I am writing with reference to proposed curricular changes regarding Hinduism and Indian history.
I have looked briefly at the proposed changes, as well as the objections to those changes posed by a small group of American academicians.
I do not have the time to respond point-by-point.
However, there are two broader issues involved. The first is who determines what is and what is not taught, as well as who speaks with authority about a religious or cultural tradition. On the one hand, we might say that modern scholars ought to have the last word. However, when these scholars are overwhelming not from the religious tradition being studied, one must wonder as to the propriety of outsiders having such a privileged position.
There is indeed much to be said for having people from the tradition being studied, "insiders" in other words, guide the curriculum. An issue that remains unaddressed, and which is crucial for teaching about religions, is the nature of religious historical claims. Simply put, these are not like ordinary historical claims. What is being conveyed by these narratives is a set of meanings, not simply a set of facts. Sensitivity to those meanings is at the core of the discipline of religious studies, and while quasi-historical claims cannot be accepted uncritically, neither ought they be dismissed by those inimical to the traditions being represented.
In brief, i find the objects raised by your scholars to be, in general, off the mark in that they treat these cultural narratives as though they were "mere" history. Moreover, i detect condescension if not hostility to Hindus and Hinduism.
I understand that you have been able to find ways to teach about Judaism without offending Jews. I think you ought to find ways to teach about Hinduism without offending Hindus.
I stand ready to be of service in this ongoing difficult process.
Nathan Katz Professor of Religious Studies Florida International University Miami FL 33199