I've been an atheist from the age of 11 or 12 -- i.e., for practical
purposes I've never been anything but an atheist, never having had a
faith to lose. Hence I can't get very excited about a squabble between
religius sects. A detail in this context -- Psychoanalysis itself seems
to be more of a religion than a systematic discipline, hence personally
I am not interested in a psychoanalysis of Hinduism or anything else.
But fundamentalisms of any sort are dangerous -- though none so
dangerous as Christian fundamentalisms or even 'mainstream'
Christianities, since xtian nations have been on a 400 year rampage and
since 1945 have been constantly threatening to blow up the world. Check
the IWW songbook for a song, written 1916 if I remember correctly,
entitled "Christians at War" by Ralph Chaplin. Hardly a song for the
ages, but the fourth verse pretty well catches the history of xtianity
Onward, Christian soldiers! Drench the land with gore;
Mercy is a weakness all the gods abhor.
Bayonet the babies, jab the mothers, too;
Hoist the cross of Calvary to hallow all you do.
File your bullets' noses flat, poison every well;
God decrees your enemies must all go plumb to hell.
Anyhow, here is a defense of Doniger from a professor at the University
of Chicago Divinity School.
Hence I don't have a dog in this race
Scholars of Hinduism Under Attack
Scholars of Moses or Jesus haven't had to duck eggs or death threats
lately. Why are Hindu groups targeting professors?
By Martin E. Marty
On December 27, 1986, Arthur Hertzberg, Yvonne Haddad, and I were asked
by the American Historical Association (AHA) to lead a plenary session
on militant fundamentalisms in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. That
was the first time I dealt with the subject. Later, a six-year study for
the American Academy of Arts and Sciences would prepare me for a topic
that remains too relevant, even urgent, today.
The AHA asked my colleague Wendy Doniger to respond to all three, from
the viewpoint of a scholar of Hinduism. Could Hinduism even have
fundamentalisms, she asked. As she explored and observed how leaders of
radical Hindu movements handled sacred texts, she changed her mind, and
Now she and her students and friends in America, India, and around the
globe are seeing militant Hinduism up close. Shuttling as I did between
Chicago and Emory this year (18 commutes to date), I had occasion to
track one of these "up-close" stories, that of Paul Courtright.
Courtright's scholarly book, Ganesa: Lord of Obstacles, Lord of
Beginnings, went unnoticed except in specialized academic circles since
it was published in 1985. Then some militants were stirred to be
critical of it, rejecting the psychoanalytic elements in Courtright's
analysis of a Hindu god with the head of an elephant. While a few are
themselves scholars, most of the roused attackers lack context and
understanding. Courtright and other experts have had death threats,
while others know that persecution or exclusion from India could await
Doniger has not escaped completely. She had to duck an egg thrown by a
militant Hindu as she lectured in London. In the world of these
scholars, writing about gods from some scholarly distance is a
century-old practice. As for the psychoanalytic aspects in Ganesa,
Freudians and post-Freudians have had their rounds with Moses, Paul,
Christians, and Jews through the ages, without having to duck eggs,
harassment, or death threats.
What is going on? So far as I can tell, we have here an international
instance of hyper-multiculturalism, an approach to learning now being
moderated in America. Its original proponents held that only those who
were "of" a people, whose ancestors shared an experience, etc., could
teach and write about them and it. In their prime, multiculturalist
expressions blighted tenure decisions, led to negative reviews, and
probably harmed some careers. Today we are learning again that, while
heirs of a tradition have a special claim on stories and
interpretations, at least at certain stages, good stories are too good
to be hoarded by those who claim insider-status. All great literature,
canonical or not, is born of particular experiences, and if it is great,
it gets shared.
That was happening with Hindu mythology, but for the moment the eggs and
threats fly and the barriers are up. This can wreak havoc in religious
studies and interfaith understanding, and one can only hope that light
will spread and cooler heads will prevail. Doniger says it is all being
"fueled by a fanatical nationalism and Hindutva," where "no one who is
not a Hindu has the right to speak about Hinduism at all."
"Wendy," down the hall from me for many years, had and has a love affair
with India and Hinduism. She, Courtright, and others should outlast the
militants. Otherwise Hindu scholarship will suffer for decades to come.
If this happens, some of the best public relations agents for the
religions of India will be under a cloud and it will be a bit darker for
all of us -- including those who attack scholars who do not have the
right blood line or geographical context.
Sightings Editor's Note: The Martin Marty Center at the University of
Chicago Divinity School is pleased to announce the appointment of Wendy
Doniger, Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of
Religions, to the directorship of the Martin Marty Center. An
unparalleled presence in international religious studies in her over
thirty-year career, Ms. Doniger's recent works include Splitting the
Difference: Gender and Myth in Ancient Greece and India; The Bedtrick:
Tales of Sex and Masquerade; The Implied Spider: Politics and Theology
in Myth; and a new translation of the Kamasutra (with Sudhir Kakar). The
Martin Marty Center board and staff and the editorial staff of Sightings
welcome Ms. Doniger. We also applaud and thank W. Clark Gilpin, director
of the Martin Marty Center (2001-2004), for his vision, leadership, and
Reprinted with permission of the Martin Marty Center at the University
of Chicago Divinity School.