Monday, July 31, 2006
Saturday, July 29, 2006
Allow me to turn now to Hinduism and Indian civilisation - since the two are inextricably linked. Hinduism projects the great values of social justice, communal harmony, individual freedom, and human well-being. The idea of India, variously called Jambudwipa, Aryavarta, and more frequently Bharat, has exercised the Indian imagination for several millennia. Different writers have asked what defined and distinguished their land and its people, and what their central civilisational values were.
- For Tilak, Aurobindo, Bipan Chandra Pal, Savarkar, and others, it was a unique Hindu achievement, created and nurtured by the Hindus and reflective of the distinct Hindu sensibilities and historical experiences.
- Gokhale, Ranade, Gandhi, Tagore, and others took a different view. Although they disagreed among themselves, they were all convinced that the Indian civilization was spiritual rather than narrowly religious in its nature, open to the influences of others, synthetic rather than Hindu in its content, decentralised and rural in its orientation, and committed to the values of tolerance, self-restraint, and universality.
- The third group of writers, such as Dadabhai Naoroji, Motilal, Jawaharlal Nehru, and the communists, took a very different view of the Indian civilization and its contemporary relevance. In their view it had, after a brilliant start, continued to decline and was no longer a living reality. It was basically sociocentric, apolitical, hierarchical, localised, and unworldly, and wholly at odds with the demands of modern life. The best thing to do was to make a clean break with the past and give India a wholly new and modern self-image.
But although India chose to define itself along modernist lines after independence, the Hindu view still prevails. Hindu civilisation lies at its core, and is enriched by such Hindu-derived currents of thought as Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. However, Indian civilisation is too rich, complex, and multistranded to be reduced to a single and homogeneous formula. Every attempt to abridge and abstract a part of it does it grave injustice. Its values are several and occasionally incompatible.
India has over the centuries been a home to many different peoples and cultures and has evolved a synthetic, composite, and multiculturally constituted common culture. The Hindu culture itself is a work of many hands and contains within it a large range of unhomogenisable diversity. It has no single owner, and that is its strength. And since all communities have contributed to it, they can see their own images in it and can happily accept it. It therefore provides an ideal framework within which to find both our commonalities and enjoy our differences.
And it is this desire to strike the right balance between unity and diversity that links us to the state of modern multi-cultural Britain. Let me first turn to the position of Hindus in this country. I want to resist the suggestion that Hindus and Hindu culture, whether on the Indian sub-continent, or in Britain, or elsewhere in the Western world, have somehow been preserved in aspic. There is, and always has been, in all cultures, a tension between tradition and modernity, between continuity and change. In this sense, cultural identities have always been dynamic, fluid, ambiguous, and elusive. At any given historic moment, a particular culture can never wholly be defined completely and accurately.
Nevertheless, there are tacit dimensions in Hindu society that are deep-rooted and resistant to change. These might be obvious to cultural anthropologists but for most of us they work so surreptitiously and unconsciously that we only become aware of them after a rigorous self-analysis. These might involve value systems, religious beliefs, language structures, child-rearing practices, family organisation, aspects of food and dress. Some of these influences go back to our childhood and are largely unknown to us. But they are nonetheless important determinants of our cultural expression and behaviour.
So, in a paradoxical sense, our Hindu culture is both given and constantly reconstituted. We might not like parts of it, and even when we do, we might feel that it needs to be changed to suit new circumstances. All such redefinitions and changes require both a deep historical knowledge of the cultural heritage and a feel for its past. Such redefinitions also require a rigorous and realistic assessment of present circumstances and future aspirations.
Thus in Britain, while traditional cultural practices are maintained and carry respect, the degrees and forms of attachment are fluid and changing - constantly negotiated, producing new, hybrid cultural forms of tremendous vitality and innovation. Such communities are in touch with their differences, without being saturated by tradition. They are actively involved in wider society without being assimilated. They are no longer wholly, or even primarily, defined by difference, by their otherness.
