Being different is not bad

Having read a fair portion of Being Different: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism, I can state now that it’s a book worth reading. The author, Rajiv Malhorta, expresses a distinctively Indian religio-cultural view coherently, clearly, and with a substantial foundation of scholarship.

In this way, I would suggest that Malhorta’s work is analogous to Tariq Ramadan’s exposition of a conservative Muslim world-view that is aware of, and engages with, Western values and traditions.

The main difference is that Ramadan’s work is more academic, which makes sense since he is trained as a classical European intellectual. In contrast, the main nagging issue I have with Malhotra’s work so far is that he regularly imputes elements of Western American Protestant culture and civilization to the Abrahamic traditions writ large. This makes sense since Malhotra’s biography suggests much of his adult life was in the United States. But whenever he writes “Judeo-Christian” about 75% of the time it makes more sense to write “American Protestant”, since that is really what the term is pointing to.

I assume that in the broad conclusions Malhotra and I come down on different positions. But the outlines of the methods and arguments he uses are quite familiar and intelligible, and that’s a nice change from other things that I have read.

20 thoughts on “Being different is not bad”

  1. @Razib, you say – “I assume that in the broad conclusions Malhotra and I come down on different positions.”. What are different positions?

  2. Does Brown Pundits want to interview Rajiv Malhotra?

    Many of the people Brown Pundits has interviewed have long associations and interactions or closely worked with Rajiv Malhotra. We all have our own nuanced differences in perspectives with Rajiv Malhotra. This said Rajiv Malhotra is very hard working, professional and brilliant. Rajiv Malhotra brilliantly critiques post modernism from an eastern lens.

    Wanted to write my own perspectives on his work before interviewing him. But if you (Razib) want to interview him . . . we can reach out. Suspect that Akshay, Mukunda and Mrittunjoy Guha would have an interesting exchange with Rajiv Malhotra.

    One possible idea is to have Rajiv Malhotra on with eastern philosophy practitioners who mostly agree with him but have some differences in perspectives with him. And watch the fire works.

  3. “he regularly imputes elements of Western American Protestant culture and civilization to the Abrahamic traditions writ large. This makes sense since Malhotra’s biography suggests much of his adult life was in the United States. But whenever he writes “Judeo-Christian” about 75% of the time it makes more sense to write “American Protestant”, since that is really what the term is pointing to.”

    Completely agree. Could add hundreds of pages of similar constructive feedback.

    What is also true is that Rajivji’s views are evolving because of his continued engagement with muslims, christians, post modernists, classical liberals and others.

    Here is another idea:
    —bring Kushal on with Rajiv Malhotra and let them go

  4. The rise of Rajiv Malhotra and host of other modern Indian conservative view points (on youtube and elsewhere) show something which i had pointed out earlier. Too much is made out of today’s left /liberal critic of lack of intellectual rigor on the right wing.

    What they dont understand is they have been puttin the cart b4 the horse. It the BJP current political domination which “allows” alternate/conservative view points to emerge. The Indian left hegemony (in India’s education system) itself emerged due to the bargain they did with Nehru and Indira. In turn Congress got the subservience from this intellectual class.

    Going forward this nascent right wing ecosystem has to tread on egg shells. The BJP domination is not as complete as Congress was. And the right wing has to mature quite quickly from shrill/fantasy to somewhere closer to american conservatism.

    1. The problem I have with the Indian/Hindu right-wing “intelligentsia” (I’m talking about people and opinions I’ve encountered on the web) is that they sometimes either make things up or make unwarranted inferences, and those incorrect opinions then spread like wildfire purely because of people pressure (there are a LOT of Indians!) Subsequently, the popularity of these opinions is then used as evidence of their veracity.

      The persistent claims of the AIT/AMT being “refuted” is one example. The claim that scientists like Einstein created their theories by reading Indian scripture is another. The fake quote about Macaulay claiming to extol Indian thought and insidiously trying to undermine India by promoting Western education yet another.

      I first encountered the right-wing Hindu opinion ecosystem when I got access to the Internet in the late ’90s. At the time, it seemed to be to be a breath of fresh air, it opened my eyes to the mendacity of the Indian left. The fact that foreigners like Francois Gautier and Koenraad Elst were promoting these views added to their credibility.

      But enough time has passed since then and I have had the opportunity to do a lot more reading, of sources that are more authentic than both the left and right opinion makers, with more “intellectual rigor”. Consequently, the right-wing has fallen way down in my esteem, and their recent political shenanigans have made me appreciate some of the virtues of the older Congress/left intelligentsia, even though I would not wish for them to regain power.

      1. numinous and saurav, you both make good points. the rise of hindu right has forced many indians to rethink their priors and question the erstwhile “normals”. for e.g., during the left-liberal dominated era, somehow it was considered normal to have mosques built by foreign conquerors to exists right on top of the birthplaces of holiest of hindu gods. never mind how hideous these mosques looked with their monstrous domes suffocating the pillars with hindu motifs under them. hindus were supposed to accept these symbols of subjugation with equanimity in the name of “secularism” and move on.

        not any more. now hindus are questioning these unquestionables. no, it is not normal for the birthplaces of their gods to be in the possession of squatters. no, it is not normal for rampant massacres by islamic warlords to be brushed aside as simply powerful oppressing the weak.

        in the US there is a movement going on to remove confederate statues under the slogan – your heritage is my slavery. it applies equally well in case of india. isn’t their secularism our subjugation?

        the problem with hindu right is that it frequently lapses into delusions and downright idiocy. i chuckle every time i get another message on my whatsapp claiming that ancient hindus possessed nuclear technology, or that aryans spread from india to the world, because it tells me that hindu right has a long way to go before it gains respectability.

