Towards an Honest Pluralism: Responding to “Being Different”

“The sheer range of religions represented led me to assume that they have few presuppositions in common. This assumption was supported by the fact that the main reason they meet is in order to learn about each other’s traditions.” Nate Gonzales, undergraduate student at the University of Southern California, made this astute observation in a paper he wrote about the USC student Interfaith Council, of which he’s an active member. (It might come as no surprise that he has been accepted into the PhD program in the sociology of religion at the University of Chicago.)

Rajiv Malhotra’s new book, BEING DIFFERENT: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism, currently under discussion in the blogosphere at the Patheos Book Club, explores presuppositions in the relationship of Indian and Western cultures. His thesis is that Western categorizations of Indian culture, philosophy, and religion have been accepted not only in the West but also by Indians, thus marginalizing Vedic viewpoints that flow from the inside out. Hinduism itself was a construct of the British raj which blurred into one the enormous diversity of indigenous religious practices on the subcontinent. Can Westerners imagine Indians defining a religion called Jordanism that collapses Judaism, Christianity, and Islam into one entity based on geography? (This idea was expressed nicely by Phil Goldberg in his recent book, AMERICAN VEDA.) Malhotra argues for a distinct Indian alternative to the assumption that Western constructs should define and describe the whole world. His book is an eye-opener, if we recognize the inner vision that can see the seldom-examined presuppositions we use to define and categorize the world. Once that eye is opened, we can learn about each others’ traditions from the inside out.

He opens the book with an indictment against the limits of “tolerance” as a model for relationships among religions. All too often, he says, it becomes a Trojan horse for devaluing and even stifling the religions that are tolerated by faiths that claim ultimate superiority over all others. I would agree that this is a serious problem in Christianity. My own pluralistic position, that other religions can be as good for others as mine is good for me, is still a minority viewpoint in my faith. (Pluralism Sunday, the first Sunday in May, is a time when progressive Christians around the world celebrate religions other than our own.) How did the religion of Jesus, a humble servant, get so full of itself as to claim to be the only true religion?

Malhotra’s breakdown of the different ways that religious people subtly denigrate or degrade the religions of others is useful in explaining why tolerance isn’t an adequate basis for interfaith engagement. Real pluralism is a long way from the Pope’s viewpoint, in which other religions should be engaged, valued, learned from, but ultimately understood as deficient compared to Catholic Christianity. Malhotra argues forcefully, perhaps even stridently, for “mutual respect” to be the norm among religions. I think he goes too far in criticizing some religious leaders for failing to express pluralism in the exact terms he prefers. “Mutual respect” sounds too much like “tolerance” to me, when it’s clear that Malhotra advocates for a strong form of religious pluralism. And he doesn’t seem to recognize the existence of Christians who do practice what he preaches, suggesting that religious pluralism is categorically incompatible with Christianity. I can see why the culturally insensitive efforts at “inculturation” perpetrated by Western missionaries in India would give him this impression, but there’s more difference within Christianity than he appears to know.

Perhaps Malhotra works harder than necessary at “being different,” but he does put into stark relief the difference between a friendliness toward difference that effectively aims to eliminate difference, and a world where different world-views can exist and develop side by side. For many if not most Christians, to aspire to the latter requires a healthy – and worthwhile – stretch of the imagination.

Jim Burklo, Associate Dean of Religious Life at the University of Southern California, blogs on progressive Christianity at “musings”.

About Jim Burklo

Rev. Jim Burklo is the Associate Dean of Religious Life at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. An ordained United Church of Christ pastor, he is the author of three books in print, OPEN CHRISTIANITY (2000), BIRDLIKE AND BARNLESS (2008), and HITCH-HIKING TO ALASKA: THE WAY OF SOULFUL SERVICE (2013). See more about him at .

  • Surya

    It is impossible to define Jordanism as Jim Burklo facetiously suggests.  Explained extensively in BD with great clarity is the  history-centrism of Abrahamic religions and the resulting incompatibility between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  To paraphrase BD: “Abrahamic religions cannot afford to compromise on their history-centric beliefs, because to do so would be tantamount to surrendering their claims of unique access to knowledge of God’s will. …  No amount of commonality between Abrahamic religions can resolve the conflicts caused by the non-negotiable and proprietary grand narratives of history.”  

    For example, are Jews or Muslims willing to accept that Jesus is the Son of the God?  Are Christians willing to accept that Jesus is no more than a messenger?  Clearly, the point of contention is the issue of exclusivity of Jesus as a historical fact and not his message itself. 

