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Invading the Sacred: An Analysis of Hinduism Studies in America Hardcover – July 1, 2007


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 545 pages
  • Publisher: Rupa & Co; 1st edition (July 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 8129111829
  • ISBN-13: 978-8129111821
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.2 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #753,249 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

Nearly a century ago, some believed that Indian art constituted multiheaded monsters and horrendous sculpture with multi arms. An animated and well informed response came from Sri Aurobindo, A.K. Coomaraswamy and E.B. Havell. Not only was a corrective ensured in the comprehension of a complex multilayered culture, also it initiated a serious and in depth studies of the dimensions of the mythic image in many cultures where cosmogony and cosmology is encoded in the mythic narrative and the symbolic visual image. Eliade s work assumes importance as a pioneer of such studies, withstanding recent critiques of his work. As general editor of the Encyclopedia of Religions published in USA, he sought to place the diversity of religions, traditions both from within the context of the particular tradition but also in a comparative context. Against the background of this limited reference to the historiography of the interpenetrative domains of myth, artistic manifestation and studies on religion and the religious, one has been dismayed to find that certain scholars nearly five to eight decades later should confine themselves to the interpretation of the complex multilayering of the mythical , iconic, and symbolic image through a single perspective of a Freudian psycho-analytical approach applied to the exclusion of the others. Also there is a sense of bewilderment when one notes that rather outdated and almost passe theories of the psycho-analytical are being applied, when the discipline has taken in many more penetrative paths. The question then arises why some academics in some departments have chosen to undertake such studies with a single-minded pursuit of reading myth and symbol at particular level i.e. sexual. This exclusive preoccupation could have been overlooked or contested and a healthy discourse begun, had it not been for the fact that scholarship and cognitive tools are being used for purposes other than intellectual or scholastic. This brings up issues of organizational structures of empowerment of certain ideological positions, and the consequent potential of influencing young minds not exposed to alternate interpretations. Exclusion of such material from reading lists appears to be motivated by considerations other than purely academic. The space for intellectual enquiry shrinks verging on dogmatism of a particular view point. In turn such subtle or not so subtle strategies become the instruments of creating deep fissures in the socio-cultural fabric of a democratic country like USA with the rhetoric of upholding the values of multiculturalism. Doubts arise whether at the ground reality it is not a case (at least judging from this debate) of a deeply entrenched subscription to the validity of assessing all plurality through a single parameter of mono culture. The essays in the volume reignite a debate which has politico historical antecedents. They bring to fore the varied dimensions of comprehending world views , mythic narratives, visual imagery and socio-religious cultural movements at the level of comprehension of text, academia legitimatization and organizational mobilization. It is hoped that the volume will be read with serious interest and introspection. Both S.N. Balagangadhara and Arvind Sharma have broadly outlined these issues in their respective contributions. As a former member of the US academy although intermittently over a half century, I have been bewildered and nonplussed, at the turn of gaze and the narrowing of gaze, which seems to have taken place in the departments of religious studies. I hope that the infection will not spread to other disciplines where one has enjoyed utmost freedom in a participating in some of the most stimulating intellectual discourses. --Kapila Vatsyayan, Academic scholar and Rajya Sabha member<br /><br />The religious landscape of America has changed --Kapil Kapur, Former Chair of Department of English, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Delhi; Former Dean of School of Languages, Literature and Cultural Studies, JNU; Former Pro Vice Chancellor, JNU; Presently Chief Editor of Encyclopedia of Poetics

