Vivekananda (was: IA migration etc., - scholarly debate)

Robert Zydenbos zydenbos at FLEVOLAND.XS4ALL.NL
Mon Mar 23 04:15:56 UTC 1998

Replies to msg 22 Mar 98: indology at (Paliath Narendran)

 dAE> Vidya wrote:

> ... In any case, V is hardly a person with purely local
> relevance

 dAE> V is widely admired in Kerala, and, from what I have read,
 dAE> this
 dAE> admiration cuts across religious and political boundaries,
 dAE> from
 dAE> conservative Hindus to Marxists to Christians and Muslims.

But what is the nature of that admiration? Has anyone cared to investigate why Vivekananda is admired? I would be very interested in hearing of scholarly researched work about V. that goes beyond the superficial level of noticing that his portret hangs in some schools and philosophy departments of colleges in India as well as in the homes of some people who have hardly, or never read him. Similarly, I would like to hear of serious scholars besides Paul Hacker who have critically gone through his work.

He went to Chicago a hundred years ago, said 'brothers and sisters of America' (only America?) and made a few speeches which, if we place them next to what common encyclopedias tell us about Hinduism or comparative religion today, contained an absolute minimum of substance. He wrote about Vedanta as the future religion, but the philosophical / theological level of the article is below that of popular 'new age' magazines today. I think we would not be wrong in believing that V.'s relevance today has little, perhaps nothing, to do with the quality of his writings and his thinking, but everything with the image that was built around him. -- And when I mention that this same V. has written: "Caste is good. Wherever you go, you will find caste," people do not become angry at him, but at _me_ for supposedly calumniating this great man. (I certainly hope that this anti-scholarly attitude will not spread through the Indology List.)

Only after some further study has been made of just how much of V.'s writing is actually read and discussed in India (and how it is) will we be able to form a proper judgment about whether _V._ really is admired, rather than the myth around him that catches people's imagination. Until then, any statements that _he_ is 'important', 'relevant', 'admired', etc. etc. are without scholarly significance.

 dAE> There is some irony here, since V once referred to Kerala as "a
 dAE> vast lunatic asylum".

Typical! But how many people in Kerala know this?

Robert Zydenbos
zydenbos at

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