Why non-Hindus need to write on Hinduism


Wendy Doniger in The Times of India:

William Dalrymple was in the chair at the London lecture on November 12, 2003, where someone lobbed an egg at me, missing me in more ways than one; in his article on Indian history he described the incident and continued: “Within India, mobs mobilized by the Hindu Right have occasionally attacked art exhibitions, libraries, publishers, and movie houses for their alleged unpatriotic and anti Hindu bias; but for the first time the campaign now seemed to be spreading onto campuses worldwide.” American scholars are the small fry in the larger global community at risk; we are relatively safe. But we too have our troubles.When books published by American scholars — Jeffrey Kripal, Paul Courtright, Jim Laine — were attacked in India, the Indian editions were suppressed, and although the books remained in print in America, the offending American scholars received death threats here.

In what I have now come to think of, wistfully, as the (good) old days, in illo tempore, whenever I gave a lecture on Hinduism, afterward, in the question period, an elderly Hindu gentleman (always a man) would rise, pay me an elaborate compliment, and proceed to give a mini-lecture of his own, often learned and sometimes relevant, as if to say, I know things that this American woman does not know. There was no malice in it, just, perhaps, an understandable desire to have the upper hand, the last word, or even, perhaps, to reclaim Hinduism for himself, a Hindu and a man. Usually he added something of value and of interest, and we would often continue the conversation after the lecture, at the reception. Sometimes it was just a ritual gesture, in which the content was largely irrelevant; it was the act of standing up, of claiming the space, that was important. That ritual gesture remains at the heart of the more recent interventions, but now there is certainly malice, and the people on the Internet are not nearly so learned as those old gentlemen used to be. I never thought I would miss those guys, but I would be greatly relieved to have some of them in my audiences now.

The Hindus who object to the books about Hinduism by non-Hindus are primarily concerned with three problems:

1. Non-Hindus rather than Hindus are writing about Hinduism;

2. Some non-Hindus (and indeed some Hindus, too) are writing about the “wrong sort” of Hinduism; and

3. Prominent authors, non-Hindu or Hindu, are writing from an academic rather than a faith stance.

More here.