Reviewing a review – Invading the Sacred

I was on the book’s website ( and then decided to google search it. And I came up with this review of the book —

It was an interesting review (in the fact that it was so typical a reaction), so I decided to "dissect" it a bit. I have also posted a link to this article

at the website in the comments section for the author and his readers to review.


Dear James,

I find certain portions of your piece on "Invading the Sacred" a little hard to digest.

For instance —

"The article is worth reading as a clear statement–well, as clear as is possible–of the moderate case being made by some Hindus against the academic study of Hinduism in the West. Less moderate critics have sent death threats, physically assaulted scholars, and advocated state censorship of academic works. Banerjee does none of these things, so I’ll allow her position to stand on its own without lumping her with unsavory elements who happen to share some of her views."

The way you word it, makes it seem rather sinister (the supposed assaults and death-threats ie). How much of research has gone into this phenomenon (you used this to first paint a negative image in the readers’ minds before retracting by saying "Aditi has done none of these things") of Death Threats and Physical assaults? The book you have reviewed has covered such "mischievous" reporting rather well if you did read it through it’s entirety…

"There’s not a direct line between scholarship and teaching. Research necessarily, and appropriately, focuses on the specific and the discordant. Teaching, particularly in an introductory undergraduate setting, involves trying, at least some of the time, to portray the big picture. Good teaching can help students to grasp the big picture but also to see its flaws."

Hmm…pray tell us what is the primary material that is taught? Is that not a direct result of this "Scholarship" that you have attempted to disassociate from the "Teaching"? And why does Scholarship have to focus with the "Discordant"? Why can’t it attempt to understand something (obviously foreign in this case) with an unbiased and "Beginner’s" mindset?

Agree about the nature of Good Teaching and it’s ideal goals. But in case of Hinduism, what would constitute as it’s flaws? And Would that which is taught as being it’s flaws necessarily be a part of the Hindu religion or are these more social (mal)-practices? The Western Scholarly groups have great power (in the ability to influence and mold information and opinions of most of the Western world — starting with the kids) and as a result are automatically obligated to shoulder great responsibility as well!

"The confusion that I allude to above enters into Banerjee’s argument when she attempts to present the Hindu side of the story. She uses ‘we’ as though it is entirely clear who this ‘we’ is. Occasionally there are direct contradictions. She criticizes Vijay Prashad for calling the Bhagavad Gita an “experiment in truth” that is therefore not divinely revealed. Later, she attempts to define Hinduism and says that it originated “from experience, from realisation, and not from revealed dogma.” Which is it? Is Hinduism revealed or does it stem from “experiments in truth?” And hasn’t she read Gandhi? What exactly is wrong with calling the Gita an experiment in truth?"

I think it is very easy to default to advertising this "dichotomy" — leading to what you have naturally followed with — There is no "One" Hinduism", subsequently leading to "There is no such thing as Hinduism". Sanatana Dharma (just like Bauddha Dharma and Jaina Dharma) is a "Way" (not a dogmatic religion, per se). It is experiential in that the practitioner has a huge amount of freedom in what he/she employs in his/her quest (not for a seat in Heaven but for Moksha). It still doesn’t mean that nothing in it’s records (both historic as well as spiritual) is sacrosanct. My humble take on this is the Gita is both Divine as well as experimental. It is divine because Sri Krishna was it’s author. It is experimental because it is not dogmatic. This distinction is very difficult to grasp for outsiders/non-practitioners. So, for an avowed Communist such as Vijay Parshad, it would seem exactly like that. For a practitioner of meditation and yoga on the other hand it would be both Divinely revealed as well as experimental. What we aim to investigate in Hindu Dharma is both within as well as without. To get to the without, we go within and when we attain the "without" we also realize that which is within is the same as that which is "Without".

"Don’t get me wrong, very negative representations of Hindus, Indian, and South Asians are extremely common in American society. Much of teaching undergraduates about Hinduism involves trying to make them aware of these pervasive biases and to dispel them."

It is good to see that that acknowledgment. So then, the natural question that follows is, what is it, that has resulted in this negative representation? Where does the source of this lie?

Does it lie with the Academics who have made a career (and flourishing ones at that) sensationalizing Hindu Dharma? Or, does it lie with the practitioners who haven’t been vigilant enough to let such shoddy work slip through? (that might be challenge since the practitioners who are native to the West are a minority and have been disadvantaged in many ways (until recently))

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