Wendy Doniger (was Re: [Advaita-l] bhAgavata purANa)

S Jayanarayanan sjayana at yahoo.com
Tue Aug 22 00:08:30 CDT 2006

I didn't want to write about this person on this list, but since many
posts were referring to her writings without anyone objecting, I
thought I should say something.

--- Annapureddy Siddhartha Reddy <annapureddy at gmail.com> wrote:

> -- Jaldharji, if we accept Wendy Doniger's dates, many of the
> purANas were
> penned down later to shaN^kara, and hence their number could not
> have been
> 18 during shaN^kara's time. Please note though that this does not
> mean that
> the stories/ideas themselves were not known.

Wendy Doniger is a notorious anti-traditional-Hindu academic. A few
of her gems include:

1) The Gita is a dishonest book.
2) Ganesha's trunk is a phallic symbol.
3) Mahabharata was Krishna's genocide.

An extract from an excellent in-depth article on her and other
Western academicians' twists on Hindu scriptures, and how it is
distressing Hindus all over the world, is given below. This
controversy has become so popular that it has been christened
"Wendy's Child Syndrome" -- i.e. Wendy Doniger's students are also
becoming (in)famous for interpreting Hindu scriptures according to
their own whims and fancies. An example is Harvard Professor Jeffrey
Kripal, whose Ph.D. thesis under Doniger's supervision was "Kali's
Child", a profanity on Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. What is truly
shocking is that Wendy Doniger and her students wield such clout that
the Encyclopaedia Britannica lists this book as the authentic
reference on Sri Ramakrishna.

I respect the magazine article for hinting that the fault with the
(mis)understanding of Hinduism by Westerners lies at least partially
with Hindus themselves -- for not encouraging their children to
embrace academic positions on Hinduism in American Universities. If
only practising Hindus took up Hinduism-based lectureship positions
in US academia, such Hindu-scripture-bashing can quite easily be

My own opinion on this controversy is that Wendy Doniger is a victim
of misunderstanding herself, because I believe she doesn't do
deliberate harm. She errs unknowingly, because she classifies Hindu
scriptures on par with "dead" religions such as the ancient Greek,
Roman or Egyptian religions, and thinks it is all right to freely
interpret the religion's texts in anyway she likes. It doesn't strike
her that it is a living tradition practised by hundreds of millions
of people all over the world. She is ignorant of Hindu symbolism and
sees sexuality where the real meaning rests elsewhere (e.g. one
doesn't pray to the Shiva linga with sexual thoughts in one's mind,
even though an outsider may conclude otherwise). One could argue that
ignorance is no excuse for a professor, but the fact is that most
Americans don't have first-hand experience of non-Judeo-Christian
religions, and arrive at all sorts of wrong conclusions on the
subject of Hinduism.


University of Chicago Magazine
December 2004
Volume 97, Number 2

The interpretation of gods
By Amy M. Braverman
Photography by Dan Dry

Do leading religious scholars err in their analysis of Hindu texts?

"Wendy Doniger didn’t see the egg fly past her head, but she heard it
splatter against the wall behind her. Continuing a November 2003
University of London lecture on the Hindu Ramayana text, Doniger
looked down, thinking perhaps she’d broken her water glass against
the podium. When an audience member shouted, “It’s an egg!” she
turned and saw the trickle of raw goop. The man who’d thrown the
ovoid missile quickly exited the room.

"...Rajiv Malhotra, an entrepreneur and activist living in New Jersey
... who studied physics at India’s St. Stephens College and computer
science at Syracuse University, now works full time at the Infinity
Foundation, a nonprofit he founded in 1995 to “upgrade the quality of
understanding of Indian civilization in the American media and
educational system, as well as among the English language educated
Indian elite.”


"His 23,591-word (including 91 footnotes) essay, published on the
Indian–community Web site Sulekha.com (
http://www.sulekha.com/blogs/blogdisplay.aspx?cid=4489 ), has become
a pivotal treatise in a recent rift between some Western Hinduism
scholars—many of whom teach or have studied at Chicago—and some
conservative Hindus in India, the United States, and elsewhere...

"In two years Malhotra’s essay received more than 22,000 hits and
generated 445 comments (several by Malhotra himself) and two response
essays...For instance, in “Wendy’s Child Syndrome” Malhotra condemns
“the eroticisation of Hinduism by Wendy Doniger, who is un-doubtedly
the most powerful person in academic Hinduism Studies today,” and
“her large cult of students, who glorify her in exchange for her
mentorship.” He notes that religious studies—a field that teaches
about a religion without preaching its beliefs—is rare in India,
making academic discussions of Hinduism a mostly Western
conversation. “Under Western control,” he argues, “Hinduism studies
has produced ridiculous caricatures that could easily be turned into
a Bollywood movie or a TV serial.”


"Hawley, who also has scuffled with Malhotra, acknowledges the need
for more Hindus in the field. “As a secular academic discipline,
religious studies scarcely exists in India,” he notes. “What theology
meant in the British academy was Christian studies.” Hence India’s
educational landscape is different than in the United States.
Although students of Indian descent often take up history,
literature, anthropology, or the sciences, “that hasn’t happened in
religion. It’s going to take a generation for people who are Hindu by
background to enter religious studies in large numbers.” Meanwhile,
Hawley says, “newly immigrant families have encouraged sons and
daughters to enter fields that seem more meaningful, more
mainstream”—not to mention more lucrative. So while few Hindus have
gone into religious studies, “the injustice isn’t caused by someone
like me, but by the long history of what has happened. We train
Hindus to enter the field alongside non-Hindus, and are very eager to
do so. It takes time for the numbers to even out on the other side of
the Ph.D.”"


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