Whose history is it anyway?

History empowers and history emasculates. History, like art, is beautiful or odious to the beholder. There are winners and losers … Continued

History empowers and history emasculates. History, like art, is beautiful or odious to the beholder. There are winners and losers when history is assessed, and there are protagonists and antagonists. Historians recognize the onerous burden of their profession in these times when a spare use of the word “genocide” in the House of Representatives to describe events in Armenia decades ago led Turkey to recall its ambassador. And politics infuses the narratives of history. Anti-Semitism, Marxism, white supremacy, all are known to prejudice renditions of peoples, cultures and religions.

Historian Wendy Doniger, professor of the History of Religion at the University of Chicago Divinity School, finds herself in the midst of a history book kerfufflle of her own. Doniger, long enjoying exalted status as the doyen of Hindu studies in the American academy, faces scrutiny now in an unfolding drama involving her latest book, “The Hindus: An Alternative History.” An online petition asking Penguin Press, the publishers of the book, to hold publication and demand revisions is approaching 10,000 signatures. And when the book was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award, Hindu activists staged a rare protest outside the award ceremony last week (the book did not win).

Hindus know that Doniger was derailed before. In 2003, Microsoft retracted a chapter on Hinduism written by Doniger for its online encyclopedia after a heavily publicized internet campaign protested factual and interpretive errors in her essay. In the end, a Hindu writer, providing the emic, or insider’s perspective, wrote an entry that depicted Hinduism in the light that practitioners would actually recognize.

This latest “alternative” history book was released a year ago, but opposition has escalated after a newer edition was released in India a few weeks ago and the book was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle award (she didn’t win).

That there would be trouble was apparent right from the preface of her book. There, Doniger asserts that hers is not a history of how Hinduism is lived today, but rather offers a “narrative alternative” to the one found in Hinduism’s holiest scriptures. This 780-page tome is set as Doniger’s rendering of Hinduism’s history based–we are to assume–on her own interpretations of scripture, her own biases and inclinations. Infamous for her penchant to sexualize, eroticize and exoticise passages from some of the holiest Hindu epics and scriptures–often invoking a Freudian psychoanalytic lens–Doniger has been accused of knowingly polarizing and inflaming. She does not disappoint.

I revisit her work now not just because Doniger provokes so many of us in the Hindu American community. Doniger represents what many believe to be a fundamental flaw in the academic study of Hinduism: that Hindu studies is too often the last refuge of idiosyncratic and irreligious academics presenting themselves as “experts” on a faith that they study without the insight, recognition or reverence of, in this case, a practicing Hindu or even non-Hindu–striving to study Hinduism from the insider’s perspective–would offer.

As a surgeon working in the medical school of a large university, I hold my academic freedom as sacrosanct. My own writings, even here on OnFaith, are a reflection of the liberty I presume and cannot compromise. But this freedom comes with a sober responsibility. When I publish manuscripts and books, I am personally responsible for the veracity of the contents, statistical calculations, and scientific conclusions. These are not always empirical, and much editorializing is demanded. But my freedom is predicated on the accuracy of my work and the fairness of my conclusions. And errors, or playing fast and loose with editorial privilege in fact, if purposeful, can lead to harsh legal and ethical repercussions.

An “alternative” rendering is, of course, Doniger’s right. But when venturing into the alternate, if the factual is deprecated and editorializing privileged, if the treatment of a religion adhered to by over a billion is rendered unrecognizable in its iteration, a door is opened to bias, spin and errors. Over the last year, these are what many believe to have uncovered, and the ramifications are real.

“Tell me where I have interpreted something wrong,” Doniger challenged her critics and the gauntlet was picked up. Factual inaccuracies in her latest book were detailed in a prominent Indian media outlet, and a lay historian, Vishal Agarwal, posted a detailed, chapter by chapter riposte to Doniger’s history that has been widely circulated. Not phrased in the niceties of academic parlance, perhaps, but Agarwal’s methodical work opens the door to questions about Doniger’s research, attention to detail, methodology, and more disturbingly, intentions behind her latest venture. Another detailed rebuttal to a single chapter spanning over twenty-two pages was posted by another writer this week.

Parallelisms in her book conjure up obsolete anecdotes comparing the sacred stone linga representing Lord Shiva to a leather strap-on sex toy, and Lord Rama, one of the most widely worshiped deities, is psychoanalyzed to have acted out of fear that he was becoming a sex-addict like his father. As Agarwal shows, Doniger’s prose is replete with cutesy, perhaps, but offensive and jejune turns of phrases such as, “If the motto of Watergate was ‘Follow the money’, the motto of the history of Hinduism could well be ‘Follow the monkey’ or, more often ‘Follow the horse’.” And in another section, her interpretations of the Rig Veda, the most ancient of the Vedas that Hindus consider sacred, Doniger sees incest and adultery with a pregnant woman in a verse praying to God for protection and safe delivery.

