Hinduism studies are prejudiced but entrenched Shakti
synthesizes all religions into One!
jagbir singh <email@example.com>
Date: Tue Sep 14, 2004 9:30 am
Subject: Hinduism studies are prejudiced but
entrenched Shakti synthesizes all religions into One!
To make readers
understand why the Adi Shakti, Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi, had
taken birth on Earth i quote
Vivekananda, My India: The India Eternal:
there is ever to be a universal religion, it must be one
which will have no location in place or time, which will be
infinite like the God it will preach, and whose sun will
shine upon the followers of Krishna and Christ, on saints
and sinners alike; which will not be Brahmanic or Buddhist,
Christian or Mohammedan, but the sum total of all these, and
still have infinite pace for development; which in its
catholicity will embrace in its finite arms, and find a
place for every human being, from the lowest groveling
savage not far removed from the brute, to the highest man
towering by the virtues of his head and heart above
humanity, making society stand in awe of him and doubt his
It will be a religion which will have no place for
persecution or intolerance in its polity, which will
recognize divinity in every man and woman, and whose whole
scope, whose whole force, will be centred on aiding humanity
to realise its own true, divine nature."
Mataji Nirmala Devi is the incarnation of the Shakti - the
Adi Shakti of the Sanatana Dharma, Imam Mahdi of Islam,
Comforter of Christianity, Maitreya of Buddhism and Aykaa
Mayee of Sikhism. The Adi Shakti (Hinduism), Holy Spirit or
Comforter (Christianity), Ruh or Ma Adi (Islam), Ma Treya
(Buddhism), and Aykaa Mayee (Sikhism) are the one and same
primordial Divine Feminine. Only those who have surrendered
to Her message of the Great Event ordained for humanity will
understand how the Shakti has synthesized all religions into
The rest will continue to prejudice all other religions and
messengers, claiming superiority and deliverance for their
kind to the exclusion of all others. If these 'chosen ones'
ever decide to take part in the Great Event they will have
divinity in every man and woman, and whose whole scope,
whose whole force, will be centred on aiding humanity to
realise its own true, divine nature."
How can such transformed humans ever retain any trace of
religious prejudice or kafir mentality?
Jai Shri Mataji!
Are Hinduism studies prejudiced? A look at Microsoft Encarta
by Sankrant Sanu
Published on Tuesday, September 24, 2002
Author's note: The scholarship of certain sections of the
academic community studying Hinduism has been controversial
in the Indian community. In this article we try to examine
whether there is truth to this controversy, and whether such
academics influence the mainstream portrayal of"Hinduism"
in standard sources. We use Microsoft® Corporation's
Encarta® Encyclopedia as the reference in this study.
In this article we discuss the differences, in both approach
and result, of Encarta's articles on Hinduism in comparison
with the articles on some of the other major world religions
in Encarta. Encarta Encyclopedia is published by Microsoft
Corporation, which claims that it is the"Best-selling
encyclopedia brand."Encarta is widely used as a reference
source in American schools. In particular, because of its
widespread use amongst children, we would expect Encarta's
coverage of religions to be even-handed, sensitive and
unprejudiced. In a world of religious conflict, it becomes
particularly important that children are given balanced
viewpoints of mainstream beliefs and practices of all
In particular, we contrast Encarta's treatment of Hinduism,
with the two other major religions—Islam and
Christianity. On occasion, we also refer to the treatment of
other religions like Judaism and Buddhism. The purpose of
this article is not to make value judgments or a comparative
study of the religions themselves. In studying such a vast
and complex phenomena as the major religions, one can always
find conflicting or questionable issues, just as one can
find highly elevating truths. What aspects of the religion
get highlighted is a matter of editorial choice. Our
interest is not in comparing the religions per se, but in
understanding the differences in editorial choice—both in
the selection of content as well as style, in the scholarly
treatment of these religions in Encarta.
Unless otherwise noted, all references below are to the main
content article on each of the religions in Encarta. We have
used Encarta Encyclopedia 2002 (US edition) for our
reference, though a casual look at Encarta 2003 suggests
that the articles on the major religions have remained the
same as Encarta 2002. All actual quotes are in quotation
marks preceded by the name of the article in Encarta.
The Contents Page
Our study begins with the main contents page for each of the
religions. In some cases, the contents page contains, in
quotes, a single highlighted statement about the religion.
In the 2002 version of Encarta, these quotes are present for
Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism, and not for Christianity and
- Judaism: "The God of creation entered into a special
relationship with the Jewish people at Sinai."
