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The purãnic legend of the combat between Siva and Ganesa, resulting in the decapitation of Ganesa’s head and its replacement by the head of an elephant, has been interpreted by Freudian scholars in terms of the Oedipus complex and the castration complex. In this legend Ganesa bars the entry of his father Siva into the chamber of his spouse, Pãrvati, and this leads to a conflict between the father and the son. It is this conflict, which is deemed to represent the hostility of the son towards the father and the libidinal or sexual impulse of the son towards the mother: attraction towards the parent of the opposite sex and antagonism towards the parent of the same sex. Beheading is considered a regular symbol for castration, both in dreams and fantasies: the elephant head (of Ganesa) “is a relic of the conflict in the ritual system between father and son and of the marriage of the son to the mother”.
Another episode in the mythology of Ganesa, in which he loses one of his tusks, is also interpreted as castration.
Goldman elaborates: “The legend of Ganesa . . . is a much clearer example of a story representing the primal oedipal triangle of son, father and mother and the son’s attempts to possess the mother to the exclusion of the father, an attempt that leads to violent conflict and the final symbolic castration of the son”. (For more on the re-interpretation of the Oedipal complex by western scholars in the Indian context, please read page 146 and 147, chapter 14)
At the outset, it is essential to know the significant differences in the legends of Ganesa and Oedipus.
In the legend of Ganesa’s conflict with Siva, the father (Siva) is not killed as in the legend of Oedipus; on the other hand, it is the son (Ganesa) who is beheaded, killed, and later revived with an animal’s head. It is the father who eliminated the son. Thus, there is a reversal of the direction of aggression or desire, from that in the Oedipus legend, from son to father.
As regards to the loss of one tusk, Ganesa loses his tusk in a combat not with his father Siva but with Parasurãma or Balarãma. In some of the paurãnic legends, Ganesa is born ab-initio with an elephant form but with only one tusk. This will be dealt with in greater detail while discussing the paurãnic legends.
We shall first deal with the question whether the concept of oedipal conflict is a valid psychological truth and whether it can be applied to the Siva–Ganesa conflict.
While Freud believed that the oedipal situation is universal, “Most anthropologists now question its universality, since there are many cultures in which it does not appear.” In fact Horney claims that, “it was neither normal nor universal” and that it is “symptomatic of a neurotic behaviour on the part of the parents.” (For more, please read page 148, chapter 14)
In fact, some eminent psychologists have disputed the validity of the Oedipus complex as adumbrated by Freud. Erich Fromm in an analysis of Freud’s concept of the Oedipus complex has explained that the attachment of a man to his mother is not sexual in its nature, that it is a longing for a situation in which the child is protected and has no responsibility to bear—it is a paradisiacal existence for the child under the mother’s protective custody. He emphasizes that sexuality is fickle and is not characterized by great stability. According to Fromm, Freud’s assumption that the child-mother relationship is sexual was his ‘great error’ and is ‘nothing short of absurd’. He further explains the hostile relationship between the father and son as a feature only of a patriarchal society. He goes on to point out that Sophocles had expressed his philosophy or ideas in a trilogy—Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone which together gives the whole Oedipus myth. Fromm points out: “If we look at the trilogy as a whole we discover that Sophocles is speaking of the conflict between the patriarchal and the earlier matriarchal world”. In other words, Freud built his concept of Oedipus complex on a fragmentary study of Sophocles limited to Oedipus Rex.
Again some Indian psychologists have doubted the relevance of the oedipal conflict in Indian social ethics. As regards the suggestion that the Siva-Ganesa conflict represents more precisely negative oedipal complex because of its variations from the classical concept, positive oedipal complex, it is pointed out that according to modern psychology, in negative oedipal complex, or the Reversed Oedipus complex also known as the Inverted Oedipus complex, the son desires the father and regards the mother as a rival; it is not aware of a new category of libidinal situation in which there is a reversal of the flow of aggression: the father suppresses or eliminates the son and the mother desiring the son.
Further, the Oedipus complex is not a bilateral phenomenon; it is unilateral—the sexual instinct of son or daughter towards the parent of the opposite sex. It is only a stage in the development of infantile sexuality and not a feature of adult sexuality. It sets in at the phallic stage of psycho-sexual development of a child between the ages of three and six so that parents do not suffer from the complex.
Again the substitution of the elephant’s head over the decapitated trunk in the case of Ganesa is not the substitution, symbolic or actual, of the genitalia lost through the attack of a father figure—Ganesa’s genitals were not involved in the conflict with Siva. To identify the elephant’s trunk as a genital, as a phallic nose, a displaced phallus is erroneous. Elephant’s trunk is his proboscis, a sensory organ of the oral region, the nose and not the organ of reproduction.
