Invading the Sacred

2007 book on Hindu Studies

Invading the Sacred: An Analysis of Hinduism Studies in America is a book published in 2007 by Rupa & Co. which argues that there are factual inaccuracies in Hindu studies. The editors of the book are Krishnan Ramaswamy, Antonio T. de Nicolás, and Aditi Banerjee.



Foreword by S.N. Balagangadhara

  • Here, India will be a global player of considerable political and economic impact. As a result, the need to explicate what it means to be an Indian (and what the ‘Indianness’ of the Indian culture consists of) will soon become the task of the entire intelligentsia in India. In this process, they will confront the challenge of responding to what the West has so far thought and written about India. A response is required because the theoretical and textual study of the Indian culture has been undertaken mostly by the West in the last three hundred years. What is more, it will also be a challenge because the study of India has largely occurred within the cultural framework of America and Europe. In fulfilling this task, the Indian intelligentsia of tomorrow willhave to solve a puzzle: what were the earlier generations of Indian thinkers busy with, in the course of the last two to three thousand years? The standard textbook story, which has schooled multiple generations including mine, goes as follows: caste system dominates India, strange and grotesque deities are worshipped in strange andgrotesque ways, women are discriminated against, the practice of widow-burning exists and corruption is rampant. If these properties characterize India of today and yesterday, the puzzle about what the earlier generation of Indian thinkers were doing turns into a very painful realization: while the intellectuals of Europeanculture were busy challenging and changing the world, most thinkersin Indian culture were apparently busy sustaining and defendingundesirable and immoral practices. Of course there is our Buddha andour Gandhi but that is apparently all we have: exactly one Buddha and exactly one Gandhi. If this portrayal is true, the Indians have butone task, to modernize India, and the Indian culture but one goal: to become like the West as quickly as possible.

Preface by Arvind Sharma

  • The controversy recorded in this book has generated much heat. But where there is heat there is also the possibility of light. Perhaps it will shine forth all the more if now the focus is turned towards resolving the pedagogical and epistemological issues raised by it, as it will then move the debate on to a plane where reasonable people might still differ but will have reasons clearer to all for doing so.

Section I: Exposing Academic Hinduphobia by Pandita Indrani Rampersad

  • RISA scholars condemn their Indian-American interrogators using no- holds-barred hyperbolic terms to label and silence them. They are accustomed to dealing only with certain categories of Indians, and when they meet Indians outside of these boxes, their attempts to apply their standard tools of domination fail, leading them to great frustration.
  • Malhotra notes that Freud spent his entire career studying European patients with pathologies in the lower chakras, hence his obsession in analyzing them solely in terms of their sexuality. Later, Jung studied Hinduism intensely and practised yoga, based on Patanjali’s texts. He claimed to have achieved states of emotional and spiritual consciousness associated with the fourth, fifth, and sixth chakras. This enabled him to break away from Freud (a significant historical development in Western thought) and thus help spiritualize Western science. He also reinterpreted Christian myths and their archetypes using a neo-Hindu worldview.176 Joseph Campbell and others continued this tradition that was initially respectful of Indic world views. As we will note in section IV, Jung’s followers like Joseph Campbell are seen as threats by Doniger from her second and third chakra worldview. She has launched ad hominem attacks on Campbell, in an attempt to discredit his ideas.
  • However, even Jung did not abandon Eurocentrism. Given his enormous influence over prominent Western thinkers for several decades, he helped to radically transform Western thought by appropriating Indic concepts. Malhotra notes that Jung’s followers erased the Indian influences on his works. And Jung, too, remapped Indian categories on to Greek-Abrahamic and his own original categories. Till the end, Jung denied the existence of the crown (seventh) chakra because non- duality and transcendence would refute the biblical reinterpretations he had developed. Therefore, by the end of his career, Jung had blocked off any such experiences and “started to impose pathologic glosses on yogic claims about states of consciousness associated with the seventh chakra”. He even discouraged his students from practising yoga, calling it dangerous for Westerners, and wanted to develop a special ‘new yoga’ for Westerners.