A Danish cartoonist would be hard pressed to match the disturbing parodies of a believer’s faith that Doniger offers throughout the book. The great Hindu yogi, Patanjali, cautioned in the 2nd century BCE against falling into the trap of false “meaning making” when reading scriptures that contain subtle, esoteric meanings as well as moral edicts. Doniger’s book, then, could be read as an idiosyncratic exposition that is “meaning making” out of profound revelations perhaps not meant for the spiritually untrained, untempered, and non-seeking mind.

It is not just that there are documented errors in fact predicated on errors in interpretation and context, but Hindus argue that Doniger seems to delight in celebrating the most obscure and arcane of anecdotes or stories from the hoary expanse of Hindu epics and scriptures. Privileging the absurd–dissembling it as an alternative–comes across as a specious exercise of a motivated author seeking spice to sell books.

It would seem a given that a book on religious history–intertwined with all of the inherent faith, emotion, and sensibilities that religion evokes in believers–would be approached with a modicum of restraint and sensitivity, if not deference. But instead, Doniger delights in inverting the filial into the incestuous, devotion into eroticism, and pride into chauvinism.

Whether such a licentious foray into Hinduism studies is protected by free speech is not the question. Doniger can write and believe what she wishes. But Hindus are asking if publishers should bear responsiblity for copious factual and interpretive errors.

This demand from Hindus to combat Doniger’s view of their religion cannot be reduced to an unhinged ban-the-book crusade. Asking a publisher to hold publishing of a book until errors are corrected carries strong recent precedent. Recall that publication of the Jewel of Medina was abruptly dropped by Random House last year when fear grew that a story about one of the wives of the prophet Muhammad would spark violence from the Muslim community, and just last week, publisher Holt and Company halted publication of Last Train from Hiroshima when factual errors were uncovered in critical parts of the book.

Doniger’s alternate version of Hindu history, now playing in over 700 libraries in North America and Europe, raises a real fear that her “alternative” will become the mainstream. This issue is important to a minority striving to take control of its own narrative–a struggle repeated by generations of Americans as their voice grows and progeny prospers.

It remains to be seen if Hindus will prove their latest case against Doniger in the court of public opinion, but analagous allegations of academic bias are well known. The Southern Poverty Law Center continues to wage a public campaign against an anti-Semitic professor at Cal State Long Beach, and open protests continue against a faculty member holding white supremacy views at the University of Vermont. Each professor has academic freedom, but an agitating laity is wondering if institutions must support the mendacity of bigoted players devaluing that freedom.

Doniger has tended to dismiss criticisms from Hindus as politically motivated, chauvinistic, sexist, casteist–the list is long. It is as Vamsee Julluri, Professor of Media Studies at the University of San Francisco, wrote:

“The academy has gone almost directly from the Orientalist myth of Hindu superstition to the postmodern concern about Hindu fundamentalism, without even a notice of the great Hindu religion in between, and what it means to its followers and admirers. The academy must engage with Hinduism more positively.”

Academic freedom is sacrosanct. But academic legitimacy in the eyes of the public sets a much higher bar.

Views expressed here are the personal views of Dr. Aseem Shukla, and do not necessarily represent those of the University of Minnesota or Hindu American Foundation.

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Editor’s Note: This essay was shared with Prof. Wendy Doniger prior to its publication. Her response to some lines from Dr. Shukla’s post are as follows:

Doniger:
The Indian Edition was published originally in October, 2009. Just for the record, it was #1 on the best-selling list in India for non-fiction for a while and has received numerous positive reviews in Indian journals and newspapers; I’m told it has sold over10,000 copies in India, but I haven’t verified this.

Of course I did not say that my narrative was alternative “to the one found in Hinduism’s holiest scriptures.” No one would say that even if it were true, which of course it is not. What I said was this:

First, it highlights a narrative alternative to the one constituted by the most famous texts in Sanskrit (the literary language of ancient India) and represented in most surveys in English. It tells a story that incorporates the narratives of and about alternative people–people who, from the standpoint of most high-caste Hindu males, are alternative in the sense of otherness, people of other religions, or cultures, or castes, or species (animals), or gender (women).

That is, my criterion was not holiness but the representation of texts in English-language surveys.

My response:
The English language surveys Doniger refers to are, in fact, commentaries on Hindu scripture that are holy to nearly a billion. Holiness cannot be divorced from scripture, and to presume to present an alternative perspective–that of women, other religions or animals (?) would requires a balanced presentation of varied aspects of Hindu tradition not presented in this book. Doniger chose lines from scripture, often out of context, and then took unlimited literary license to deconstruct verses, anecdotes and stories to suit her biases and predilections.