An analysis of the paurãnic legends as to how Ganesa comes to acquire an elephant’s head shows that the oedipal conflict explanation is based on tenuous evidence. (For more on this, please read page 149 and 150, chapter 14)
It would be evident that there is no unanimity among the purãnas as to how Ganesa came to acquire an elephant’s head. Only in the three purãnas, Siva, Skanda, and Mahãbhãgavata is
there a combat between Ganesa and his father Siva in which Ganesa is beheaded and given an elephant’s head in replacement.
There is thus overwhelming evidence that the legend of combat between Siva and Ganesa leading to the decapitation of the latter’s head and its replacement by an elephant’s head is not a representative paurãnic legend.
Consequently, the explanation of the combat in terms of the oedipal conflict is of severely limited value. More importantly, as has been explained earlier, the Siva–Ganesa combat is radically different from the classic oedipal conflict and it is nothing but semantic jugglery to characterize it as an Indian Oedipus conflict.
The Freudian oedipal situation is said to be enacted in the loss of one of the tusks of Ganesa described as ‘displaced castration’ by modern psychologists. But the paurãnic legends regarding the loss of one tusk do not support the proposition that the loss was due to an oedipal conflict. Firstly, in the legends, Ganesa does not lose his tusk in a combat with Siva. Secondly, the tusk is lost in an entirely different cycle of legends—the combat between Parasurãma and Ganesa when the former tried to enter Siva’s (and not Ganesa’s mother’s) apartment and Ganesa barred his entry (Brahmavaivarta Purãna 3.43), or in the combat between Ganesa and Balarãma (Padma Purãna, Uttarakhanda 277.25.35), or in the combat between Mahotkata and Ganesa in Krtayuga (first time cycle) and the demon Devãntaka when the latter tried to pull out the tusks of Mahotkata after he had assumed the form of an elephant-headed being (Ganesa Purana 2.70.2).
None of the legends ascribe the loss of the tusk to an oedipal conflict between the father (Siva) and the son (Ganesa).
Read entire chapter 14 from page 146 to 151
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Freud seriously questioned humanity’s dependence upon religion, even though he was proud to be ethnically Jewish. One thing he pathologized in religions was the belief in a supreme being. He felt that the concept of religion in the ‘final form’ taken by present-day Christian civilization was fatally flawed. He was highly critical of Christianity and saw it as an expression of infantilism.
Though Freud may have had revulsion to religion, the origins of psychoanalysis are deeply rooted in encounters with Biblical religious traditions. The Bible is among the primary sources where Freud extracted his symbols and myths, and from where all of his patients were situated, upon whom he based his prognoses, Ipso facto, the entire corpus of his knowledge or experiences of religion and spirituality were extracted from within the Judeo-Christian context.
Although much of Freud’s work serves as a critique of religious feelings, psychoanalysis nevertheless employed and carried forward the core themes of the Bible. Judeo-Christian tropes dominate psychoanalytical concepts, as Freud mined Biblical literature to extract analogies for his favorite phobias. The ‘primal scene’. which Freud associated with Original Sin, signifies the experience when a child sees the parents engaging in sex, which means, according to Freudian
psychoanalysis, that the child will be traumatized for the rest of his or her life, or until properly psychoanalyzed.
In Why Freud Was Wrong: Sin, Science and Psychoanalysis, Richard Webster explains how the ‘cryptic Judeo-Christian ethos’ was the very foundation of what was touted to be a scientific theory. Webster notes that Freud misdiagnosed several of his early patients as traumatic hysteria when they were “actually cases of injury-related brain damage and epilepsy”. He called psychoanalysis a “crypto-theological system” which encompassed “a modernized reworking of traditional Judeo-Christian morality, sexual realism, and restraint”.
Its very structure was church-like, in that psychoanalytic treatments in Freudian practice were modeled after the Catholic confessional. The psychoanalyst replaces the priest, who is relatively invisible to the patient just like the priest is not visible during confession. The patient confides the traumas he or she has experienced just like the Catholic confides sins. In so doing, the patient is relieved of a burden, and redeemed into good mental health just like the sinners who confess are saved from their sins. (For more on this, please read page 141, chapter 13)
Freud brought phallic symbolism intimately into our lives. In A Mind of Its Own: A Cultural History of the Penis, David Friedman notes how psychoanalytic interpretations have enduringly placed the penis and associated anxieties at the center of society. Friedman suggests that: “attitudes toward the penis have been instrumental in mapping the course of both Western civilization and world history”. He notes that through the centuries, “the penis has been deified, demonized, secularized, racialized, psychoanalyzed, politicized and, finally, medicalized.” This extreme cultural focus on the phallus, codified (overcoded?) by Freud, brought concepts such as ‘castration anxiety’ and ‘penis envy’ into popular discourse.
Freud had visions of grandeur,and his personality and ideas certainly achieved immortality. He
shared with Karl Marx a belief that religion is an illusion—neither man believed in a soul or life after death.
