[Advaita-l] Inter Religious Dialogue - Part 1

Omkar Deshpande omkar_deshpande at yahoo.com
Thu Dec 1 19:29:54 CST 2011

Dear Sri Rajaram,

<<<There was a point in time when Dr. Witzel was considered a genuine scholar until insightful and hardworking Hindu scholars showed that he is merely an agent of the Church interested in conversion through inculturation and deconstruction of Hindu traditions through misinterpretation. >>>

The above claim about Michael Witzel is as difficult to believe as a corresponding claim about Richard Dawkins. Will you seriously entertain any claim that says Dawkins is an agent of the Church? 

Here is a typical comment by Michael Witzel on Christianity, from the Indo-Eurasian Research group. This is as hostile to Christianity as it can get:


Re: [Indo-Eurasia] Weekend update! Noah's Ark discovered!

Funny, those Christian true believers --like all those of other
religions / ideologies !
When they think:

> Throughout history, people have been searching for the Ark to help
> prove God's existence,

we have to disappoint them: the story is quasi-universal: it is found
from Africa to Australia, as well as across Eurasia and the Americas
(I can give details). No connection with the Biblical (or, for that
matter, the older Babylonian and the Vedic) stories.

Rather, an old myth, probably of pre-Out of African times.
How that proves the existence of someone called God(*), only the
fundamentalists know.

With weekend greetings,

(*) who has 'his' own interesting etymology: Sanskrit huta'm
'something offered' (a neuter form) = Greek khuto'n = Germanic guda'n =
Old High German daz [waltand] got (still a neuter!) "[reigning] fate".
It took some missionaries, a thousand years ago, to turn "it" into the
Jueadeo-Christian male God.


I have already mentioned before that the anti-traditional naturalistic analysis done by such scholars in their study of Hinduism applies to other religions as well, because the principles of analysis would carry over there as well, and these scholars just happen to be focusing on Hinduism (just as there are others like them who would be focusing on Christianity). Witzel has written a book on World Mythologies. There is no special place he has given to the Christian myths. Where are you getting this idea that he is an agent of the Church who wants to get converts to Christianity? 

<<<It is a matter of time before it is the case with Dr. Clooney. I have responded to your points inset though I have no interest in attacking individuals... The Hindu (Frontline) is a Church sponsored newspaper and the site is maintained by Fr. Bucko, a jesuit priest.>>>

What's important is that the words that appear there are those of Francis Clooney. Since they're his words, they can be cited as evidence. If they're not his words, they cannot be used as evidence against him, regardless of who maintains the site or sponsors it. By the way, what would be the rationale for a Church-sponsored newspaper (if it actually is one) to publish an interview of Clooney in which he makes a statement that he disagrees with the Pope that inter-religious dialogue is a part of evangelisation? They (or at least the priest maintaining the site) could have edited it out. 

In any case, since you seem to have found a very qualified traditional teacher to learn from, the discussion on Clooney is irrelevant now. One last point:

<<<Please let me know if there are school and college texts written by traditional Vedic scholars be it Nyaya or Vedanta. If Christianity can be taught to students by Christians and Islam by Muslims, why not different Vedic traditions by the the practitioners?>>>

There is absolutely no constraint in the academia that Hinduism cannot be taught by practitioners. There are already practitioners teaching academic courses - consider Edwin Bryant or Paul Sherbow at Rutgers (who directly teach from the traditional commentaries), or Deepak Sarma at Case Western. Deepak Sarma has written a textbook on Hinduism, and another specifically on Madhva Vedanta. There are many other examples of practitioners teaching Hinduism courses. And even when non-practitioners teach, they recommend books by practitioners as well for reading. There sure are examples of professors like Wendy Doniger who follow a very different approach to the subject, but by no means is this representative of religious studies as a whole, which has many examples of the other kind.

I should also cite here a couple of examples from experience, although I will not go into details -- in one of the courses I took as a student, the professor (her name is Linda Hess) was following interpretations of the Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads that were quite different from the one that I strongly accepted that time, as a practitioner of one of the Vaishnava traditions. When I repeatedly protested against her interpretations, she invited me to deliver a lecture from the standpoint of my tradition, which I did. She also asked a friend of mine, who was from the Srivaishnava tradition, to present his tradition in the class. In a different quarter, the president of the Hindu Student Council (an undergraduate Kashmiri pandit girl brought up in the US), who was quite interested in spreading awareness of Hinduism, got me to teach a student-initiated course on Bhagavad Gita, which I taught as per the tradition I was affiliated to, under the guidance of my
 guru. There was no monitoring, and no constraints on what I taught, and how I taught. The only requirement imposed by the overseeing faculty was that students had to write a paper at the end of the quarter comparing the interpretation I had been teaching with any other interpretation of the Gita. I should emphasise here that the course was student-initiated, which allows students to float courses on their own topics of interest (with the help of a faculty member) if they find a lacuna in the curriculum, or if there is no faculty member to teach that subject. I could have continued teaching other student-initiated courses if I really wanted to, with support from the faculty. My experience of religious studies in the academia is quite the opposite of what has been said against it here. 



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