Much has been said about Wendy Doniger’s book in the media. To be fair, the author has admitted on the front cover that it is an alternative history, not the one that most Hindus believe in.
I’ve just been wondering – if I were to spend years studying a religion practiced in a different country and get a doctorate in it, what sort of book would I write?
I guess I could produce a scholarly book. But, to write a book that reflected the spirit of the religion, I would first have to steep myself in its spirituality and accept its beliefs and mythology as my own. That might eliminate any bias I unconsciously harbour against the religion (because of having grown up in a different culture). I might have to live for several years among people who live the religion.
My version of the religion would then be closer to what a majority of the followers of the religion believe. If my study of the religion were only intellectual and objective, I might not quite capture the essence of the religion, and could end up presenting my biases as the religion itself.
Wendy Doniger seems to have spent only one year in India, when she was just 23 years old! Is her knowledge mostly from books, then? Is her alternative history about a lesser–practiced branch of Hinduism like tantra, that is not mainstream Hinduism?
I’m guessing it might be, based on excerpts I’ve come across on the internet.
A scholarly approach to a subject is rational and analytical. It uses intellect alone. An experiential one may be only intuitive and holistic. But, a book on religion, however scholarly, must be tempered by a little of the latter, I think . . .
Rational vs experiential learning is roughly similar to the concepts of anubhava and anubhuti in Hinduism. Anubhava is the experience of reality through the senses and intellect; anubhuti is the spiritual experience of where that religion takes you, and is much deeper than anubhava. I think anubhuti – or something like it – would give one a better understanding of a religion than mere anubhava for writing a book on it.
These are just idle musings. I haven’t read the book. Extreme reactions to books, movies, Telengana, Article 370, Right To Education Act, Modi, Article 377, etc. etc. are often making headlines for hurting some group, which means all of us are sensitive and vulnerable creatures. We ought to be gentler with each other, and careful about what we write and say. Unfortunately, it’s not a Utopian world.