Theoretical Issues

Sun Feb 23 16:02:33 UTC 1997


   Re: Theoretical Issues

Dr. P. Kumar wrote: 

> AAR -RISA Panel on Diaspora Hinduism: Theoretical Issues


> 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.

I am currently reading two nice studies on Chidambaram, the abode of
Nataraja. 1) David Smith, The dance of Siva: religion, art and
poetry in South India, Cambridge university press, 1996
2) Paul Younger, The Home of Dancing Sivan, Oxford university press, 1995

Younger starts his Conclusion as:
"Hinduism is a religion of temples. The picture sometimes still found
in textbooks, which described Hinduism developed around a reading of
the Vedas, was the result of Western Protestant scholars who described what
they wished Hinduism had become".

The comforts of arm chair indology are great. But studying only
few texts, one script, explaining matters with the theory of the day etc., 
have to be changed  if India's true diversity of traditions have to be
grasped. For instance, how many good art history books are written,
how many books on Telugu literature are written? Ah, that involves
going there, involves time, true commitment, etc.,

N. Ganesan

> 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.

Very very true.

N. Ganesan

> 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.
> Pratap
> +----------------------------------------------------------------+
> 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
> Durban
> 4000
> South Africa
> Tel: 031-820-2194
> Fax: 031-820-2160
> Email: kumar at

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