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Female Ascetics in Hinduism provides a vivid account of the lives of women renouncers—women who renounce the world to live ascetic spiritual lives—in India. The author approaches the study of female asceticism by focusing on features of two dharmas, two religiously defined ways of life: that of woman-as-householder and that of the ascetic, who, for various reasons, falls outside the realm of householdership. The result of fieldwork conducted in Vaµran|aµsi (Benares), the book explores renouncers’ social and personal backgrounds, their institutions, and their ways of life. Offering a first-hand look at and an insightful analysis of this little-known world, this highly readable book will be indispensable to those interested in female asceticism in the Hindu tradition and women’s spiritual lives around the world.
Religion and the Fate of Agriculture
The costs of industrial agriculture are astonishing in terms of damage to the environment, human health, animal suffering, and social equity, and the situation demands that we expand our ecological imagination to meet this crisis. In response to growing dissatisfaction with the existing food system, farmers and consumers are creating alternate models of production and consumption that are both sustainable and equitable. In Growing Stories from India: Religion and the Fate of Agriculture, author A. Whitney Sanford uses the story of the deity Balaram and the Yamuna River as a foundation for discussing the global food crisis and illustrating the Hindu origins of agrarian thought. By employing narrative as a means of assessing modern agriculture, Sanford encourages us to reconsider our relationship with the earth. Merely creating new stories is not enough—she asserts that each story must lead to changed practices. Growing Stories from India demonstrates that conventional agribusiness is only one of many options and engages the work of modern agrarian luminaries to explore how alternative agricultural methods can be implemented.
Gurus in America provides an excellent introduction to the guru phenomenon in the United States, with in-depth analyses of nine important Hindu gurus—Adi Da, Ammachi, Mayi Chidvilasananda, Gurani Anjali, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Osho, Ramana Maharshi, Sai Baba, and Swami Bhaktivedanta. All of these gurus have attracted significant followings in the U.S. and nearly all have lived here for considerable periods of time. The book’s contributors discuss the characteristics of each guru’s teachings, the history of each movement, and the particular construction of Hinduism each guru offers. Contributors also address the religious and cultural interaction, translation, and transplantation that occurs when gurus offer their teachings in America. This is a fascinating guide that will elucidate an important element in America’s diverse and ever-changing spiritual landscape.
Hindu Mythology and the Critique of Sacrifice
S. Cromwell Crawford breaks new ground in this provocative study of Hindu bioethics in a Western setting. He provides a new moral and philosophical perspective on fascinating and controversial bioethical issues that are routinely in the news: cloning, genetic engineering, the human genome project, reproductive technologies, the end of life, and many more. This Hindu perspective is particularly noteworthy because of India’s own indigenous medical system, which is stronger than ever and drawing continued interest from the West. The Hindu bioethics presented in this book are philosophically pluralistic and ethically contextual, giving them that conceptual flexibility which is often missing in Western religions, but which is demanded by the twenty-first century’s complex moral problems. Comprehensive in scope and passionate in nature, Crawford’s study is an important resource for analyses of practical ethics, bioethics, and health care.
Rammohun Roy, Dayananda Sarasvati, and Nineteenth-Century Polemics against Idolatry
Why, Salmond asks, would nineteenth-century Hindus who come from an iconic religious tradition voice a kind of invective one might expect from Hebrew prophets, Muslim iconoclasts, or Calvinists?
Rammohun was a wealthy Bengali, intimately associated with the British Raj and familiar with European languages, religion, and currents of thought. Dayananda was an itinerant Gujarati ascetic who did not speak English and was not integrated into the culture of the colonizers. Salmond’s examination of Dayananda after Rammohun complicates the easy assumption that nineteenth-century Hindu iconoclasm is simply a case of borrowing an attitude from Muslim or Protestant traditions.
Salmond examines the origins of these reformers’ ideas by considering the process of diffusion and independent invention—that is, whether ideas are borrowed from other cultures, or arise spontaneously and without influence from external sources. Examining their writings from multiple perspectives, Salmond suggests that Hindu iconoclasm was a complex movement whose attitudes may have arisen from independent invention and were then reinforced by diffusion.
Although idolatry became the symbolic marker of their reformist programs, Rammohun’s and Dayananda’s agendas were broader than the elimination of image-worship. These Hindu reformers perceived a link between image-rejection in religion and the unification and modernization of society, part of a process that Max Weber called the “disenchantment of the world.” Focusing on idolatry in nineteenth-century India, Hindu Iconoclasts investigates the encounter of civilizations, an encounter that continues to resonate today.
Innovations, Transformations, Reconsiderations
Hindu Ritual at the Margins explores Hindu forms of ritual activity in a variety of “marginal” contexts. The contributors collectively examine ritual practices in diaspora; across gender, ethnic, social, and political groups; in film, text, and art; in settings where ritual itself or direct discussion of ritual is absent; in contexts that create new opportunities for traditionally marginalized participants or challenge the received tradition; and via theoretical perspectives that have been undervalued in the academy. In the first of three sections, contributors explore the ways in which Hindu ritual performed in Indian contexts intersects with historical, contextual, and social change. They examine the changing significance and understanding of particular deities, the identity and agency of ritual actors, and the instrumentality of ritual in new media. Essays in the second section examine ritual practices outside of India, focusing on evolving ritual claims to authority in mixed cultures (such as Malaysia), the reshaping of gender dynamics of ritual at an American temple, and the democratic reshaping of ritual forms in Canadian Hindu communities. The final section considers the implications for ritual studies of the efficacy of bodily acts divorced from intention, contemporary spiritual practice as opposed to religious-bound ritual, and the notion of dharma. Based on a conference on Hindu ritual held in 2006 at the University of Pittsburgh, Hindu Ritual at the Margins seeks to elucidate the ways ritual actors come to shape ritual practices or conceptions pertaining to ritual and how studying ritual in marginal contexts—at points of dynamic tension—requires scholars to reshape their understanding of ritual activity.
Reconsiders whether Hinduism can be considered a missionary religion. Is Hinduism a missionary religion? Merely posing this question is a novel and provocative act. Popular and scholarly perception, both ancient and modern, puts Hinduism in the non-missionary category. In this intriguing book, Arvind Sharma re-opens the question. Examining the historical evidence from the major Hindu eras, the Vedic, classical, medieval, and modern periods, Sharma’s investigation challenges the categories used in current scholarly discourse and finds them inadequate, emphasizing the need to distinguish between a missionary religion and a proselytizing one. A distinction rarely made, it is nevertheless an illuminating and fruitful one that resonates with insights from the comparative study of religion. Ultimately concluding that Hinduism is a missionary religion, but not a proselytizing one, Sharma’s work provides us with new insights both on Hinduism and the consideration of religion itself.