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Princeton Presbyterian (Still!!) Peeved At Protests Against Pr0testant P0rn-Peddling

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A Presbyterian Crusado-Twitter at Princeton Seminary has been showing great excitement about the so-called “Atlanta Community” that was invited to a fact-exchange with a Panel appointed by Emory University’s President, back in 2004. From his fulminations onTwitter, we gather that he endorses the kiddie-p0rn writings that characterized Emory University’s Hinduism Studies, until the Religion Studies department was disbanded after the meeting with the Community.

The Princeton Seminary entity seems upset, claiming that the Atlanta citizens’ group “harassed” Courtright of Emory, or “tried to get him fired”. False on both counts, but that is not unusual for that Twitter account. We most certainly DID NOT ask for any job action against Courtright (come on! look how much fun it has been that students searching the web for Emory find out about these things!) We did ask that his practice of ‘teaching’ Hinduism by presenting videos of communal riots and p0rnography, stop forthwith. Emory did see the sense of that, within the first 10 minutes. The Panel’s white faces looked either red or deathly pale.

On the other hand, we specifically asked that Courtright **NOT** be present at this meeting. There is a simple reason for that. Common decency. Dean Paul (a Biblical name, as I learned from religious psycho-analysis, derived from the Romanized ‘Paulus’ version of the original Middle Eastern “Phaullus”) was a portly individual of ‘otherwise ascetic disposition’ (see below). Emory’s hospitality included sweets, cookies being provided. Put those facts together and imagine what might have happened otherwise if Courtright had seen the Dean showing an “insatiable appetite for sweets’!!! We were just trying to maintain a modicum of decorum.

But again, many today may not be aware of the facts from 11 years ago. So let me oblige them by presenting more of the news from back then: it is a different version of the journal article published at Swaveda in May 2004.

(Reproduced by the author’s permission and kindness of publishers from http://www.iVARTA.com who archived it for over a decade)

Protestant Pedagogues Peeved at Protest Against P0rn-Peddling

By: Narayanan Komerath
(Indic Journalists’ Association International)
narayanan@att.net
June 01, 2004

Here’s a test. If the following sample from Emory University Professor Paul Courtright’s book: Ganesa: Lord of Obstacles, Lord of Beginnings” offends your sensibilities, you are “illiterate or worse” according to his friend, University of Chicago Professor Wendy Doniger.

“Although there seem to be no myths or folktales in which Ganesa explicitly performs oral sex, his insatiable appetite for sweets may be interpreted as an effort to satisfy a hunger that seems inappropriate in an otherwise ascetic disposition, a hunger having clear erotic overtones. “

Unlike Doniger’s colleagues in the “Religion in South Asia” (RISA) internet group, you cannot see why that constitutes “brilliant scholarship”. You wonder whether publishing conclusions sans data constitutes legitimate research. You point to the definitions of child p0rnography and pedophilia. The professors consider all that to be utterly “uncivil” of you – and claim to the media that you are a terrorist.

This encapsulates the controversy which pits alarmed citizens against entrenched academia. Hindus worldwide (except so far in India) are shocked at how Protestant-dominated pedagogues in academia caricature Hinduism as part of proselytizing, and then stifle discussion. Citizens cite the effects of such abuse in increasing bigotry and hate attacks – a Baltimore museum adorns a Ganesha exhibit with “explanations” from Courtright’s phallus fantasies, for example. The academics – far from being civil themselves – bemoan how “uncivil discourse” is “silencing” “scholars” (i.e., themselves). They claim “academic freedom” to write abusive fantasies about religions other than their own.

Petitions, Threats, Boycotts and Mobs              

Last September, citizens requested Emory University to stop using such texts. They were sent a condescending letter declaring that Courtright’s  “psychoanalysis” methodology was appropriate, and taunting them to argue the matter through journals. The Head of Religion Studies petulantly warned that Emory might stop teaching Hinduism.

A group of Louisiana students burst the academic balloon by posting an Internet Petition giving verbatim quotes – asking the publisher to withdraw the book. Emory’s Public Relations department, citing “threats”, tried to suppress the Petition – but not before the publisher withdrew the book, apologizing in shock and dismay. RISA called for a boycott of the publisher.