Doniger: [Regarding this line in the essay]:

…Lord Rama, one of the most widely worshipped deities, is psychoanalyzed to have acted out of fear that he was becoming a sex-addict like his father.

Correction: There is no psychoanalysis in the discussion, just ordinary literary interpretation, nor did I say that Rama was afraid he was become a sex-addict; on the contrary, I said he was acting because he feared that people would think, wrongly, that this was the case. What I said, on p. 225, was:

Rama said, “Sita had to enter the purifying fire in front of everyone, because she had lived so long in Ravana’s bedrooms. Had I not purified her, good people would have said of me, ‘That Rama, Dasharatha’s son, is certainly lustful and childish.’ But I knew that she was always true to me.” Then Rama was united with his beloved and experienced the happiness that he deserved. [6.103-6]

“Dasharatha’s son is certainly lustful” is a key phrase. Rama knows all too well what people said about Dasharatha; when Lakshmana learns that Rama has been exiled, he says, “The king is perverse, old, and addicted to sex, driven by lust.”[2.18.3] Rama says as much himself: “He’s an old man, and with me away he is so besotted by Kaikeyi that he is completely in her power, and capable of doing anything. The king has lost his mind. I think sex (kama) is much more potent than either artha or dharma. For what man, even an idiot like father, would give up a good son like me for the sake of a pretty woman?” [2.47.8-10] Thus Rama invokes the traditional ranking of dharma over sex and politics (kama and artha) and accuses his father of valuing them in the wrong way, of being addicted to sex. He then takes pains to show that, where Dasharatha made a political and religious mistake because he desired his wife too much (kama over artha and dharma), he, Rama, cares for Sita only as a political pawn and an unassailably chaste wife (artha and dharma over kama).

My response: A response to this very contention was published here. This response highlights one of the interpretive errors that I argue are widespread throughout the text. And these clear errors are serious for together they constitute a sad mockery of a faith. Take the example of her interpretation of the Sanskrit word kama to mean “sex.” This sheer blunder in interpretation is repeated throughout her translations of scripture. In fact, kama is understood by every Hindu to mean “wish, love or desire.” Love or desire for a woman or man is just one type of kama. A man may have kama for his wife, and one must ask if Doniger considers that love a sex addiction. Defining kama to mean sex is an offensive simplification that debases the subtle passions implied in the term . Applied to a depiction of Lord Rama, an incarnation of God to Hindus, the outrage over this passage is obvious.

Doniger: I do not “see” incest and adultery in the hymn referred to above; I quote the hymn, on p. 124, which refers not only to protection and safe delivery but to incest and adultery:

Some spells, like this spell to protect the embryo, are directed against evil powers but addressed to human beings, in this case the pregnant woman: The one whose name is evil, who lies with disease upon your embryo, your womb, the flesh-eater; the one who kills the embryo as it settles, as it rests, as it stirs, who wishes to kill it when it is born–we will drive him away from here. The one who spreads apart your two thighs, who lies between the married pair, who licks the inside of your womb–we will drive him away from here. The one who by changing into a brother, or husband, or lover lies with you, who wishes to kill your offspring–we will drive him away from here. The one who bewitches you with sleep or darkness and lies with you–we will drive him away from here. [10.162]

There is precise human observation here of what we would call the three trimesters of pregnancy (when the embryo settles, rests, and stirs). Though the danger ultimately comes from supernatural creatures, ogres, such creatures act through humans, by impersonating the husband (or lover! or brother!) of the pregnant woman.

My response: Doniger’s own response omits the next few sentences in this very paragraph on page 124 in her book. Referring to ‘this poem’ (Rigveda 10.162), she says:

More substantial is the early evidence in this poem of a form of rape that came to be regarded as a bad, but legitimate, form of marriage: having sex with a sleeping or drugged woman. It appears that a woman’s brother too is someone she might expect to find in her bed, though the Rig Veda severely condemns sibling incest.

So, Doniger does see ‘evidence of rape and incest’ mentioned in this verse. Actually, though, translating directly from Sanskrit, the verse does not state that the brother or anyone lies with the pregnant woman in her bed. Scholars studying this Mandala section of the Rig Vedas know that many items are addressed as human beings – herbs, amulets, gems, animals, malevolent spirits, germs, etc. So I believe strongly that Doniger misrepresents this particular verse and arrives on a conclusion not intended in its writing. It speaks to a disturbing pattern of surmising the most provocative, outrageous and sexual out of verses, texts and scriptures holy to a billion people globally. That would be objectionable enough, but being wrong in these interpretations makes it that much worse.