    Jim Burklo’s comment that Hinduism is a construct of the British Raj is hilarious.  Hinduism is no more a construct of British Raj than the internet superhighway is a construct of Al Gore.  Jim Burklo can rest assured that the diverse indigenous religious practices in Hinduism have a commonality that runs much richer and deeper than a cursory study reveals.  One needs to observe Hindus in close quarters to understand that there are no tensions or boundaries.   BD identifies the core concepts of Dharmic systems and these hold true for all these “enormous diversity of indigenous religious practices.”

    To complete the argument, one has to also explain how Dharmic religions do not face the incompatibility problem that Abrahamic faiths do, and how Dharmic religions can find unity amid their differences.  This too has been addressed in BD.  Unlike in Abrahamic religions, Dharmic religions are not history-centric: they do not have prophets with  exclusive access to Divine Will.   Whatever Buddha, or any other enlightened Guru, discovered is available to every human to discover.  As a result, there are no incompatibilities and exclusivities to separate Dharmic religions.  Different Dharmic systems are then different only in their approach to discovering and experiencing divinity within.  Thus, there is an underlying integral unity to Dharmic systems.  

    Think of it as learning Physics and experimenting with the laws of Physics at different Universities.  There can be differences between Universities based on their research emphasis, they may advocate different variations in theories, but the underlying goal is the same.  There is no history-centric exclusivity in Science.  Even if Newton never existed, what he discovered is not impacted.  What Newton discovered, others can discover too.  Finally, followers of Newton are not offended by what a later Einstein has to say.

  • ANKUR K.

    I find several unsubstantiated opinions in Mr.Burklo’s review, but here I shall focus on only two of them owing to space and time constraints:-

    1. “Hinduism itself was a construct of the British raj which blurred into one the enormous diversity of indigenous religious practices on the subcontinent”.

    (Idea level perspective) It is typical of westerners to come up with such stereotypes on Hinduism. Whether it is the theory of “Aryan Invasion” or this “British Invented Hinduism” theory, the bias of the western mind remains the same. It shows that Indians lack any coherent indigenous culture and so they must look to the west and not to India as any separate center of civilization [1].

    (Logic level perspective)
    FIRSTLY, Burklo’s claim that “Hinduism was a construct of the British Raj” is absurd and illogical, not only because it is unsubstantiated by references, but also because he ignores a corpus of literary and archeological evidence.

    The following is a list of evidences from Hindu texts and other sources which reveal Hinduism’s spread through history:-

    1.The Sarasvati is lauded as the main river in the Rig Veda. It is said to be a great flood and to be wide, even endless in size, the greatest and most central river of the region of Vedic- Sarasvati civilization (3100 – 1900 BC) of the seven rivers [2].
    2.Excavations in Indus Valley sites in Gujarat like Lothal and those in Rajasthan like Kalibangan – show large number of fire altars like those used in the Vedic religion, along with shell jewelry and other items used in the rituals described in the Vedic Brahmanas [3]. Thus, it underscores the millennia-old continuity of our ancient civilization.
    3.Several vedic texts such as Vedanga Jyotish speak of a time when the vernal equinox was in the middle of the constellation Nakshatra, which would have occurred around 1400 BC [4]. Many Brahmanas , Yajur and Atharva Vedas speak of the vernal equinox in the Kritikkas and the summer solstice in Magha. This yields a date of around 2500 BC. These references among several others prove that the vedic culture already had a sophisticated system of astronomy during the Harappan culture [5].
    4.Hinduism global influence completely contradicts the view that it was a “British construct”, since no one can explain the prevalence of ancient hindu symbols in countries across the world. Similar practices to the hindu culture can be found in all ancient cultures including the Egyptians, Babylonians, Sumerians, Chinese and Native Americans with their common solar religions , fire offerings and threefold social system of priests, warriors and common people [6].
    5.When the Greeks came to India at the time of Alexander, in the 3rd century BC, one of their historians, Megasthenes, records that the Hindus had a tradition of 153 kings going back over 6400 years [7].
    6.The Ramayana, greatest epic of all Asia, is found not only in India but also in Thailand, Indochina and Indonesia among Buddhist as well as Hindu groups. There are several versions of this great text of which the most ancient is the Sanskrit of Valmiki and the most popular recent version is the Hindi from Tulsidas in the 16th century. Ramayana scenes figure strongly in south Asia and the mantra of ram is the most important of all mantras [8].

