Scholars debate Hindu-Christian compatibility

Indian History Awareness and Research (IHAR), an initiative of Arsha Vidya Satsanga (AVS), organized a lecture and discussion by renowned public scholar Rajiv Malhotra and Prof. Christian Eberhart of the University of Houston on Saturday, Dec.13th at India House.

Arsha Vidya Satsanga aims to establish the cultural self-identity of the people following Sanatana Dharma through the study of the Vedas, Allied Texts, Sanskrit, Child Education and Indian History. IHAR supports and promotes research into Indian History, Dharmic traditions and modern issues that influence their understanding and practice in a globalized world.

In the lecture Western Dichotomy towards Dharma: Appropriate, Assimilate, Reject and Vilify, Malhotra makes a strong argument that western institutions have traditionally followed the practice of a synthetic unity, where their intent is to blatantly appropriate what is of high value in the narrative of other cultures and at the same time totally reject the customs and traditions intrinsically associated with the local civilization through a process of slander and vilification. Malhotra quotes the example of ancient Greek civilization that was once considered oriental. Through conquest, the west appropriated the philosophy, logic and other scholarly ideas associated with ancient Hellenistic culture, and in course of time slowly morphed them into western thoughts. By the same token, forms of worship prevalent in the ancient Greece were considered by the west to be pagan and therefore to be discarded. Through a constant reinforcement of the pagan narrative, this terminology has been gradually universalized to the extent that the word pagan is now widely accepted today in modern Greek culture.

Malhotra makes the point that Indian civilization by contrast is a product of integral unity that is coming from within. Unlike in western civilization, where there has been a constant controversy between science and religion, this does not exist in the Indian narrative.

Malhotra warns that India is at the cutting edge of “knowledge digestion”, where western institutions have every desire to appropriate practices from our ancient Dharmic traditions. He cites “Christian Yoga” as an example of such an appropriation from India and warns that this is just the tip of the iceberg. He urges Indian scholars to first ideologically “decolonize themselves” to maintain their identity and not seek academic endorsement from western institutions as a stamp of authenticity. The talk by Malhotra is particularly important for followers of Dharmic traditions in the current time, as there are several examples of western literature that attempt to provide a derogatory depiction of ancient Dharmic traditions and practices nurtured over centuries. For example, the AP World History textbook in Katy ISD introduces Hinduism to children with the following case study “Inequality as a norm in Hindu Society”.

In his opening remarks on the Compatibility of Christianity and Science, Prof. Christian Eberhart, Director of Religious Studies at the University of Houston, described the two stories of creation from Genesis 1; the first in which humans were created after animals and the second in which Adam was created from dust in the Garden of Eden. God created the animals from dust after creating Adam, and Eve was created from his ribs. Although both theories have little scientific relevance, they serve as a discourse to create a relationship between God and humans. Dr. Eberhart accepted that it is difficult to reconcile faith in God from the creation theory with the modern theory of evolution as proposed by Darwin. Still he believes that Science and Christianity are compatible.

The discussion on Hindu Christian Interface: Promote conformity or Preserve Diversity? featured a lively dialog between Malhotra and Eberhart, where Dr Eberhart defended that many churches with the exception of the Catholic church are not institutionalized as many here believe, and do not have a hidden agenda or the resources to appropriate practices from other faiths. This was in particular reference to the churches of the reformation that were formed by the early protestant reformers.

The question on Hindu-Christian Coexistence drew a strong comment from Malhotra that Christian theology needs a major re-thinking in their attitude towards other religions. He cited for example Dalai Lama’s proposal on a moratorium against conversion, which was not adopted by either Islam or Christianity, while Dharmic faiths such as Hinduism and Buddhism did not see any need for conversion.

Malhotra feels that without a fundamental realignment he sees very little opportunity for coexistence of the two faiths without controversy. Prof. Eberhart took the alternate view that the foundation of Christianity per se has not been very dogmatic. This faith was founded by followers getting together for a feast. It is inherently accommodative and respectful towards other cultures and traditions. Dr Eberhart did not necessarily see a conflict as articulated by Malhotra.

In response, Malhotra argued that the ideas of western scholars residing in academic institutions are not necessarily the same as those of evangelist who strongly advocate conversion. He provided the analogy of a good cop / bad cop; the interfaith groups being the good cop, while the evangelist is the bad cop, but the outcome is still the same – unfettered conversion. The liberal views of Christian scholars residing in academia are not necessarily aligned with that of the institutions; and mutual respect can only come about through a formal institutional reformation in the West towards recognition of non-Abrahamic religions.

The program was presided by the Consul General of India in Houston, Harish Parvathaneni who characterized the Indian civilization as an ethos on diversity. In his speech he quoted from the seminal book on Indian philosophy by Dr. Radhakrishan, the philosophy of Ramana Maharishsi and the teachings of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.

The event culminated with a prayer song “Bhaarata Desha Hitaaya” a rendition composed by Swami Dayanada Saraswati. About 250 people both local and out of town attended the event to make it another successful full house program organized by IHAR.



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