E.M. Thornton wrote in The Freudian Fallacy:
Freud’s concept of the unconscious must be attributed to his cocaine usage. Death wishes, infantile incestuous desires and perversion are not the pre-occupations of the normal mind. Constantly recurring throughout the drug literature are the same words and phrases used by Freud and his followers to describe his concept of the unconscious mind. In both psychoanalysis and this literature the same metaphors of looking down into an abyss occur.
Sometimes a Saint is Only a Saint
In The Future of an Illusion, Freud portrays religion as a fantasy that fulfills “the oldest, strongest, and most urgent wishes of mankind”. In 1927, Freud sent a copy of his controversial book to his friend Romain Rolland, the renowned French Nobel laureate and humanitarian. Rolland, who was a student of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda, began a thirteen-year correspondence with Freud. (For more on this, please read page 142 and 143, chapter 13)
Women, Infants, Hindus and the Irish
There were many similarities between the writings of these two colonial officers, [Berkeley-Hill and Daly] who were self-educated in what could be called pop psychoanalysis. Hartnack notes that they both had a derogatory style and an exclusive focus on negative content. Both consistently failed to note any achievement or positive aspect of Indian culture. Hartnack elaborates:
Instead, they compared the behaviour of Indians with other dependent people, with women, infants and the Irish, and time and again with European neurotics. They tried to explain group behaviour by attributing it to psychopathological defects of individuals, a procedure quite common in the international psychoanalytical discussion of their time.
Hartnack notes that this work had clear colonial overtones. Several contemporary works use parallel approaches to Indian Studies. Both [Daly and Berkeley-Hill] identified themselves fully with British colonialism. Indians were a threat and had thus to be fought, and resistance had to be smashed not only on a military but also on a cultural level. Unlike Orwell, who left Burma in order not to cope with the dual identity of a colonial bureaucrat by day and a questioning and critical human being by night, Daly and Berkeley-Hill worked to abolish these scruples and contribute to a properly functioning colonial world.
One critic in the Hindu diaspora in the USA, when reading an earlier draft of this chapter, asked “Is Doniger’s anxious eagerness in accepting Kripal’s and White’s astounding theses a symptom of the same colonial mindset?” Hartnack continued:
Contemporary psychoanalytical thought offered Daly and Berkeley-Hill models to legitimize their degradation of, and thus their separation from Indians: If one were not a healthy adult British male, one was in trouble, for all other human beings were looked down upon. They [the Hindus] were in the majority and there was the potential of hysteria, violence, revolution, sexual seduction and other supposedly irrational acts, which would be difficult to control. Therefore, it was the white man’s responsibility to keep them under surveillance, if not behind iron gates. In this context, psychoanalytical investigations offered structures of explanation, the first step toward a mastery of the perceived threat.
Contemporary professional psychologists, such as Alan Roland and Salman Akhtar, distance themselves from and disapprove of this reductionist, infantilizing approach. Some of the caveats and foibles in what has been called the Wendy’s Children genre of scholarship are also found in Freud’s work. The psychoanalytic movement at the turn of the century has been compared to that of a religious cult, disdainful of its critics and hyper-attached to a particular hyperbole. Many
similarities are in evidence.
In The Memory Wars: Freud’s Legacy in Dispute, Frederick Crews, professor emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley, describes the coercion of clients by Freud to fulfill the mission of his institute. As a result of this, and other examinations of Freud’s methodologies,
his data gathering has been shown to have been less than authentic—a charge similar to what has been leveled against some members of the RISA school of thought.
Ninety years ago, the innovative thinkers who challenged Freudianism, such as Wilhelm Reich and Carl Jung, among others, were ex-communicated from the psychoanalytical society. Similarly, in RISA and other associated venues, not much dissent is allowed. (For more, please read 144, chapter 13)
Today a number of scholars rely on applied psychoanalysis to create new and ever more exciting research, even though they are not competent in psychoanalysis. This methodology has found its way into History, Sociology, Anthropology, and Religious Studies, among other disciplines.
Hindu-Americans who question scholarship written about their religion are perceived as invalid, inferior. They are not considered ‘legitimate intellectuals’. Those who write articles on websites such as Sulekha are spoken of as ‘dangerous’, perhaps capable of irrational acts and as Berkeley-Hill also described Indians a hundred years ago, ‘difficult to control’. Some scholars of Hinduism Studies are threatened by this contemporary challenge to their established paradigms. They have furiously begun to psychoanalyze the Hindu diaspora as the first step toward a mastery of the perceived threat. Simultaneously, Hindu-Americans have turned the ‘surveillance’ inside-out, and are gazing back with their own tools—such as the Chakra Hermeneutics described in Chapter 9—to better understand those who control the narrative about Hindu traditions.
Read chapter 13 part 2 from page 140 to 145
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Since Freud first formulated his theories a century ago, practitioners and enthusiasts have considered psychoanalysis to be more than merely a humane therapeutic treatment for psychiatric disorders. Freudian interpretations have been variously applied to entities as diverse as corporations, nations, and religious traditions. In a study of the use of psychoanalysis in colonial India, Christiane Hartnack wrote:
“Beyond healing individuals, [psychoanalysts] also hoped to provide an understanding of complex and threatening cultural phenomena that would be a first step towards the solution of social problems”.