RISA members went to the “DANAM” (Dharma Association of North America) conference in Atlanta in November, excited that they would “communicate only with the most reasonable and civil of the Hindu lay Leadership” and have a “debate on the fundamentals of Religious Studies—that of hermeneutics and methodology”, for, “only then can we have a genuine yet civil debate on “method” rather than an uncivil one on “motive.”  Apparently, the debate did not go happily for them. RISA returned to the security of  habit – personal abuse  against those who tried to post contrary views.

In January, another American “history” professor, James Laine of Macalester College, gained name recognition with the claim that Maratha hero Chattrapati Shivaji was not his father’s son. Challenged, Laine admitted that his claim was without basis- a “joke”. The Sambhaji Brigade of  Shivaji supporters –  no friends of any “Hindu Nationalists” – ransacked the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI) in Pune. The Maharashtra Government won Mumbai High Court approval to investigate Laine and Oxford Books for criminal conspiracy to incite violence.

RISA’s boycott fervour seems to have been dampened by Oxford’s withdrawal of the Laine book. But Courtright, and Washington Post writer S. Vedantam, have blamed the BORI mob attack on “Hindus”. Courtright’s article in the “Academic Exchange” e-zine, run by Emory’s  Vice Provost for Academic Affairs,  claims victimhood as a “scholar” facing terrorism – by association with Laine. He claimed that India is an increasingly dangerous place for scholars to visit. This occurred even as the National Congress government of Maharashtra – associated with the Sambhaji Brigade – was feting the visiting Emory University tourist team that included Courtright’s Department Head, Laurie Patton. Patton, in India all winter, gave a running commentary on RISA about events in Pune. Critics ask about Emory’s links to the BORI violence – and point to Courtright’s own usage of communal riot scenes to teach “Hinduism through films” at Emory.

Out of Context – or Outlandish?

The academics have tried claiming that the offensive quotes are taken out of context. They claim to be “visitors” to fields such as Hinduism, free, unlike believers, to follow wherever objective research leads them. They cite their great love for India and Indian history – and blame the growing criticism on political efforts to distort Indian history – and on prejudice against non-native scholars.

Readers retort that the criticism is about specific abusive writings and point to excellent scholarship on Hinduism at European universities. They cite the context of the offensive quotes, and the intent of the nude picture on Courtright’s cover, used to emphasize child-p0rnographic content. The premise of Courtright’s book is a 15th century Portuguese invader’s revulsion towards Indian icons. Critics compare this to using Heinrich Himmler as starting point for an analysis of Judaism, or analyzing Native American history from General Custer’s views. As for “objective research”, they point to unsupported hypotheses, incompetent methodology and outright bigotry being acclaimed as “brilliant scholarship”.  For instance, Courtright builds his “psychoanalysis”  on the idea that an elephant’s trunk is “limp” – an absurdity aggravated by his confusion about elephant anatomy. Doniger claims that Ganesa dictated the Mahabharata to Vyasa.  Courtright, in the space of a few pages, calls Ganesa an oral sex fiend, a homosexual, a mother-f0rnicator – and a eunuch – the “dregs of society”,  – a scatter-brained diatribe of bigotry and abuse. Critics question the quality of peer reviews which ignore such glaring illogic. Others cite Courtright’s ignoring the deep meanings of the Ganesha icon in favor of obscene interpretations, as evidence of sloppy, if not less than honest, work.

Classroom Reward Scheme?  

Another egregious example is cited below, from page 124 of Courtright’s 2001 edition:

.. Ganesa’s mother.. Offers the prize of a mango to which of her sons can go around the world first. Ganesa wins by circumambulating her and eats the fruit and then gets beheaded. …. The mango is a vaginal symbol. Hence Ganesa’s eating the fruit is an act of incestuous possession of the mother for which he is punished by beheading, symbol of castration, and his celibacy is his punishment for acting out his incestuous desires”.

