Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Hinduism by Jonardon Ganeri (from Wiley-Blackwell Companion to the Philosophy of Religion pub. 2010)

If we were to bake a Hinduism cake what ingredients would we put into it? Clamour of bells at arati, the waving of burning camphor, pre-dawn chanting of 'asato ma, sat gamaya , yoga, the fully naked sage padding along a road with his water pot and staff, first feeding ceremony, Brahmins with thread over their ears drying off after a dip in the Ganges, the smell of the garlands in Bangalore City Market, Gita, Upanishads. I could go on but finally and ever and always – darshan, darshan of the murti, the teacher, your innermost self in meditation.

Now compare that to the alternative cake of Nyaya logic and disputations concerning the empirical foundation of the fruits of sacrifice offered by Jonardon Ganeri in his note on Hinduism in A Companion to Philosophy of Religion. Falls flat doesn't it? Not that its not an ingredient but it would take a scholar to spot it. It's the sort of hard tack that sustains but barely his lucubrations. The cause of this fallen cake is not hard to discover and its aetiology requires no acute investigation. There is an embarrassment about the relationship between Hinduism and religion, it seems more the province of mad mystics and not the detached logical explorations of the philosopher. How else will the study of Hinduism, if you accept that label, be moved from the Religious Studies Department to the more prestigious Department of Philosophy?


elisa freschi said...

Very interesting post, Michael. And I agree with you that many of us (=Westerners) are still under the illuministic-positivistic idea that philosophy is better than theology and "free thinking" is better than religion. More in general, however, I wonder who decided to offer to Ganeri the writing of the Hinduism companion, given that G is clearly an expert of philosophy and not of religion.

ombhurbhuva said...

Thanks Elisa,
Yes how does he become an accepted interpreter of Hinduism with such a narrow view. Here he is in the New York Times as an ‘expert’ -
And then from this interview:

we learn that he used to be an atheist after the manner of Dawkins and Dennett. though he now no longer is. Yes it has become unfashionable to be so rabid. In that 3 am interview he tells us it was via the writing of Matilal that he first became interested in philosophy. He was then a graduate in I.T. and Maths. As you know Matilal was sternly against the mystic element in Hindu thought and it may well be has set the tone for the discipline. You remember various worries emerging in the Indian Philosophy blog along the lines of what is essentially a Western dichotomy/dyad: Logic/Mystic, Theology/Philosophy.

elisa freschi said...

Thanks for the prompt and interesting reply, Michael. I guess that the problem is that scholars of Indian philosophy have still to fight against people who say that "There is only mysticism in India" and thus may exceed on the opposite side, i.e., by claiming that there is *only* rational (i.e., "free", "independent of any presupposition") thinking in Indian philosophy. This has to do with the general Western prejudice against prejudices.
It is a pity, though, that it is so, since one runs the risk to oversee or dismiss many interesting philosophical ideas, e.g., in Mīmāṃsā or in theistic Vedānta.

elisa freschi said...

By the way, would not you want to write a wider blog post on this topic? I would be glad to cross-post it on further blogs (with your name).

ombhurbhuva said...

The comment of Michel Clasquin-Johnson on Eric Schwitzgebel's blog (Chinese Philosophy/Philosopher's Carnival) says everything that needs to be said. The department where the thought is studied is irrelevant and in fact the pressure to adapt to a stereotype of 'real' philosophy may be less. To some degree philosophers are great sheep bleating idealism in one generation and logical positivism in the next. The discussion is getting hotter.

I'll bear your offer in mind, thank you. Anything I say is from the perspective of a general reader with no scholarly pretensions.