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Hindu Dharma and the Culture Wars

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Item Code: UBI109
Publisher: Rupa Publication Pvt. Ltd.
Author: Koenraad Elst
Language: English
Edition: 2019
ISBN: 9789353334055
Pages: 272
Other Details 8.50 X 5.50 inch
Weight 260 gm
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Book Description
About The Book

Culture war is a term that originated with the nineteenth century German nation-builder Otto von Bismarck. who initiated a struggle with the Church on control over education. and called it Kulturkampf (culture war). The same issue-minus the Church-is a contentious one in India. with both the history curriculum and the allotment of authority over education being much discussed. Other themes partly overlap with and partly differ from those in the culture wars in the US, where the term has gained currency to designate the debate between modern and religious worldviews.

Specifically Indian are the debates about the definition of Hinduism and secularism, and the antagonisms within both. In a country where religion is inextricably woven into the social fabric, and multiple stratifications exist, 'culture' becomes a pervasive reality in every sphere of life. In this context, culture wars assume a significance of great consequence- both immediate and far reaching.

In the Hindu Dharma and the Culture Wars, Koenraad Elst broaches a discussion on Hindu ideology. Hindutva and the Indian national identity, hoping to take this uniquely national conversation forward.

About the Author

DR. KOENRAAD ELST holds post-graduate degrees in Sinology. Indology and Philosophy, and a doctorate in Oriental Studies, with a dissertation on Hindu Nationalism.

While intermittently employed in political journalism and as foreign policy adviser in the Belgian Senate. his scholarly research earned him both laurels and ostracism. His numerous publications concern Asian philosophies, language policy. democracy. Indo-European origins, Vedic history, and the interface of religion and politics, including the Ayodhya dispute.


The present volume is a collection of my papers from 2012 to 2018. All of them, tangentially or centrally, pertain to India's ongoing culture wars. They are not about ancient or medieval history (where I have mainly been writing about the Indo-European homeland theories and the genesis and intra-Hindu status of Buddhism, therefore about religious conflict), except insofar as it impacts current debates.

'Culture wars' is a term that dates back to the nineteenth century and to the German nation-builder Otto von Bismarck, who started a struggle with the Church for control over education-the Kulturkampf (culture war). Though he lost the struggle, the term gained currency in the United States (US) as the debate between modern and religious worldviews. In the broader sense, it can refer to any non-economic controversy. To the men who think that only economic matters are 'the real issue', these cultural controversies are but a distraction.

The array of issues at stake sometimes largely overlap between the US and India, and sometimes not. Thus, unlike the US, India has hardly known a debate around abortion. Yet, Hindu scriptures explicitly and sharply condemn abortion, classing it as the worst kind of sin. That is why, in 1996, when the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) presented the political parties with a 'Hindu agenda", among the forty points listed was a demand for prohibiting abortion. A section of less scripturalist but more politicized Hindu activists supported this demand, but for demographic reasons-to stem the downward evolution of the Hindu birth rate. But no political party, not even the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has attempted to make this demand its own, if only because of India's enormous population pressure.

As for euthanasia, to which a level-headed approach has prevailed in India, let me first state that I come from one of the few countries that have legalized it-Belgium. I have, in general, been opposed to the former prime minister Guy Verhofstadt's government, but I greatly welcomed this move, which took place in 2002. And so did the overall population-even the Catholic segment, which initially opposed it-because the predicted abuses never materialized and it turned out to be beneficial for families and the elderly. It helps prevent suicide, because people who are assured they can end their life when the need arises, no longer feel pressured to do so by, say, throwing themselves in front of a train. And not even a devout Catholic would want his suffering mother-whom he sees begging for an end to her ordeal-to go through more pain.

With our own history of Christian pangs of conscience over this taking control of one's own death (as had once been common among the pagan Romans, where Stoic philosophers such as Seneca justified it), we should understand that Hindu society has always accepted euthanasia-not suicide by a lovesick Romeo but a mature end to life by a person who has his or her reasons for doing so. Hinduism has a more relaxed attitude to death, seen through the larger perspective of reincarnation, and appreciates the renunciation that death brings. This is where the fundamental values of civilization come into play and where, as American culture warriors are wont to say, 'ideas have consequences'. Except for advanced yogis who are said to be able to control their own life force and hence their time of passing, the usual procedure is fasting unto death. Some well-known modern cases are V.D. Savarkar in 1966 and Vinoba Bhave in 1982. Among Jains, it is, in fact, quite common.

Book's Contents and Sample Pages

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