About

  • tarle_subba

    The “many positive” reviews in Indian magazines and newspapers, that Prof. Doniger refers to, come from those English language newspaper columnists who pride themselves on their “modern, secular values,” and none of whom have any academic or scholarly credentials to critique this book. The book, as has been pointed out by Dr. Shukla and others, is not only rife with errors of translation, unreliable citations, and misrepresentations, it is also full of juvenile double entendres, silly turns of phrases, and glib allusions to American popular culture. That some deracinated “global” Indians have also written good reviews of the book in American newspapers might make Prof. Doniger happy (not ignoring the fact that these reviewers happen to be her friends and collaborators) as it does the many Hindu-baiters less credentialed than her but that should not be the criterion to judge this book. Let me close with my own experience reading sections of the book: in the section on Muslim invasions of India, she writes (chucklingly) that the Muslim desecration and destruction of Hindu temples led to the construction of bigger and grander temples. Would she be allowed to get away with such a sick joke if she were to say that the destruction of the twin towers in NYC led to the construction of a taller tower that Americans can be proud of?

  • vkurien

    Wendy assigns dates like 19 CE, 45 CE and 52 CE to “visions of Jesus” and an alleged conversation that the alleged “Saint Thomas” had with Jesus.This is bad scholarship. You do not assign dates to fictitious events or hallucinations of characters who never existed. There have been three reports — one from Cornell University, one from Princeton and one from the Department of Labor — all pointing out that White women are the biggest beneficiaries of affirmative action. When one sees a person who pushes religious superstition as scholarship gets around quite a bit, one must agree that White women are indeed the biggest beneficiaries of affirmative action. Sad, but true.Congratulations to the author for highlighting the episode when Microsoft Encarta yanked Wendy’s article after carefully investigating charges of racism and factual inaccuracies and found them to be true. Wendy’s excuse that her book sold in India is not a strong argument. Most people in India buy books from “other sources” and not bookstores that document sales. So if you sell as little as a few thousand copies (usually done when you are a crony of the publisher), your book shoots up in ranking. I know quite a bit about the Indian book industry.Wendy should answer the point about Saint Thomas as that clearly proves her lack of scholarship.

  • OneMany

    Great article Dr. Shukla. Doniger’s alternative is not just another version of history, but perhaps more a reflection of her own perversions. If only these “experts,” knew the impact of their shoddy scholarship beyond the exclusive club of the ivory tower — and that too on topics they claim to “love.” Several of Doniger-O’Flaherty’s older, lascivious translations of Hindu scripture have found their way, not surprisingly, onto extremist websites which spread misinformation and hate against Hindus and Hinduism. Academic freedom absolutely, but not without academic integrity. Unfortunately in this case, it seems Doniger may have found an alternative meaning for “integrity” too.

  • goethean

    Aseem Shukla’s remarks don’t make much sense when compared to the contemporary relationship of Christianity to academia, or of Judaism to academia. Academics studying Christianity or Judaism have little fear of angry protests boycotting their book signings or of people throwing objects at them at public gatherings. His remarks only make sense when compared to the relationship between Islam and academia, which is frought with angry protests, fatwas, and frequent threats of violence. Shukla’s remarks make even more sense when seen in the context of Indian domestic politics, in which a conservative political party, striving to represent a religious majority, attempts to portray this majority as the hapless victims of political correctness and so-called ‘pseudo-secularism’ in order to generate righteous indignation among the devout and, consequently, to generate political success among their candidates. Westerners should firmly reject Shukla’s attempt to import the bloody communal politics of the Indian subcontinent into our cultural discourse.

  • sgqm2

    the funny part is that this women studied these gems of wisdom all her life solely to ridicule and did not attain an iota of the immense spiritual essence…

  • RRajgor

    Given the caliber of Mrs Donigers insight into Hinduism, a PHD no less, I think American Scholarship about Hinduism can scarcely descend to lower depths.. There is only one way to go… which is up. Her interpretation of the Hindu Religion is utter filth and garbage. For anyone to understand.. they need to think about a figure in their faith or ideas in their religion and warp them in the worst way they could image… This ladies and gentlemen is the high quality of Mrs Doniger and her acolytes. She would no dare to do this to any other religion due to immediate reprisal and punishment from it’s followers. I am not fundamentalist but have every right to stand up against a vicious and untrue depiction of my faith such as from this academic. Surely we can do better in America then this! It is a travesty of Education and a shame on American Academia. Fairness, Truth, Integrity and Honesty… no where to be seen in Mrs Donigers character.