    1.Hampi, located within Vijayanagara, capital of the Vijaynagara Kingdom ( 1336 – 1646 ), is identified with the historical Kishkindha, the Vanara (monkey) kingdom mentioned in the Ramayana. The first historical settlements in Hampi date back to 1 CE. Hampi has various notable hindu temples, some of which are still active places of worship [9].
    2.The famous Chola dynasty, now part of India, Sri-Lanka, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Maldives was the longest ruling empire dating from 300s BC to 1279 AD [10].
    See this picture of Bronze Chola statue of Nataraja from India –

    This list can go on endlessly. I will pause here simply because of the limited space of this page.

    Burklo claims that “Hinduism simply blurred into one the enormous diversity of indigenous religious practices on the sub-continent”. This view is a classic case of “looking at India as an example of synthetic unity”. Burklo is simply toeing the same line that many westerners have done before him. Each of them predicted that India is unstable, it is a synthetic combination of basically disparate elements, which can break up at any time. Sadly for them, their predictions have always failed and India continues to remain unified.
    Rajiv Ji explains in “Being Different”, there are two kinds of unity – synthetic unity, in which the individual parts are assumed separate and are somehow brought together by the use of external force, and integral unity, in which there is ultimately the unity of consciousness and it is reflected in diverse ways.
    Hinduism has always been a case of integral unity. We should note that Vedic literature, with its many gods and goddesses is the clearly the product of a pluralistic culture rather than a monolithic culture (which Hinduism has never produced in history). Unity in multiplicity is the basic theme of the vedas which state “That which is the One truth, the seers speak in many ways (Rig Veda I.164).”

    The Vishnu Purana states clearly :
    Uttaram yat samudrasya, himadrescaiva dakshinam,
    Varsam tad Bharatam nama, Bharati Yatra santaith
    (To the north of the oceans and the south of the Himalayas lies the land of Bharata, inhabited by Bharatis)

    ON THE CONTRARY, there are innumerable evidences to prove that Christianity was a “construct” of St. Paul:-

    1.“Jesus,the risen Christ and savior, was an invention of Paul for the consumption of gentiles” [11].
    2.“The gospel accounts of a jewish trial of jesus must have been invented by Hellenized jews like Paul. Jesus was persecuted and executed by the romans”[12].

    This list can also go on endlessly, but I will summarize here for the reader’s convenience.
    Summarizing the surveys of Christology since Bultmann, G.A.Wells observed in 1986: “During the past thirty years, theologians have come increasingly to admit that it is no longer possible to write a biography of him, since documents earlier than the gospels tell us next to nothing of his life, while the gospels present the ‘kerygma’ or proclamation of faith, not the Jesus of history. Many contemporary theologians therefore regard the quest of the historical jesus as both hopeless and religiously irrelevant – in that the few things which can allegedly, be known of his life are unedifying and do not make him an appropriate object of worship.” [13]

    2. “How did the religion of Jesus, a humble servant, get so full of itself as to claim to be the only true religion?”
    The answer to the above question raised by Burklo can be found in the Bible itself which claims repeatedly at several places that Jesus is the only son of god. It claims that no other gods or prophets shall be tolerated.
    (14:7) For every one of the house of Israel, or of the stranger that so journeth in Israel, which separateth himself from me, and setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to a prophet to enquire of him concerning me; I the LORD will answer him by myself:
    (14:8) And I will set my face against that man, and will make him a sign and a proverb, and I will cut him off from the midst of my people; and ye shall know that I am the LORD.

    Also, Rajiv Ji notes in “Being Different” (page 91) that the Nicene creed demands a pledge to the following beliefs, among other things :- ‘Lord Jesus Christ is the only son of god.’

    In sum, I would strongly suggest all scholars to revise the scriptures of all religions and study them without any biases, before arriving at a conclusion.

    Thanks and Regards,
    Ankur K.

    • ANKUR K.

      References for my previous comment :-

      1. Frawley, David. The Myth of Aryan Invasion of India.pp.3
      2. Rig veda II.41.16; VI.61.8-13; I.3.12 in Frawley, David. The Myth of Aryan Invasion of India.
      3. Frawley, David. The Myth of Aryan Invasion of India.pp.17
      4. Ibid.pp.24
      5. Ibid
      6. Frawley, David. 2008. Hinduism, the eternal tradition. New Delhi. Voice Of India. pp.69
      7. Ibid.pp.186
      8. Ibid.pp.189
      9. (accessed 2nd march,2012)
      10. (accessed 2nd march,2012)
      11. Brandon, S.G.F. 1968. The trial of Jesus ( Manchester). In Jesus Christ : An artifice for aggression by Sita Ram Goel. New Delhi.Voice of India.1996.
      12. Vermes G.1973. Jesus the Jew.(London). In Jesus Christ : An artifice for aggression by Sita Ram Goel. New Delhi.Voice of India.1996.
      13. Well G.A. 1986. Did Jesus Exist ? (London) In Jesus Christ : An artifice for aggression by Sita Ram Goel. New Delhi.Voice of India.1996.

