[INDOLOGY] Indology and culture

Al Collins nasadasin at gmail.com
Tue Jul 28 06:21:26 UTC 2015

Dear Dr. Wujastyk,

I didn't intend to disparage Indology, which was at the center of my life
for many years as I pursued my first PhD. at Texas, and has continued to
occupy at least a third of it since. I immersed myself in the work of Renou
(my Vedic guru), Heesterman, Gonda, van Buitenen, Luders, Thieme, Caland,
and so many others as I read in the Rg Veda, Atharvaveda, Brahmanas,
Upanisads, Mahabharata, Samkhya Karika, Manu and Medhatithi, Ramanuja's
Vedarthasamgraha, and Samkara.  I studied personally with S.M. Katre, Edgar
Polome, V. Raghavan, T.M.P. Mahadevan, and others. I still love Indology
(most recently reading Kalidasa in Sanskrit with my son, who has had 4
years of the language), although my work has moved to the comparative study
of Indian psychology and psychoanalysis (my day job, for which I obtained
my second PhD, is in clinical psychology).  I recently edited a volume on
Jung and India, with an article by myself and my wife (a Jungian
psychoanalyst) about Indian--and Indological-- influences on Jung.  All
this context to situate myself, not as an Indologist, but rather, nowadays,
a consumer of Indology and grateful user of its data and insights.

But the assertion that Indology has not always been pure, and may have
contributed to Western political, religious, economic, and
intellectual domination of India, still seems indisputable to
me. Realistically, how could one expect any discipline to be immune to its
"substructure"?  Christine Maillard, for instance, in the book I cited
before and many other places, summarizes how Indology grew in part from
English colonial interests, missionary (Jesuit and protestant) efforts to
Christianize the pagans, and German Romanticism and its need for fresh
enchantment to fill the void left by the Enlightenment.  In situating
Malhotra within that encounter of civilizations I do not think I disparage
either the Indology he criticizes or the critic. His behavior has at
times been sloppy, atrocious even, I can agree, but still he has arguments
worth taking seriously. I simply try to point the discussion of Malhotra
vis-a-vis Indology in what I think is the right direction, toward broader
questions of cultural encounter rather than the too-limited issue of his
"plagiarism." Obviously Indology is far more than the ideologies and
politics that may still  lurk around the fringes of its theory and method,
and I accept that Indology often achieves an exemplary degree of self
consciousness and critical reflection on its assumptions. But that is not
to say it has not at times, more in the early days, been used (more or less
unconsciously) in the interest of what I will call, in a general sense,
"colonial" or ideological aims.

As to your point that the India Indologists study is a wholly or mostly
foreign realm, I realize this is probably the more accepted position
nowadays (perennialism is passé, except in Witzel's new incarnation). On
the other hand, I am impressed by the evidence McKim Marriott and his
students have found of parallels between the categories in which the world
of recent peasant India is organized and those of Samkhya (using the term
broadly, not referring just to the darsana). And even if lost culture
cannot really be reappropriated, surely we must recognize that the fantasy
of doing this is itself a common phenomenon, and has sometimes proved
creative. Surely it is possible that a renaissance of "Hinduism" (in some
recreated form, even Malhotra's)  could invigorate contemporary India,
though I strongly add that I am not advocating the sort of religion that
passes for Hindu in the political wastelands. I suggest that the work of
Tagore, Aurobindo, and Gandhi did achieve a measure
of this renascence, with an effect on (greater) Europe almost as large as
it had within India.

With regards, but increasing trepidation,

Al Collins, Ph.D., Ph.D.


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