The Perils of Vedic 'Science'

Hindu nationalists, like U.S. evangelicals, are co-opting their nation's culture and calling bad science good.

BY: Meera Nanda


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On the one hand, the BJP and its allies presented themselves as great champions of science, as long as it could be absorbed into 'the Vedas,' of course. On the other hand, they aggressively condemned the secular and naturalistic worldview of science--the disenchantment of nature--as 'reductionist,' 'Western' or even 'Semitic,' and therefore un-Hindu and un-Indian. Science yes, and technology yes, but a rational-materialist critique of Vedic idealism no--that became the mantra of Hindutva.

Why this overeagerness to claim the support of science? There is a modernizing impulse in all religions to make the supposedly timeless truths of theology acceptable to the modern minds raised on a scientific sensibility. 'Scientific creationism' among Christian and Islamic fundamentalists is an example of this impulse. But while Christian fundamentalists in America indulge in creationism primarily to get past the constitutional requirement for a separation of church and state, in India it is motivated by ultra-nationalism, Hindu chauvinism and the nationalist urge to declare Hinduism's superiority as the religion of reason and natural law over Christianity and Islam, which are declared to be irrational and faith-based creeds.

Contemporary Hindu nationalists are carrying on with the neo-Hindu tradition of proclaiming Hinduism as the universal religion of the future because of its superior 'holistic science' (as compared to the 'reductionist science' of the West). Besides, it is easier to sell traditions and rituals, especially to urban, upwardly mobile men, if they have the blessings of English-speaking 'scientific' gurus.


Presenting India as a source of alternative universals that could heal the reductionism of Western science became the major preoccupation of Indian followers of science studies. Vandana Shiva wrote glowingly of Indian views of non-dualism as superior to Western reductionism. Ashis Nandy declared astrology to be the science of the poor and the non-Westernized masses in India.

Prayers to smallpox goddesses, menstrual taboos, Hindu nature ethics which derive from orthodox ideas about prakriti or shakti, and even the varna order were defended as rational (even superior) solutions to the cultural and ecological crises of modernity.

All this fitted in very well with Western feminist and ecologists' search for a kinder and gentler science. The deep investment of these philosophies in perpetuating superstitions and patriarchy in India was forgotten and forgiven.


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