Chapter 18 of this volume describes how non-Whites, or people of color, were often depicted as untamed, innocent children, whom white Americans could benevolently train to become civilized and socialized. During different phases of America’s history, different peoples were identified as the savage de jour, such as Native Americans, Mexicans, Chinese, and Filipinos, including today’s ‘illegal aliens’. By the late nineteenth century, such blatant racism was sugarcoated with an icing of ‘race sciences’. Totem and Taboo: Resemblances Between the Mental Lives of Savages and Neurotics applied psychoanalysis to the fields of archeology, anthropology, and the study of religion. Published by Freud in 1913, it provided yet another quasi-scientific theoretical veneer, lending credibility to such ideas as eugenics.
Freud classified cultures and societies based on developmental schema. Natives or primitives were likened to children through a twofold process. First, different cultures of the world were classified into a hierarchical model of developmental stages of historical and cultural progress. Since Europeans formulated the scale, naturally they placed themselves at the top. Secondly, these societal stages were seen as an externalization of individual, biological development. Therefore, due to their culture’s position on the scale, it was scientifically justified to classify any individual belonging to a non-European culture as being inferior to Whites. This assumption was amplified if the nation or culture of the native had been colonized, because that label came with an automatic and morally convenient justification of being in need of Western tutelage.
In the context of applied psychoanalysis, when Abrahamic monotheism is placed at the apex of religious hierarchy or cultural potential—as it has been for millennia of Eurocentric thinking—then both dharmic thought and the polytheistic lens through which Hinduism is perceived, by many outsiders, become fertile and exotic fields for psychoanalytic searches dredging for pathologies.
Post-modern deconstruction theories have legitimized analyses that dislocate symbols from their sources, making them available for ‘slippery’ meanings that are often antithetical to the tradition and irrelevant to mutually understood referents. (For more on this, please read page 133, chapter 13)
Freud’s theories have been applied to Indic themes since the early twentieth century. Hartnack explains how two British officers in the colonial army, Owen Berkeley-Hill and C.D. Daly, were inspired by reading Freud’s theories in psychoanalytical journals such as Imago and the International Journal of Psychoanalysis. On this basis, they “attempted to analyze and interpret some of those elements of Indian culture, religion, sexuality and politics that they apparently found strange, puzzling, uncanny or even frightening”. Hartnack adds that “psychoanalytical interpretations of Hindu religious rituals” were particularly fascinated by “the imagery of Kali”.
Under the subtitle, Hindu as the White Man’s Burden, Hartnack describes the early use of psychoanalysis in the Indian context. Hartnack mentions Berkeley-Hill’s 1921 essay, The Anal-Erotic Factor in the Religion, Philosophy and Character of the Hindus, published in the
International Journal of Psychoanalysis:
In this work, [Berkeley-Hill] gave a range of examples of what he considered to be a sublimation of, or reaction formations against, anal-erotic impulses among Hindus. According to him, reverence for deities such as Agni, Indra and Surya shows anal-erotic fixations, as these deities are associated with passing enormous amounts of wind. The singing chants of classic Hindu liturgies also appeared to him to be related to the same flatus complex. He further pointed to classic Vedic texts that indicate a preoccupation with control over the sphincter muscles, and discussed hatha yoga in this respect ‘breath exercises are really efforts to direct flatus into a most elaborate quasi-philosophical system’.
In other words, the intention of a Hindu, while chanting mantras, is to pass wind as an expression of reverence for Agni, Indra, or Surya—the hot air presumably being indicative of the nature of Hindu devotion. In this colonial version of the use of applied psychoanalysis in the interpretation of Hinduism, breathing exercises such as pranayama are relegated to elaborate exercises in passing gas. The earliest use of psychoanalysis to interpret Hinduism focused almost exclusively on flatulence, in all its audible forms. Such early psychoanalytical approaches were Eurocentric, phallocentric, and profoundly naïve.
Freud viewed all human possibility through the lenses of the first (anal) and the second (procreative) chakras. In contrast, Indic thought aims to put the focus on higher chakras that represent more elevated or evolved states of consciousness. Moreover, Freud encouraged the
application of these anal-oriented perspectives to entire societies, not just individuals. (For more on Freud’s views, please read page 134 and 135, chapter 13)
The psychoanalytic discipline’s traditional purpose is a methodology through which a trained analyst and his or her paying patient discuss the patient’s problems and work together to ameliorate neuroses by analyzing dreams and childhood experiences. There is a strong, peer enforced, ethical covenant between the two which the psychoanalyst only violates at great professional peril. However, when a psychoanalyst—trained or untrained—embarks on an ethnographic study of an entire social unit or civilization, rather than an individual, he or she is dealing with many layers of abstraction—each one of which can be manipulated at will. Instead of the analyst working with the patient to achieve optimum mental health, the ethnographer simply records data obtained through paid or unpaid native informants and interprets the alien culture based on ad hoc use of psychoanalytic theories. Such imagined data is exemplified by Kripal, and carelessly woven into Courtright’s work on Ganesha. The native informant’s role is not as an equal who should be accorded the dignity of being a partner in the search for understanding. Ultimately, the subject has no role in shaping the context, much less a right to critique the final product of the research. The very idea of such ownership is repugnant to most contemporary researchers.
