AAR-RISA -- Diaspora Hinduism

Kumar at pixie.udw.ac.za Kumar at pixie.udw.ac.za
Mon Feb 10 12:03:00 UTC 1997

AAR -RISA Panel on Diaspora Hinduism: Theoretica Issues

Dear Colleagues,

I am looking for panelists on the above topic at the next AAR-RISA. Here is
some background of what I am attempting to do in that session.

After more than 200 years of the study of religion by academic scholars, we
have not yet adequately grappled with the reality of religious diversity
generally, and the plurality within each religious tradition in particular.
Study of Hinduism during the last two centuries by and large remained
caught up within the discourse constructed by the materials drawn from the
written texts.  Recently, however, text centered discourses are coming
under critical review by religionists.  (e.g.,).  In the mean time,
postmodernist discourse in social sciences has begun to radically redefine
what is meant by "text."  Is it merely a written text?  Or can text mean
more than the written word?  Such questions are beginning to become
important for the study of religion in general and I think for the study of
Hinduism specially.  We know more now as to how early discourse on Hinduism
was constructed by classicists under the influence of the Enlightenment.
This point has been labored by scholars sufficiently and we need not harp
on it for too long.  What we need is a sustained program of research to
bring into the main stream of academic study the areas that are neglected
up until now.  One of these areas is the Hinduism practised among the
diaspora communities.

Studying diaspora Hinduism systematically in close cooperation with
scholars who are engaged in the study of such phenomena within India is
bound to alter how we understand and define what has been rightly or
wrongly called Hinduism.  It is bound to raise the question whether
Hinduism meant only the Brahmanical traditions found in the Sanskritic
literature or does it include the various rituals, myths, legends, stories
and folklore which the diaspora Hindus have carried with them and
perpetuated those in their adopted lands.  It is also bound to problematize
the hither to held distinction between higher Hinduism (philosophical) and
lower Hinduism (popular/ritualistic) which even in the anthropological
discourse is becoming antiquated.  Furthermore, it is also bound to call
into question the methodologies that we have become used to in the study of
Hinduism.  That is, the so called armchair study of Hinduism which is
confined to written texts in cosy offices, has to come to grips with the
laborious wanderings on the dusty roads of rural India.  It is no longer
the exclusive territory of anthropologists.

It is against this background I shall examine the limits of our
understanding of Hinduism as we currently hold, and argue in favour of a
more holistic approach to the study of Hinduism in all its various forms.
This would include in a significant way the diaspora Hinduism.


Prof. P. Kumar (Associate Professor)
Head of Department of Science of Religion
Director - Centre for Asian Studies
University of Durban-Westville
Private Bag X 54001
South Africa
Tel: 031-820-2194
Fax: 031-820-2160
Email: kumar at pixie.udw.ac.za

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