  • synektix

    Sorry Goethean, but your logic isn’t making much sense to me. Given Dr.Shukla’s scrupulously fair and balanced approach despite the sense of outrage that he attempts to convey, I wonder by what stretch of creative imagination you see this essay as an attempt to import “bloody communalism.” Professor Doniger has been given space, on Dr. Shukla’s column, to speak in her defence when she has a column of her own on WP — where she is perfectly at liberty to say exactly what she pleases. It is we Hindus, no matter how reasonably and calmly we might present our views, who have to waltz around eggshells and apologize for the cardinal offense of being offended.Please — let’s not dial up the melodrama any more than warranted. What is at issue here is a book and what it says, and what some of us think about what it says. That’s it.Your attempt to draw parallels with Islamic fatwas and threats is ridiculous. Whatever be the rhetorical excesses of the fulminating fringe, academicians know full well that the Hindu majority wants to work out differences through mutual engagement and civil discourse. In fact, that is why some academicians are able to exercise such gravity-defying feats of interpretive latitude in the first place! Show me one Hindu religious leader in the US who advocates retaliatory violence in speech or action! Frankly, Hindu notions of what “tolerance” ought to entail have conditioned them over the years into a state of masochistic self-effacement — to the point where some of us genuinely believe that ONLY outsiders have the necessary objectivity to explain to us who we are and what we believe! Let’s shake ourselves free of this self-imposed infantilism!I have a message for those who uphold Professor Doniger’s right to her opinion –So do I. That is, as long as there is no danger of opinions masquerading as facts. The author does not title her book “My impressions of Hindus.” She calls it “An ALTERNATIVE HISTORY” of Hindus, and it recently was nominated for an award in the NON FICTION category. I dont think “Freedom of expression” should be construed as “Freedom from standards.” In any event, the one thing that I hope will emerge after we have discussed the book threadbare — is a constructive awakening, not just a festering sense of injury. I believe this book is merely a symptom of a process that has been many years in the making. When we Hindus learn to be more proactive than reactive, it will show us as having internalized some of the philosophy that we so passionately defend.

  • edicia

    Thank you Dr. Shukla for an eyeopener article. As described by scholars of various global cultures, experience provides richness of awareness, on top of an unbiased sincere curisity. Ms Doniger has achieved her goal of cheap popularity, by touching a subject that she does not understand but knows it shall get her what she is looking for. The futuristic world needs to be aware of many patterns as described by her act, in order to prevent the history from being rewritten.

  • djnimavat

    Prof. Doniger has done the service to Hindus by writing this book. I was not aware of the people who spare or bet their academic credentials to portrait Hinduism in a such a way that it can become best-seller and in return they become infamous!! Hindus as always are soft target because of our tolerant nature and anyone can take advantage of it. When I was child my grand parents taught me that it doesn’t matter if someone try to throw a dirt at SUN to obscure sunlight it falls back on the person’s face who threw it and even SUN doesn’t know about it. Why should we waste our energy behind this?? No matter how tortuous walk SNAKE is doing outside but when it goes to the “hole” it has to become straight in order to enter the hole. My point is very clear that no matter how much their views are obscured it is our silence will make them understand our position that we don’t care what’s your view point about our religion and historical belief.Can anyone show me at anytime that any Hindu has written portraying other religion in a manner that it hurts believer’s feeling or emotions???? Who knows the religion better believer or non-believer? It says a lot about our character and teaching of our “Sanatan Dharma”. No one is perfect, if someone made a mistake, hopefully they will realize and they will not repeat.Namaste and GOD BLESS YOU ALLDharmendra

  • vikaspriyanka

    Ms Doniger has no idea what she is talking about. May be she is being paid by Vatican for the false propaganda against Hinduism. People who have nerve to write an entire book on a religion, when they have no idea about it shows the shallowness of the writers these days. Anybody gets up from the sleep and writes a book. Anyway there are many writers whose only chance to gain popularity is to write these kind of self made stories and interpretations. They will not be able to bring bread to their table otherwise.

  • siddharthaban

    The emic and the etic are good terms to use in discussing Doniger’s work. It was Marx I think who said, “They shall be represented. But they shall not represent themselves.” Representation therefore is almost always an exercise in power … power to acknowledge certainly, to define, but also to distort, and to dismiss with faint praise. Not surprisingly, the later tend to be etic narratives which pretending to neutrality of perspective, actually strip the observed of dignity and beauty. This is largely the story of Western narratives about Asia and Africa, even today. Bernard Lewis on Islam and Wendy Doniger on Hindusim are not far apart and are exponents of this style. Their task as mandarins, not scholars it should be noted, is to reproduce a certain view of the world, not convey learning. They understand knowledge is based on social consensus – not evidence.I would make one other point. I am struck here as in so many other American narratives, by the essential “illogic” of India, Indians and Hinduism especially. If cultures are logical only to their adherents and less so or not at all to outsiders, India, Indians and Hinduism are hardly alone. Doniger’s book is situated in the way the world used to be ordered. Westerners and Easterners fell uncritically into their “natural” roles – the Westerner that of observer, critic, perhaps friend. And the Easterner into the role of the observed, or reverential student, receiver of wisdom, training, largesse.That is clearly changing… this thread is evidence. Cause surely for celebration! Kudos to the Post and Dr. Shukla for making this possible.Siddhartha Banerjee

