I had the good fortune to be able to accompany a group of my students on a short-term study abroad trip to India last year. It’s perhaps no surprise that, while there, I consumed a lot of Indian food. On the surface, that last sentence may seem rather ridiculous if only because it seems so obvious — much like saying “While in India, I saw Indian things!” But an event on our trip forced me to reconsider just how simple that observation really is, and where the parameters surrounding “authentic” and “traditional” cultural labels really lie. Continue reading “Pizza Hut: The Best Indian Food Around”
The controversy surrounding Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History reemerged today with word that Penguin India has agreed to withdraw and destroy copies of the book in India to settle a lawsuit alleging that Doniger’s book hurt the religious sentiments of “millions of Hindus”. (The full text of the legal complaint is available online.) The response from scholars in the United States has been anger and shock over Penguin’s decision and concern over the freedom of expression in India. While much can be said on many issues, what intrigues me here is the shifting assumptions in the contested definition of Hinduism. Continue reading “Reversing Roles in the Definition of Hinduism”
Did you see Google’s new ad, released not long ago and which is part of their Google India strategy? It’s quite effective. Continue reading “Selling the Human”
A graduating senior in our Department recently wrote a very nice blog post, for our Department’s site, on how disappointed a friend of hers, whom she had met while traveling in India, was when discovering a Buddhist monk using a cell phone. (Read her blog post here.) I posted a link to the article on a Facebook group devoted to the History of Religions — a group that, despite being some people’s preferred technical name for our academic discipline, has attracted a diverse membership. Someone in the group, having read the post, soon commented on how a monk with a cell phone was evidence of decay in religions. Continue reading “In the Eye of the Beholder”
How can people portray revered figures, like the icon of Mary and Jesus above from Ethiopia? News reports from Jharkhand in eastern India have described a conflict over a statue of the Virgin Mary. (View an image of the statue here.) Some leaders of the Sarna community, what is often labeled a “tribal” community in India, have complained that the statue depicts her in the traditional dress of the Sarna and with a dark complexion. Some have speculated that the image is designed to confuse the local population into associating the statue with the local goddess Sarna Ma, thus encouraging conversion to Christianity. Sarna who identified as Christians assert their right to present Mary in dress that they associate with their heritage. Subsuming local divine figures into a different configuration to facilitate conversion is often described as a common practice in different historical and regional contexts. Continue reading “Strategic Images”
“While British colonial administrators fabricated ‘Indianness’, Hindu intellectuals were formulating Hinduness by resorting to ‘strategic syncretism’. According to Christophe Jaffrelot, this involved ‘structuring one’s identity in opposition to the Other by assimilating the latter’s prestigious and efficacious cultural characteristics’: ‘The appearance of an exogenous threat awakened in the Hindu majority a feeling of vulnerability, and even an inferiority complex, that justified a reform of Hinduism borrowing from the aggressor its strong points, under the cover of a return to the sources of a prestigious Vedic Golden Age that was largely reinvented but whose “xenology” remained active’.*… In short, the reinterpretation of India’s ‘Hindu’ past by the nationalists and their instrumentalisation of ‘tradition’ for militant political purposes have for nearly a century sustained a political identity unprecedented in the cultural landscape of the sub-continent, by incorporating foreign representations into Hinduism — e.g., egalitarian individualism, proselytisation, ecclesiastical structures — and by seeking to ‘homogenise in order to create a nation, a society that is characterised by extreme differentiation’.** On the Indian political chessboard, the celebration of a golden Vedic age is a mere fig-leaf concealing modernity, like the versions of African ‘authenticity’ that developed in the wake of the colonial invention of tradition…” (37-38)
* Christophe Jaffrelot, Les Nationalistes hindous (Paris: Presses de la Foundation Nationale des Sciences Politiques, 1993, p. 24, 41).
** Ibid., 83-4.
[This is one of an ongoing series of posts, quoting from Bayart’s The Illusion of Cultural Identity, that further documents the theoretical basis
on which Culture on the Edge is working.]
During the 1800’s, British colonizers identified particular conflicts as being “religious,” a description that many now describe as part of the British strategy of Divide and Rule. Scholars have noted examples of British accounts of “religious conflict between Hindus and Muslims” whose details, as the British recorded them, actually undermined such assertions, as participants whom the records identified as Hindus and Muslims participated on both sides of specific conflicts. Continue reading “Why religious hatred?”
A video that focused on religion among the urban middle class in India a couple of years ago illustrates what happens when people discuss problems with applying the category “religion.” The journalist quotes Ashis Nandy, an internationally recognized scholar, who brings up the problems applying the category “religion” to the context of India (starting at 3:52). Continue reading “Whose Interests Are Served?”
Midway through the Spring semester of 2013, Leslie Dorrough Smith (on the right of the photo) accompanied a group of undergraduate students from Avila University to a variety of cities in India, including Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. The study abroad course in which the students were enrolled focused on issues of social justice. Read a post by Leslie here, discussing how, when some people (e.g., North Americans) travel to such locales, they report witnessing exploitation all around (such as the women Leslie reports who would let tourists hold their children for a picture–but for a fee). “We only see it as exploitation,” Leslie concludes, “because we have the luxury of doing so, to put it simply.”