Being Different-Book Reviews

Reviewer: Don Wiebe, Prof. of Divinity, Trinity College in the University of Toronto; and past president of  the North American Association for the Study of Religion.

Being Different is both a critical exploration of the two vastly different metaphysical/religious worldviews (the Abrahamic and Dharmic families of spiritual traditions) dominant in the US and India respectively, and a challenge to what the author finds to be an asymmetric power relationship between them. Malhotra writes with passion from within an avowedly dharmic stance and with the intention of undermining the attempts to domesticate and expropriate the Indian traditions in a process of inter-religious dialogue that is ultimately based on a western cosmological framework and religious assumptions.

In drawing out the contrast between “tolerance of other religions” and “mutual respect between religions” in chapter one, he brilliantly exposes the pretence in western affirmations of cultural pluralism. He further insightfully suggests that the West – especially the US – suffers from what he calls “difference anxiety” that can only be controlled by producing a worldwide religious homogeneity which effectively contradicts the deceptively overt commitment to having a diversity of cultures.

And against those within the Dharmic framework who envy the “riches” of the globalized world (a “difference anxiety” from below compared to that of the West), he shows that accepting western cultural assumptions is not essential to participation in the benefits of the globalization process.

This book is essential reading for western scholars engaged in cross-cultural studies. Malhotra espouses an “audacity of difference” in any such enterprise that defends both the distinctiveness and the spiritual value of Indian thought and that effectively reveals the cultural chauvinism of much western thought in its encounters with other cultures. Entertaining such audacity without assuming that it is simply an apology for Hinduism could well transform the current global multi-cultural dialogue to positive effect.

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