If there is one North American academic who gets the Hindu right all riled up, it is Sanskrit authority Wendy Doniger. I too have been on the wrong side of the Hindutva gang (a shorthand they despise), particularly in the early days of the South Asian Journalists’ Association list-serv, when I spent many a long night e-debating over the significance of demolished temples.
I wonder where I will stand with them now that my review of Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History is posted on the Globe & Mail website. Here is an excerpt from the review:
Many Hindus live in a sort of religious hyper-vigilance, like post-traumatic stress disorder survivors, waiting for the next attack. The trauma was the British colonial experience, where their religion was seen as merely a grotesque series of idols. Abolitionist William Wilberforce was not alone in thinking Hinduism “mean, licentious and cruel.” Like Sita, the heroine of the Ramayana who must prove her purity to her husband Rama many times, Hinduism is constantly under trial.
It is to this maelstrom that Doniger brings her skeptic’s eye, more interested in what can be teased out of stories than revelation as a fact. She is careful to state frequently that readers who are expecting a thorough understanding of Hinduism as a living faith should look elsewhere. Her agenda, she explains, is different: “It’s not all about Brahmins, Sanskrit, the [Bhagavad] Gita.”
The Globe and Mail review is the first in Canada, following Pankaj Mishra in the New York Times and Michael Dirda in the Washington Post (a very short excerpt from The Hindus is also on the WaPo site as well as blog posting by Doniger, ‘The Battle over Hindu History’).
Arthur Dewdney has, in turn, reviewed Mishra and Dirda on the SAJA Forum (he criticizes Mishra for writing a ‘hodgepodge’ of a three graf intro; I disagree, his intro with its E.M Forster reference is meant to entice NYT readers to not skip over his review). Another worthwhile discussion took place on Chapati Mystery, which was surprisingly followed up by a response from Doniger herself.
However, I think the really interesting reviews are yet to come when the book is released in India.