  • vkurien

    It is amusing to see Goethean appears everywhere defending Wendy like a loyal servant (Wikipedia, Amazon, blogs, etc.). Everyone knows that Goethean is very loyal to Wendy and is most likely Jeffrey Kripal who was her student. Notice that no one who supports Wendy is able to find fault with the argument that she assigned dates to the so called mythical character called “Saint Thomas.” This point alone should tell you the inferior nature of Wendy’s scholarship.Wendy clearly gets her way solely because of affirmative action as proven by her assigning dates to “Saint Thomas” and his alleged conversation with Jesus. The Thomas Myth is one of the biggest crocks of history.

  • i_rampersad

    This is an absolutely stunning rebuttal to Doniger’s yet another attempt at demonizing Hindus and their faith. I am very grateful for Shukla’s response to her fiction. I want to ask the question: How come no American scholar dares to do the same with Islam? I feel very sure that it has not happened otherwise, if I were a betting persons, I would bet all that I would have heard about it as soon as it happened.

  • Intuitive1

    Ms. Doniger, most people including her colleagues I am sure now agree, is a pompous idiot and would be in serious trouble if she was interpreting scripture this way about any Abrahamic religion. She needs to be removed from her editorial positions in academic journals and should retire.Hindu organizations, such as HAF, need to take the lead in making Hindu scriptures (Vedas, etc.) more accessible to the lay person, a King James version if you will, and work towards making it the “official” translated version. This should also extend to prayers in temples in the US, which immigrant children have difficulty following and can’t relate to. They need to be understandable, like sermons in churches. Seminaries should be set up to teach this “method.” These seminaries should be open to Hindus from all backgrounds, and bring back the respect for these priests as vidhwans (wise), rather than people who have rote memorized chants. Most transliterated translations lose a lot in the translation. Therefore this would be a difficult but worthy task, and would preempt future Donigers. Heck, even Google does not translate Sanskrit.

  • NonPseudoSecularist

    Debate: Wendy vs. Hindu American Professionals”The Bhagavad Gita is not as nice a book as some Americans think Throughout the Mahabharata …Krishna goads human beings into all sorts ofQ. Should Hindu Americans keep quiet instead of engaging in debate ?

  • tarle_subba

    To Goethean: Check out the nature/art of Goethean conversation — So, please choose another internet moniker for yourself.

  • Kamala2

    This book is a direct lift from another infamous book called ”satya darshini written by a pastor in Andra Pradesh, India. Satya Darshini was written by a Pentecostal pastor and mainly used as a tool to convert hindus. Those who have read Ms. Doniger book should also read the infamous ”Satya Darshini” Ms. Doniger ideas, thought flow matches with that of the pastor’s. IMHO, she has not done even an iota of research on Hinduism she just copied it from Satya Darshini. What a Shame!!

  • Kamala2

    By not protesting to her crap, and behaving at our best only goes to show how we treat non-believers with respect. We did not carry sickles and swords asking for fatwa, tolerance is what we are known for, this comes from our faith.. May the Ram bless her with enough wisdom, and a clear mind to rewrite her work with facts and not fiction. May god bless her!!

  • bsingh21

    While I see many problems with Wendy Doniger’s scholarship, I feel good that her book has created general public more aware of such distortions of facts, and more scholars and intellectuals are taking on to challenges to bring out correct informmation.There is also a need to partner with academia in disseminating right information through right avenue.

  • VikramadityaZ

    Hardly unexpected to see goethean here as well. Won’t be surprising if its Doniger herself. goethean’s haughty dismissal of a well elucidated and very logical critic, as “communal” follows the time tested strategy of the likes of Doniger. Simply dismiss them as communal, fascist, fundamentalist Hindus with links to the Sangh parivar, and ignore any calls for meaningful debate. It is a reflection of our times that a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim can wear his/her religion up his/her sleeve. But any Hindu defending his/her faith against an extremely offensive and highly incorrect interpretation is promptly derided as communal.

  • Vikramaditya

    Hardly unexpected to see Goethean here as well. Won’t be surprising if its Doniger herself. Goethean’s haughty dismissal of a well elucidated and very logical critique, as “communal” follows the time tested strategy of the likes of Doniger. Simply dismiss them as communal, fascist, fundamentalist Hindus with links to the “Sangh Parivar”, and ignore any calls for meaningful debate. It is a reflection of our times that Christians, Jews, Muslims can wear their religion up their sleeve. But a Hindu defending his faith against an extremely offensive and highly incorrect interpretation is promptly derided as communal.