- Buddhism: "Karma consists of a person's acts and their
- Hinduism: "Rama and Krishna are said to be avatars of
Vishnu though they were originally human heroes."
Note, that the one statement that was chosen about Hinduism
is that which repudiates Hindu belief, while the statements
for the other two religions reflect a balanced positive or
neutral stance. Notice also the use of"said to be"In
Hinduism while the statement on Judaism is presented in the
editorial voice as a presentation of fact. To understand
this representation, let us draw up a hypothetical quote on
Christianity to parallel the quote on Hinduism.
- Christianity*: Jesus Christ is said to be the"Son of God"
though he was just a human.
Irrespective of belief in the truth or falsity of this
statement, or the parallel one in the case of Hinduism, when
such a statement is the highlight of the commentary on a
religion, it reflects a certain attitude about how the
subject is approached. Let us see if this attitude continues
to persist in the article on Hinduism in comparison to other
In the article on Hinduism, we find the"Fundamental
Principles"divided into four sections—Texts, Philosophy,
"Gods"And"Worship and Ritual."We find the sequencing of
ideas within this section fairly haphazard—generally
moving to specifics without laying out the general—giving
the impression of a somewhat incoherent system.
"The canon of Hinduism is basically defined by what people
do rather than what they think. Consequently, far more
uniformity of behavior than of belief is found among Hindus,
although very few practices or beliefs are shared by all. A
few usages are observed by almost all Hindus: reverence for
Brahmans and cows; abstention from meat (especially beef);
and marriage within the caste (jati), in the hope of
producing male heirs."
In doing so, the author takes the richness and diversity of
Hindu thought and tries to approach it from the point of
view of an orthodox church defining a single"canon."
Failing to find the"canon"or articulate the underlying
worldview of a system that allows many paths to flourish
within it, the author gives up to quickly start listing
mainly social practices. Let us see how the same issue is
treated in Christianity.
"Any phenomenon as complex and as vital as Christianity is
easier to describe historically than to define logically,
but such a description does yield some insights into its
continuing elements and essential characteristics."
In the description of Christianity, Encarta approaches it
from a point of view of humility—the problem being of the
expository limitations of the author. No such humility is
visible in the description of Hinduism, where the author
quickly reduces any notion of complexity to an
anthropological viewpoint. Further on, we explore various
examples of how the anthropological viewpoint dominates the
article on Hinduism.
Let us see how the articles deal with supposed
"Although Hindus believe and do many apparently
contradictory things—contradictory not merely from one
Hindu to the next, but also within the daily religious life
of a single Hindu—each individual perceives an orderly
pattern that gives form and meaning to his or her own life."
The article on Hinduism is very clear that there are
contradictions, and highlights this aspect. The articles on
Christianity and Islam are either unable to find any
contradictions, or don't find them the most significant
aspect of the religion to cover. In the few instances when
they do, they use substantially different language to talk
In Christianity, any contradictions of behavior are
attributed to the limitations of individuals rather than
limitations of the faith or of"Christians"As a generalized
"To a degree that those on the inside often fail to
recognize, however, such a system of beliefs and values can
also be described in a way that makes sense as well to an
interested observer who does not, or even cannot, share
The article on Islam does not mention any"contradiction"At
all, but a continued"refinement."
"Recurring debates among Islamic scholars over the nature of
God have continued to refine the Islamic concepts of God's
otherness and Islamic monotheism."
Even when the article on Islam admits differences in
contemporary practice, it puts the difficulty of these on
the analytical or expository abilities of the author
("difficult to identify"), rather than the religion.
"Yet the radically different political, economic, and
cultural conditions under which contemporary Muslims live
make it difficult to identify what constitutes standard
Islamic practice in the modern world."
The key to understanding both the diversity as well as the
unity of Hinduism is neither in the search for a"canon" (a
strongly Christian worldview), nor in the anthropology of
particular practices. It is in recognizing that the
philosophical foundations of Hinduism have celebrated
diversity of path and individuality (which itself is a
distinctive feature), while at the same time encouraging
theological debates to further understanding.
In the articles on Christianity and Islam the problem, if
any, is usually depicted as that of the author's inability
to describe rather than any contradictions. The author of
Hinduism, apparently, faces very little difficulty—she
carries on with an anthropological description of practices
"from above"—sure that any contradiction that is found is
surely in the religion itself, and not in any lack of
understanding or expository ability.
