Endnote

The article on Hinduism ends with a bang -- something that can aptly demonstrate the deep-seated prejudice and even, perhaps, a political agenda. After failing to have links for "yoga" or "Indian philosophy" in the Encarta article, at the very end Encarta discovers the power of links. Hinduism:
    For information on religious violence in India, See India.
This is the appropriate ending for the article on Hinduism? We first surmised that this might be due to some current events (even then it would not be an appropriate ending for an academic article on Hinduism, other than motivated by considerable prejudice). But we find the same ending, for the same article, as far back as Encarta 1999! As a crosscheck, let us look at the other articles on religion. Christianity:
    "For additional information, see articles on individual Christian denominations and biographies of those persons whose names are not followed by dates."
Islam:
    [No link suggested at the end]
Given the thread of negativity that permeates the Encarta article on Hinduism, it comes as no surprise when, in the end, it suggests the topic of "religious violence" as additional reading. If the articles of Christianity and Islam were written with the same intent, this is what the last links could look like. Christianity*:
    For additional information about burning witches at the stake, see Witch Hunt.
Islam*:
    For terrorist violence, see International Terrorism.
Again, we do not suggest these endings be used, nor does Encarta do so. They are provided for the purpose of illustrating the underlying attitude in choosing such endings -- an attitude that pervades the article on Hinduism. Analysis of cause We have established a significant difference in the treatment of Hinduism versus other religions, notable Christianity and Islam. In this section, we look at probable cause for the difference in treatment. Selection of Authors Encarta provides the following names and biographical information for the authors of the three Encarta articles in question:
    · Christianity. Prof. Jaroslav Pelikan, B.D., Ph.D. Sterling Professor Emeritus of History, Yale University. Author of The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Historical Theology, and other books.
    · Islam. Associate Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies, Yale University. Dallal, Ahmad S., B.E., M.A., Ph.D. Author of An Islamic Response to Greek Astronomy: Kitab Ta'dil Hay'at al-Aflak of Sadr al-Shari'a.
    · Hinduism. Doniger, Wendy, M.A., Ph.D., D.Phil. Mircea Eliade Professor of History of Religions and Indian Studies, University of Chicago. Author of The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology, Siva: the Erotic Ascetic, and Dreams, Illusion, and Other Realities.
Emic or Etic? The first observation we make is that scholars who profess those faiths have written the articles on Christianity and Islam; this is not the case with Hinduism. While the topic of emic (insider) and etic (outsider) study is often debated within academia, we would expect Encarta to choose uniformly either the emic or etic view of the major religions. In the Encarta article on Christianity, Prof. Jarsolav Pelikan strongly defends the emic viewpoint:
    "Like any system of belief and values -- be it Platonism, Marxism, Freudianism, or democracy -- Christianity is in many ways comprehensible only "from the inside," to those who share the beliefs and strive to live by the values; and a description that would ignore these "inside" aspects of it would not be historically faithful. To a degree that those on the inside often fail to recognize, however, such a system of beliefs and values can also be described in a way that makes sense as well to an interested observer who does not, or even cannot, share their outlook."
The same logic, apparently, does not apply to Eastern religions. In general, though not always, we would expect the "emic" view to be more sympathetic than the "etic" view, particularly when the "emic" author is a practicing member of their faith. Areas of interest of the authors While the orientation of study of Professors Pelikan and Dallal is towards the philosophical, scientific and theological aspects of the religions they write about, Prof. Doniger's orientation is more anthropological -- studying rituals and myths rather than philosophy and theology. Even within that field, Prof. Doniger's dominant area of interest, going by the books she has authored, is in the exotic and erotic aspects of these rituals and myths. Thus the study of Professors Pelikan and Dallal is a living practicing view of the religion, including theological, metaphysical and scientific issues that would positively engage contemporary audiences, Prof. Doniger's appears to be an archeological dig, turning over quaint specimens that strike her fancy for examination. While this is certainly a valid field for study, it is clear that it leads to very different viewpoints and results in the articles. Acceptability of the authors in the represented community The third aspect of authorship is the broad acceptability of the author in the religious community they purport to represent. In general, it is more likely for emic authors to be acceptable, though not universally so. A research on the web shows that while Profs. Pelikan and Dallal are not regarded as controversial, Prof. Doniger has come in for considerable criticism for her lopsided portrayal, and unsubtle understanding of Hinduism[ii]. While Hindus, in general, are known for their tolerance of criticism (which is probably why the Encarta article has survived, without protest, for several years), we wonder why Encarta, as a mainstream encyclopedia, would deliberately choose to continue with authors that are highly controversial within the communities they write about. Note that, particularly in Hinduism, this could be very true for supposedly "emic", but in reality, non-practicing, authors as well. Deliberate prejudice or error? While there is some evidence of prejudice on the part of Encarta's author on Hinduism, it is not clear whether prejudice also exists in Encarta as well. Certainly, as the ultimate editorial authority, Encarta cannot evade responsibility for the situation, at the very least in the selection of authors and editorial oversight over prejudiced treatment in a sensitive topic like religion. However, Encarta may well have, knowingly or unknowingly participated in an environment of bias. A western graduate student of Hinduism in a US university, suggests a broader prejudice: ". in American academia it is politically incorrect to treat Hinduism in a positive light and it is taboo to deal negatively with Islam."[iii] Certainly, the comparison of the articles on Encarta would validate this thesis. However, more study of this topic is clearly required. Effects We have not studied the effects of such negative portrayal of Hinduism on Hindu children growing up in America. We can speculate that derogatory mainstream portrayals of Hinduism, quite different from what they have seen or experienced first hand, would at the very least be confusing, and ultimately damaging to the self-esteem of such children. In the author's personal experience, many Hindus are reluctant to identify themselves as such publicly, even when they are practicing Hindus -- we conjecture that this may result from unconsciously accepting the negative portrayals of their religion. We find that this subject has not been studied much -- however, the one study[iv] that we found supports this possibility. There are also accounts that scholars studying Hinduism that also "come out" to be practicing that faith face allegations of "bias" -- apparently this is not seen to be the case when Christians or Muslims study their own faiths in the academic community (which is the general rule). Such articles in "Encarta" also get used by various religious fundamentalists and hate groups to label Hinduism a "cult" -- the Encarta article serves as a good "objective" reference to make their point. The interested reader can do a web search on "Hinduism cult Encarta" to find examples. Inaccurate, negative mainstream portrayals of a religion can ultimately only prove harmful to the community. Clearly much more work is needed to study the exact effects and consequences of such portrayals. Conclusion and Recommendations