Susantha Goonatilake in his book, Anthropologizing Sri Lanka: A Eurocentric Misadventure, points out that it is doubtful if any of the informants will read their own ethnographies because they are usually only published in European languages. Hence, the informers do not even get a chance to talk back. Certainly, there is no chance of giving a rejoinder. Ethnographic psychoanalysis may claim to enhance the understanding of non-Western cultures, but in actuality, it simply imposes Eurocentric constructs to describe the Other.
Hinduism as Flatulence
Hartnack’s description of early attempts to use psychoanalysis as a tool to interpret Hinduism exposes stark examples of abusive scholarship:
Berkeley-Hill further claimed that the essence of the notion of atman is that in Brahmanism, the flatus complex masquerades as a metaphysical spirit. What he saw as the excessive ritualism of
Brahmanism is also an indication of classical pedantic-compulsive, anal-erotic components. To prove this point, he gave detailed descriptions of repetitive elements in Brahmanic rituals, for example eighteen rules for answering the call of nature, and nine for cleaning the teeth. Berkeley-Hill also discussed the enormous units of time in Hindu myths, e.g., thousands of golden ages, millions of years within each yuga, and the extremely high numbers associated with deities, such as ten million royal deities. He saw in this propensity to juggle with large arithmetical quantities an expression of the moulding capacities characteristic of early anal activities.
Thus, as explained in Chapter 8, David White’s reduction of Tantra to a weird sex-cult of hypocritical Hindus consuming each other’s sexual fluids is based on the colonial-era psychoanalytical precedents. It is a genuine coin of the colonial regime.
Not surprisingly, quite a few colonialists had serious cases of Kali-phobia. Hartnack wrote:
Daly pointed out that Kali is worshipped as the all-embracing mother, but that she is also considered to be the goddess of death, destruction, fear, night and chaos, as well as the goddess of cholera and of anti- and asocial groups, such as thieves and prostitutes, the symbol of cemeteries, the destroyer of time—in short, the source of all evil. (For more on Daly’s iconographic representation of Kali, please read page 136 and 137, chapter 13)
This image of the Hindu Goddess as a bloodthirsty, phallic being is faithfully echoed to this day. In Caldwell’s description, Kali is “first of all, a phallic being, the mother with a penis . . . she is the bloodied image of the castrating and menstruating (thus castrating) female . . . ”
Of course Caldwell ‘updates’ the thesis by attributing newly fashionable homosexual psychopathologies to Hindus who worship the Goddess. Her stated ambition is to “show that themes of eroticism and aggression in the mythology are male transsexual fantasies reflecting intense preoedipal fixation on the mother’s body and expressing conflicts over primary feminine identity”.
Hindus are thereby classified as a community dominated by obsessive compulsive traits. Hinduism is seen as a societal neurosis, or perhaps a collective pathology exemplified by the Goddess Kali. Among today’s scholars, Doniger brings it home with her sweeping statements to the press about ‘bloodthirsty’ goddesses and ‘inverse ratios’ between worship of the Goddess and the status of women in Hindu society. Describing this strategically implemented use of psychoanalysis from a particularly colonial point of view, Hartnack wrote:
Daly pointed out that, whereas with regard to Ireland, one might understand a favorable identification with a lovely virgin, in India the identification was with the dreadful Kali, which seemed perverse to him. He therefore considered the Hindus’ behaviour to be beyond even the broadest margins of normality and summarized his analysis of revolutionary tendencies with the following words: ‘we have a psychology which differs considerably from the European, its
equivalent with us being found only in pathological cases. They are a race who fail in their rebellion against the father and as a result of this failure adopt a feminine role with feminine character traits. There results, so to speak, a split in the male personality, the aggressive component undergoing repression, which accounts for the childlike and feminine character traits of the Hindu as a whole, and the fact that they thrive only under very firm and kindly administration, but if allowed latitude in their rebellious tendencies are quick to take advantage of it.
Handy political uses of psychology are still uppermost in the minds of many Western researchers in dealing with Indians, as can be seen from Caldwell’s call to psychoanalyze Hindu culture as a whole. For Doniger, too, this overwhelming desire to discredit any political identity for Hindus—leads to her eager approval of David White’s reductionist thesis on Tantra, not because she finds his evidence entirely convincing—she doesn’t—but because of the immense political and civilizational value of degrading uppity Hindus and taking them down a notch or two. Both Daly and Doniger seem to share a common anxiety about putting the Hindus in their proper place, lest their rebellious tendencies threaten the world order and/or academic stability.
