February 16, 2014

"In general, I don’t like people saying nasty things about other people’s religion, but this is something else."

"This is fundamentalism, which says that parts of its own religion are bad. In a sense, I’m defending their religion, and they’re attacking it."

Said Wendy Doniger, the author of "The Hindus: An Alternative History," a book that is being recalled and pulped by her publisher in India, Penguin Books India in the face of a threat of legal consequences under an Indian law banning acts "intended to outrage religious feelings."
The original legal complaint, filed by Dinanath Batra of the group Shiksha Bachao Andolan, described a “hidden agenda to denigrate Hindus and show their religion in poor light” and called Ms. Doniger’s approach to Hinduism “that of a woman hungry of sex.”
Of course, we can still buy the book — here — and I can't tell from the article whether people in India will be able to download the digital version of the book. One thing about books as physical objects is that a show can be made of casting them out of the stores and destroying them. Is it a good book? Here's the review of it that appeared in the NYT back in 2009:

As Wendy Doniger, a scholar of Indian religions at the University of Chicago, explains in her staggeringly comprehensive book, the British Indologists who sought to tame India’s chaotic polytheisms had a “Protestant bias in favor of scripture.” In “privileging” Sanskrit over local languages, she writes, they created what has proved to be an enduring impression of a “unified Hinduism.” And they found keen collaborators among upper-caste Indian scholars and translators. This British-Brahmin version of Hinduism — one of the many invented traditions born around the world in the 18th and 19th centuries — has continued to find many takers among semi-Westernized Hindus suffering from an inferiority complex vis-à-vis the apparently more successful and organized religions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

21 comments:

Sam L. said...

I'm not willing to take a NYT book review as unbiased, but I can certainly accept that India (and Hinduism)as a whole is more chaotic and less well-defined than some would like it to be.

rhhardin said...

Westerner sings sad Tibetan love song.

It's one of those indistinguishable religions but the music is interesting.

In this case, try to figure out the right time signature.

Nate Whilk said...

"In a sense, I’m defending their religion, and they’re attacking it."

She really does think that her own ivory-tower conclusions are more valid than those of the people involved.

Lest we forget, Doniger is the intellectual who wrote this in Newsweek in 2008:

"Her greatest hypocrisy is in her pretense that she is a woman. The Republican party's cynical calculation that because she has a womb and makes lots and lots of babies (and drives them to school! wow!) she speaks for the women of America, and will capture their hearts and their votes, has driven thousands of real women to take to their computers in outrage. She does not speak for women; she has no sympathy for the problems of other women, particularly working class women."

Doniger is a prime example of this line from the Bible, Ecclesiastes 7:17 (Douay-Rheims translation): "Be not over just: and be not more wise than is necessary, lest thou become stupid."

pm317 said...
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pm317 said...
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Revenant said...

The phrase "fundamentalist Hindu" doesn't really make a lot of sense. Hinduism doesn't have a clear single point of origin the way Christianity and Islam do.

EDH said...

in the face of a threat of legal consequences under an Indian law banning acts "intended to outrage religious feelings."

Likewise, Dinesh D'Souza has suffered the legal consequences of offending the deity.

Ambrose said...

"In general, I don't like people saying nasty things about other people's religion," unless of course it's me saying the nasty things, because that's different...

Rob said...

We know Bollywood movies generally feature creative dances, but is there a market for one about the Lindy? It's probably not something one of the major Bollywood studios would finance, but maybe it could be produced independently. You know, an indie Hindi Lindy film.

Otto said...

"apparently more successful and organized religions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam."?
Judaism has been a dismal failure, 70 % of Jews are secular.Must be in the water(parting ?).

Jim S. said...

That reminds me of a similar controversy ten years ago about Paul Courtright's book Ganesa: Lord of Obstacles, Lord of Beginnings. He argued that there were some sexual connotations regarding the Hindu god Ganesa, and there was an online petition demanding the publisher remove the book from circulation.

The Godfather said...

I'm interested to know that there's another religious tradition around today that believes that the appropriate response to criticism is to shut up the critic.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

In religion, all other countries are paupers; India is the only millionaire. - Mark Twain

sean said...

I have a lot of contempt for left-wing academics like Doniger, who find themselves on the outs with indigenous third world spokesmen. Professors constantly posture as anti-colonialist defenders of non-Western peoples, but when they are attacked, the run and hide behind the skirts of wholly conventional Western ideas like free expression, even though their careers have been based on mocking and deriding the West. As far as I'm concerned, Doniger should be extradited to India to confront the people she writes about.

Mrs. X said...

Amazon reviewers respectfully disagree with the NYT.
Random review titles:
"Opinion on Hinduism masked as history of Hinduism"
"Wendy's pet hates"
"Puerile nonsense"
Apparently it's selling well, though.

broomhandle said...

"That of a woman hungry of sex"

Take that! Gotta love Indian English.

Balfegor said...

As Wendy Doniger, a scholar of Indian religions at the University of Chicago, explains in her staggeringly comprehensive book, the British Indologists who sought to tame India’s chaotic polytheisms had a “Protestant bias in favor of scripture.”

There's some loaded language there. They can't just have been trying to "make sense" of India's "chaotic" polytheisms, to the best of their ability?

One of the things that is maddening to me about late 20th and 21st century "scholars" specializing in foreign cultures is that so often they don't seem to have the slightest respect for them as independent cultural traditions -- they are so bent on seeing foreign cultures as having been created somehow by evil Westerners that one is left with the impression that they think other cultures were basically without form and void until some White observed them and wrote them up. There's even one such academic who has tried to argue that Confucianism was basically invented by Matteo Ricci, which crosses the boundary from absurd to grossly offensive and then again to outer cuckoo-land. I can't find him now, but I'm sure he won a prize for it.

The 18th and 19th century European scholars, at least, had the sense they were dealing with real foreign cultures and made a good faith effort at understanding them on their own terms. They fell short, sure -- peering through the fog of spotty translations and cross-cultural misunderstandings -- but they tried. They pieced together source documents, observed rites and rituals, and struggled to put their observations together into a coherent framework. There were theoretical underpinnings to their work -- perhaps misguided -- but their work was primarily empirical. They weren't addled by theory, unlike their debased modern successors.

Pogo is Dead said...

Ah, the white woman professor's burden.

gerry said...

POGO'S is the thread winner!

Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...

Let us remember that Buddhism arose to no small degree in response to fundamentalist Hinduism some 2,500 years ago. Hindu exclusivist claims are at least as virulent as those of Christianity, and with rather less basis.

damikesc said...

Nobody should be afraid to say nasty things about somebody's religion.

If a lot of people are scared to do so, it is a condemnation, of the highest order, of that religion.

See Islam.

I don't see a lot of Buddhist humor because I doubt people know enough about it for it to work. Ditto Hinduism. But Judaism and Christianity? No lack of humor at each faith's expense.