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On Hinduism Hardcover – 6 Mar 2014

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 680 pages
  • Publisher: OUP USA; 1st Edition edition (6 Mar 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199360073
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199360079
  • Product Dimensions: 23.9 x 4.3 x 16.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 200,569 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


"For anyone seeking a deeper and more nuanced understanding of Hinduism, this book is a must read." --Publishers Weekly"Clear and direct this will stand as a reliable resource to return to frequently." --Library Journal"On Hinduism is a treat. For those who already know and admire Wendy Doniger's work, this is a handy (if hefty) compendium of many of her essays.... For those who are reading her for the first time, the book is a marvellous introduction to the multiple ways that Hinduism can be approached and understood through the stories that it tells.... In short, the book is a winner on all counts." --Livemint"Doniger really is a surprising writer. When you are not busy being astounded by her knowledge of the religion and its history, you are left wondering at the beautiful stories she culls out from ancient Hindu texts, and the unexpected connections she draws between pieces which appear centuries apart from each other. But the picture she paints is always complete, and the analysis she draws always fulfilling." --The Sunday Indian"These lively essays, flowing from Wendy Doniger's decades-long encounter with Hinduism, show us what can happen when an extraordinary mind takes up an even more extraordinary subject. The constant freshness of her insights, the remarkable range of her reading, her eye for gender, and her unrivalled ability to enter and enact a story-all this is revealed over and over as we turn these pages. A collection to honor and celebrate." --John Stratton Hawley, author of The Memory of Love: Surdas Sings to Krishna"This is a wonderful book, written with the grace and humor we have come to expect from Professor Doniger. There is an energy to the writing that carries the reader along. The book succeeds in presenting the complex and contentious range of cultural forms we call 'Hinduism' in a way that explains their complexity while identifying their uniting features. This book is a treat and pleasure to read." --Gavin Flood, Professor of Hindu Studies and Comparative Religion, Oxford University

About the Author

[O'Flaherty] graduated from Radcliffe College and received her Ph. D. from Harvard University and her D. Phil. from Oxford University. She has been a full professor in the Divinity School at the University of Chicago since 1978 and is the author of many translations of Sanskrit texts as well as books about Hindu mythology and cross-cultural mythology, particularly about illusion, animals, gender, and sex, most recently

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By johnstevensjs on 20 July 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I bought this on Kindle having read an enthusiastic review (in the TLS?). I have no special interest in Hinduism and little prior knowledge of the faith, but my curiosity was aroused and I thought it would be enlightening to read about one of the world's great religions and cultures from the viewpoint of a learned outsider.
I was right; the book is enlightening, and interesting, although I understand from the original review that it might have proved contentious with some Hindus. Wendy Doniger however seems to me to be full of empathy and enthusiasm for the faith.
Her style is direct and fresh – it's like hearing her in conversation, so it's easy to read. Her chapters, or essays, give frequent and lengthy extracts from Hindu scriptures in order to support her explanation. This seems necessary if the religion is to speak for itself, but often the myths with their many names and changing avatars go on too long for me, and I cheat – skimming the text to get back to her own account.
Her account is interesting not solely because of its exposition but because she is wiling to attempt explanations of how the faith evolved over the centuries and how it relates to social and political questions today. One can see how that might be contentious, but it is partly what drew me to the book.
The formatting works well on Kindle: all the features operate as they should.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
though at times critical of Hindu's practices, I believe she is deeply in love with Hinduism
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By Vish Bhattacharya on 18 Oct 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
excellent book
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 29 reviews
16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
A stunning work of excellent scholarship and vivid, accomplished prose 10 April 2014
By Theodore C. Bale - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Hmmm... all these folks who seek to discredit the brilliant scholar are unknown names with many axes to grind. I am reading this great volume after a trip through Northern Indian and it is so gripping that I can hardly put it down. Well-referenced, these are condensed essays that come after 40 years of her considerable contemplation of the material. She explains that in the introduction. If you want to know how she reacted to her book being censored by a few fanatics in India, read her response in the editorial pages of the New York Times, which saw fit to publish it. This is a five-star book in every way.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
A great reality check for even the progressive Hindu. 11 Jun 2014
By kantmoor - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Wendy Donigers sincerity, scholarship and, indeed, even her faith shines through. Hardly an unputdownable book. But then without trudging through the highs, lows, bogs and whirlpools of this religion it is not possible to define its boundaries (if any) and core values I suppose. An Indian Hindu may find some passages `cheeky` or downright blashphemy (Doniger also incidentally breaks the `we are supremely tolerant `image). I am not exactly a practising Hindu. On the other hand I realise that I am a product of this ancient culture and I like to explore, with an open mind, beyond the comforting myths, rituals and shibboleths of daily Hinduism. I find the book very informative and revealing. In the chapter on Yoga, Doniger illustrates how a patchwork quilt of indigenous and european concepts about physical fitness were forged by the fervor of 19th century Nationalism into a purely Indian discipline whose origins were projected back to the vedic age. Fascinating. All religions and cultures have an all round superiority complex. In India, this is particularly compounded by the very unique ahistoric nature of Hinduism - the complete neglect of objective recording of dates and the obsessive `mythification` of even clearly historic events. For Hinduism to survive in a vibrant form into the future we have to confront the religion as it is -Like Arjun, behold the Vishwaroop form in all its complexity. An bowlderised, simplified Amar Chitra Katha version of Hindusim is being forced on us overtly and covertly. This assault on free thinking not only undermines the foundations of our Indian society, it also, ironically, does a great disservice to Hindusim itself. The deeply rooted pluralism in the Hindu ethos is, according to Doniger, is a feature that is its greatest virtue and differntiator. I have always felt, borrowing an idea from evolutionary biology, that its mind boggling variety and variation have been the keys to its survival despite the absence of a central authority and despite the loss of state sponsorship over the last five centuries. A great book to have on your Kindle or book shelf. One that you end up reading in stages. Education, perhaps some entertainment and a social reality check all rolled into one. One star less for the fact that I cant remember everything I have read !
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Avery good work of scholarship, if at tomed too psychoanalytical 24 Jun 2014
By Sudhakar Thiagarajan - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Not able to get hold of her banned book in India I downloaded this and read it. a very enjoyable book if a trifle heavy and cumbersome in some essays. I am a Hindu that goes thro the rituals in a Santayana like fashion, because friends and family do it- a cultural communal sort of ritual worship. As for my beliefs - I couldnt tell you for sure.