Hartnack explains that the dominant view in Europe at the Hartnack explains that the dominant view in Europe at the time was a commonly held theory, derived from Enlightenment thought,
that the “development of the individual is structured according to the development of mankind”. She points out that Freud also adhered to this perspective. Results of this theory were racial sciences, such as eugenics in the nineteenth century, which led to institutional discrimination in America and Europe. (For more on this, please read page 138, chapter 13)
Scholars whose work have recently been critiqued by the diaspora apply this 1920s’ era reasoning to all Hindus, seeing them as stuck in infantilism and incapable of understanding sophisticated jargon.
While defending Kripal’s creative interpretation of homoerotica, Caldwell suggests to her fellow RISA researchers, that they should contextualize the ‘distorted masculinity’ of Hindu culture, and the ‘confused sexuality’ of the Hindu male. She sees this mangling of the male as the catalyst that set off a highly contested, socially emasculated politicized century of dangerous nationalistic posturing. Thus what starts as tentative, poorly evidenced, and speculative research is quickly elevated as a way of making sense of those dangerous Indians and their psychologically corrosive culture.
Regarding the article by Berkeley-Hill, The Anal-Erotic Factor in the Religion, Philosophy and Character of the Hindu, Hartnack states that “Hindus did not receive [the] article enthusiastically [when] the original English version . . . was read at the Indian Psychoanalytical Society. Perhaps what is most discomfiting to the Donigers, Courtrights and other latter-day Berkeley-Hills is that the Indians of today, particularly in the diaspora, are not shy or beaten down. They would rather debate these alleged ‘analyses’, and ask inconvenient questions, than defer them for some future debate.
Hartnack elaborates in terms that could be applied, mutatis mutandis, to the particular school of contemporary scholars under review in this book:
Though some theory is tagged on to it, the essay remains a conglomeration of densely presented images and associations, wild ideas, and racist attributions. Daly freely converted prevalent
psychoanalytical concepts that explained psychopathological defects of individuals into explanations for all those aspects of Indian culture that appear strange to Europeans to substantiate his belief in the European culture’s superiority over Hinduism.
The basic interpretive view of the Judeo-Christian experience is in total contrast to Hinduism. On
the surface, Freudianism may be able to attach a few untenable meanings onto Hindu symbols, but the results are unreliable.
Read chapter 13 part 1 from page 132 to 140
Go to Chapter 13 part 2
Go to Chapter 11
Soon after RISA Lila-1 appeared, Prof. Balagangadhara, from the Department of the Comparative Science of Cultures in Ghent University, Belgium, posted extensive comments on the Sulekha website. Thus began his prominent role as a key scholar in this debate ever since. Below are excerpts from his remarks made in three parts spread over a few days.
To Rajiv Malhotra and all other seekers, by S.N. Balagangadhara
Deservedly, Rajiv’s article has appalled the readers: horror, indignation, anger and bewilderment at the RISA ‘lila’ . . . I want to raise three issues: (a) how to analyze what Rajiv portrays; (b) depending on that, what an adequate response consists of. Before we do either (this is one
of the things I have discovered through my own research during the last two decades), we need to be clear about (c) how we ‘should not’ analyze the situation that Rajiv has sketched. Given that all three (in their general form) have been my obsessions, I have been reflecting on them deeply, seriously and systematically for some time now. I would like to share some of the results of this reflection with you.
Perhaps, it is best to begin in an autobiographical mode. I came to (continental) Europe some 25 years ago, naively thinking that ‘cultural difference’ is something that ‘cosmopolitan’ Indians would not experience: after all, I had studied Natural Sciences in India; knew English rather well; was more familiar with the British and European history than I was with that of India; felt right at home with the Western philosophy … It took me about four years of living in Europe, without relating to any Indian (or even Asian) community because I did not want to land up in an emotional and social ghetto, to realize that I was wrong: ‘cultural differences’ were no fictitious invention of anthropologists; it involved more than being a vegetarian or being barefoot at home when the weather was not too cold. This realization was instrumental in shaping my research project: what makes the Indian culture different from that of the West? Of course, the first fields I went into were Indology and Anthropology. Pretty soon I discovered that neither was of any use. Not only did they fail to provide me with any insights, but they also succeeded in merely enraging me: the kind of rage you feel when you read the analyses of Wendy Doniger or Kripal.
Indology is full of ‘insights’ like those you have read in Rajiv’s article. What has varied over time is the intellectual jargon that clothes these ‘analyses’. (For more on this, please read page 124, chapter 12)
My initial reactions to these discoveries [discussed in preceding paragraphs] parallel the response of many a post on this e-board: horror, rage and a conviction that ‘racism’ is inherent in these writings. Pretty soon, this conviction about ‘racism’ of European authors gave way to doubts: Is it possible to convict all European authors of racism? Are we to assume that, in the last 400
years or so, all writers who wrote on India were racists? If yes, how to understand the powerful impact these writers and their theories have had on the Indian authors and Indian social sciences? If no, why did they say pretty similar things? Is one to say that the ‘respected’ Indian social scientists are no better than brown sahibs? Is Indian social science merely a disguised variant of Indology? So on and so forth.
