Bias against Indian culture runs deep

Saturday, 30 June 2007 - 10:55am IST
Jeffrey Kripal, then a PhD student at the University of Chicago, wrote a book called Kali’s Child a few years ago.

Mistranslations and distortions often lead to opinion and fantasy

A growing bias
Jeffrey Kripal, then a PhD student at the University of Chicago, wrote a book called Kali’s Child a few years ago.  In that he claimed that Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa’s religious visions and mystical experiences were caused because he was a conflicted and maladjusted homosexual, and that the saint was a pedophile.

Kripal claimed to have discovered all this in Bengali texts that had not been translated properly into English before. This book won major awards in America and is used as a reference on Sri Ramakrishna by the Encyclopedia Britannica. 

Later, Swami Tyagananda of the Ramakrishna Mission, a scholar and a Bengali, published a detailed refutation of Kripal’s claims.  Page after page of mistranaltions and distortions of cultural nuances were exposed.   Entire episodes were proved to be invented or embellished to make the case for Ramakrishna’s sexual “problems”.  Prof. Narasigha Sil also published papers exposing Kripal’s basic ignorance of Bengali language and culture.

No peer review process
Another famous, award-winning book, called Ganesa: Lord of Obstacles  by a Prof. Paul Courtright is examined by independent scholars Vishal Agarwal and Kalvai Venkat. They find numerous unverifiable and probably fabricated references which paint a very biased and negative image of Hinduism.

Courtright claims, for example, that Hindu scriptures look up on human beings as the excrement of God.  He cites passages from the Linga Purana and Bhagavata Purana (and Wendy Doniger’s papers) as his references for this demeaning claim.

But Agarwal and Venkat show that there is no such passage in either of these texts — human beings in the puranas are born from the Mind of God — thus Courtright simply perpetuates Doniger’s mistake. The independent peer review shows page after page of unverifiable references, mistranslations and misrepresentations- all that should have been caught by his peers. 

Psychoanalysis by untrained scholars
While psychoanalysis has become suspect in most disciplines, given that it is not a science, Dr. Alan Roland, an American psychologist who has studied Indian culture, finds that it is used willy-nilly in the interpretation of Indian texts, myths and symbols. Professor Kapila Vatsyan also finds this troubling that “some academics in some departments have chosen to undertake such studies with a single-minded pursuit of reading myth and symbol at particular level i.e. sexual.” 

This happens because all the richness and complexity of Hinduism is filtered “through a single perspective of a Freudian psycho-analytical approach applied to the exclusion of the others.”

It is even more horrifying to realise that most of the scholars who sexualise and trivialise the Hindu symbology are not even formally trained and certified in psychoanalysis, but are rank amateurs. Former head of the psychology department at Calcutta University Prof. Somnath Bhattacharya convincingly shows that amateur psychologists like Kripal and Doniger commit blunder after blunder, leading to a terrible distortion of fact and theory alike. What emerges is not scholarship or insight, but opinion and fantasy.

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