Posted on 28-10-2009
Filed Under (India, Religion) by Rashtrakut

A close family friend forwarded me the latest offering from Wendy Doniger on Hinduism.  I first became aware about the controversy surrounding the good professor during the dispute a few years ago regarding Professor Courtright’s book about Ganesha.  For a discussion of the academic analysis behind that particularly book see here.  The revelations of the incestuous peer review process in humanities academia (which is something I previously noticed in my education)  have soured my perceptions of humanities and social science academia.  There is already a critique of Doniger’s book by Aditi Banerjee on line. See here.

Doniger and her cohorts have the tedious tendency to dismiss all her critics as Hindutva fundamentalists.  However, the controversy surrounding their scholarship does raise some questions: (a) how appropriate is it to apply the social mores of today in reviewing books written thousands of years back rather than the cultural context of the time? (b) how effective is a peer review process when most of the reviewers are not practitioners of that religion, and (c) who gets to define a religion, its practitioners or academic scholars who openly admit they are not practitioners.

These are not straight forward questions and the answers in my opinion can come tinged in gray.  Research into Hinduism and provocative theories and research into Hinduism should be encouraged and the perspective of someone raised outside a cultural milieu can provide valuable insight or provide a thought provoking moment for practitioners.  The problem is that Hinduism academia in the United States is largely filled by non-practitioners and non-Indians.  Even with the best of intentions it very easy to miss cultural contexts in this isolated academic ivory tower.

However, the 1000 lb gorilla in the room is whether the mis-characterization of Hindu texts and beliefs (even if unintentional) will be used for propaganda purposes.  Post 9/11 we have already seen how selectively quoting verses from the Quran can be used to demonize a whole faith.  It will be naive to assume that the works of Doniger and Courtright are not been eagerly lapped up for aggressive missionary work in India.

Doniger’s book by its title indicates that it should not be used as an introduction to Hinduism.  An “alternative history” suggests a book written to advance a view-point or an agenda. However, Doniger’s high profile presence in American academia suggests that it will be used exactly for that purpose.   And that creates the risk that a work by an admitted non-practitioner whose scholarship has been questioned could become part of the academic curriculum in the United States.

Doniger’s book will generate the inevitable firestorm.  One hopes that the critiques and reviews that come steer clear of ad hominem attacks and focus instead on the substance of her book.  This will require a dispassionate reading of ancient texts which may lead to some unsettling conclusions.  However, this will generate a genuine exchange of ideas and opinions that ultimately will serve the cause of American scholarship on Hinduism.

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Posted on 28-10-2009
Filed Under (Technology) by Rashtrakut

An interesting New York Times article on Google’s latest challenge to Apple.  It will be interesting to see how these technological giants rumble in the future and whether they can recover their previous cooperation.  It is interesting to see how other giants like Microsoft and Nokia (in the interests of disclosure love my Nokia phone and have no desire to switch to the iPhone) respond.  With the PC market maturing rapidly, Microsoft needs to expand beyond its excessive reliance on Windows licensing revenues.

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Posted on 28-10-2009
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

A by-election in an upstate New York congressional seat has set off a furious battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party.  Aided by New York’s unusual political setting the race for NY-23 could hint at the continuing irrelevance of the Republican Party or suggest that appealing to the core could lead to political revival.  It started when President Obama appointed the long serving congressman of NY-23 as Secretary of the Army.  The local party nominated Dede Scozzafava to replace him on the ballot.  However, her views on taxes, abortion, and same-sex marriage infuriated the true-believers.  The Republican candidates in New York generally also run on the New York Conservative Party ballot with the votes from each party line added to the candidates total.  A different Conservative Party nominee can take away votes from the Republican.

The Conservatives responded by nominating the markedly more right wing Douglas L. Hoffman whose candidacy has eagerly been embraced by luminaries on the right wing fringe like Michelle Malkin, Glenn Beck, Dick Armey  and Sarah Palin.  This has triggered a full scale mutiny from the base.  Even though the Republicans have held this district since the 1800s, Barack Obama carried it last fall.  Ergo its a classic swing district that could go Democratic depending on the candidate.  Pointing out that the Republican party with its current 20% identification needs to expand its reach has earned even former Speaker Newt Gingrich the derisive appellation R.I.N.O. (Republican In Name Only).  Even though the Club For Growth has dutifully trotted out a poll showing Mr. Hoffman leading, its methodology has been questioned.  At this point the likely result is an unexpected victory for Democrat Bill Owens.

While the Republicans are likely to eat their own in the near future they must ponder if they wish to remain a regional party of white Southerners.  Gingrich is right.  To win a majority you have to appeal beyond your base.  At present the Republican Party is non-existent in New England, fading in the Midwest and struggling in the Southwest after alienating the Hispanic vote.  The Democratic takeover of the House was aided by choosing conservative Democrats in conservative districts (like Heath Shuler in North Carolina) or Senate seats (like Evan Bayh in Indiana).  Ideological purity becomes viable in a state or district aligned to the cause.  Which is why Joe Lieberman who would have probably been fine in Nebraska was given the boot by exasperated Connecticut Democrats (and won largely on Republican votes).  Sticking a hard right conservative in a moderate district appears to be a recipe for long term failure.  The right wing better keep its fingers crossed that Mr. Hoffman does not come in third as most polls indicate.

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