[Marxism] Am I a Jew?
d.koechlin at wanadoo.fr
Tue Oct 9 21:21:35 MDT 2012
>>""It was only towards the end of the 18th century that the European
merchants and colonists referred collectively to the followers of Indian
religions as Hindus. The term Hinduism was introduced into the English
language in the 19th century to denote the religious, philosophical, and
cultural traditions native to India."
I'm surprised you would find the idea disconcerting, as I understood it to
have been the dominant strain of thought among postcolonial theory types
like Pankaj Mishra and Wendy Doniger for a while"<<
Did the British play the Muslims against the Hindus ? Or the Sikhs
against the Muslims ? Or the Sikhs against the Hindus ? They most
certainly did. Divide and rule.
Is "Hinduism" a construct of the British Raj ? Obviously not, as
"Hinduism" was alive with metaphysical controversies in the period -100
BC to +800AD. Stacks upon stacks of religious treatises were written in
that period, learned men were busy copying, reading and commenting on
philosophical texts. Long before the arrival of Islam.
IT's as though you asked me to write a six page essay on "Paganism in
the Roman Empire as a construct of 4th century Christianity". Well, I
would start by pointing out that inhabitants of the Mediterrenean did
not self-identify as "PAgans" until the 4th century AD, but that there
certainly was "something" that was "PAgan" in the Roman Empire. This
"something" was basically a conglomerate of various local village cults
(following a materialist view of history), which rapidly evolved as
trade links became stronger (materialist view of history) and a definite
mode of production based on regional specialization of trade came to the
fore. At the same time, the elite, not the common peasants, were awash
with metaphysical speculation and fascinated with Greek philosophy :
neo-Platonicism, Gnosticim, Pythergonism, Stoicism, etc. Then one must
take into account the rising tide of Middle-Eastern "Mystery Religions"
(Mithras, Cybele, Isis, Bacchus, etc.). And on top of that the Imperial
Cult of the Emperor and the various associations with "sol invictus".
And on top of that the influence of a "Jewish diaspora" and the growing
appeal of strict monotheism (actually more of an outgrowth of Greek
Anyway, the average Joe of the Mediterrenean Basin would have agreed
that there was some "numinous" power at work in the universe, some
"force" (to take a Star Wars analogy), and that as far as he was
concerned that supernatural power was "of the gods" or "of THE God", it
didn"t matter much. Most local peasants would claim that bringing out
the local idol would bring rains to their crops, and as far as they were
concerned "all Gods were one" except that one PARTICULAR local deity had
more sway on local conditions. Gods (plural) or God (singular), they
couldn't care less. Just as in later times, medieval peasant would bring
out the effigy of the Virgin MAry
or one of the apostles and walk around the village in a solemn
procession to bring about a good harvest.
So, is "Paganism" a construct of Christianity ? Yes, because
Christianity created an adversary out of a tangle of beliefs and values.
NO, because Paganism also produced sophisticated syntheses of its own,
anti-Christian tracts (Celsius) and vigorous rejoinders to Christianity
based on Platonicism and a rejection of Judaism.
The same would apply to "Hinduism". Again, volumes of writings were
produced in India before the birth of Muhammad. Heroic epics (Ramayana
and Mahabharata), philosophy (pro- and anti-Buddhism, pro- and
anti-materialism, logic, rethoric...), attempts at a "synthesis of
various beliefs" (like the Bhagavad Gita) : the output of the
subcontinent is comparable to that of Greece, although it is much more
monotonous owing to the Indian taste for recension of earlier works and
So when the Muslims arrived, there was an educated elite who was asking
sophisticated metaphysical questions (IS the world a mere chance
arrangement of atoms ?, as the Cakavarists argued. IS everything merely
impressions on perceptions ? as Buddha argued. What does it mean to
exist ? asked the Ajivikas? Can the universe be any different in
substance from God himself? as Shankara argued. ) And there continued
local religious worship of various gods, although "Hinduism" was already
well established due to the influence of Buddhism (just as in China,
Tibet and Japan, Buddhism would profoundly influence local animism). And
so all these trends existed before, during and after the Muslim conquest
of India. The British were both fascinated and disdainful of these
non-Abrahamic beliefs (actually more fascinated as scholars became more
familiar with Indian philosophy, particularly Buddhism).
So is "Hinduism" a "construct of British imperialism" ? No, it had
already acquired it's particular character before the arrival of Muslims
in India. Did Islam and then British rule influence the development of
Hinduism ? OF course.
I would like to see someone prove to me that by the 7th century AD,
"Hinduism" was not already almost fully-fledged in particular as regards
metaphysical speculation (the Upanishads were written several centuries
earlier !) and had not already acquired all the characteristics that are
presently associated with Hinduism (reincarnation, karma, puja,
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