  

(3) Swami Vivekananda as a key architect of Neo-Hinduism and his political interests: Swami Vivekananda, who was familiar with and influenced by Brahmo Samaj and Unitarian Church, introduced Western scientific inquiry and direct experience in order to bring Hinduism on par with Western thought. (Page 53)  Vivekananda's call for unity and inner resolution of tensions were clearly ideas of nationalism and the driving force behind the neo-Hindu concept of unity. (Page 68)  

(4) Swami Vivekananda brings Western Thought into neo-Hinduism: Swami Vivekananda's innovation of 'Practical Vedanta' was meant to address the needs of his time using Vedanta Principles.  One such practical application was in the realm of social ethics. Such social ethics were not in alignment with traditional Vedanta. (Page 74).  Christian missionaries inspired the new definition of karma:  'Under the influence of Christian missionaries, the idea that karma = seva (understood as social duty and service to others) was articulated in the 19th century.' (Page 91).  

(5) Neo-Hinduism deviates from tradition:  Per traditional Advaita, moksha is brought about by merely a 'cognitive shift' and this cannot be caused by any action, be it devotion or work.  This means that actions such as meditation, bhakti, social service, and so on, are unable to cause moksha (Page 100).  Lack of intellectual depth in contemporary Hindu scholarship is due to the popularity of views on the primacy of yogic experience, and secondary status to Sruti. (Page 117).  Additionally, Vivekananda chose to reconcile and unify various schools of Vedanta (Page 117) bringing hierarchical relativism to Hinduism.

(6) Contemporary Hinduism = Neo-Hinduism as an incoherent amalgam: Unlike Abrahamic religions which are wary of epistemological relativism out of the fear of relativizing the World of God revealed in the Bible or the Koran, Brahminical Hinduism (and Hindu nationalism) thrives on a hierarchical relativism to evade all challenges to its idealistic metaphysics and mystical ways of knowing.  (Page 142). Therefore, the idea of a unified Hindu religion is counter both to religious practices and to the theological doctrines of India (Pages 50, 51). Unified Hinduism is counter to tradition and serves nationalistic interests and calling for unity for political expedience.  Hinduism then is an instance of Pizza Effect i.e., Indians adopting Western concepts but giving them Sanskrit names.  These are true neologisms, invented by Western Indologists and then copied and re-marketed by Indian scholars who displaced the old pandits with this newly minted coinage that is now in vogue in the Indian literature, media, and educational institutions. (Page 82)

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