Stanley Kurtz on Hindu mothers and Hijackers - chapter 6

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Stanley Kurtz, an anthropologist specializing in Indian Studies, uses psychoanalysis to substantiate his loathsome supposition that Hindu mothers do not have ‘a Western-style loving, emotional partnership with their babies’:

The special relationship between the Hindu mother and her son appears here as a variation on a distinctive Hindu pattern rather than as a mere intensification of a style of intimacy found in the West . . . Nursing is not therefore, an occasion through which mother and child cement on an emotional union. The child is frequently fed, yet the mother seldom lingers to mirror the baby’s satisfaction. Thus, while the child no doubt develops a strong emotional attachment to the mother as a result of the physical gratification she provides, the mother does not respond by setting up a Western-style loving, emotional partnership. [Emphasis added.]

This racially biased and bizarre declaration is utterly false, as anyone who has spent significant time with families in India can attest. It is absurd to say that a Hindu mother does not see nursing her baby as an opportunity to cement emotional union, in the same ‘loving, intimate’ way that Western women presumably do. Even more amazing is the limited evidence on which such statements are based and astonishingly, that they pass inspection with peer-review processes.

In another book, All the Mothers Are One, Stanley Kurtz constructs a model for the psychology of Hindus based on his studies of Indian social and family structures along with interviews of some devotees of the Goddess Santoshi Ma. Kurtz claims that Durga, one of India’s most revered deities, symbolizes the castrating Mother Goddess. He interprets Goddess’ symbols as pathological—a manufactured ‘Durga Complex’ to explain his ‘findings’ about Indians:

[T]he characteristically Hindu form of conflicts over unconscious incestuous strivings [in which] castration symbolism at the most mature level represents transformative self-willed sacrifice signaling the abandonment of infantile attachments.108

Obviously, Kurtz denies Hindus their sense of individuality:

Their notion of the divine knows neither boundaries of time, place, substance, nor identity. [And therefore] . . . individualism is built into our psychic structure but not into that of the Hindu. [Emphasis added.]

In addition to finding many technical flaws in Kurtz’s methodologies, Humes criticizes his work for using ‘a method which in the end borders on racism:’

Despite arguing for greater sensitivity to cultural difference in psychology, ‘those people’ over ‘there’ are actually all alike—but not like ‘us’ . . . Kurtz’s psychology excludes Hindu women . . . they are, after all, ‘mommies’ whose psychology can be dispensed with in a few words and a note.

Mercifully, someone in the academy actually voiced criticism, but it had little impact on Kurtz’s theories. (For anthropologists’ reaction to this state of affairs, please read page 61 and 62, chapter 6)

Dehumanizing and exoticized images of Hinduism—no matter how ludicrous and fringe they may seem on the surface—must not be taken lightly. History shows that pogroms and genocides have followed similar patterns of cultural denigration. The soon-to-be victims are alleged to be irrational, immoral, lacking a legitimate religion, and even lacking in compassion so that they cannot show ‘proper’ love towards their babies. In Western mythmaking, it follows that these ‘savages’ must not be extended the same human rights as ‘we’ enjoy. (See the first chapter in section III for an account of this.) (For some more elaboration of this, please refer page 62, chapter 6)

Though similar practices regarding women are found historically in all major world religions, introductory classes rarely sum up Judaism, Islam or Christianity with a list of negative attributes. Introductory classes on Hinduism at the university level, often begin with the Rg Veda and move on through the Upanishads and other texts, and end the year with the dangers of Hindu fundamentalists who killed Mahatma Gandhi. The same can be seen in secondary level World History textbooks, where after a survey of Hindu beliefs and texts, they conclude with a list of ‘Hindu problems’ such as ‘suttee’ and poverty caused by Hindu cultural norms. In a comparative context, the Hinduphobia is tangible.

The case is being built that Hinduism is not only inferior but that it causes human rights problems, and the cure lies in its eradication. How does today’s scholarship regarding Hindus compare with earlier Eurocentric scholarship about Native Americans, Africans, Jews, Roma, and others, who became victims of various kinds of ‘savage wars’ and genocide? Malhotra has asked:

Are certain ‘objective’ scholars, unconsciously driven by their Eurocentric chauvinism, perhaps to pave the way for a future genocide of a billion or more Hindus, because of the supposed economic and/or ecological pressures of overpopulation later in this century?

Even in those instances where the scholar might be criticizing genuine social problems, Dave Freedholm, a teacher of World Religions in an American secondary school, explains how Hinduism is not given the same treatment as Christianity:

When scholars examine the world’s religions they usually attempt to distinguish between their ‘universal’ theological/philosophical foundations and the particular historically and culturally bound social structures of societies that practice those religions. To take Christianity as an example, biblical scholars, using a sophisticated hermeneutics, extract a ‘universal’ Pauline theology from the social context of Paul’s letters that presumed slavery, the subjugation of women, etc. Pauline statements that seem to support this social order are reinterpreted in light of passages that are deemed to reflect more universal values.

Courtright is right in saying that Doniger had raised the visibility of Indian civilization and the liveliness of its mythic tradition. But raised the visibility in what manner?

Courtright praises Doniger’s efforts in recruiting young Indian students into her school of thought:

Wendy has worked hard at Chicago to recruit Indian graduate students (as we have here at Emory) because we are concerned that there is an imbalance between ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’—whatever that means—in the field.

Just because one brings in a diversity of skin tones to the University of Chicago’s student body does not mean that a true diversity of ‘insider’ versus ‘outsider’ perspectives is represented, or that vigorous, uncomfortable debate is permitted. It is always much easier for a student—of any color or background—to conform to the dominant voices in the discipline. As will be seen in section III, sometimes graduate students are sent ahead as storm-troops to electronically engage the ‘enemy’, creating a Hinduphobic space for their mentors.

This ‘sepoy mentality’ was exemplified by an Indian-American graduate student at the University of Chicago who, in 2002, warned his RISA colleagues, ‘To watch out for WAVES’ (the World Association of Vedic Studies), which he found ‘deeply disturbing’.

Immediately, the well-known Sanskritist, Professor Gerald Larson, who occupied the Rabindranath Tagore Chair at the University of Indiana for many years, chimed in to support the call. Making no attempt to independently verify the allegations, Larson wrote:

I am becoming increasingly concerned that the field of the serious study of South Asian religion and culture is being ‘highjacked’ by a variety of folks with ‘off the wall’ agendas ranging from crackpot religiosity to the worst kinds of Hindu chauvinism. I, therefore, very much appreciate the comment about the ‘WAVES’ conference and think these sorts of things need to be exposed and rigorously criticized in the RISA exchanges.

Larson used the metaphor of hijacking to describe his concern that the study of Hinduism was being somehow stolen by Hindus. He seems to blithely ignore that the airplane—in this instance Hindu culture—belongs to Hindus. Larson reduces the complex variety of Hindus with their great diversity of views and ideas into extreme camps, caught between ‘crackpot religiosity’ and the ‘worst kind of Hindu chauvinism’.

Christians, Jews, Muslims and Buddhists routinely participate in theological conferences specific to their respective faiths, without becoming the recipients of similar attacks. Hindu self-study groups are unfortunately dismissed as dangerous ‘Savages from the Frontier who threaten Eden’. It is exactly this insistence on Eurocentric hegemonic control over Hindu religious studies, and the power to categorize and demonize Hindus, that worries many progressive voices and underscores the need for investigations such as this book.

Read the entire chapter from page 60 to 65

Pdf of the book is available for free download here.

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