What Would Krishna Do? Or Shiva? Or Vishnu?

Over the summer, several readers emailed me a link to this great interview with Jonardon Ganeri, a professor of Philosophy whose work has largely focused on the Sanskritic Indian traditions. His interview is a part of an ongoing series in The Stone, the philosophy blog at New York Times online.

He does an excellent job of speaking to the internal diversity in Hinduism: “The essence of Hinduism is that it has no essence. What defines Hinduism and sets it apart from other major religions is its polycentricity, its admission of multiple centers of belief and practice, with a consequent absence of any single structure of theological or liturgical power.”

Check out the interview below. And thanks to those who shared the link!

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/08/03/what-would-krishna-do-or-shiva-or-vishnu/

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Whose voices are present? Whose voices are absent?

Some reflections on what I teach — and what I don’t.

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Contemporary Buddhist nuns.

Looking Back

Last year was my first time back in a Religious Studies classroom after two years away. As I returned to the classroom, I began to think more about the range of voices in a religious tradition, and the ways in which some of them (especially the voices of women) were not featured as prominently as they could have been in my courses.

One reason for this, I now realize, dealt with definition. How do I, as the teacher – and thus, the learning-materials-selector – define the discipline? Take the example of one course I have taught, Asian Religions. What does Asian Religions mean? The way that I define and understand this term will have significant implications for the texts/art/films/etc. that I choose – and by extension, the texts that I leave out. Continue reading

“Nailed,” by Meena Kandasamy

I’ve been getting ready for the Educators for Teaching India conference tomorrow, and I continue to be in awe of the power of Meena Kandasamy’s poetry. She is a contemporary poet-activist (b. 1984) who writes about feminism and caste annihilation (among many other things). Here is one of her many remarkable poems.

Nailed

Men are afraid of any woman who makes poetry and dangerous
portents. Unable to predict when, for what, and for whom she
will open her mouth, unable to stitch up her lips, they silence her.

Her pet parrot developed an atrocious fetish for the flesh of
sacrificial goats, so Kulamaayi was bolted within a box and
dropped in the Kaveri.

She teased and tormented his celibacy, so Miss Success-Village
was thrown into a well by a wandering socialite-godman.

She was inaccessible and unattainable, so Durga was put in an iron
trunk that settled on a riverbed and even the men and women
who tried to approach her were informed in a prerecorded voice
that she was out of reach and network range and coverage area.

She was an outcaste who had all the marks of a fiery orator who
would someday run for parliament, so a nail was driven into her head
on the instructions of her brahmin fiancée and her coffin was
set adrift in a wailing river.

She was black and bloodthirsty, so even Kali found herself shut
inside her shrine.

They were relatively low-risk, so most other women were locked up
at home.

The Bhagavad Gita and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s Nurses

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Krishna teaching Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita

D.D. Kosambi, the Indian Marxist historian, once dismissed the Bhagavad Gita as “700 fratricidal verses.” And while this text has been extolled by champions of nonviolence such as Thoreau and Gandhi, Kosambi does have a point: Krishna – God himself who has taken on human form – urges Arjuna, the reluctant warrior, to fight in battle against his teachers, cousins, and friends. Why? Because his dharma requires him to do so. Arjuna must act in this battle in order to preserve the order of the universe, even if it means slaughtering his kin. Continue reading

What is Hinduism?

Padmanabhaswamy temple

The Padmanabhaswamy Temple, home of recently-discovered riches beyond imagination.

What is Hinduism? Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, once famously said that “Hinduism is all things to all men.” While this definition does not seem to get us very far, it may actually be more helpful than it appears at first blush. Hinduism is an incredibly diverse phenomenon, something that has roots going back many thousands of years while also retaining an incredible capacity for reinvention, redefinition, and assimilation, at both the local and pan-Indian level. (And, of course, since the Indian diaspora, all over the world.) Continue reading