Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty

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Wendy Doniger Shimer College 2012.jpg

Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty (born 20 November, 1940) is an American Indologist.

Quotes[edit]

  • There is generally, therefore, an inverse ratio between the worship of goddesses and the granting of rights to human women. Nor are the goddesses by and large compassionate; they are generally a pretty bloodthirsty lot. Goddesses are not the solution.
  • The two sets of sources, textual and nontextual, reveal bits of history to us in different ways, like the lame man riding on the shoulders of the blind man. When it comes to history, you can’t trust anyone: The texts lie one way, while images and archeology mislead us in other ways. On the one hand, the gods did not fly around in big palaces, as the texts insist that they did, and we cannot know if women really did speak up as Gargi does in the Upanishads, or Draupadi in the Mahabharata.
    • In: The Hindus: An Alternative History, p. 34.
  • James Joyce, in his novel Finnegans Wake, in 1939, punned on the word “Hindoo” (as the British used to spell it), joking that it came from the names of two Irishmen, Hin-nessy and Doo-ley: “This is the hindoo Shimar Shin between the dooley boy and the hinnessy.
    • In: The Hindus: An Alternative History, p. 30.
  • I was, of course, angry and disappointed to see this happen, and I am deeply troubled by what it foretells for free speech in India in the present, and steadily worsening, political climate... I do not blame Penguin Books, India. Other publishers have just quietly withdrawn other books without making the effort that Penguin made to save this book [The Hindus: An Alternative History]. Penguin, India, took this book on knowing that it would stir anger in the Hindutva ranks, and they defended it in the courts for four years, both as a civil and as a w:Lawsuitcriminal suit. They were finally defeated by the true villain of this piece – the Indian law that makes it a criminal rather than civil offense to publish a book that offends any Hindu, a law that jeopardizes the physical safety of any publisher, no matter how ludicrous the accusation brought against a book.
    • In: India: PEN protests withdrawal of best-selling book, Fleursdumal.org
    • Her book [The Hindus: An Alternative History] became controversial and Dinanath Batra of Shiksha Bachao Andolan filed a case against the publisher, claiming that the book was offensive to Hindus and therefore in violation of Section 295A of the Indian penal code which prohibits ‘deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings or any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.'

Q&A with Wendy Doniger, the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor and author of The Hindus[edit]

That's what really interested me about India, the religious aspect-and the extravagance of it. There was so much of it; the temples had all these things crawling all over them. It was so alive and complicated compared to the relative austerity that I saw in Jewish and especially Protestant ceremonies. Not so much Catholic ceremonies, though....
The culture-its excess-really suited me. I always liked Indian miniature painting much more than Renaissance painting. I didn't see what was so great about Rembrandt or Michelangelo. I liked paintings where there were 10,000 people in the scene and elephants and horses! I liked the carvings on Indian temples so much more than the simple architectural outlines.
I was raised deeply imbued with my parents' atheism. The thought of really, seriously practicing any religion doesn't really work for me. But I feel at home in religious buildings and ceremonies. I still hang out a lot in Catholic churches in America. I like going to Catholic masses; I always go to Christmas and Easter. In India I always go to temples and to the pujas. But to be committed to the dogma of any religion-to be told what to believe-goes against my grain in some basic way.

In: Q&A with Wendy Doniger, the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor and author of The Hindus UChicagoNews, 5 November 2009

