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

Robert Zydenbos zydenbos at FLEVOLAND.XS4ALL.NL
Wed Mar 25 23:20:30 UTC 1998

Replies to msg 24 Mar 98: indology at (Luis Gonzalez-Reimann)

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

 rBE> But, is this really a valid parameter?

It is one of a few possible valid parameters. But when one is drawn into a discussion / polemic by a person who claims that he knows what Vivekananda has written and that this is what makes him 'relevant' etc., or similarly if an innocent member on the Indology List says that I seem "unscholarly" because I appear to deny the "quality and importance" of V.'s writings, then it is the _only_ valid parameter.

Other approaches to the phenomenon of V. are of course perfectly possible, but in such cases we are dealing with something different. I am personally quite sure that a study of the 'myth' / 'image' of V. could be a highly interesting thing: how V. was marketed, adopted by Hindutva, etc. But this is a different matter, and we should not confuse these issues (since that would be _really_ unscholarly).

But even if we were to study primarily the image rather than what the man did, then too it is essential that we find out just what the man did. Otherwise, how will we know what is the man's own doing / thinking / writing and what is the later image? Therefore a study of V.'s writings and their popular reception should inevitably be a part of any study of V., and I object to those voices here on the list that insist that we should pay no attention to V.'s writings.

 rBE> Does the importance of Christianity
 rBE> depend on how well Christians know the Bible?  Or is it the
 rBE> myth around
 rBE> Jesus (and the saints) that 'catches people's imagination'?

I don't think these two comparisons are very happy ones, and for more than two reasons. If I may give only a few: (1) V.'s writings are not a Bible, (2) Jesus lived 2000 years ago, we know very little about the historical person, we know only a few of his utterances (passed on only in translation), and mythology very quickly overtook the historical person. V. lived just 100 years ago, we know much more about the historical person, and he left eight volumes of published writings, almost all of them his own written words, (3) we are not discussing the importance of Hinduism; but if we were, then in my view V.'s role is rather peripheral, since Hinduism can do perfectly well without him - as is demonstrated throughout India.

Robert Zydenbos

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