  • Zahlen9418

    The person, who is defending the book because it is a best seller in India (how much of a best seller can it be? – 10,000 copies in a country of a billion people) misses the whole point. This book has certain (not all) fundamental flaws and cannot be peddled as an ‘alternative history’ of the Hindus. She is a professor of religious studies. Very soon, this book will become the required reading for college students – presenting to them, Wendy’s biased, sophomoric and irreverent view of Hinduism. There should be a disclaimer accompanying the book saying that this book does not present Hinduism in a fair manner.

  • synektix

    Raja 1, welcome to this forum. Ive been having some trouble posting my response this morning, so I’m going to split this up into several parts and try again. Here is part 1.You are right. Most of the protest IS from Non Resident Indians — AS OF THIS TIME. And there is no “irony” involved whatsoever. You see, the outrage comes from people (with slightly more awareness of their faith and traditions than the average pop or kitsch version) who actually have read the book. The majority of these people happen to be NRIs, whose access to excellent libraries allows them to read a book before deciding if it is worth owning.In India on the other hand, there is a very narrow bandwidth of people who can afford to buy a doorstopper of a tome like this one. If the book is a bestseller among that population, so is Sidney Sheldon.You should listen to my uncle, who has a PhD. in Math from the University of Chicago. He chose to return to India to teach. He got this book as a gift from his son’s friend, and began it, eager to see what an author from his old school had to say about Hinduism. He says he tried to be patient in the beginning — and then, at one point, he closed the book, flung it clear across the room and walked away. Let me add that he’s no dour hater of all things Western — he still stays in touch with his American friends, and is passionately fond of Western Classical music. (End of Part 1 )

  • synektix

    (Part 2 of response to Raja 1 )You must also know very well that many people in India do not have easy access to the internet — so their relative lack of presence on these forums can hardly be construed as acceptance, much less a ringing endorsement of this book. It simply means that to them, Doniger is irrelevant.She is not irrelevant to Hindus in the West — not because we are “fundamentalists,”– but because her irresponsible and cavalier treatment of the subject AFFECTS the perception of Hindus by the majority non-Hindu population, and AFFECTS the self-image of second-and third-generation Hindu youngsters making their way through middle and high school who deal with the prejudice, ignorance and derision of their classmates. And don’t worry, I’m not suggesting Doniger is single-handedly responsible for all of that. I am saying that books like hers don’t exactly help.As to your point about tolerating individual narratives based on our scriptures, whether by Gurcharan Das or Shashi Tharoor or Ramesh menon, the difference in their case is that everyone is very clear that that is what the text IS. We KNOW that we are reading an “interpretation” or an “adaptation” or a “concatenation” of texts. None of those worthies writes in the same capacity as an anointed expert Professor of Indology who titles her book an alternative HISTORY.Look, I’m a big fan of late night shows on Comedy Central. I hugely enjoy Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and their irreverent skewering of politics and religion. They’ve satirized Hindu gods on their show — and nobody cares. It’s often silly, but it would be sillier to take offense. Now, if Doniger contributed a caricature to Saturday Night Live that would be one thing. To pass off caricature as serious scholarship — is quite another. ( End of Part 2 )

  • synektix

    Final Part 3 of response to Raja 1 )When I read indignant remarks in support of Doniger by people anxious to distinguish themselves as “secular” “tolerant” and “free-thinking” (implying, naturally that her critics are not )– I am reminded of a story my Grandfather told me.This happened some decades ago when he was traveling first-class by train on the south-bound GT Express. He was served a thali meal on the train. It was unspeakably atrocious — oily, too much chilli in the vegetables, sambhar like raw tamarind water. He had to throw most of it out.A short while later, the cabin attendant came by with a notebook and requested Grandfather to write something complimentary about the service. Grandfather thought for a while and wrote in his elegant cursive: “I have never in all my life tasted food like this — and I hope I never will again.” The attendant read the statement and a huge smile spread across his face. “Thank you sir! Thank you very much sir!” He evidently thought it was the most extravagant compliment anyone could have paid him!And so, in closing, I’ll say this: if some readers only “feel the love” radiating from Doniger’s writings and choose not to look beyond the perimeter of that happy haze, that is their prerogative. Some of us are more worried about ignorance than we are of being labeled. (End of final Part)

  • raja1

    It is ironic to see that most of the protest against this book is coming from NRI Indians living in America. In India, the book is a best seller and India itself is going through a fundamental shift in its own dialogue about what it means to be a secular state and a free society. Today, books on the scriptures like Gurcharan Das’ on Being Good and Rajesh Menon’s new translations of all the major Puranas, the Ramayana and the Shrimad Bhagwatam are doing well in their modern interpretations, as well as advertising showing Sachin Tendulkar as Lord Vishnu with a cricket bat in one hand and then right up to Shah Rukh Khan’s and bollywood’s recent handling of the Shiv Sena shows that we Indians are maturing in our examination of our religions and our traditions while our American siblings continue to want to pursue a more purist and disturbingly fundamentalist stance. All of these examples are assumed as part of free speech and free thinking in India. Every book store you go to across India, Wendy Doniger’s book is doing well and it is definitely a best seller. Perhaps it is time for our siblings in the US to relax a bit and allow for new discussions in the public square.