  • ANKUR K.

    References for my previous comment :-

    1. Frawley, David. The Myth of Aryan Invasion of India.pp.3
    2. Rig veda II.41.16; VI.61.8-13; I.3.12 in Frawley, David. The Myth of Aryan Invasion of India.
    3. Frawley, David. The Myth of Aryan Invasion of India.pp.17
    4. Ibid.pp.24
    5. Ibid
    6. Frawley, David. 2008. Hinduism, the eternal tradition. New Delhi. Voice Of India. pp.69
    7. Ibid.pp.186
    8. Ibid.pp.189
    9. (accessed 2nd march,2012)
    10. (accessed 2nd march,2012)
    11. Brandon, S.G.F. 1968. The trial of Jesus ( Manchester). In Jesus Christ : An artifice for aggression by Sita Ram Goel. New Delhi.Voice of India.1996.
    12. Vermes G.1973. Jesus the Jew.(London). In Jesus Christ : An artifice for aggression by Sita Ram Goel. New Delhi.Voice of India.1996.
    13. Well G.A. 1986. Did Jesus Exist ? (London) In Jesus Christ : An artifice for aggression by Sita Ram Goel. New Delhi.Voice of India.1996.

  • neovasant

    “Hinduism itself was a construct of the British raj” This is just hilarious! I’m not sure how can someone construct that was already existing!! Is this like discovering of America ?

    West with their myopic view and narrow outlook could not understand Sanatan Dharma i.e. The Eternal Way. Dharma is akin to rich soil that nurtures a diverse ecosystem i.e. various denominations. Every denomination grows from the common substrata and is nurtured by it.

    British Raj is notorious for constructing a derogatory term Hindoos n they have nothing to do with Hinduism!

  • Arun

    I find that a good read of Alberuni’s Indica (Abū al-Rayḥān Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad al-Bīrūnī’s Tarikh Al-Hind, written around 1000 C.E.) serves as a good antidote to the Western pretension of having constructed Hinduism. At a minimum, the reader will have to concede that Hinduism was constructed by Muslims from the Middle East rather than by Europeans, and at least seven centuries before the European date. The sane reader would have to concede that Hinduism existed prior to the Muslims as well.

    (Alberuni also serves to put to bed that idea floating around that it is Europeans that elevated the importance of the Bhagavad Gita.)

  • Kartik M.

    Jim Burklo’s otherwise perceptive review of “Being Different” is marred only by his reiteration of a curious canard: that “Hinduism itself was a construct of the British raj which blurred into one the enormous diversity of indigenous religious practices on the subcontinent.”

    This strange claim, which has gained the impression of veracity through sheer force of Goebbelsian repetition by Hinduism’s detractors, was put forward by a group of scholars styled the “constructionists”: including Robert Frykenberg, Vasudha Dalmia, Heinrich von Stietencorn and John Hawley. It is their contention that Hinduism was constructed, invented or imagined by British scholars and colonial administrators in the 19th century, and had no existence, in any meaningful sense, before this date.

    Another group of scholars, such as Romila Thapar and Richard King, allow some room for the idea of an Indian agency in the alleged fabrication of a “Hindu” identity, as opposed to the constructionists, who consider “Hinduism” an entirely British invention. They, too, however, are far off the mark in considering that the identity did not exist before the 19th century.

    Both sets of claims have been thoroughly debunked by such overwhelming evidence as David Lorenzen presents in his seminal 2006 essay: “Who Invented Hinduism?”

    To summarize Lorenzen’s arguments, all too briefly:

    1) W.C. Smith, the forerunner of the constructionists, holds that the naming of the majority religion of India by Europeans was a mistake; that there is no Hinduism either in the minds of Hindus or in empirical reality itself. Other constructionists, such as von Steitencorn and Harjot Oberoi, insist that “Hindu” itself was a purely geographical term (deriving from the Persian “Sindhu” for the Indus River) until British administrators used it as an appellation for the majority religion of the subcontinent in the 19th century.

