AAS Annual Meeting

South Asia Session 360

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Session 360: Roundtable - Hinduism Studies in America with a Focus on Wendy Doniger's "The Hindus: An Alternative History," 2009

Organizer: M. Lal Goel, Independent Scholar, USA

Discussants: Srinivasan Kalyanaraman, Independent Scholar, India; TR Narasimha Rao, Independent Scholar, USA; Bharat Gupt, University of Delhi, India

Dr. Wendy Doniger’s book, The Hindus: An Alternative History (Penguin, 2009), has generated a good deal of controversy. Her book was short listed for an award by the National Book Critics Choice (NBCC), New York. Over 50 irate readers of the book, among them academics, wrote to NBCC critiquing the book. Dr. Doniger did not win. Over 10,000 people have signed a petition that the publisher withhold distribution of the book. There have been street marches in India opposing the distribution of the book, including one in the nation’s Capital. Given the nature of Doniger’s book and the heat it has generated, it is timely that the book be reviewed at the AAS meeting. The review would be in a larger context of Hinduism studies in America. Many practicing Hindus including notable academics believe that there is a fundamental flaw in the academic study of Hinduism in America. Hinduism studies are too often the last refuge of irreligious academics presenting themselves as "experts." They study the faith of nearly a billion people without the insight of a practicing Hindu or even a non-Hindu, striving to study Hinduism from the insider's perspective. This issue is important to the Hindu minority in America (now nearly 3 million strong) that the biased and sensational interpretations of their faith will become the mainstream. AAS panels should be relevant to the needs of the time. It is proper that the academic community debate and dialogue issues that generate heat in the public arena. This is especially so when the academic writings are the source of much public angst.