But then rather than write another outraged post, I'll merely offer some friendly stylistic suggestions for Rajiv Malhotra, Sankrant Sanu, Vishal Agarwal, etc. I naturally have no credibility on my own, being an English professor and a non-Hindu.
Thus, I am merely trying to help you all get your point across a little better. I have no particular animosity towards you or towards Hinduism; at times you make good points (Sanu finds some pretty wild quotes from Courtright here, and makes a valid contrast between the attitude of Islamicists and that of Hindu Studies people). I know that the Washington Post took Doniger's side. But I should say that you are being dissed by the respectable media not because of racism or because of some big anti-Hindu conspiracy. Rather, you simply don't make your case very well. Here are some tips in response to Sankrant Sanu's latest in Beliefnet:
1. Currency. Try reading a book by Wendy Doniger written after 1980. Try her painstaking translation of selections of the Rg Veda, for instance. And what do you make of her translation [and scholarship] on the Kama Sutra? (And what do you make of her comments on Harry Potter? Ok, just kidding...)
Paul Courtright's book on Ganesha is also quite old. The fact that you find offensive statements mainly in books written 25 years ago weakens your claims about the 'centrality' of this particular pair of scholars to Hinduism studies today.
Or take Jeffrey Kripal's point about his book Kali's Child, which has been one of the books by white American scholars singled out for inaccuracies and distortions. In his response to the controversy on Sulekha, Kripal mentions that he has apologized for the inaccuracies. In this piece, he also defends his (and many other scholars') interpretation of Sri Ramakrishna's homoerotic interests [I haven't read any of Ramakrishna's works, in Bengali or English, and will remain agnostic on this]
But he also mentions that almost no one has ever read or bought his book!
I regret to say that Rajiv gets just about everything wrong about my ideas and translations. If the first requirement of a serious intellectual discussion is to get the other person's ideas and perpectives correct, what the Indian philosophical tradition calls the purva-paksa, then this has never been a serious intellectual discussion. Indeed, Rajiv gets it all so wrong that I am left wondering if he has even ever read the book. I doubt very much that he has. This is a pattern I have seen again and again over the years: lots of offended feelings over a book few have actually read. As I have already pointed out, I know for a fact that very few people have ever read the book, as I know exactly what and where the sales have been, and they have been absolutely miniscule by any trade standards. For example, no more than a hundred copies have ever been sold in India. Repeatedly, then, I am put on trial in almost total ignorance of what I have written.
Hm, 100 copies. And this was debated in the Lok Sahba (Indian Parliament)? Clearly, somebody must stop Jeffrey Kripal! His book is contaminating dozens of minds. Seriously speaking: is Jeff Kripal's work really central to Hinduism studies?
2. Civility. Sanu writes: The website Sulekha.com invited Wendy Doniger to offer a response to one of the early articles that Rajiv Malhotra had written. She refused. My suggestion: Try addressing Doniger and her colleagues civilly. The reason she has thus far refused to engage with Malhotra is that his language has been rude and his tactics underhanded (as Kripal's story shows). Tell Malhotra to hire an editor to weed out all the ad hominem nastiness (I'll volunteer), and then try starting over again.
To Sankrant Sanu's credit, his articles in Sulekha and Beliefnet meet my criteria of respectfulness, though there are lines that I have questions about.
3. Pick important claims, and disregard small ones. This, for instance, is not terribly impressive:
In her article on Hinduism in Encarta, which serves as a mainstream introduction for general audiences, Doniger highlights what she calls “contradictions” in the Hindu tradition--often using deprecating parenthetical asides, unusual for such an encyclopedia entry.
It's hard to get anybody excited about 'contradictions', and it distracts from your main points, which are sometimes good ones. If the omission of trivial criticisms means your essays are going to be a little shorter from now on, I, for one, am not going to complain.
4. Don't try and minimize death threats. Death threats, even over the internet, are a very big problem. They are, in fact, a federal offense. So when you say things like this, I think you destroy your credibility:
When this petition was online, a few posts among thousands contained some angry language against the scholars. The anonymity of the internet easily allows many forms of verbal diarrhea visible in practically any large internet message board, especially on a contentious issue. Because of the posted threats, the organizers of the petition closed it down. Even though the petition had tremendous momentum, the organizers apparently did not want to provide a platform for personal threats of any kind.
Yes, "apparently" they didn't want to allow death threats on their site! They are motivated by a small desire not to be sued, or to be sent to jail. This equivocating looks bad for you, and is anyway irrelevant, since the Hinduism Studies scholars don't run Petition Online.
5. Know your field. This passage is telling:
Criticism of crude academic writing on Hinduism is coming from the community because it is not present in the academy. The Christian or Jewish community need not overly concern itself with psychoanalytical fantasies about Moses or Jesus because there is a vast body of scholars within the academy who would take this on. A Courtright-like narrative with far-fetched psychoanalytical interpretations would be marginalized in the study of Jesus or Moses.
Wrong! There is an immense amount of psychoanlytic Jewish and Christian studies material out there. Look up Daniel Boyarin, for instance. And they aren't marginal, they're mainstream.
6. Accurately report history. I didn't realize this the last time I posted, but this controversy is older than Malhotra's infamous piece published on Sulekha.com in 2000. There were stirrings of it on various email lists in the late 1990s.
But closer inspection of who has been participating in these discussions reveals that Hinduism Studies has not united as a group against the 'outsiders'. Malhotra himself participated formally in at least one panel at the American Academy of Religion in 2000. You can't get more institutionalized than that!
(Another 'insider' resource is this one, published by Hinduism studies scholars as Washington University in St. Louis. Clearly that Religion department, at least, is taking this debate very seriously.)
7. Finally, Don't be so prudish. It seems to me that what galls the anti-HS crowd the most is the seeming obsession with sex and sexuality amongst academics in the 1970s. Indeed, the scholars seemed to discover things about Ganesha, Vishnu, Kali, etc. that I find to be a little, er, imaginative. But keep in mind that that was the 1970s -- today the relish for saying the word 'phallus' every 10 seconds is diminished. Today's academics are like Madonna; they are over the whole sex thing now.
Even so, don't sound as if you are trying to put a chastity belt around the Hindu tradition (see point 9 in Patrick Colm Hogan's Ten Reasons Why Anyone Who Cares About Hinduism Should Be Grateful to Wendy Doniger). There is a considerable amount of sexuality in the Ramayana, for instance, and while it is necessary to provide context and remain sensitive, this material can and should be studied and analyzed. Why not contribute your own analyses of this material?