        1. “Hideous mosques” and “monstrous domes”– Do you even realize how bigoted you sound?

          “Squatters”– Indian Muslims are not squatters. They are natives who happen to be descendants of converts.

          Islam is part of India’s history. It is quite ridiculous to demonize and selectively remove certain aspects of your nation’s past. This type of rhetoric is what led to the destruction of Babri Masjid–something that is completely unacceptable in a secular state.

          “Their secularism is our slavery”– Those mosques and other monuments represent the heritage of 15% of India’s population. Not to mention those members of the majority who also see them as a part of history and as a distinctive part of the pluralistic heritage of India. Thankfully, many Indians don’t share the Hindu Right’s extremely reductive view of history.

  5. But whenever he writes “Judeo-Christian” about 75% of the time it makes more sense to write “American Protestant”, since that is really what the term is pointing to.

    disclaimer: the following opinions come pretty much entirely from my understanding of your past writing. If they’re wrong, sorry. :/

    Isn’t “American Protestant” always what the term “Judeo-Christian” refers to? Haven’t you written about how in a more accurate view of the world, Judaism and Islam are closer to each other, with Christianity as the taxonomical outgroup? I had formed the impression that “Judeo-Christian” was a diplomatic umbrella term that served the purpose of assimilating American Jews to American Protestant cultural values.

  6. MW, you are correct. but malhotra really means to mean ‘abrahamic’ i think. e.g., his description of the ‘judeo-christian’ idea of sin and the fall, which he imputes to abrahamic religions, is actually an augustinian and protestant (‘western’ christian) view.

  7. \“Judeo-Christian” about 75% of the time it makes more sense to write “American Protestant”\

    It is not altogether wrong.

    America was founded by dissident protestant sects from Britain and for them Old Testament and OT prophets were as important as NT. They imagined themselves as some kind of Hebrews with a mission from god to conquer and the American settlement was looked on as a New Jerusalem whatever the price. These early protestant settlers in the Americas came close to Judeo-Christian values, closer than Catholics. I think the WASP establishment today maintains their world image and weltanschaung. So Malhotra was not far off the mark. Even the pro-Israel swing of the US foreign policy reflects that ideological affinity and not some capitalist-imperialist plot

  8. Sometimes he (Rajiv Malhotra) comes of as a little too aggressive for someone trying to spearhead the movement of ‘being the other’ (Dharmics). I watched a few of his debates with Dharmics/non-Dharmics and I was somewhat uncomfortable with some of his arguments/questions.

  9. yeah. he comes off like a ‘new atheist’ in the text (though he’s a devout hindu). and i kind of like it! indians too scared to make ppl uncomfortable

    1. ‘indians too scared to make ppl uncomfortable’

      I guess conditioning of caste system, hierarchical culture, Muslim and Christian rule for about 500-600 years play an important role in how Hindus perceive and react to the world.

  10. Numinous, in response to you: One pitfall in judging a side or group (like “Hindu Right Wing” that you identified) is that we all tend to judge the “other” group by its weakest elements/members/arguments. I was reminded of this watching late night comedians in US. They’d send a “reporter” to some hapless rural republican, elicit their ridiculous responses on some issue, and we all would laugh at it (including me, as a strong democrat supporter). But its unfair to the group, as we don’t engage with their nuanced, stronger positions.

    Some “internet Hindus” damage their cause by claiming “we had airplanes” etc. But if they stick to strictly whats well-established, they will score major points, because many people are unaware of the real, well-know achievements of historical Indians.

    I had not heard of Einstein story you mention, but had heard of one about Newton, Leibniz and calculus. And that is a very interesting story. The Leibniz infinite series formula for pi was first discovered by Madhava of kerala school of mathematics in 14th century (this is well known). The infinite series were precursors to calculus and the Kerala school had made further progress towards that. A further speculation is that Jesuits in India collected that knowledge (that they were collecting such knowledge for the vatican is also well known), and both Leibniz and Newton (via Barrow) learned it from a common source, Viviani, at Vatican (this part is speculation.. but with some circumstantial evidence). Now, if the “pride in ancient Hindu achievement” side were to just stop at publicizing Madhava’s considerable achievements, they would serve their purpose better, and not invite ridicule from even partially informed public. Let the Newton issue be dealt with by science historians in due time. And don’t claim the nukes and planes!

    1. Totally Agree. This is the way to go. No need for needless jingoism. Just bring out the facts and produce a body of rigorous scholarship.

  11. 1. Lots of people went into STEM for jobs and prestige. now some of them are into humanities to discover themselves. they are adopting the methods of science for investigations, which is not being appreciated by the mainstream establishments.
    2. apart from the likes of JNU, the students and staff at other universities are really bad and will fail against this new sub altern culture.

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