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Rethinking Hindu Identity

June 2, 2010

I recently finished D. N. Jha’s Rethinking Hindu Identity. It’s a little volume (the main part of the text is only 60 pages!), but it’s good. The author specifically addresses three questions in his three chapters.

  1. “Deconstructing Hindu Identity”: Has there been a stable, unchanging Hindu identity from the beginning of “Hinduism” to the present? No. A stable, unchanging identity cannot be connected to a geographical region, the term “Hindu,” nor the Vedas and their privileged status.
  2. “Tolerant Hinduism: Evidence and Stereotype”: Have the “Hindus” always been a peaceful and tolerant group? No. The historical evidence shows a great deal of violence and cultural chauvinism.
  3. “Holy Cow: Elusive Identity”: Have the Hindus always offered cows a sacred status? No. The historical evidence shows that the sacred status of cows changed over time, and was even nonexistent in the Vedas.

The second and third chapters are a bit tedious—they just walk the reader through a mountain of historical counter-evidence. The first chapter is a little more interesting. I might start using it in my Eastern religions course.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. June 3, 2010 11:34 am

    In my Intro to Hinduism class I use Richard King’s “Orientalism and the Modern Myth of ‘Hinduism'”.

  2. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    June 3, 2010 12:29 pm

    Is that in his Orientalism book, or is that a journal article?

  3. June 3, 2010 3:14 pm

    As you probably know, the anthropologist Marvin Harris wrote a famous scholarly article on India’s sacred cows, which he later revised for a book chapter you can find here:

  4. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    June 5, 2010 10:44 am

    I’ll have to check it out; thanks.

  5. June 9, 2010 1:52 pm

    Sorry, in reference to the reference, it is an article, but there is a whole section from it shared with the book. There is a response to the argument that ‘Hindu’ is invented by Lorenzo… I can’t find the reference off-hand, but if you want I can dig it up.

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