Critics ask why he chose that, when he knew the mainstream legend, which he clearly knew [page 126]:

““She said to them .. ‘Your father will decide who I will give it to.’’ When Skanda heard this, he quickly went on a pilgrimage through the triple world, mounted on a peacock, but the wise pot-bellied one circumambulated his two parents. Then he stood there happily in front of his two parents, saying: ‘Give it to me..!” .. Parvati smiled and said: “All the pilgrimages and sacrifices are not worth a sixteenth part of  the worship of one’s parents. Therefore this son (I.e., Ganesa) is worth more than a hundred sons having a hundred virtues”.

Readers point to this twisting of a beautiful legend, obviously used to instill respect for parents, and ask sarcastically whether his obscene “interpretation” is based on what Courtright’s Protestant teachers and colleagues at the Yale School of Divinity, Princeton and Emory do in classrooms.

Death Threats or Red Herrings?  

Observers argue that the “threats” and “dangers” are red herrings aimed to deflect attention from analysis of the psychodynamics of such writings. While Emory University, Courtright and Doniger have complained about “well-funded” campaigns to silence academic freedom, citizens point to Emory’s own campaigns to malign them. Comments on Emory’s edited, moderated Emory Wheel website have called the student authors of the internet petition, “KKK”, “Hitlerite” and other names. The editors’ failure to remove these abusive posts, despite the postors being shown to be bogus, reinforces suspicions, formed by the Public Relations department’s role in the saga, about the origins of the “threats” on the Petition site.

Doniger apparently enraged a London audience with a pornographic interpretations of Shri Ram and Sita of the Ramayana Epic – ideals of family values to hundreds of millions of Hindus.  An egg apparently missed her, but the meeting organizers are reported to have manhandled a woman psychologist who asked if Doniger had herself ever been psycho-analyzed.

Religion Studies or Hate Propaganda?

Critics point out that Methodist Emory University, and Baptist-origin University of Chicago use their Religion Studies programs or interdisciplinary centers – which are affiliated with the Law or other schools – to demonize other religions such as Hinduism. Meanwhile they keep their real studies about Christianity – and Judaism in the U.Chicago case – safe from malicious “interpretation” in Schools of Divinity or Theology. Thus, the scholars on Christianity in the Theology/ Divinity Schools are practising believers; the “scholars” in the Religion Studies Departments are, as Courtright describes himself, “visitors” interpreting these religions. Equal respect for all religions is unlikely to result from this arrangement.

Emory faculty and officials have repeatedly claimed that the controversy is due to some sudden dredging of a 19-year-old book. The Editor of the Academic Exchange, in conveying that protestors were being prudes about a toddler’s picture in the buff on Courtright’s 2001 cover, accidentally exposed this lie – and in the process, confirmed Courtright and Emory knowledge that the subject of his pornographic depictions is a child – a toddler. Most interestingly, Courtright continues to claim that his critics have not attempted to engage the “intellectual” basis of his book – when numerous published articles have done precisely that – with Courtright not attempting rebuttal.

Comparative Sensitivity

This February, Emory Dean Robert Paul, acting on President Wagner’s orders, met with concerned community representatives for a 2-hour discussion. Though he professed himself educated on why people are outraged, and offered deep regrets on behalf of himself and the university, he insisted that the university held academic freedom to be sacred. Citizens pointed to the double standards at Emory, where a chance remark by a Professor of Anthropology in September 2003 offended African-American listeners, and triggered extreme administrative concern. Meanwhile, their own concerns about blatant hate-p0rn peddling were dismissed. They also point to the Bellesiles case, where a conclusion based on data which the author could not reproduce, was seen as sufficient evidence of academic fraud to have a prize withdrawn and the professor induced to leave. Courtright’s attempts to associate the protests against his book with “terrorism” in his recent speeches and articles, with the claimed “support” of the Emory administration, has served to vitiate the atmosphere further. Citizens see this as a show of poor faith while efforts were underway to conduct reasoned dialog with Emory.  Matters were not improved by the appearance of a one-sided Washington Post article – nor by Courtright’s article in Emory’s “Academic Exchange”. The Academic Exchange failed to even acknowledge receipt of a rebuttal to Courtright’s article – just as Vedantam has failed to acknowledge requests to correct factual errors in his articles.

