History Matters: A Discussion

Posted by sepoy on March 31, 2009 · 1 min read

I have greatly learned, and thoroughly enjoyed, a series of discussion on Judith Bennett's History Matters. The response from Judith Bennett (and, what a response!) also includes links to the discussion before. Go read. I promise you, that you will learn. If only we had more SAists running blogs, I would love to do the same online symposia on Wendy Doniger's book. What about it DK? Rohit? Anyone? Bueller?


Qalandar | March 31, 2009

I'm no scholar, but I'll take your "anyone" as an invitation; I have not read the new Doniger book, but if you announce a symposium at a few days notice, I will make sure I read it and participate...

sepoy | March 31, 2009

That's the spirit, Qalandar! One up! Anyone, Anyone.

Rohit Chopra | March 31, 2009

This is too tempting to pass up. I'll just ask for a few days notice, like Qalandar, and go get the book. There are some lines of argument in Doniger's work that, I think, are open to critique. These strands of argument, for instance, in Doniger's essay, "Presidential Address: `I Have Scinde': Flogging a Dead (White Male Orientalist)," and an engagement with those concerns could be folded into a discussion about the current text. The other general question I have relates to Doniger's point about Hinduism being puritanical before the colonial encounter with the British. I am thinking of how Doniger may respond to Nandy's argument that colonialism is destructive precisely because it rearranges priorities *within* a culture, making one dimension or a recessive strand stand in for the dominant perspective. A third general issue relates to Doniger's position about the politics of authority in the academy regarding who gets to speak for Hinduism. I was at Emory during the attack on Paul Courtright for his book on Ganesha and some of the same issues came up. The Hindu right argument was that other in disciplinesand programs-- especially African American Studies and Jewish Studies-- the majority of scholars / appointments inhabit those identity categories. But the study of Hinduism, housed under Religion Departments and others, does not conform to this pattern. I am not an apologist for the Hindu Right, but the general question here is whether a discussion on who represents Hinduism also needs to take into account questions of representative authority in other programs entangled in questions of cultural or collective identity. What is sophisticated about the Hindu Right argument-- despite their particular substantive claims like the Taj Mahal being a Hindu structure etc easily identified as bogus--- is the mode in which it has mobilized a logic of identity politics seen in the academy and in American society at large. The American Right also did something similar effectively beginning in the 1980s or so drawing upon the identity politics model of civil rights, racial rights, women's rights, and LGBT rights models) Best Rohit

sepoy | March 31, 2009

That's awesome. We need a couple more. Any ideas of SAists in particular? Any Sanskrit-wallahs blog??

Conrad Barwa | March 31, 2009

Hey - why am I not invited! I don't have the linguistic skills, apart from some very rough Sanskrit to make a really informed contribution though. I am more into the politics and historiography of the debates.

DK | March 31, 2009

Sure! But it will be a while before I can get access to the book... good points, Rohit. Don't know if it's available here yet.

sepoy | March 31, 2009

I can mail it to you, DK.

Qalandar | April 01, 2009

Rohit: I don't think the situation you allude to testifies to the sophistication of right-wing discourse, but to the fact that so-called "progressives" in the American academies have gotten bogged down in identity politics/notions of authenticity that are accepted as "givens" (if they pertain to minorties or historically disfavored groups) -- while one sympathizes with the groups represented on account of historical injustices, this "reification" and uncritical acceptance of such identities in so many contexts is easily open to appropriation by reactionary currents...

Nikolai | April 07, 2009

Hi all! Wow what an amusing/intelligent blog. I was looking for a review of Ms. Doniger's book and found this! Anyway, do I have to provide credentials of some sort to join in the discussion of the book (which I will be purchasing tomorrow)? I'm a writer and have knowledge in literature (and also philosophy/religion and history, but those are not my focus). That includes sanskrit literature and classical tamil literature...

sepoy | April 07, 2009

Hi Nikolai, no credentials needed. Do join in.

Nikolai | April 07, 2009

Rohit, I've noticed a increasing number of EuroAmericans majoring in AfroAmerican studies in universities. I completely agree about the identity politics comment qalandar made. That said, I despise Orientalism, and I hope that word will soon become an odd historical curiosity instead of a disicpline. sepoy, thanks for welcoming me. When are you thinking about doing the symposium?

Dan | April 12, 2009

Great idea; I'm in. [and was a Sanskrit student once upon a time, though it's pretty rusty now] As for blogging Sanskritists, I only know of a couple: http://cikitsa.blogspot.com/ http://sarasvatam.blogspot.com/ http://mkmartand.blogspot.com/