Perhaps it is important to acknowledge that 'Hinduism' in the British context is primarily perceived as an ethnic form. Ethnicity results from the interplay between two different forms of dialogue - the dialogue that an individual has with his/her cultural group, and the dialogue that he/she and her group have with the wider society. Hindus both locate themselves, and are located by others, in a culturally plural society.
Of late, ethnicity is now beginning to carry some other meanings, and to define a new space for identity. It insists on difference - on the fact that every identity is placed, positioned, in a culture, a language, a history. Every ethnic sentiment comes from somewhere, from somebody in particular. But it is no longer grounded in a set of fixed transcendental categories and which therefore has no guarantees in nature. It should not be seen as having an essentialist, primordial quality. Rather, as has been said, 'ethnicity is a process of invention which incorporates, adapts, and amplifies pre-existing communal solidarities, cultural attributes and historical memories'. Ethnicity therefore is an arte-fact not nature-fact.
What this brings into play is the instant recognition of the immense diversity and differentiation of the historical and cultural experience of ethnic subjects. That is to say, a recognition that we all speak from a particular place, out of a particular history, out of a particular experience, a particular culture, without being straight-jacketed by the binary oppositions of black and white, male and female, gay and straight. We are all ethnically located, but exist in the knowledge that our boundaries are being constantly crossed and recrossed by the categories of race, gender, sexuality, and class.
We know they are not forever, not totally universally true, not underpinned by any infinite guarantees. But for the moment, there is always a boundary, no matter how partial, temporary, or arbitrary. Otherwise, we would all flow into one another and there would be no political action, no cut and thrust of ideology, no positioning, no crossing of lines, no change. So there are other identities out there that do matter, that do bear some definite relationship to each other, that have to be dealt with somehow. Accepting the necessarily fictional nature of ethnicity does not stop the ethnic subject from engaging in the politics of difference. But it is an altogether gentler politics, a deeply non-violent encounter, in which ethnicity becomes, not a brutalising but a revitalising force.
When conceived and constructed in this way, ethnicity is transformed into something that is not doomed to survive forever, as Englishness has been, by marginalising, dispossessing, displacing, and forgetting other ethnicities. It becomes an ethnicity that has essentially lost its recruiting power, and is made attractive because of it. But I don't want to give the impression that this new concept of ethnicity as a powerless and perfect system. Like all other forms of identification, there will still be dimensions of power within it. But it isn't quite so framed by the extremities of power and aggression, violence and mobilisation, as the earlier forms of ethnic nationalism. I believe that the values and beliefs associated with Hinduism are implicit in this transformation - a transformation that moves us into a different discourse, a different world of ethnic relations in which diversity and equality are opposite sides of the same coin.
My great-grandfather did not have much of a formal education. He did; however, seem to have an extraordinary ability to understand the complex mechanics of machinery. He was able to disassemble and assemble pocket watches at a very early age, and build rudimentary car engines with very little training. He would often contemplate where this ability came from, and this questioning fostered his strong belief in spirituality and reincarnation. he studied whatever he could find about these subjects, and at one point entertained a visiting sadhu from India. He even handed out small pamphlets concerning reincarnation to visitors after they completed the factory tour at ford motor company.
- The first is the need we see for Hindu communities to appreciate scholarship in Hindu Studies and to recognise its enormous potential for their future in our global culture. Linked with this is the need for contemporary scholarship to study contemporary Hinduism, its spirituality, literature and perspectives.
- The second is that we feel a need to invest in the future of our communities by facilitating young intellectuals to become a future generation of scholars. This will help preserve and interpret Indic religions for modern times.
- The third reason is more personal. We have two lovely daughters and we hope that they will one day have children of their own. We would like to see our grandchildren, and others have every opportunity to excel in any field of endeavour, including Hindu theology, philosophy and culture. With the OCHS they will have such an option.
