“Hinduism and Modernity”
The writings on Hinduism and modernity by David Smith are an interesting read due to the juxtaposition of two opposite (per the author) concepts filled with examples that are traditional and modern with a spirit of understanding that is the hallmark of modern times. The opening examples of the Ganesha idols drinking milk being ridiculed by a modern day press in India serves well to remind us that our thinking or “theorisation” has become rigidly scientific and we have developed a sceptical bias towards what we cannot understand or explain. For me, the process of reading this section and sorting the confusion of thoughts thereafter enough to write about, involved several attempts to reading, writing and letting it go. As I read through this section with much anticipation, I found myself struggling to capture the essence of the writings of Kant, Weber, Marx, Hegel and others. After numerous readings, I realised that I was reading about modernity through the perspective of western philosophical writers and social thinkers. My eastern heritage and western education had somehow missed adequate information on both Hinduism and a balanced approach to modernity. As I read the writings of Smith, shortly after the first page, the expectation of deepening my understanding of Hinduism was pushed to the back burner and I received an education on western philosophical and social thought. That was disappointing because I had hoped to learn more about Hinduism and its place in the modern day. My expectation was that somehow the author would reconcile so called rational theorisations (that I too am very attached to) and the in-explainable Hindu concepts that I was familiar with. Unfortunately, other than seeing shadows of faith based thinking in Hegel, the section on Hinduism and modernity abruptly ends with little or no understanding on Hinduism and the assortment of modern day theorists do not bridge the intellectual divide between the two concepts. A couple of days after reading this section and failing to write any thoughts, I suddenly realised another obstacle in my thinking. When I lived in India, amidst the Indian culture, I had come to accept Hinduism as the “modern” religion as opposed to Christianity or Islam. The basis of this label was that Hinduism lacked a book or structured definitions and paid no attention to conversion of others to Hinduism. As an organised religion, it was wonderfully ambiguous, largely spiritual and open to individual expression. It was okay to discard rituals or practices that did not my approval. That essence of Hinduism that I carried from my stay in India was a sharp contrast to the author’s perspective of Hinduism being the example of a “traditional” religion, and perhaps a far cry from modernity. My personal thought is that Hinduism, like philosophical or social theory has over the last 2000 plus years been defined by male dominated patriarchal societies. Like the cream on homemade Indian yogurt, that layer needs to be peeled away to study the essence of Hinduism or modernity and understand the closeness they share.
European Discovery of Hinduism from “Hinduism and Modernity” The European discovery of Hinduism spans a period from the 15th century when the ports of Goa opened up for the Portuguese traders to the 18th century when the British begin to live in India and acculturate themselves with some of the Indian traditions. In these three hundred years, India seemed to change from an isolated country hidden from the world, to a country that could no longer hide its spices, its riches and its culture. Sadly though, the discovery of Hinduism for non Indians did not have a clear theoretical base, and was dependant on a largely oral and abstractly written sparse Hindu religious/cultural history, during a time when the Indian society was not open to sharing with the outside world. As a result, the accounts of Hinduism written by visitors depicted the Hindu religion as...
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