Age of Terror – or Abu Ghraib of Religion Studies?  

While Courtright and Doniger frame the issue as “scholarship in an age of terror”, their critics see it differently.  They state that the issue is not about the academic freedom to publish scholarly deductions based on evidence and competent, objective analysis. The issue is about a powerful university propagating vile fantasies – whose obvious and predictable effect is to demean and humiliate. They aim to see Hinduism taught and learned with competence and empathy, rather than with sneering tavern-tale “interpretations” and vile p0rnography. They cite the right of Hindus, like all other people, to be treated with elementary human decency, to worship as they please, and not be subjected to vicious bigotry and abuse.

They cite the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal, where 21-year-old military jailers are faulted for claiming ignorance of the need to be sensitive about human beings of another culture – and ask whether university professors should not be held to at least that standard.

Visitors and Civility

No resolution is in sight. The Protestant faculty are peeved at the rise of informed opinion, which hinders their “freedom” to write lewd fantasies about anything they choose to demean as “visitors” and tourists. Hinduism is a soft target. Writing such interpretations about Judaism or Islam is likely to bring extreme consequences – while there are enough Indian establishments which will continue to welcome “scholar” dollars, unaware of the nature of the scholarship conducted. After 19 years of such writings, the pedagogues do not appear to have anything to cite but a few hate e-mails or internet postings, and one missed egg, as signs of danger.

Sankrant Sanu frames the questions for Religion academia thus:

  • “Is the academic study of Hinduism in America, as it currently exists, a valid discipline in that it has some ability to distinguish between truth and falsehood, and between scholarship and fiction?” • “What does it tell us about the state of academia in Hinduism studies when a host of academic writing that is highly deviant from “emic” understanding passes off as mainstream scholarship, without any significant internal academic challenge?”
  • “Are the standards of sensitivity in dealing with religious symbols of Hindus in the academy lower than that for other religious traditions such as Islam, Judaism or Christianity? What part does this play in dismissing any Hindu protest as ‘fanaticism’?”

The Academy, while bemoaning the decline of civility in intellectual discourse, is in no hurry to examine the causes and sources of incivility – which might point straight at themselves. For example, Professor Antonio de Nicolas refuted the RISA claim of blanket “academic freedom”, pointing out  that  “the first responsibility of a scholar in describing, writing, speaking, and teaching other cultures is to present those cultures or the elements of those cultures in the same manner those cultures are viewed by themselves and by the people of those cultures. If not, then the scholar is using those cultures in name only and his goal is their destruction, if not in intention at least in fact.  A scholar who does not know how to present other cultures by their own criteria should not be allowed to teach those cultures.  His freedom of speech is not guaranteed by his ignorance.  His degree is a privilege of knowledge, not ignorance. Freedom stops here.  Opinions are not the food of the classroom at the hands of professors.  They guarantee knowledge”.

The moderator of the RISA forum apparently sent a threatening e-mail asking de Nicholas to “shut up”.

Courtright describes his own, his university’s and the RISA’s attitudes quite well when he says in a grand  Freudian slip, dispensing wisdom to Emory’s admiring student newspaper: “People who talk to themselves about themselves leave no room for discourse.”

Narayanan Komerath

P.S. Posted with deep gratitude to Dr. Richard Fox Young of the Princeton Theological Seminary for thoughtfully providing us the wonderful opportunity to inform and educate web/Twitter-savvy people of 2015 about these events from back in 2004, through his ceaseless Tweets and other verbal/acoustic emissions across the frequency spectrum.

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2 Comments

  1. Ram Kumar says:

    Courtright and his ilk are like those blind men feeling around a large elephant. But unlike them, Courtright appears to have reached down his own pants, felt something limp, and ejaculated insted with his pen a load of fantasy and passed it off as scholarship. Much like what Richard Fox Young does day in and out on his Twitter feed.

  2. oldn3 says:

    We did try to explain to the distinguished Panel at Emory the difference between the front and back ends of an elephant, and various anatomical features. With color pictures. Also offered to take them on a visit to the zoo. But they felt that this would be too much strain for their scholarly minds.

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