  • interfaithshaadi-org

    IS WENDY DONIGER A NEW “M.F. HUSSAIN?”On a side note, lets make sure our kids don’t get into interfaith relationships with such an “intolerant.” Educate them with http://www.InterfaithShaadi.org

  • kproad

    Kudos to Aseem Shukla for taking on Wendy Doniger in such a mature manner. By presenting clear arguments, he demolishes her attempt to defame Hinduism. Well done!

  • BShah

    A non-muslim wouldn’t be allowed to teach or comment on islam.This is bad practice. Someone who is not of the tradition, has no respect for the subject, no understanding of how its followed, can’t be an “expert” in it. Its common sense !The reason the book does well in India is, most buyers just see the name and aslong as its foreign, they assume its well researched ! Only in the west, were the NRI Indians have no “attraction” for the foreign name, do they analyze the contents and comment.

  • Zahlen9418

    ACItizen3 provides good points. Regardless – whether you are in the field or not, you have a right to protest when falsehood is presented as facts. Mahatma Gandhi endorsed satyagraha (truthforce). There is nothing wrong in using it in this instance where the ‘alternate history’ – a fiction is masquerading as real history.

  • mihirmeghani

    Great analysis by Dr. Shukla, & nice to see the Washington Post allowing a rebuttal & response by Doniger.

  • truth_prevails

    In response to the comments made by ACITIZEN3 – Check http://www.vedah.com for books featuring a recent translation of all the Vedas from Sanskrit to English. Professor Emeritus Kashyap (PhD Math from Harvard, followed by 36 years as Prof. of Electrical & Computer Engineering at Purdue) took early retirement and spent the past 10 years translating at the publishing house and philanthropic organization (SAKSI) he founded in Bangalore. This offers an insiders interpretation of the Sanskrit verses.

  • aCitizen3

    Three points – 1) There is a dearth of serious study of hindu/indic traditions from indians or hindus. There is no shortage of indian entrepenuers, doctors, financiers and so on – but you would be hard-pressed to find a single first rate intellect who has chosen to study hindu traditions or history or worship traditions. Most scholarship comes from the European or American academy, naturally such scholarship reflects their cultural biases and beliefs. So hindus and even the HAF would do well to ponder this point.2) Wendy Doniger is a chaired professor at a major US university. A person like that thrives on controversy, this is what their training is all about. It doesnt matter that her training in 3rd century AD sanskrit doesnt mean she understands anything about hinduism as a living tradition. It is a tremendous bonus for her that the “fundamentalist” hindus are attacking her – this enhances her standing in the community and the university. So some of the “upset” people should keep this in mind and understand what they are dealing with.3) Hindus would do well to look at academic jews and christians and understand how much effort is required to properly analyze and study faith traditions. It is not a job for a high-school-fail “guru” or part-time job for a professional on weekends. You will find 100s of high-performing PhD jews/catholics/protestants who spend their entire lives in studing these topics. So again, if hindus/indics want proper representation and understanding in the modern world, they need to invest in working towards that goal.

  • unarayanadas1

    I would like to add a postscript to my earlier comment: In India, the book is priced @ Rs 999/- per copy. To say that 10,000 copies were sold at the price is absurd. It is after all, not a Frederick Forsooth or a John Grisham novel. By making such preposterous claim, Doniger certainly did not enhance her credibility. It is, like her translations – far from truth. Alas, for her truth does not seem to matter just like the magazine that gave rave publicity to her and her book.

  • aCitizen3

    Truth_Prevails, Thank you for your reference to vedah.com. I will take a closer look at it.In the spirit of sharing other books that have made a serious and yet modern analysis of indic fundamentals, I would mention two of my favorites – 1) Kabir: The Weaver’s Songs – Vinay Dharwadker – Penguin Group (USA)2) The Bhagwad Gita, a translation by P. Lal (roli books)If we had many more such texts, and people were more familiar with them, the noise made by “tenured” radicals like Wendy Doniger would fall into proper perspective.

  • futuralogic

    Scholars cannot avoid unconsciously superimposing their own psychological and cultural conditioning on to their scholarship, by pre-selecting the topics of interest, by filtering the data, by viewing the data through linguistic and methodological lenses that suit a given agenda or private psychographics — all this in order to confirm a prior conceptual formulation.Limp Scholarship and Demonology

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