Nearly a century ago, some believed that Indian art constituted multiheaded monsters and horrendous sculpture with multi arms. An animated and well informed response came from Sri Aurobindo, A.K. Coomaraswamy and E.B. Havell. Not only was a corrective ensured in the comprehension of a complex multilayered culture, also it initiated a serious and in depth studies of the dimensions of the mythic image in many cultures where cosmogony and cosmology is encoded in the mythic narrative and the symbolic visual image. Eliade s work assumes importance as a pioneer of such studies, withstanding recent critiques of his work. As general editor of the Encyclopedia of Religions published in USA, he sought to place the diversity of religions, traditions both from within the context of the particular tradition but also in a comparative context. Against the background of this limited reference to the historiography of the interpenetrative domains of myth, artistic manifestation and studies on religion and the religious, one has been dismayed to find that certain scholars nearly five to eight decades later should confine themselves to the interpretation of the complex multilayering of the mythical , iconic, and symbolic image through a single perspective of a Freudian psycho-analytical approach applied to the exclusion of the others. Also there is a sense of bewilderment when one notes that rather outdated and almost passe theories of the psycho-analytical are being applied, when the discipline has taken in many more penetrative paths. The question then arises why some academics in some departments have chosen to undertake such studies with a single-minded pursuit of reading myth and symbol at particular level i.e. sexual. This exclusive preoccupation could have been overlooked or contested and a healthy discourse begun, had it not been for the fact that scholarship and cognitive tools are being used for purposes other than intellectual or scholastic. This brings up issues of organizational structures of empowerment of certain ideological positions, and the consequent potential of influencing young minds not exposed to alternate interpretations. Exclusion of such material from reading lists appears to be motivated by considerations other than purely academic. The space for intellectual enquiry shrinks verging on dogmatism of a particular view point. In turn such subtle or not so subtle strategies become the instruments of creating deep fissures in the socio-cultural fabric of a democratic country like USA with the rhetoric of upholding the values of multiculturalism. Doubts arise whether at the ground reality it is not a case (at least judging from this debate) of a deeply entrenched subscription to the validity of assessing all plurality through a single parameter of mono culture. The essays in the volume reignite a debate which has politico historical antecedents. They bring to fore the varied dimensions of comprehending world views , mythic narratives, visual imagery and socio-religious cultural movements at the level of comprehension of text, academia legitimatization and organizational mobilization. It is hoped that the volume will be read with serious interest and introspection. Both S.N. Balagangadhara and Arvind Sharma have broadly outlined these issues in their respective contributions. As a former member of the US academy although intermittently over a half century, I have been bewildered and nonplussed, at the turn of gaze and the narrowing of gaze, which seems to have taken place in the departments of religious studies. I hope that the infection will not spread to other disciplines where one has enjoyed utmost freedom in a participating in some of the most stimulating intellectual discourses. --Kapila Vatsyayan, Academic scholar and Rajya Sabha member

The religious landscape of America has changed radically over the last four or five decades, but many have not yet internalized the dimensions and the scope of the change. Throughout history the United States has been dominated by the influence of Christianity. At the same time, the Constitution of the United States has enabled a plurality of ways to flourish because of its strong stand for freedom of conscience. Hindus bring something unique to America a theology of religious pluralism in keeping with the ancient Rig Vedic saying 'Truth is one; the wise call it by many names.' We Hindus are fortunate to have had the opportunity to build Hindu Temples all over the United States. The Temple is a sacred place just as other places of worship such as Churches, Synagogues, and Mosques. Unfortunately, some Temples have been subjected to discrimination and undue interference from courts although there acts are much against the Constitution. Hindu forms of worship are ridiculed, derogated and even labelled as 'cults'. Hindu symbols and icons have been ridiculed and passages from Hindu scriptures are misquoted and misrepresented. Hindu Deities are subjected to mockery and temples vandalism. Tragically, it is not just right-wing evangelical groups that alone vilify Hinduism. The American academy has also played a key role by demonizing Hindu conceptions of the divine and Hindu religious figures, and by trivializing and denigrating revered Hindu symbols and icons. This is done often under the guise of (ethnocentric and non-reproducible) Freudian "analysis", besides outright misquoting of Hindu scriptures and fabrication of data. Thus rather than challenge the bigotry of some in the majority community, such scholarship has striven hard to reinforce and lend respectability to these prejudices, and ignored calls for open debate. It is truly commendable that several distinguished scholars in this book have carefully evaluated and documented the facts and have asked for open investigation of cases of hate and fabrication. As a Hindu-American, I am proud and grateful for the courageous call for openness and debate in this book. Both the academy and American pluralism stand to benefit from this book. --Dr. Uma Mysorekar, President of Hindu Temple, Flushing, New York

About the Author

Krishnan Ramaswamy is a scientist with a background in psychometric research. He is a student of the Vedas, Vedanta, Sanskrit and Panini. Antonio T. de Nicolas is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Aditi Banerjee received a B.A. in International Relations, magna cum laude, from the Tufts University, and J.D. from Yale Law School. She is practicing attorney in New York.