Section II: Storming the Fortress


Balagangadhara on the Biblical Underpinnings of ‘Secular’ Social Sciences, by S.N. Balagangadhara

  • Going deeper into the history of these disciplines (with respect to India) drove home some lessons very deeply: in both form and content, there was pretty little to differentiate between the Christian missionary reports of the eighteenth to twentieth centuries and the Indological tracts.
    • 124
  • Modern psychoanalysis of India, beginning with Carstair’s ‘The Twice Born’ through ‘The Oceanic Feeling’ of Mussaief-Masson (another Indologist using psychoanalysis to understand Indian religions), had already told our tale: Indian culture was ‘narcissistic’ (in the sense of ‘secondary narcissism’) and thus pathological in nature.
    • 124
  • Most of our so-called social sciences are not ‘sciences’ in any sense of the term: they are merely bad Christian theologies
    • 130
  • If this is true, it also helps us understand why both ‘conversion’ and the notion of ‘secularism’ jars Indian sensibilities. Somehow or the other, Nehruvian ‘secularism’ always connotes a denigration of Indian traditions; if you look at the debates in the EPW and SEMINAR and journals like that, one thing is very clear: none of the participants really understands what ‘secularism’ means. In India, ‘secularism’ is counter posed to ‘communalism’ whereas ‘the secular’, in European languages, has only one contrast—‘the sacred’.
    • 130-1

The Children of Colonial Psychoanalysis. Yvette C. Rosser

  • Freud viewed all human possibility through the lenses of the first (anal) and the second (procreative) chakras. In contrast, Indic thought aims to put the focus on higher chakras that represent more elevated or evolved states of consciousness.
    • 134
  • And indeed, many psychologists and non-psychologists, in particular anthropologists and Religious Studies academicians, have used Freudian analysis to offer facile and parochial explanations of the complexities of Indic civilization. Interestingly, this seems more prevalent in studies of India than in studies of other regions of the world.
    • 135
  • Ethnographic psychoanalysis may claim to enhance the understanding of non-Western cultures, but in actuality, it simply imposes Eurocentric constructs to describe the Other.
    • 135
  • For Doniger, too, this overwhelming desire to discredit any political identity for Hindus—leads to her eager approval of David White’s reductionist thesis on Tantra, not because she finds his evidence entirely convincing— she doesn’t—but because of the immense political and civilizational value of degrading uppity Hindus and taking them down a notch or two. Both Daly and Doniger seem to share a common anxiety about putting the Hindus in their proper place, lest their rebellious tendencies threaten the world order and/or academic stability.
    • 138
  • However, in today’s politically correct world of public proclamations, scholars are careful to apply this blanket reasoning only to the despised Hindutva-Hindus or to particularly iconic figures such as Sri Ramakrishna—both seen as contributing to a dangerous Hindu revivalism.
    • 139

Is There Prejudice in Hinduism Studies? A Look at Encarta by Sankrant Sanu

  • The first observation we make is that scholars who profess those faiths have written the articles on Christianity and Islam; this is not the case with Hinduism. While the topic of emic (insider) and etic (outsider) study is often debated within academia, we would expect Encarta to choose uniformly either the emic or etic view of the major religions.
  • While there is some evidence of prejudice on the part of Encarta’s author on Hinduism, it is not clear whether prejudice also exists in Encarta as well. Certainly, as the ultimate editorial authority, Encarta cannot evade responsibility for the situation, at the very least in the selection of authors and editorial oversight over prejudiced treatment in a sensitive topic like religion. However, Encarta may well have, knowingly or unknowingly participated in an environment of bias. An Eastern graduate student of Hinduism at a US university suggests a broader prejudice: “. . . in American academia it is politically incorrect to treat Hinduism in a positive light and it is taboo to deal negatively with Islam”.
  • We find that there are significant differences in the treatment of Hinduism vs. the treatment of Islam or Christianity in both, the selection of content and the attitude displayed in the writing—resulting in a distinctly negative portrayal of Hinduism vs. the other religions. We conjecture that the reason for this difference is related largely to the differences in choice in the selection of authors—whether they are emic or etic, and their area of interest or specialization in the religion they study. We also find that Prof. Doniger, the author of the Encarta article on Hinduism is controversial within the Hindu community. The authors of the article on ‘Islam’ and ‘Christianity’ have a mature and balanced viewpoint and they represent their religions in a way that the vast majority of adherents will find appropriate and positive.
  • As a result of the reasoned arguments above, and community activism spurred on by the publication of this article, Microsoft Corporation decided to change the article on Hinduism in Encarta. This change is reflected in its 2004 edition. The larger problem of prejudice in Hinduism studies in academia remains unchanged.

Paul Courtright’s ‘Ganesa, Lord of Obstacles, Lord of Beginnings’: An Independent Review, by Vishal Agarwal and Kalavai Venkat

  • What we are referring to is the complete Freudianization of Indological parlance, or lingo, by a small band of academics.
  • To conclude then, Courtright’s book may be considered as an example of excellent pornographic fiction, and also as an example of careless academic scholarship. It is therefore surprising that scholars in South Asian and Indology programs in the United States have praised the book and awarded it prizes. It makes one wonder if this is due to the fact that the level of scholarship in Indian and Hinduism studies is really substandard in American Universities.

