UNITED STATES, March 6, 2017 (Hindu American Foundation Press Release): Last week, the Hindu American Foundation offices began receiving calls and emails raising concerns about the manner in which Hinduism is presented in the first episode of Reza Aslan's new show "Believer," premiering on CNN, Sunday, March 5th. The episode focuses on the Aghori sect in Varanasi, India, whose sadhus deliberately appear and behave in ways alien to common Hindu practice, all in an effort to transcend dualities and realize spiritual oneness. Though renunciation is a key part of Hindu practice broadly speaking, Aghori babas are the epitome of the spiritual occult and stand apart from other sadhus in most ways. The deeply mystical -- sometimes revolting -- practices of Aghoris, a sect comprising the smallest minority of Hindu sampradayas (spiritual traditions), has long invited the spotlight of foreign journalists. And too often, that spotlight has not been kind.
Religious literacy in the United States about Hinduism, as every Hindu American knows, is woefully inadequate. The Pew Religious Knowledge Survey of 2013 found that only 36% of Americans could answer a single question about Hinduism: Whether Shiva and Vishnu were Deities associated with Hinduism. When the knowledge deficit is so stark, and minority communities are facing a rise in hate incidents across the US -- a Hindu American was killed and Sikh American was shot in likely hate crimes in the past week -- why would Aslan and CNN sensationalize the Aghoris as a primetime introduction to the faith of a billion Hindus, most of whom have never seen or met an Aghori?
When National Geographic, with Morgan Freeman, moved forward with its series on religion, The Story of God, HAF was approached pre-production and asked to serve as a consultant, offering ideas and suggestions, and connecting National Geographic with an eloquent swami who beautifully contextualized, explained, and demonstrated Hindu religious practice. The result was a highly successful episode that has the potential to improve religious literacy. CNN does not appear to have sought similar counsel, and HAF was not informed of the show's production until last week. And as a result, HAF is extremely concerned that while they are not Aslan's intentions, erroneous depictions, misleading imagery, and provocative first half of the program could exacerbate Hinduphobia in the face of widespread religious illiteracy about Hinduism.
Much more on this topic at "source" above.