U.S. Hinduism Studies: A Question of Shoddy Scholarship

Criticism of crude academic writing on Hinduism is coming from the community because it is not present in the academy.

In a

recent column

, prominent religion professor Martin E. Marty says that scholars of Moses or Jesus haven't had to "duck eggs or death threats" lately and asks why Hindu groups are attacking U.S. professors of Hinduism. This unfortunately shows that people in the academy are still talking past those in the Hindu community rather than attempting to have a conversation.

Many Hindus have expressed concern about the quality and nature of Hinduism scholarship emanating from the U.S. academy. What kind of work has drawn criticism from the Hindu community? Here are just a few examples:

  • In his book on Ganesha, the beloved elephant-headed deity of Hindus, Emory University professor Paul Courtright made claims that Ganesha's trunk represents a limp phallus and the fondness for sweets of this child deity carries "overtones" of a desire for oral sex.

  • University of Chicago professor Wendy Doniger has been quoted in the Philadelphia Inquirer calling the Bhagavad Gita, a sacred Hindu text, "a dishonest book" that "justifies war."

  • In her article on Hinduism in Encarta, which serves as a mainstream introduction for general audiences, Doniger highlights what she calls "contradictions" in the Hindu tradition--often using deprecating parenthetical asides, unusual for such an encyclopedia entry.


  • In "Kali's Child," Rice University professor Jeffrey Kripal portrays Sri Ramakrishna, a much-revered Hindu spiritual leader, as a sexually abused homosexual child-molester.

    "Kali's Child" has become a standard reference on Ramakrishna in the U.S. academia; the works of Courtright, Kripal and Doniger are similarly served up as mainstream interpretations of the Hindu tradition, finding their way into museum exhibits and primary references for encyclopedias.

    Many learned people in the Hindu community, most of them non-academicians, have take a critical look at the work of these scholars. Rajiv Malhotra's RISA Lila I: Wendy's Child Syndrome examines the work and assertions of Doniger, Courtright, Kripal and Sarah Caldwell. When the Cigar Becomes A Phallus by Vishal Agarwal And Kalavai Venkat is a detailed examination of Paul Courtright's book on Ganesha. And my article Are Hinduism Studies Prejudiced? compares Microsoft Encarta's article on Hinduism, written by Doniger, with articles about other major world religions. The list goes on.

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