Posted on 25-03-2010
Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Rashtrakut

This is an update to two previous blog posts.  See here and here.  To the outrage of many Hindus in the United States, Wendy Doniger’s book was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award.  She did not win.  Professor Aseem Shukla has a nice write up at the Washington Post on the dust up caused by the book.  See here.  The post is worth reading for a few reasons.  It highlights some of the concerns in my previous post.  It also contains a response by Doniger and rebuttal of the response by Shukla.  Also provided are links to some detailed rebuttals of the factual inaccuracies in the book.  See here and here.

[In the interests of disclosure and in contradiction of the portion of the second rebuttal regarding Ashoka, I personally have some cynicism about the great Mauryan Emperor’s change of heart.  See link.  However, these are based on similarities to the stories of the previous conversion of Ajatashatru and deal primarily with religious realpolitik and royal propaganda.  They do not delve into Doniger’s broad assertions regarding Hinduisim that trip her up.]

Doniger’s biggest problem appears to be one that plagues any outsider writing about a foreign culture.  They appear to lack the cultural knowledge or reference points that would enable them to make sweeping generalizations without imprinting their inner biases or agendas.  The result can leave the native practitioner bewildered and sometimes angry.  The tendency to suck up to the Indian secular left, portions of which delight in sneering at their heritage in an attempt to garb themselves with the cloak of modernity, aggravates this situation.

It also reflects the general absence of practicing Indian Hindus in American Hinduism academia that could present an alternate point of view (assuming that liberal arts academia is willing to allow alternate viewpoints), something that could prevent the tendency to indulge in sexual Freudian psychobabble.  It plays into the concerns of cultural imperialism spawned by India’s colonial legacy.  Until these concerns are addressed this will not be the last such skirmish on the subject and blaming critics as right wing Hindu chauvinists will have diminishing returns.

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