N S Rajaram’s Review-DailyPioneer
Children of a dead god
The book seeks to analyse the causes and effects of academic Hinduphobia in the US, writes NS Rajaram
Invading the Sacred: An analysis of Hinduism studies in America, Krishnan Ramaswamy, Antonio de Nicolas & Aditi Banerji (Edited), Rupa, Rs 595
Like anthropology, Indology is a colonial creation. While anthropology has acquired a degree of respectability by allying with empirical disciplines like archaeology, Indology remains rooted in its colonial past. During its brief existence, Indology has rested on two pillars – the Aryan invasion/migration myth and the Hindu religion. For almost 150 years the Aryan myth and its offshoots remained the most visible face of Indology. Six decades after the collapse of Nazi Germany the myth is now in its last gasp, despite a last ditch effort by a few fringe groups to keep it alive in the guise of Indo-European studies and philology. It is a sign of things to come that Cambridge and Berlin have shut down their Indology programmes.
With the collapse of the Aryan myth, the other wing of Indology targeting the ‘heathen’ Hindu has moved to the centre-stage. Its home is no longer Europe, but American academia. Its most visible member is Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty, a professor of religion at the University of Chicago. The agenda of O’Flaherty and her camp followers – Jeffrey Kripal, Paul Courtwright and others (commonly known as ‘Wendy’s Children’) – is to project almost all Hindu beliefs and practices as rooted in sexual fantasies by applying what they claim to be ‘Freudian analysis’. The result is a grotesque caricature of Hindu thought and literature as a pornographic parade.
To these Hinduism scholars, Freudian psychology serves the same role that ‘race science’ did for Arthur de Gobineau and Houston Chamberlain – the founding fathers of the Aryan master race theory. In language and style, Doniger O’Flaherty and her ilk are a throwback to Julius Streicher and his Nazi propaganda sheet, Der Strummer, published 70 years ago. (The same holds for Michael Witzel and his Indo-Eurasian Research, but that is a different story.) As always, such an exercise reveals more about the state of mind of the perpetrators than the subject they claim to be writing about. For these academics, ‘Hinduphobia’ – a word coined by Rajiv Malhotra – has replaced anti-Semitism of the Aryan invasion/migration theorists.
Invading the Sacred is a collection of scholarly articles that seeks to analyse the causes and effects of academic Hinduphobia. The contributors represent a wide range of disciplines from religion and philosophy (Sharma, De Nicholas and Balagangadhara) to education and mass communication (Yvette Rosser, Indrani Rampersad and Ramesh Rao), and clinical psychology (Roland and Ramaswamy). This broad representation has allowed the claims of Hinduphobic scholars to be put to test using the very tools they claim to be using in their analysis.
The self-proclaimed knowledge of Freudian psychology of these Hinduphobic writers is not taken seriously by practicing psychologists represented in Invading the Sacred. It simply serves as a fig leaf to give them the licence to give a sexual twist to everything in Hindu literature and practice while invoking Freud as authority. It is not much different when it comes to the sources: Their familiarity with the subjects they claim to be writing about ranges from weak to non-existent. This is true especially of their knowledge of Indian languages and literature. All this is a testimony not only to their shoddy scholarship, but also intellectual hypocrisy.
To their credit, the contributors to Invading the Sacred refrain from polemics by taking the scholarly high ground, and analyse their subjects (including their authors) on the merits and demerits of their work. One of the contributors (Balagangadhara) makes the perceptive observation that the social sciences and the humanities in the West are rooted in Christian theology. And for this reason, in rhetoric and conclusions, these scholars are often indistinguishable from Christian missionaries of a hundred years ago.
Their missionary roots are on display in another of their claims – that these Hinduphobic scholars are only helping to “cleanse” Hinduism of its sins, presumably because the degraded Hindus are incapable of doing it themselves. This is no different from the missionary heaping abuse on the heathens to save their souls from eternal damnation. The more things change, the more they remain the same.
In this situation, anti-Hindu bias is inevitable even though denied by academics who proudly flaunt their Marxist and/or Freudian colours. To counter this, Arvind Sharma in his informative preface makes a long overdue suggestion: Why not use statistical methods to test their claims of being unbiased. After all, statistics has proved its mettle in analysing such problems. Bias detection is a well understood statistical technique.
In the final analysis, these Hinduphobic scholars’ ‘scholarly’ contributions will prove no more lasting than that of the Aryan theorists before them. The real question is what drives their visceral anti-Hinduism? Or as Shakespeare asked about those who murdered Julius Caesar: “What private griefs these men have,” for their behaviour cannot be explained on rational grounds.
Chapter 10 (It’s All About Power) takes a step towards answering the question by pointing out how these scholars feel insecure that Hindus in the West are succeeding in the professions and may soon topple them from their self-appointed positions of intellectual superiority. To make things worse, Hindus are succeeding without losing their spiritual moorings.
More than a century ago Nietzsche, in his Thus Spake Zarathushtra, diagnosed their malady: Their god is dead. The resulting spiritual vacuum, he warned, would be filled by what he called “barbaric brotherhoods”. The following century was to witness several of these – Fascism, Communism and Nazism, each with its own underlying secular theology. Academic Hinduphobia, like anti-Semitism, is an outgrowth of this spiritually barren landscape.
In the face of this we should see these not as ‘Wendy’s Children’, but the children of a ‘dead god’, Wendy included.
— The reviewer is a scientist and historian. His latest book is Sarasvati River and the Vedic Civilization: History, science and politics