I urge you all to do whatever you can to assist in this exceptional and important endeavour. If you are a scholar you hold the keys for a whole culture to engage wholeheartedly with the Western world. Your support is essential; if you are a businessman you can add value to the Centre; if you are a student you can consider a vocation in scholarship in this field. But everyone can offer support and blessings. Thank you HOMEPAGE OCHS NEWS ABOUT OCHS FACULTY &STUDENTS INDIAN STUDIESAT OXFORD RESEARCH PROJECTS PUBLICATIONS EDUCATIONAL PROGRAMMES BENEFACTORS & FRIENDS VISITORS TO OCHS CONTACT US
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
THE LANGUAGE OF GOD By Francis S. Collins. Free Press, 2006.“I have been struck,” Dr. Roughgarden writes, “by how the ‘debate’ over teaching evolution is not about plants and animals but about God and whether science somehow threatens one’s belief in God.” Or as Dr. Collins put it, when religions require belief in “fundamentally flawed claims” about the world, they force curious and intelligent congregants to reject science, “effectively committing intellectual suicide,” a choice he calls “terrible and unnecessary.” But does science require the abandonment of faith? Not necessarily, and certainly not entirely, these authors argue. Also, people who read these books will realize that it is impossible to tar all scientists with the brush of amorality. The books challenge those who fear that science and ethics may end up at war, a possibility raised by President Bush last week, when he vetoed legislation supporting stem cell research. On the other hand, as the (atheist) physicist Steven Weinberg has famously put it, and as Drs. Dawkins and Dennett remind their readers, good people tend to do good, evil people tend to do evil, but for a good person to do evil — “that takes religion.”But it is hard to believe that people who reject science on religious grounds will stick with the Dennett and Dawkins books, filled as they are with denunciation not just of their ideas but of themselves. This is unfortunate because, as Dr. Roughgarden points out, it is crucial in our society for people of faith, the vast majority of our population, to understand the issues of contemporary science. “I’d love to discuss the moral issues of biotechnology within a community of faith,” she writes. “But most church congregations and their leaders are not prepared for those discussions.” Perhaps another book, “Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast,” can help bridge that gap. It is by Lewis Wolpert, a biologist at University College London. It has been published in England, and it is to appear in the United States in January. Dr. Wolpert writes about the way people think about cause and effect, citing among other work experiments on how we reason, how we assess risk, and the rules of thumb and biases that guide us when we make decisions. He is looking into what he calls “causal belief” — the idea that events or conditions we experience have a cause, possibly a supernatural cause. Human reasoning is “beset with logical problems that include overdependence on authority, overemphasis on coincidence, distortion of the evidence, circular reasoning, use of anecdotes, ignorance of science and failures of logic,” he writes. And whatever these traits may say about acceptance of religion, they have a lot to do with public misunderstanding of science. So, he concludes, “We have to both respect, if we can, the beliefs of others, and accept the responsibility to try and change them if the evidence for them is weak or scientifically improbable.” This is where the scientific method comes in. If scientists are prepared to state their hypotheses, describe how they tested them, lay out their data, explain how they analyze their data and the conclusions they draw from their analyses — then it should not matter if they pray to Zeus, Jehovah, the Tooth Fairy, or nobody. Their work will speak for itself.
THE GOD DELUSION By Richard Dawkins. Houghton Mifflin, 2006
BREAKING THE SPELL: RELIGION AS A NATURAL PHENOMENON By Daniel C. Dennett. Viking, 2006.
GOD’S UNIVERSE By Owen Gingerich. Harvard University Press, 2006
EVOLUTION AND CHRISTIAN FAITH: REFLECTIONS OF AN EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGIST By Joan Roughgarden.
THE CREATION: A MEETING OF SCIENCE AND RELIGION by E.O. Wilson. W.W. Norton, 2006.
SIX IMPOSSIBLE THINGS BEFORE BREAKFAST: THE EVOLUTIONARY ORIGINS OF BELIEF By Lewis Wolpert.
Readers’ Opinions Forum: Human Origins