UNITED STATES, March 14, 2014 (Huffington Post, by Suhag Shukla): The American Academy of Religions (AAR), the largest body of professionals pursuing the academic study of religion, issued a statement this week in response to Penguin Books India's decision to withdraw and destroy copies of Wendy Doniger's "The Hindus: An Alternative History." In part, the AAR Board states:
"...But to pursue excellence scholars must be free to ask any question, to offer any interpretation, and to raise any issue. If governments block the free exchange of ideas or restrict what can be said about religion, all of us are impoverished. It is only free inquiry that allows a robust understanding of the critical role that religions play in our common life. For these reasons the AAR Board of Directors fully supports Professor Doniger's right to pursue her scholarship freely and without political interference."
As a Religious Studies major before law school, and now an advocate engaged in promoting an accurate understanding of Hinduism and countering misrepresentations on a near daily basis, four words in the AAR statement -- "to offer any interpretation" -- leap out at me. To a lay person who deeply respects my religious tradition, it is this unconditional and self-proclaimed right "to offer any interpretation" which lies at the root of what is wrong with religious studies today. The Penguin decision is invoking all sorts of arguments supportive of free speech and academic freedom, and even against Hindu nationalism (as Doniger claims in the New York Times), but the principle that has not been raised by the AAR -- but must be -- is that of academic integrity.
Since 2003, my colleagues at the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) and I been attending the AAR's annual conference in our effort to follow the state of Hindu studies. While there always have been and now are a growing number of scholars who are committed to presenting emic understandings of Hinduism, we find each year that the "in crowd" created by Doniger at the AAR has yet to shift in terms of power and influence. Freudian analysis, tenuous and selective translations, conjecture, Orientalism, and political baggage from India reign supreme and are the basis of far too many sessions about Hinduism which have little to do with the beliefs and practices of every day Hindus.
Much more at source.