  • There was an Indian edition of most of my books, but it didn't make much of a splash.
    • On the impact of her books in India. But her publication of The Hindus: An Alternative History, a sweeping history of Hinduism from its origins in 2500 B.C. to the present, though a success, it has been controversial (this aspect has been covered in another quote above).
  • I've always felt like I haven't given anything back to India after all that she had given me, just soaked up all the wonderful stories and told them to Americans. Now at last I feel that I have contributed something to India, sharing with them stories that many of them know but many of them do not, and sharing an approach to the history of the Hindus that highlights things that are usually ignored.
    • About her contributions to India.
  • That was the other thing that drew me to India-the language. In high school my Latin teacher taught me Greek unofficially on Monday nights. I loved Greek; I loved the idea that there was another script. And then my Latin teacher told me there was a language that was even older and more interesting than Greek: Sanskrit. So everything started coming together-the art, the literature, the language.
  • It's a book about the history of the Hindus, from 50 million B.C.E. to the present. It says that there is no evidence that Rama was born in the place that is now known as Ayodhya and there is no evidence that there was a Hindu temple on the spot where the Babur Mosque was. And that there is no evidence that Rama and a bunch of monkeys built a bridge from India to Sri Lanka, as the Hindu Right have claimed. That's just mythology, which is lovely, I've studied it all my life, but you don't legislate on the basis of mythology.
    • About her book [ The Hindus: An Alternative History].
  • But I felt that I wanted a book to be out there to counteract their claims and to tell the history of the Hindus the way I think it should be told, the way it is more to the credit to the Hindus. It's a very positive book-it shows how for so much of their history the Hindus have been so tolerant, and so open to different forms of religion, and that to close it down now would be a terrible shame. So it's really a backhanded compliment-Hinduism has always been so good, and these guys are ruining it.
    • About her book [ The Hindus: An Alternative History].
  • I was raised deeply imbued with my parents' atheism. The thought of really, seriously practicing any religion doesn't really work for me. But I feel at home in religious buildings and ceremonies. I still hang out a lot in Catholic churches in America. I like going to Catholic masses; I always go to Christmas and Easter. In India I always go to temples and to the pujas. But to be committed to the dogma of any religion-to be told what to believe-goes against my grain in some basic way.
  • But when I do think about religious problems, I think in Hindu categories. When my father died, it was the first time something really terrible happened to me-and Christianity and Judaism were of absolutely no use to me. My Jewish and Christian friends would take me to synagogues and churches, and it didn't help at all. And then I started thinking about the myths I was translating at the time, which were about death-why there is death, how death came into the world, what happens when we die, speculations about karma and rebirth. The Hindu version of it made more sense to me than anything. It just seemed like Shiva as a god was more likely to be responsible for the world the way I knew it than the gods of Judaism and Christianity. Capricious, beautiful, violent, it just made more sense.
  • I feel at home in Hindu temples. I like how complicated they are. Being in a great Hindu temple is like being in a forest. You can wander around all day. People kind of leave you alone. When you wander around temples when there isn't a ceremony, there's a kind of peacefulness about them, and I recognize the scenes and the icons. That's Shiva doing this, that's Parvati doing that. Whereas when I go to the Vatican, I have to have someone explain to me what the Sistine Chapel is all about. So I'm at home in Hinduism in that sense, I know what it's all about.
    • About her intent to practice Hinduism
  • It's the religious aspects in which I feel most at home, in a way. No, I don't really feel at home in India anymore. I'm not physically comfortable in India most of the time-I like Chicago, I like snow. It's an irony that I should be an Indologist because I don't like hot climates. I don't like crowds. There are too many things about India that don't suit my physical makeup. And also, I hardly ever go to Bengal, so I don't have a language[ to speak. So I go as a visitor. I visit friends. To some extent, ironically, I'm more at home in India now because there are fabulous hotels with good food and people speaking English, it's like being in New York, but if I go to a village I can't talk to people. I don't know if I ever really was at home in India, but I love being there.
    • About her comfort level staying in India.
  • India is still foreign to me, it's a familiar foreignness in some way, but it's still surprising. When you see a temple in India, you don't say, oh there's another temple, you say: "My God! How could anyone have had the imagination to do something so amazing!" It's never what you expect.
    • About her comfort level staying in India.

About Wendy Doniger[edit]

  • She is one of the world's most influential scholars of Hinduism. The author of 16 books, her work has broken new ground in Hindu scholarship, exploring Hinduism through modern contexts, such as gender, sexuality and identity. She has written three of the most widely read Penguin classics on Hinduism, and published some of the most popular English translations of Sanskrit classics the Kamasutra and Rig Veda. But despite this international acclaim, she, the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions in the Divinity School, said her work has made little impact in India.
  • It (1973) also happened to be the year when her first major work in early India's religious history, viz., Siva, the Erotic Ascetic was published and had instantly become a talking point for being a path-breaking work. I still prescribe it as the most essential reading to my postgraduate students at the University of Delhi, where I have been teaching a compulsory course on 'Evolution of Indian Religions' for the last nearly four decades. It was the beginning of series of extremely fruitful and provocative encounters with the formidable scholarship of Wendy Doniger.
  • And of course, [Wendy Doniger's] translation, again is a ‘re’-translation” of others’ works” in which she has “merely added a fashionable(?) Freudian coating… Simple question: if ‘that’ much is wrong in just one story (and this is a small selection only!) — what about the rest of this book and her other translations?… It might have been better to have used the old translations and to have added her Freudian interpretation to them… In sum: The “translation” simply is UNREALIABLE... In view of all of this, I wonder indeed whether Doniger’s translation would have been accepted in the Harvard Oriental Series rather than in Penguin… And a little less hype would also do: ‘a landmark translation, the first authoritative translation in this century’ (cover); ‘to offer to more specialized scholars new interpretations of many difficult verses.’ (p. lxi) — I doubt it.
  • Doniger is fond of using pseudoscientific language to make her dismissive, negative and often poorly evidenced opinions on Hinduism sound weightier than they are—claiming for instance that Western feminists who embrace the Hindu Goddess are wrong because, when she compares India to Monotheistic, Male- God cultures, there is “in general an inverse ratio between the worship of goddesses and the granting of rights to human women.” Doniger does not produce any evidence to substantiate this sweeping statement which she has made....
  • Doniger’s school of scholarship universalizes Freudian methodologies and pathologies, and combines them with obscure Indic materials to weave wild theories about Indian culture. Indians advocating Freudian psychoanalysis have simply accepted and mimicked the Western theories without independently verified clinical and empirical data to establish their applicability in Indian contexts.

External links[edit]

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