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Hindu lecture series brings controversial scholar to campus

Well-known Hinduist scholar reads a take on Hinduism’s historical context.

Wendy Doniger made a special trip to Athens to speak in her lecture, “Blasphemy and Censorship in India, Past and Present,” to more than 100 people on Monday in Baker Theater.

The reading consisted of a history in Hinduism’s demeanor in which those Hindi and neo-Hindi responded to the religion before British influence.

This was the third lecture in the biannual Gawande Lecture Series in which scholars of Indian philosophy and religion are brought to Ohio University for a free and open discussion with the public.

Monday’s speaker Doniger has published more than 40 books including “Hindus: An Alternative History,” published in 2009, which received backlash in a recall the book to satisfy right-wing Hindu groups who thought the book misrepresented Indian history.

Brian Collins, world religions and classics professor and a chair in the Gawande Lecture Series, noted his excitement for Doniger’s reading.

“She was my advisor in University of Chicago, and I have known her for over 10 years,” Collins said. “It’s a good time for her, because she is in this controversy, but it has dated back to the ’90s.”

This controversy and idea of blasphemy in Doniger’s work has various components, but mostly narrows down to the unsettling homoerotic overtones in Hindi religion and art work before western influence and Orthodox Hindus requested censorship which was caused by British influence.

“They want the world to see only the strand the British endorsed, and I celebrate precisely the other strand the British scorned and taught Hindus to be ashamed of,” Doniger said in her reading.

Doniger’s personality was heard through her narrations. Her love for what she writes about is impervious to her critics.

Doniger said these lessons have application today, even for western societies.

“It’s thinking about how a civil society should work. What should we do with things we don’t want to hear. To what extent should hurting feelings be a reason to say or not say something,” Collins said. “India is having to deal with it the same way the U.S. is having to deal with their secular democracy, because India is also a secular democracy.”

The concerns for how perceptions of any religion arises, but for Hinduism, the digression before western influence is still in progress.

“It’s like a kaleidoscope and there’s a lot of different angles, and to understand it you have to understand it in its messiness,” Collins said. “And the more you try to make it into a neat little picture, the more you leave out.”


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