Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Seemingly Balanced Article on Academic Scholarship in Hinduism by Univ. of San Francisco Prof. of Media Studies

Here is a seemingly balanced article on Hinduism scholarship, especially in the USA, Hinduism and its Culture Wars, by Prof. Vamsee Juluri, professor of media studies at the University of San Francisco,

However, Prof. Vamsee Juluri too seems to view Rama and Krishna through the lens of history (as against scripture) and seems to be of the view that they are mythological/literary figures rather than real ones. BTW he was raised in Hyderabad and so is a Telugu Bidda.

Some notes on the article (it is a long article and so there are quite a few notes):

*) The Hindu-American community has, in recent years, raised concerns about errors/prejudices in works of Western scholars of Hinduism.

*) Scholars like Wendy Doniger and Romila Thapar have argued against the Hindutva view that India has been a Hindu land since ancient times which was somewhat recently (from a historical perspective) invaded by Muslims and others. [Ravi: Romila Thapar seems to be a leading Indian historian and her views, I guess, must be quite influential in Indian academic scholarship about Hinduism. Maybe sometime I should read one or two of her books related to Hindu history of India to get some idea of current Indian academic scholarship views about Hinduism. BTW her wiki,, states "Romila Thapar (born 30 November 1931) is an Indian historian whose principal area of study is ancient India." - so she must be heavily influential in Indian academic scholarship about ancient Hindu history.]

*) Diana Eck in her new book, India: A Sacred Geography, states that even there was no religion of the name Hinduism in the past, "there was a shared mythological imagination and practice that was deeply entwined with the physical landscape of the subcontinent for at least two thousand years". [From, "Diana L. Eck (born 1945 in Bozeman, Montana) is a religious scholar who is Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies at Harvard University, as well as a Master of Lowell House and the Director of The Pluralism Project at Harvard. Among other works, she is the author of Banaras, City of Light, Darsan: Seeing the Divine Image in India, Encountering God: A Spiritual Journey from Bozeman to Banaras, and A New Religious America: How a Christian Country Became the World's Most Religiously Diverse Nation. At Harvard, she is in the Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies, the Committee on the Study of Religion, and is also a member of the Faculty of Divinity. She has been reappointed the chair for the Committee on the Study of Religion, a position which she held from 1990 to 1998. Eck is a Methodist and is married to the Reverend Dorothy Austin." Ravi: Utterly fascinating! I must read some of her works somewhere down the line. BTW I think I must mention that her spouse name (and some other info.) indicates a same-sex married couple.

Her book (India: A Sacred Geography), which seems to be quite a recent one (perhaps first published in 2012) has glowing editorial review comments on amazon,

One of these comments is from Karen Armstrong,, "In this lucid, learned and luminous book, Diana Eck introduces the Western reader to the sacred landscape of India. She leads us into an unfamiliar world, with myths and symbols that seem initially strange, but by the end of this rich journey we find that we have encountered unexpected regions within ourselves." Words like lucid, learned and luminous from Karen Armstrong is high praise indeed! [After reading Karen Armstrong's comments I was compelled to place an order for a copy here:, price Rs. 490/- for paperback book.]

*) Two views of what today's Hinduism is are provided. [Ravi: My view is that it is devotion, devotional groups, shrines, festivals, rites and scripture of various kinds from Puranas having the stories of divinity to Vedanta philosophy.]

*) A.K. Ramunajan's three hundred Ramayanas essay being removed from Delhi university undergraduate reading list is mentioned. One of the Hindutva viewpoints which the author felt is "worth considering" was why teach the version(s) that "depict our beloved gods as villains".

[Ravi: Hmm. What a hugely sensitive matter religion becomes when it is part of under-graduate or school curriculum! Some info. related to US school curriculum and religion controversy: From, "A controversy in the US state of California concerning the portrayal of Hinduism in history textbooks began in 2005. Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu groups complained that their religions were in part incorrectly or negatively portrayed.
The Texas-based Vedic Foundation (VF) and the American Hindu Education Foundation (HEF) complained to California's Curriculum Commission, saying the coverage in sixth grade history textbooks of Indian history and Hinduism was biased against Hinduism, and demanding that the portrayal be revised according to the views of Hinduism and Indian history shared by most Hindus and Indians."
Ravi: I think most people become activists for proper representation of their religion in school curriculum when they see children, especially their own, taught a biased or mis-represented view of their religion. That's how Rajiv Malhotra got into his activism in this area.]

*) The various versions of "stories" of Hindu gods are accepted and tolerated by Hindus in India without any well known attempts to impose a monolithic version on all Hindus of India. "High academic writing" has a different "elite postmodern" view.

*) "Most devout Hindus have formed a picture of the gods in their inner lives long before they learn the facts of sexuality, and in this picture, the affection and reverence they feel for the gods is usually parental, and therefore non-sexual. We think of Shiva and Parvathi, for example, as parental figures;  --snip---, in our minds they are known only as our Adi-Dampatulu (Telugu for Primal Couple), and she, our Ammavaru (Revered Mother)." [Ravi: Very, very well said, Prof. Juluri. I entirely agree.]

*) Prof. Diana Eck writes, “the linga (in at least one interpretation) is an epiphany of such transcendence that it can hardly be considered a part, much less an anatomical part, of Shiva as he appears in embodied form.” [Ravi: I am so very happy to see the noted Prof. Diana Eck state this so clearly. That is the way the vast majority of current-day Shiva lingam worshipers see it. Scholars of religion who write and talk about Shiva lingam must emphasize such views, at least in the context of modern day Shiva lingam worship, instead of trying to promote 'anatomical' views for cheap publicity purposes.]

*) South Asian writing of the past few decades has achieved world acclaim but such writing does not seem to include Hindu spiritual quests or pilgrimages. [Ravi: That is certainly some food for thought. Perhaps Hindu devotional writings in English are not considered literature-quality wise good enough to make it to top literary lists and/or there is some bias that comes into play here.]

*) Current generation Hindu parents have to deal with effects of globalization and other factors in the "story of religion" being passed on next generation youngsters.

*) The article talks about the Ramayan television serial, rise of Hindutva and more younger middle-class Hindus in India and abroad viewing epics like Ramayana as scripture as against myth.

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