    If this were so, then why were the foreign Muslims who permanently settled in India, as well as many generations of their descendants born in India, not also referred to as “Hindus?” Von Steitencorn attempts to explain this away by characterizing the Muslims as an elite who maintained a separate foreign self-identity for generations, while native Indians just as persistently maintained a separate, indigenous identity; however, this assertion is undermined by the stark fact that the vast majority of Muslims in India were indigenous converts of low-caste Hindu origin. If “Hindu” were indeed a purely ethno-geographical term until the British made it otherwise, then the Muslim elite would have characterized this huge body of indigenous converts as “Hindus”, or “Hindu Muslims.” No such thing happened, because “Hindu” could not be used as a qualifier for a religious identity such as “Muslim”. Therefore, “Hindu” was a religious identity unto itself, empirically established, since at least the time that Muslims arrived in India.

    2) The writings of Europeans on Hinduism describe a standard model of indigenous religious beliefs, exemplified by the work of Monier-Williams in 1877. Monier-Williams analyzes what allows us to speak of Hinduism as one religion rather than simply a motley collection of sects, beliefs and practices, and arrives at two principles that constitute the basis of unity: one, an origin in a “simple, pantheistic doctrine, but branching out into an endless variety of polytheistic supersitions” and, two, the fact that there is “only one sacred language and only one sacred literature, accepted and revered by all adherents of Hinduism alike.” Monier-Williams identifies the founding principle of Hinduism as “Ekam eva advitiyam: There is but one Being, without a second.” In the book’s chapters, Monier-Williams sets forth a detailed description of the various characteristics of Hinduism as evolved and practiced all over India: the theory and practice of the Vedas, Upanishads, the epics, the Puranas, the Tantras and so on.

    The outline of what Monier-Williams regarded as the key characteristics of Hinduism can be read backward and compared with earlier European (Christian), Hindu, and Muslim attempts to summarize Hinduism’s more important characteristics.

    Lorenzen cites a number of these earlier accounts to demonstrate that they consistently embody substantial parts of Monier-Williams’ standard model.

    3) A most striking instance is an 1820 article by John Crawfurd, one of the earliest British sources of the term “Hinduism”… which has nothing to do with the administration of India, but in fact usess “Hinduism”, “Hindu religion” and “Hindus” in the context of BALI, Indonesia… where, clearly, the Hindus are not Indians in any racial or ethno-geographical sense! This thoroughly debunks the constructionist notion that “Hindu” was strictly an ethno-geographical term before the British made it otherwise.

    4) The treatises on Hinduism (as a religion) John Zephaniah Holwell and Alexander Dow in the 1760s, are substantially consistent with Monier-Williams’ 1877 standard model, in terms of the characteristics they describe.

    5) A publication in Spanish by Sebastian Manrique, from 1649, has one of the earliest uses of the word “Hindu” in a European language, and it occurs in a context that gives the word a specifically religious, NOT a geographical meaning.

    Here Manrique quotes the words of a Mughal official in Bengal against a Muslim member of Manrique’s party who offended the local Hindu population by killing a peacock: “Are you not, in appearance, a Bengali and a Muslim (which means ‘Moor’ and a follower of the true law?) How did you dare, in a district of Hindus (which means Gentiles), kill a living thing?”

    Clearly the consciousness of Hindus as a distinct religious identity characterized by specific philosophical beliefs, existed even among the Mughals at a time when most Europeans in India were not administrators, but mere observers or missionaries.

    6) Still earlier European accounts of Hinduism by missionaires of the 16th and 17th centuries, such as the Italian Jesuit Roberto Nobili, the Portuguese Goncalo Fernandes Trancoso, and the British Thomas Stephens in South India; the Augustinian Sebastian Manrique and Bengal; and the Anglican chaplain Henry Lord in Gujarat, generally feature the same set of beliefs, gods and practices found in the writings of later scholars and consistent with Monier-Williams’ standard model.

    Were Hinduism so disperse and atomistic as to lack any coherent identity before the British are alleged to have “invented” one… would Monier-Williams’ standard model be anticipated so consistently in so many accounts, from such diverse sources working in entirely different parts of India at different periods of time?
    Consider also that it would actually have served the interests of Christian missionaries to portray Indian religious beliefs as a scattered set of fundamentally disparate cults, in order to facilitate conversion of the native populace. Yet, their reports all describe what is undeniably a common spiritual belief system. This has not been the case with Christian missionary writings on the native religious practices of the Americas or Africa, or any part of the non-white world where Islam or Buddhism did not dominate at the time of their arrival. Clearly, therefore, Hinduism existed for these visitors to observe, and their observations are consistent with one another over the centuries and across the map.