Knowing very little sanskrit and not having read any of the scriptures in the original I found this a truly revealing work bringing within my purview ancient Hindu texts of the Rig Veda Samhita, the Manu Smriti and such like. Till now i had only come across sanitised translations of philosohies from the Upanishads and stories from the puranas also sanitised. Like most Indians I am fairly well informed with regard to the epics themselves and the Gita.

I was surprised to find out that the popularity of the Gita and the Vedantic philosophy was as a result of sort of a conspiracy between Orientalists and anglophilic Indian reformers to present an acceptable Hinduism for European consumption! Vedanta was always a part of Hinduism but a minor part compared to the Tantric and Bhakthi traditions that still dominate today. ( I am not referring to the Tantra of Sex and Secrets but the sort that gave rise to the Agamas). I had never realised that the stories of the Puranas had earlier Vedic versions without the Puranic gods mentioned, nor that beef eating was acceptable to the Vedic nomads.
The best part of the book are the bits to do with the place of women, marginalised poeple and animals in Ancient Indian society.

Now onto the gripes. First of let me state that I agree with critics who say that this isnt about Hinduism as prcatised now. Of course it isnt. Thats not her premise. This is about how we got here from there. But Ms. Doniger could have written more on the Bhakthi and Tantric traditions that are the antecedents to Hinduism as practised today. Having said that I guess thats a book all in itself.

My bigger gripe is about the her techniques of criticism. I have never been a big fan of Literary criticism of the Marxist or psychoanalytical school. Thats not to say that theres no substance in them but they do sometimes go ridiculously too far. They do give us some insights that a literal reading of the text doesnt. But its all hypothetical and to talk in certainities based on these forms of criticism isnt scientific.

As for hurting religious sentiments, I dont see why religion is given protection where political beliefs or scientific theories are treated rigorously. A more robust discussion on all religions is the need of the moment not censorship or fear dissent. Good show Ms Doniger.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Chaos Revealed 20 July 2014
By Bob Gorman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Ms. Doniger's book provided me a great historical overview of Hinduism. I have lived in Hyderabad India for almost one year and will be here for another year. I enjoy exploring the religious diversity of India but it is very confusing. As a westerner, I came here assuming that I could grasp and categorize what I would see. Her book helped me to understand that is not possible. Indeed, I have come to realize that India is chaos and that it includes its religious expressions and practices. I gave her 4 stars rather than 5 in as much as a University of Chicago graduate ( AB '78 majoring in Early Christian Literature and New Testament) who studied with Jonathan Z Smith, Robert Grant, Langdon Gilkey, Bernard McGinn among others there in the Divinity School, I was slightly disappointed that I did not come away with a stronger understanding of Hinduism's anthropomorphic expressions.
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
A Work of a Scholar for the Erudite 8 Jun 2014
By Anush Moorthy - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
First up, the context. I was born a Hindu in India and have lived in India for much of my life. I was a practicing Hindu at some point of time and now am a practicing Atheist. Having gotten that out of the way, let me head to the elephant in the room. This book is in no way derogatory to the Hindu faith or to Hindus. If anything it reflects the author's love for the subject, as well as the religion.

This is not a book about contemporary practices of Hinduism in India, but a scholarly review of literature on Hindusim. The authors delves into quite a bit of literature, ranging from the Risque Kamasutra to the orthodox Manu Shastras, as well as the more popular Ramayana and Mahabharata. This book is highly academic and is in no means a light read. However, it is thoroughly entertaining and I for one came out of the reading richer, both in knowledge and in anecdotes. Of course, the book is not perfect, and I'd have rated this 3.5 stars, had Amazon allowed me to. The authorship of the essays are inconsistent, possibly owing to the fact that they were written at different times. Many of the essays are well written and have a neat start-middle-and-end; but some of them seem to have been hastily completed. There is an interesting essay at the end on the Ramayana and shadows, which was not only excellent in narration, but also content; however, this one ends abruptly, as if the author was late to a deadline. Some other essays were a bit long in the tooth or on "boring" topics (for me at least) -- as is generally the case with books of this size. There are places where the author comes across as judgmental and a bit "catty" -- the book would have been better without these minor annoyances. Overall though, the essays are well-written and are essential reading for those interested in understanding Hindu literature (not Hindu culture, for culture and literature are not the same).

As an afterword. Some years ago, I chose not to read the author's "The Hindus: An Alternative History" based on the reviews of some nut-jobs on Amazon. I am generally skeptical of Western writers interpreting Eastern philosophy and these reviews convinced me that I was right. However, when the recent controversy of this book being recalled in India by the published broke out, I decided that I had to read the book and make the judgement myself. After having gone through this tome, I am confident that William Dalrymple (another excellent Western author on India) was right when he called Wendy Doniger a scholar on Hinduism -- she is exactly that. Please neglect the negative reviews that attack the author and go read the book and decide for yourself.
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