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Overall, I am both glad that this book was written and that i bought and read it.
Vijay Krishna
The book is difficult to put down (though it is fairly difficult to hold it up as well!).
Sanjay Agarwal
It is well supported by references, and written in an academic but very readable style.
A Spiritual Seeker

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Sanjay Agarwal on September 14, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is a difficult book for several reasons: 1. a large part of the discussion is fairly technical. 2. The subject matter is quite revolting for most practicing Hindus. 3. The book is quite large, over 450 big size pages, with a lot of text.

However, if you can manage to go through it, the effort would be worth the reward. The prose is crisp, fairly non-emotional, and intellectually engaging. The book is a compilation of essays by different persons, so you get a decent variety in terms of writing styles as well.

The book is divided into four main sections. Section 1 deals with the bias in one wing of American Academy of Religions (AAR). Section 2 sets out the Hindu American response to the bias, once the bias was exposed. Section 3 details out the vicious fight that followed. Section 4 provides a snapshot of how the media dealt with the issue. Each section has several chapters, a total of 29 chapters in all. Four appendices are given, followed by copious notes containing references and interesting sidelights.

The book has been typeset and bound in India. There are some proofing errors, and other editing goof-ups. For instance, often you can't figure out who has contributed a particular essay (Chapter 11, 12, for instance). Similarly, it is not clear as to what do the notes on pages 469-472 relate to. This is to be expected as Indian publishing is in its infancy, and newer publishing houses do not have access to high quality editorial or proofing services.

However, the quality of the discussion is of a very high standard, quite unlike what we found in Eminent Historians by Sh. Arun Shourie, which was also full of repetitions. The arguments are cogent, and mostly have been presented very well. There is some repetition here also, but not too much.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By A Spiritual Seeker on July 29, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is an eye-opening book describing the systemic - and often very personal - prejudice against Hinduism in American academia. It is well supported by references, and written in an academic but very readable style. Invading the Sacred highlights the arrogance of an agenda-driven academia at formerly (by myself) respected universities such as the University of Chicago and Emory University.

It also tells the captivating story of how members of the Hindu Diaspora finally rose up against powerful interests to protest the befouling of their religion. It appears the battle has just begun, so this book is also an extremely effective handbook for teachers and students of comparative religion and Hinduism.

While reading Invading the Sacred, I found myself deeply disgusted by the words and actions of these university professors. I was also inspired by the courage and calmness of certain academics and Hindu professionals who are fighting for a balanced treatment of Hinduism in the U.S. education system. The entrenched professors continue with their ad hominem attacks and attempts to suppress free dissemination of truth - while the Hindu side gives a reasoned, referenced, and academic response.

If I detailed the completely disproven claims about Hinduism made by these `leading' professors, this review would probably be censored. Imagine the worst possible pornographic and incestuous claims made about Jesus Christ and his mother Mary, and it will give you an idea of what these leading lights of American academia are trying to foist on Hinduism.

One chapter systematically compares the treatment of Hinduism to Christianity and Islam in a popular dictionary written by these academics.
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Raman Khanna on August 23, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Invading the Sacred arrives at a very important time. India remains in the grips of an upswing in economic and political fortunes, and this has breeded a certain triumphalism amongst our Hindu community, especially the diaspora. It is easy to believe all the headlines, and forget in this context the numerous issues that remain for Indians to confront, both internally--the threat from poverty, a widening income gap, corruption, and political incompetence--and externally--the threat from various other nations, corporations, and nonbusiness organizations determined to use or exploit India to their own ends. This book has done a wonderful job of exploring and highlighting one of these issues.

Invading the Sacred tells the story of how American scholars of Hinduism have long been free to write whatever they wish about the religion, with minimal input or feedback from practitioners, until very recently, when the Hindu community began to take notice of what was being written. This book details the sexualizing, trivializing, and even dehumanizing extremes to which Hinduism studies has occasionally gone in describing its "object", and it also details the multivarious Hindu response to these extreme mischaracterizations. It spends most of its time discussing the works of religion professors like Paul Courtright, Jeffrey Kripal, Sarah Caldwell, and above all, Wendy Donniger, who in the 80s and 90s became very influential in their fields while (and perhaps by?) hawking theoroes of Hinduism that emphasized to ridiculous extents (and with fleeting evidence) sexual and fringe practices within the tradition, based largely on discredited Freudian motifs.
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