    7) Still more interesting are Lorenzen’s abundance of quotes from the vernacular literature of India, prior to European colonialism but after the arrival of Muslims, in which a clear distinction on religious lines between “Hindus” (as a group) and “Muslims” is reiterated time and time again.

    Not between “Shaivas/Lingayats/Jains/Krishna-bhakts/Goddess-worshippers and Muslims”… but between “Hindus and Muslims” specifically. This is telling.

    Lorenzen shows how Indian vernacular literature dating from the time of the first Muslim invasions, establishes a Hindu religious identity through a process of mutual self-definition with a contrasting Muslim Other. In practice, there can be no “Hindu identity” unless this is defined by contrast with such an Other… prior to the Muslim arrival, practically everyone on the subcontinent was Hindu, and there could obviously be no expression of a sharply self-conscious Hindu identity. Yet, with the arrival of the Muslims, this identity emerges into sharp focus, through the agency of the Hindus themselves… once again, from all parts of India and at a great diversity of points in time.

    8) For example, Ekanath (1533-1599) from Maharashtra has a humorous poem, the Hindu-Turka-Samvada, in which a Hindu Brahmin and a Muslim mock the absurdities they see in each others’ religious practices.

    9) The Ramanandi Anantadas, writing in Sikar (Rajasthan) in the 16th century, produced the Kabir Parachai, wherein he explicitly stakes out a position for Kabir separate from both the Muslims and what he calls the “Hindus”. This is clearly reflective of the existence of two intrinsically whole and mutually conflicting identities across the subcontinent, one Muslim and one Hindu.

    10) Kabir himself lived a century earlier, between ca. 1450 and 1520 in the western Gangetic valley. A song from his Kabir-bijak illustrates his often reiterated assertion that both Hinduism and Islam, as commonly practiced, had lost their grasp on spiritual truth. Again, what is noteworthy here is that he identifies a certain system of belief and praxis as “Hindu”… precisely the same system also identified by Ekanath in Maharashtra and Anantadas in Rajasthan as “Hindu”.

    11) The poet Vidyapathi Thakur, living in Mithila (Bihar) from ca.1350-1440, wrote the romance “Kirtilata”. In it, Vidyapathi sets out a series of contrasts between the religious customs of Hindus and Muslims, saying “The Hindus and the Turks live close together/ Each makes fun of the other’s religion (sic: “dhamme.”)” He then goes on to describe the religious practices of these two groups, Hindu and Muslim.

    This is a particularly important piece of evidence, because the word “Dharma” (vernacular, “dhamme”) has been coupled with the words Hindu and Turake, to explicitly mean “Religion of the Hindus” and “Religion of the Muslims.” This clearly shows that the word “Dharma”, used in the sense of “religion”, is not simply a modern usage for a borrowed European concept as the constructionists have suggested.

    12) Moving on to Southern India: The term “Sultan among Hindu Kings” (Hindu-Raya-Suratrana), one of the earliest written usages of the term “Hindu” in an Indian language, appears in Andhra inscriptions from 1352 onwards. It is a title conferred upon the imperial founders of Vijayanagara. Clearly this is an expression of religious identity to distinguish the Vijayanagara Emperors, and their people, from the “Muslim” Bahmani principalities, which began to establish themselves in peninsular India by ca. 1323.

    13) Chand Baradai’s epic “Prithviraj Raso”, composed around 1192, is replete with references to “Hindus” and “Turks.” In most cases, there is ambiguity over whether these terms are used in a religious or ethno-geographical sense; however, in one explicit reference, the text declares “both religions (dina) have drawn their curved swords.”

    Clearly, the pervasive consciousness of a Hindu religious identity in far-flung reaches of the subcontinent goes back to the very dawn of Islam’s arrival in India as a comparator “Other” religious identity. Before the arrival of such a comparator “Other”, of course, the question of Hindus conceptualizing a united “Hindu” identity becomes moot… all belief systems in the subcontinent were Dharmic in any case, and thus to be accorded mutual respect.

    14) Finally there are the Muslim sources. In Abdul Malik Isami’s Persian work Futuhus-Salatin, composed in the Deccan circa 1350, the author clearly uses “Hindi” to refer to ethno-geographical characteristics of India and “Hindu” to refer to the religious identity of its indigenous inhabitants. “Hindu” is used in Persian literature of the Ghaznavid period, beginning circa 990, to describe a religious concept.

