Gentoo studies

Robert Zydenbos zydenbos at BIGFOOT.DE
Thu May 27 09:49:48 UTC 1999

> Date:          Sat, 22 May 1999 06:30:52 -0500
> From:          Shrisha Rao <shrao at IA.NET>

> However, to assume that a grounding in Greek, Latin and Avestan is much or
> all of what it takes to make pronouncements re, e.g., the Rg Veda, is more
> than we can agree upon, at least at this point.  Even if Gonda "went
> straight to the Vedas," he did not "go" to any classical scholar of the
> Vedas and get trained, [...]

> It is common
> knowledge in academia that one needs to go through a period of
> apprenticeship and interaction with senior scholars in order to gain
> scholarly maturity, and I doubt there was a community of RV scholars located
> in the vicinity of Gonda's armchair in Utrecht.

The absence of 'a community of RV scholars' may, far from being the
disadvantage that you think it is, actually be an advantage. From a
few of your remarks on this list I think I discern a fundamental
misunderstanding underlying a few of the threads. Theology is
not the same as philology, nor as Religionswissenschaft (what in
English is vaguely called 'religious studies'). Later thinkers, also
traditionalistic RV scholars, may have interesting things to say
about scripture etc., but from a contemporary theological standpoint.
This may be meaningful, in a way, for many people at the time when
the theology is proclaimed, but it need not be a faithful reflection
of historical reality. A historian of religion (any religion) does
well to take a skeptical view of traditional theologians.

Consider, e.g., the concept of "apauru.seyatva" and Prof. Witzel's
recent comment on this list: not only does the concept have no base
in the Vedas themselves, but those texts actually contradict it. (Let
me at once assure the readers that this is not an evil 'Western' /
'neo-colonial' / 'Orientalist' / 'eurocentric' / what-not attempt at
'insulting India and her culture', etc. etc. There is at least one
13th-cent. Jaina text that has ridiculed the concept for exactly the
same reason, and it is not unlikely that earlier such critiques can
be found.) If an idea that appears later in time is demonstrably
wrong, should a religiously non-committed researcher take it at all
seriously? This depends on what the topic of research is. If the
topic is "(post-) medieval religious ideologies", then yes; if it is
"ancient Indian religion", then clearly no.

> However, even ignoring this
> point, Gonda's writings in "Change and Continuity of Indian Religion" are
> certainly concerned with contemporary Indian society, and I do not accept
> that Gonda's having no first-hand feel for his subject would be a negligible
> circumstance.

There you have a point. Contemporary India was not Gonda's strong
side, to put it mildly, and this is well known throughout the
scholarly community. Even so, it is possible to make valid general
judgments about certain broad developments in Indian religion over a
period of a few thousand years on the basis of later and recent
writings by Indian and other authors. To give a trivial example: if
one is interested in 'change and continuity' in the idea of what the
Vedas are and mean, one need not come to India (esp. considering that
the average Hindu has no foggy clue as to what the Vedas are about).
But this is a general remark about a principle. I have not read that
particular book by Gonda and hence do not know about its contents.


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