Today, many of us are familiar with Edward Said and his book ‘Orientalism’. In his wake, many buzzwords like ‘essentialism’, ‘Eurocentrism’ (though interesting, Blaut is not theoretically well equipped), ‘Orientalist discourse’, the ‘us-them dichotomy’ etc. whiz around. I would be the last to detract from the merits of Said’s book: he was one of the earliest writers to have drawn attention to the systematic nature of the Western way of talking about the Orient. Despite this, the concept ‘Orientalism’ is totally inadequate to analyze the situation underlying RISA lila. Surely, the question is: ‘Why is the West Orientalist?’ Said’s plea ends up denying any possibility of understanding cultural differences or indeed why Orientalism came into being, or what sustains it. (For more on this, please read page 125, chapter 12)
What I am saying is that one should not think that Rajiv paints a ‘racist’, or ‘orientalist’ or a ‘eurocentric’ picture. These words obfuscate the deeper issue, one which is more insidious than any of the above three. It might or might not be the case that Wendy and her children are ‘racist’; ditto about their ‘eurocentrism’ or ‘orientalism’. But when you realize that they are not saying anything that has not been said in the last three hundred years (despite their fancy jargon), the question becomes: ‘why does the western culture systematically portray India in these terms?’
To say that Western culture is, in toto, racist or ‘eurocentric’ is to say pretty little: even assuming, counterfactually, that the Western culture is all these things (and that all the Westerners are ‘racist’, etc), why do these attitudes persist, reproduce themselves and infect the Indians? There is a weightier reason not to tread this path. In fact, it has been a typical characteristic of Western writings on other cultures (including India) to characterize the latter using terms that are only appropriate to describe individual psychologies: X culture is stupid, degenerate, and irrational; Y culture is childish, immature, intuitive, feminine, etc. To simply repeat these mantras after them is to achieve very little understanding.
Rajiv says repeatedly that these writings ‘deny agency to the Indian subjects’. I am familiar with this phrase through ‘post-colonial’ writings. This too is a mantra like many of them, without having the desired effect. And why is that? It might appear to make sense if we merely restrict ourselves to Wendy and her Children’s analyses of Ganesha, Shiva or Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. However, it loses all plausibility when we realize that, for instance, social sciences use one and the same ‘epistemology’ to analyze both the West and India and that despite this, their claims about India reproduce the ‘Indological truths.’ (For more on this, please read page 126, chapter 12)
In a way, you could say, we need to do to the West what it has done to us, namely, study it
anthropologically. But how to go about doing this and not simply reproduce what generations of thinkers (from the West) have already said about the West?
It is amusing to use Freud to analyze their Freudian analyses of Indian religions; or use Patanjali’s Chakras to typify their personalities. But at the end of the day, we are still left with the task of studying and understanding why the Western culture talks about us the way it does. Let me just say this: our problems do not either begin or end in religious studies or Indology. They are deeper. Much, much deeper. To tackle RISA lila as a separate phenomenon, i.e., to focus either on Wendy or her ‘parampara’ alone, would be to compound tragedy with conceptual blunder. Not only that. It would prevent us from understanding RISA lila for what it is: a phenomenon that is typical of the Western culture.
In the [above] . . . I drew attention to the fact that Wendy and her Children draw from the existing social sciences, while contributing at the same time to their further ‘development’. In this post, I will elaborate what this statement means, what it implies, and what it says about the ‘Western culture’
1. Not many would challenge the claim that Christianity has been highly influential in the development of the Western culture. We need to take this statement utterly seriously. It means that many things we ‘take for granted’, whether in the West or in India, come from the influence that Christianity has exerted. I claim that Christianity expands in two ways. (This is not just typical of Christianity but of all religions. I will talk only of Christianity because I want to talk about the Western culture.) Both of these have been present ever since the inception of Christianity and have mutually reinforced each other. The first is familiar to all of us: ‘direct conversion.’ People from other cultures and ‘religions’ are explicitly converted to Christianity and thus the community of Christian believers grows.
2. Funnily enough, the second way in which Christianity expands is also familiar to us: the process of secularization. I claim that Christianity ‘secularizes’ itself in the form of, as it were, ‘de-de-Christianized Christianity’. What this word means is: typically Christian doctrines spread wide and deep (beyond the confines of the community of Christian believers) in the society dressed up in ‘secular’ (that is, not in recognizably ‘Christian’) clothes. We need a very small bit of Western history here in order to understand this point better.