    15) Most remarkably of all, as an earlier comment on this thread has remarked, there is the detailed formulation of Hindu religion by Al-Biruni in the 11th century… a clear, detailed and exhaustive outsider’s account of Indian subcontinental religion as a unified concept, which is all the more remarkable in the consistency with which it anticipates the specific standard model elucidated by Monier-Williams nearly 800 years later!

    Lorenzen has carefully laid out a vast trail of evidence establishing that Hinduism, in fact, wasn’t invented sometime after 1800… or indeed, even sometime after the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate. Rather, during the centuries of rule by Muslim Sultans and Emperors over large parts of India, Hindus developed a definitive consciousness of shared religious identity based on family resemblances between the variegated practices and belief systems that preceded the arrival of Islam– and identified consciously as Hindus, no matter what their sect, caste, chosen deity or theological school.

    As for that Dharmic family of belief systems themselves… it has existed across the Indian subcontinent, and even beyond, since the very dawn of human history.

  • Surya

    Jim Burklo writes:
    Malhotra argues forcefully, perhaps even stridently, for “mutual respect” to be the norm among religions. I think he goes too far in criticizing some religious leaders for failing to express pluralism in the exact terms he prefers. “Mutual respect” sounds too much like “tolerance” to me, when it’s clear that Malhotra advocates for a strong form of religious pluralism. And he doesn’t seem to recognize the existence of Christians who do practice what he preaches, suggesting that religious pluralism is categorically incompatible with Christianity.


     “Mutual respect” is quite unlike “tolerance”.  There are also good reasons to believe that religious pluralism is categorically incompatible with Christianity.  

    Tolerance is just a notch above intolerance
    The word tolerance carries a connotation of “putting up with something”. The problem with the word tolerance is that it accommodates intolerance in thought and attitude as long as the body language and behavior are civil.  Mere civil veneer, Jim Burklo has to agree, is far from “Honest Pluralism” (the central issue of his commentary and its headline).  Honest Pluralism is a much better synonym for mutual respect than tolerance.

    Mutual respect calls for deeper acceptance
    Mutual respect is not political correctness.  If we know something to be true or false, there is nothing wrong in calling a spade a spade.   However, when one is not sure, all we have are truth-claims.

    Mutual respect is deeper than the veneer of civil smile – it requires deeper acceptance that different religions have different truth-claims.  These claims are not verifiable to be true and hence they are just truth-claims.  As long as these truth claims are fomented on others as truth, all we have is really intolerance with or without civil veneer.

    Exclusivity does not mix well with mutual respect
    There cannot be mutual respect when your basic creed (for example, Nicene creed that is formalized and forms the basis for all major Christian denominations) is based on exclusivity: makes categorical claims that their prophet is the special One with specific commands and messages from God, and that unbelief is tantamount to not receiving God’s grace or worse face God’s retribution.  

    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence
    David Hume in his monumental essay titled “Of Miracles” published in 1748 in his book titled “An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding” says the following that has ever since been used as the litmus test for miracles:  “a wiseman proportions his belief to the evidence.”   In other words, wise people should  require that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

    Extraordinary status
    John 20:30-31  “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

    Many Christians claim that these miracles validated Jesus’ special status with God.   Furthermore, extraordinary miracle of resurrection, which is claimed for no one other than Jesus, gives such a uniquely special status for Jesus with God. Exclusivity comes not in merely performing miracles but using miracles as proof for special status with God.  

    Exclusivity through statements  in Bible
    John 14:6  Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

    Given the extraordinary status conferred to Jesus, the above statement makes access to God exclusively through Jesus and hence Christianity.

    Exclusivity = Not much by way of religious pluralism
    If we accept that the statement is indeed made by Jesus, given his special status, the exclusivity of access to God through Christianity has to be accepted too.

    Problem is that this is an extraordinary claim without commensurately extraordinary evidence.  Thus, we are faced with a situation where Christians are calling for exclusivity based on evidence that may or may not be true.

    Mutual Respect or Honest Pluralism, then, is a difficult challenge for Christians.  

    To move towards mutual respect, which dogmas are we willing to shed? 

    Which statements in scriptures are we willing to not take literally?  

    Finally, how can we get these steps to mainstream?

