Cover image for Against dharma : dissent in the ancient Indian sciences of sex and politics / Wendy Doniger.
Title:
Against dharma : dissent in the ancient Indian sciences of sex and politics / Wendy Doniger.
ISBN:
9780300216196
Publication Information:
New Haven : Yale University Press, [2018]

©2018
Physical Description:
xvi, 226 pages ; 22 cm.
Contents:
The three human aims -- The influence of the Arthashastra on the Kamasutra -- Dharma and adharma in the Arthashastra -- Adharma and dharma in the Kamasutra -- Glossing adharma with dharma -- Skeptiscism and materialism in ancient India -- Dharma and the subversion of science.
Abstract:
An esteemed scholar of Hinduism presents a groundbreaking interpretation of ancient Indian texts and their historic influence on subversive resistance. Ancient Hindu texts speak of the three aims of human life: dharma, artha, and kama. Translated, these might be called religion, politics, and pleasure, and each is held to be an essential requirement of a full life. Balance among the three is a goal not always met, however, and dharma has historically taken precedence over the other two qualities in Hindu life. Here, historian of religions Wendy Doniger offers a spirited and close reading of ancient Indian writings, unpacking a long but unrecognized history of opposition against dharma. Doniger argues that scientific disciplines (shastras) have offered lively and continuous criticism of dharma, or religion, over many centuries. She chronicles the tradition of veiled subversion, uncovers connections to key moments of resistance and voices of dissent throughout Indian history, and offers insights into the Indian theocracy's subversion of science by religion today.
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Summary

Summary

An esteemed scholar of Hinduism presents a groundbreaking interpretation of ancient Indian texts and their historic influence on subversive resistance

Ancient Hindu texts speak of the three aims of human life: dharma , artha , and kama . Translated, these might be called religion, politics, and pleasure, and each is held to be an essential requirement of a full life. Balance among the three is a goal not always met, however, and dharma has historically taken precedence over the other two qualities in Hindu life. Here, historian of religions Wendy Doniger offers a spirited and close reading of ancient Indian writings, unpacking a long but unrecognized history of opposition against dharma .

Doniger argues that scientific disciplines ( shastras ) have offered lively and continuous criticism of dharma, or religion, over many centuries. She chronicles the tradition of veiled subversion, uncovers connections to key moments of resistance and voices of dissent throughout Indian history, and offers insights into the Indian theocracy's subversion of science by religion today.


Author Notes

Wendy Doniger is the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions, University of Chicago Divinity School, and author of more than forty books, including The Hindus: An Alternative History


Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this detailed investigation, Doniger (The Hindus) explores how two ancient Indian texts-the Arthashastra (on the pursuit of power), and the Kamasutra (on the pursuit of sensual desire)-subverted the ethical and social standards of their day. Thethree aims of human well-being (dharma, artha, and kama, loosely described as religion, politics, and pleasure) were ideally kept in balance by Hindus, but Doniger maintains that, at the time the books were written (between the fourth and second century B.C.E., dharma was privileged in practice and the Arthashastra and the Kamasutra surreptitiously challenged its dominance. Their strategies included what Doniger calls bookending, the practice of undermining the focus on the spiritual by providing practical, functional ideas for navigating the political and sensual realms of life. With ease and wit, Doniger builds her novel case that the Kamasutra and the Arthashastra dissented from the status quo of their day, and diligently considers passages from the texts as she discusses ways Indians found to continue defying the primacy of the dharma through many hundreds of years. Considering the Lokayatikas and the Charvakas, materialists and skeptics in contemporary India, she writes that they areheirs of the Arthashastra and the Kamasutra, at least tothe extent that the idea of doing whatever you need to do to get what you want... with no regard to the dharma in either case, was fuel for the Lokayatika/Charvaka legend. Although Donigers writing is clear and direct, readers not thoroughly familiar with the lessons and principles of the dharma will get lost in her long comparisons across texts. This detailed treatment of a narrow, specialized topic is best suited to academics interested in the history of Indian rebellion against the dharma. (Mar.)


Library Journal Review

Doniger (history of religions, Univ. of Chicago Divinity Sch.; The Hindus: An Alternative History) has made the study of Hinduism the focus of nearly 40 books examining the essence of Hindu religiosity, but always with an eye to the religion's cultural impact, both historically as well as in contemporary life. That thought is continued in this work, which explains the three human aims: dharma (cosmic order, often translated as religion), artha (politics), and kama (pleasure). But more often than not, it is dharma that takes precedence. Through a close reading of ancient texts, Doniger locates a dynamic yet subtly subversive scientific positivism, which suggests its intention to undermine the dominant social and religious order. Paradoxically, the author concludes that the modern-day Indian government finds itself defined as a theocratic institution that undermines scientific inquiry through religious dogmatism. VERDICT This book is fascinating in its command of Indian politics and religion, especially as represented in historical texts; it presumes a certain foreknowledge of Hinduism in order to be fully appreciated. For Doniger fans, another keeper.-Sandra Collins, Byzantine -Catholic Seminary Lib., Pittsburgh © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
Acknowledgmentsp. xi
Note on the Translations and Transliterationsp. xiii
Timeline: Relevant Events and Historical Developmentsp. xv
1 The Three Human Aimsp. 1
2 The Influence of the Arthashastra on the Kamasutrap. 24
3 Dharma and Adharma in the Arthashastrap. 59
4 Adharma and Dharma in the Kamasutrap. 80
5 Glossing Adharma with Dharmap. 107
6 Skepticism and Materialism in Ancient Indiap. 123
7 Epilogue: Dharma and the Subversion of Sciencep. 159
Notesp. 185
Bibliographyp. 207
Indexp. 219

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