I wanted to write to you to offer a couple of corrections to an article written by Mridula Chari entitled : “Why a University in California is in uproar over donations by a Hindu right group”
First and foremost the term “Hindu right Group” is a false characterisation of Dharma Civilization Foundation. The phrase may play well in the context of Indian Politics, but DCF as a Foundation has no interest in Indian Politics whatsoever. The donations to UCI are being generated by a coalition of individuals and organizations belonging primarily to the American Hindu, Jain and Sikh communities. living in North America, and predominantly in California. Many hundreds of individuals are participating in these gifts. The Board of DCF consists of a diversity of individuals, with a variety of views, and is designed to represent the interests of the Dharma heritage community members in North America. DCF has no political motivations what so ever, especially that are tied to India.
Secondly, the article stated:
“While accepting that given willing sponsors the foundation was open to sponsoring chairs in the study of Sufism or indigenous religions, Viswanathan also dismissed the possibility of the occupant of the Thakkar Chair engaging with critiques of Hinduism”.
This is also false, and represents a fundamental mis-understanding of what I said. Whether or not a Faculty member who is appointed to the Thakkar Chair, engages with critiques of Hinduism, is a choice that the Faculty member has to make. DCF as a Foundation cannot dictate or influence the Faculty member either to take on critiques of Hinduism or not to. However, DCF would hope that such constructive engagement with critiques will take place, and it is only appropriate that such debate and dialog, take place in a respectable academic setting. DCF favors an academic environment that is rich in diversity, and safe for viewpoints from a variety of perspectives to co-exist.
Lastly, Hinduism and the Dharma traditions can be studied from the lens of the writings, positions and view-points of Kant, Hegel, Schlegel, Macaulay, Muller, Marx, Freud, Witzel, Pollock, Doniger, Kripal, Nussbaum, Courtright, and so on.
But Hinduism can also be studied from the lens of the writings, positions and view-points of Valmiki, Vasishta, Vyasa, Patanjali, Kalidasa, Bartrahari, Shankara, Ramanuja, Madhva, Vallabha, Chaitanya, Ramananda, Ramakrishna, Gandhi, Vivekananda, Aurobindo, Ramana, Chinmayananda, Dayananda and so on.
There is a tremendous diversity of views within both groups. DCF does not hold the view that the former group is somehow not legitimate. DCF holds the view that the latter group is also at least as legitimate as the former group. It is an undeniable fact that today, the within the academia, perspectives of the former group is considered valid and definitive, while the latter group of people is accorded no space at all. Critiques of Hinduism originate from the methodologies that have been perpetuated and made acceptable by scholars from the former group. DCF hopes that as academically rigorous scholarship originates the accurately represents the views of the latter group, it is only natural that these two groups of perspectives will engage each other. Such engagement will enrich all of us. So far from, being so definitive that there is no possibility of engaging the critiques of Hinduism, DCF in fact welcomes it.
I hope you publish this opinion, appropriately.
– Kalyan Viswanathan, Executive Vice President and Head of Advancement, Dharma Civilization Foundation
Mridula Chari responds:
1. The DCF has trustees with clear links to the cultural and political Hindu right both in India and the USA. Although the foundation is based geographically in the USA and might have no interest in Indian electoral politics, it does have an interest in India itself. It is not therefore unreasonable to compare the terminology DCF uses with that of the Brahminical Hindu right in India that considers Hindu, Jains and Sikhs to be a part of the broad "Dharma" umbrella. As to political motivations, controlling the discourse around education is indeed as political an act as contesting an election, in much the same vein that Marxist or feminist ideologies are also political.
However, Mr Viswanathan is correct in pointing out that the DCF has never described itself as a Hindu right group.
2. I asked how the DCF’s idea of an ideal occupant of the chair would engage with critiques of Hinduism from within the religion. Mr Viswanathan replied as quoted in the article:
“There are already thousands focussed on the problems of Hinduism, but nobody studies the contributions of Hinduism. If you take yoga, it is studied all over the world, but there has been no systematic study of its effects on the human body. We feel there is not enough balance in studying the contributions of Hinduism, so we hope to bring some of that in.”
3. This point of view has been mentioned in the article, as quoted below. Thank you for the elaboration.
For their part, the Foundation maintains that it is entirely natural to want an insider to study Hinduism in an academic setting.
“The focus of the chair will depend entirely on the faculty member,” Viswanathan said. “Hinduism being so vast and diverse, we cannot expect one person to cover its depth and range. That’s ok with us.”