  • http://None Mikki

    One simple comment: Christians admit Paul, a Jew, is a murderer- yet, they accepted his word that he ‘fell off a horse and saw Jesus…, and decided to accept Jesus as a savior’. That tells how an innocent can be deceived by a cunning-Jew; and makes me feel sympathetic toward Christian knowing the Jew conquered a good VEDA tribe to make wars…

  • TryAgainByDogmaToxin

    Jim, I guess you read the book in a hurry till page 25-26, and then quickly submitted this “review”. Are you planning to review 25 pages at a time? Good idea. Keep going.

  • TryAgainByDogmaToxin

    “Mutual respect” sounds too much like “tolerance” to me

    Here is my suggestion: tell your boss or wife/partner or even your closest friend that you tolerate them. You will quickly learn the “difference”.

  • Uday V

    There are two aspects of the above review:

    a. Hinduism is a colonial construct. There are elaborate views by Ankur and Karthik that have extensively quoted various reference to the Dharmic viewpoint much before the coming of British. My scholarship is not so strong and more of the layman type – when Greeks entered the current day Afghanistan/ Pakistan, they stated that they entered India. When Huien Tsang entered Kashmir area, he states that he has entered India. When Portuguese entered Goa and Kerala, they stated that they entered India. When Marco Polo again entered Southern India (some say Orissa), he talked about India. What was forcing these people to use a common reference to define this land as India that was indeed split into various kingdoms is never really discussed/ debated? Earlier books like Kamasutra discuss about people in various parts of the country ranging from Afghanistan to South India to Assam. Srimad Bhagavatam is much more clearer – it defines the current boundary of the subcontinent and adds that despite various kingdoms and varying practices, people born in this land are disposed towards achieving liberation and have common ways to achieving this. There are far more aspects that connected the people of this land in the form of a common culture than what is the modern perception that the British united this land.

    2. Second, the world is struggling to figure out a mechanism to become flat based on the various denominations used till date – Hinduism, Christianity, etc. Jim suggests that there are far more denominations within Christianity than what Rajiv knows. If there are far too many denominations within Hinduism, Christianity, etc., do we shed these denominations and start categorizing people with new denominations? If however categorizing people within denominations does not make sense in the modern world, should we stop using words like Islam, Christianity, etc. Which people will be categorized as minorities if these denominations vanish? Rajiv’s book forces us to ask these questions. Further, for example, with the world becoming flatter based on a unique common pursuit of GDP growth as the basis for seeking unity of nations, given the various failures being observed in this model, questions are also being raised as to whether there is an alternative model to society construct. Since saying that the world is same and one humanity has not made the world more united, maybe talking about differences is a better way to collectively look at alternative models of society construct and framing a fresh world view. In the end, it is not about defence of Christianity as many critics seem to be getting into (by force of habit or because of ego being hurt), it is about opening up to newer paradigms of thought process that ultimately benefit mankind and taking it to a newer trajectory of being.

  • Jagdish Chandra Pant

    This thread begins with the pious intention “Towards Honest Pluralism” which may well, in view of the past experience, head in the direction of asserting in future that our “Honest Pluralism” is better that your “pluralism”, as if the plain English word “pluralism” was not good enough to stand for its true meaning. It is not clear that the phrase “Honest Pluralism” has all the numerous denominations of Christianity within its mandate only or whether it is also intended to cover all the faiths in the world. It is well known that Islam asserts that its brand of “pluralism” is the best in the world and that every one should come forward to be part of it and we all know by now, what it is leading to.
    The book “Being Different” has something of a “mantrik” character about it, as so perceptively observed by a western scholar know to Rajiv Malhotra. This implies that “BD” needs to be read from cover to cover, more than once to let the words in it to sink, before a fair review can be written about its contents. Casual selective reading of the book can only give rise to the kind of comments one sees since 1st March, 2012.
    By adopting the mere stratagem of reversing the gaze on the West, “BD” seems to pose a formidable challenge to Western Universalism, to defend which appears to need defending Judeo-Christian religions. A thorough reading of the book would make it clear that it appears to compel every reader to look within, to determine for oneself, what would really be the true form of plain “pluralism”, that it is so painstakingly advocating as applicable across the globe, provided transparent honesty is brought to bear by all concerned to the whole exercise.
    Shri Ramakrishna Dev called Christ, which predates the historical Jesus, as “Shri Krishna Chetna” and Yogananda too equated Christ with Brahma, but these references to Christ by these century old exemplars are not what is meant by “Jesus” the “Son of God” in the Bible. The “sameness” ploy by the evangelists to facilitate conversion by acculturation through generations in India, is not the broadminded “sameness” spoken by Shri Ramakrishna Dev & Yogananda to promote real pluralism across all faiths.

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