Section III: Whistleblowers, Witch Hunters and Victims, Aditi Banerjee

  • Once the savagery of the Native is expertly ‘proven’, the story and discussion ends. The Natives’ inherent human right to defend their sacred sites and families in the face of white greed and aggression, and the huge discrepancy between White and Native atrocities, are never discussed. Drinnon writes: “Yes, the reader was asked to reflect, ‘Is it not too easy to be virtuous at a distance?’ A little cheap to forgive merciless savages when we ourselves have not suffered . . . at their hands?”16 The same appeal is made by Wendy’s Children to fair- minded Americans who may otherwise be swayed by the evidenc presented by the diaspora. The ‘others’ may have a point, they reluctantly acknowledge, but how can you judge us when we are being threatened—especially when you have not suffered at the hands of Hindu savages like we have? Thus, the model of the Savage Heathen versus the Civilized, so deeply embedded in America’s self-mythologizing, comes to life in the contemporary context.
  • Hindus are the latest in a long list of ‘savage’ minorities to be pitted against the ‘civilizing’ force of the America’s Manifest Destiny. Unlike the frontier struggles of the past, this is not a physical battle with literal bloodshed, but a battle of ideas, where indigenous traditions and ways of knowledge are sought to be decimated by Western tropes and ontologies (brought forth by academic ‘pilgrims’ venturing into foreign and exotic intellectual and cultural territory),....
  • He pointed out the tremendous difference between the missions of RISA and those of Islamic Studies faculty in America:65 Contrast this [RISA attitude of antagonism to the Hindu community] to the Study of Islam section of AAR. In its mission statement, the Study of Islam section recognizes the key role it has in shaping the understanding of Islam in public schools, universities, and in the public consciousness. They explicitly state that they need to contribute to the ‘public understanding of religion’ in general and of Islam in particular. This concern that Islam be understood in ways that are balanced and fair from both the emic and the etic perspective is seen in the various projects they take on. They created a website66 in order to deflect criticism of Islam after the terrorist attack on the WTC. Many scholars of Islam Studies have dedicated themselves to making Islam better understood in the West. Prof. Alan Godlas has created an award-winning website67 that is “intended to be of use for non-Muslim and Muslim students and teachers at all levels as well for members of the general public who wish to get a non-polemical view of Islam.” On his site, Godlas provides links to a number of other efforts by Study of Islam members to make Islam better understood and to present a positive spin on Islam.
  • He observed, regarding Islam: “It is clear that these efforts emerge because scholars of Islam in AAR, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, feel a responsibility to the community they study.” He asked, incredulously, Why are there no similar efforts by RISA? Where are the websites, public talks and statements, and books that try to provide a fair and balanced presentation of Hinduism and to correct misunderstandings of Hinduism in the public sphere (in the media, in schools, etc.)? On the contrary, he observed, “RISA scholars appear more interested in the exotic and erotic aspects that they identify in Hinduism. They appear more concerned with trying to highlight social problems in India which they blithely blame on Hinduism.” He concluded, “It is no wonder there is such disconnect between the Hindu community and RISA scholars.”
  • However, Rao observed that this facile advice from Emory, a leading Methodist Christian institution: presumes that the playing field in these matters is level. At present there are no Hindu equivalents for academic journals in the US, there are no Hindu presses and radio and television stations, no central body to represent Hindu interests and only one ‘infant’ Hindu university that can take on the might of well-endowed universities and their well-paid scholars.
  • It was disquieting to read Prof. Zydenbos’ recent post concerning the discussion on Indian secularism. The main purpose of his remarks seems to be to associate Prof. Balagangadhara and me with the anti-Muslim agenda of certain political organizations in Flanders and in India. He does not in any way address my arguments on secularism, but merely tries to discredit me by making insinuations about my political affiliations. This is unworthy of any intellectual. (Jakob De Roover, quoted in page 299)

Section IV: Media Images: Diasporic ‘Savages’ versus Academic ‘Victims’


University of Chicago Magazine: Obscuring the Issues by Yvette C. Rosser

  • Another key difference is that Mohler is backed by a formidable battalion of Biblical theologians who are ready, willing, and able to counteract one-sided and fanciful depictions the very moment such depictions come out. They comprise the Christian ‘home team’ of insiders in the establishment, with their own academic journals, PhD granting institutions, scholarly conferences, funding mechanisms, media connections, and even deep links to the US government. On the other hand, Hinduism simply lacks comparable institutional mechanisms and champions in the intellectual establishment.
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