Usually, the ‘enlightenment period’, which is identified as ‘the Age of Reason’, is alleged to be the apotheosis (or the ‘high point’) of the process of ‘secularization’: the enlightenment thinkers are supposed to have successfully ‘fought’ against the dominance that religion (i.e. Christianity) had until then exercised over social, political, and economic life. From then on, so goes the standard textbook story, human kind began to look to ‘reason’ instead of, say, the Church in all matters social, civic, political etc. The spirit of scientific thinking, which dominated that age, has continued to gain ascendancy. As heirs to this period, which put a definitive end to all forms of ‘irrational’ subservience, we are proud citizens of the modern day world. We are against all forms of despotism and we are believers in democracy; we believe in the role of reason in social life; we recognize the value of human rights; and we should understand that ‘religion’ is not a matter for state intervention, but a ‘private’ and personal affair of the individual in question. This, as I say, is the standard textbook story.
4. The problem with this story is simply this: the enlightenment thinkers have built their formidable reputation (as opponents of ‘all organized religion’ or even ‘religion’ tout court) by ‘selling’ ideas from Protestant Christianity as though they were ‘neutral’ and ‘rational’. Take for example the claim that ‘religion’ is not a matter for state intervention and that it is a ‘private’ affair of the individual in question. (Indian ‘secularists’ agitatedly jump up and down to ‘defend’ this idea.) Who thought, do you think, that ‘religion’ was not a ‘private’ affair? The Catholic Church, of course. The Protestants [on the other hand] fought a battle with the Catholics on ‘theological’ grounds: they argued that ‘being a Christian believer’ (or what the Christian believes in) is matter between the Maker (i.e. God) and the Individual. It was ‘God’ (i.e. the Christian God), who judged man; and men ‘could not’ judge each other in matters of Christian faith. The Church, they argued, could not mediate between Man and God (according to their interpretation of the Bible); (For more on this, please read page 129, chapter 12)
5. The same story applies with respect to what is enshrined in the UN charter. The doctrine of Human Rights (as we know them today) arose in the Middle Ages, when the Franciscans and the Dominicans fought each other. (Both are religious orders within the Catholic Church.) All theories of human rights we know today were elaborated in this struggle that continued nearly for two hundred years. These were ‘theological’ debates, to understand which one
needs to understand Christian theology.
6. I am not merely making the point that these ideas had their origin in religious contexts. My point is much more than that: I claim that ‘we cannot accept these theories without, at the same time, accepting Christian theology as true.’ What the Western thinkers have done over the centuries (the Enlightenment period is the best known for being the ‘high point’ of this process) is to ‘dress up’ Christian theological ideas (I am blurring the distinction between the divisions within Christianity) in a secular mantle. Not just this or that isolated idea, but theological theories themselves.
7. I am not in the least suggesting that this is some kind of a ‘conspiracy’. I am merely explicating what I mean when I say that Christianity spreads also through the process of ‘secularization’. What has been secularized are whole sets of ideas about Man and Society which I call ‘Biblical themes’. They are Biblical themes because to accept them is to accept the truth of the Bible. Most of our so-called ‘social sciences’ assume the truth of these Biblical themes.
8. I know this sounds unbelievable; but I have started to prove them. I have already shown, for example, that the so-called religious studies presuppose the truth of Christian theology. That is why, when they study the so-called ‘religions’ from other cultures, their results do not fundamentally differ from a theological treatment of the same religions. (For more on this, please read page 130, chapter 12)
9. To begin appreciating the plausibility (if not the truth) of my claim, ask yourselves the following question: why are the so-called ‘social sciences’ different from the natural sciences? I mean to say, why have the social sciences not developed the way natural sciences have? Comparatively speaking, it is not as though the social sciences are starved of funding or personnel. Despite all this, the social sciences are not progressing. Why is this? I put to you that this is what has happened. Most of our so-called social sciences are not ‘sciences’ in any sense of the term: they are merely bad Christian theologies.
10. If this is true, it also helps us understand why both ‘conversion’ and the notion of ‘secularism’ jars Indian sensibilities. Somehow or the other, Nehruvian ‘secularism’ always connotes a denigration of Indian traditions; if you look at the debates in the EPW and SEMINAR and journals like that, one thing is very clear: none of the participants really understands what ‘secularism’ means. In India, ‘secularism’ is counter posed to ‘communalism’ whereas ‘the
secular’, in European languages, has only one contrast—‘the sacred’.
11. To summarize what I have said so far. Christianity spreads in two ways: through conversion and through secularization. The modern day social sciences embody the assumptions of Christian theology, albeit in a ‘secularized’ form. That is why when Wendy and her Children draw upon the resources of the existing social sciences, they are drawing upon Christian theology. In this Christian theology, we are worshippers of the Devil. Our gods are demons (followers of the devil). As such, amongst other things, they are perverts: sexually, morally and intellectually.
This is the insidious process I talked about: the process of secularization of Christian ideas. Let the ‘simplistic’ presentation not lead you to think that the ideas I am proposing are ‘simplistic’. They are not.
Read entire chapter 12 from page 123 to 131
Go to chapter 13