A further study about the difference in approach and
attitude in the articles on religion can be found in the
description of subtle concepts. We take two—jihad and
ahimsa, in particular, both of which may be somewhat
familiar to the lay reader.
"Many polemical descriptions of Islam have focused
critically on the Islamic concept of jihad. Jihad,
considered the sixth pillar of Islam by some Muslims, has
been understood to mean holy war in these descriptions.
However, the word in Arabic means "to struggle" or "to
exhaust one's effort," in order to please God. within the
faith of Islam, this effort can be individual or collective,
and it can apply to leading a virtuous life; helping other
Muslims through charity, education, or other means;
preaching Islam; and fighting to defend Muslims. Western
media of the 20th century continue to focus on the militant
interpretations of the concept of jihad, whereas most
Muslims do not."
"The most important tenet of sanatana dharma for all
Hindus is ahimsa, the absence of a desire to injure, which
is used to justify vegetarianism (although it does not
preclude physical violence toward animals or humans, or
blood sacrifices in temples)."[Em. added]
In both cases, the authors treat subtle subjects in the
respective religions. In the article on Islam, the author
presents a sympathetic view of Jihad, and attempts to
favorably influence Western perceptions. In the article on
Hinduism the author adds decidedly unfavorable editorial
asides seeking to"correct"possibly favorable perceptions
by introducing"contradictions."The tone of the article
again is of a higher entity looking down on lowly customs
and illogical"native"Interpretations (as in ("Ahimsa.".."is
used to justify"). This is an illustration of the very
different viewpoint (dare we say"Agenda") from which the
article on Hinduism is written. While the articles on Islam
and Christianity attempt to uplift the reader to a refined
understanding of those religions, the article on Hinduism
attempts to denigrate instead.
To understand what we mean by this let us see how Encarta
would present Christianity and Islam, if it were to use the
same logic and attitude as used in the article on Hinduism.
The most important tenet of Christianity is love (although
it does not preclude burning heretics and witches at the
stake, the Crusades, Christian colonization and the Jewish
Muslims claim that Islam is a religion of peace (although it
does not preclude suicide bombing or other terrorist acts).
To be really clear, we are not suggesting that such
descriptions of Christianity or Islam should have been in
Encarta—they would be decidedly negative portrayals.
Unfortunately, this tone of portrayal prevails in the
article on Hinduism. This is, surprisingly, not the only
example of the technique of negative editorial aside in the
article on Hinduism. We see also:
"Svadharma comprises the beliefs that each person is born to
perform a specific job, marry a specific person, eat certain
food, and beget children to do likewise and that it is
better to fulfill one's own dharma than that of anyone else
(even if one's own is low or reprehensible, such as that of
the Harijan caste, the Untouchables, whose mere presence was
once considered polluting to other castes). ...
A positive portrayal of"Svadharma" (literally
"Self-Dharma") would introduce it as a high statement to an
individual to discover and understand their purpose and
calling in the cosmos and actualize it, rather than letting
it be defined by some"other", like an orthodox religious
hierarchy. Yet in the hands of the Encarta author it becomes
an excuse for an aside on the historical practice of
untouchability that is derided in contemporary mainstream
Hinduism. In neither of the other two articles of the major
religions, Christianity or Islam, do we find the use of the
technique of the denigrating editorial aside. Indeed, the
purpose of the other two articles appears to be to elevate
rather than to denigrate—and quite rightly so for a
mainstream source dealing with religion.
Philosophy or Anthropology?
The article on Hinduism appears quite disjointed in its
understanding of Philosophy, Anthropology, Cosmology and
Mythology."Fundamental Principles"leads with Anthropology.
As we see below, the section on"Philosophy"Is mostly
"Mythology"depicting"Cosmology"—the very limited
coverage of the well-developed schools of Hindu philosophy
is relegated to a list in the section"Rise of Devotional
Movements," in the topic on History. Without setting out the
philosophical principles underlying beliefs and practices in
Hinduism, the coverage of"Gods"And"Rituals"Appears
particularly bizarre. Let us see how the section on
"Incorporated in this rich literature is a complex
cosmology. Hindus believe that the universe is a great,
enclosed sphere, a cosmic egg, within which are numerous
concentric heavens, hells, oceans, and continents, with
India at the center."
"They believe that time is both degenerative—going from
the golden age, or Krita Yuga, through two intermediate
periods of decreasing goodness, to the present age, or Kali
Yuga—and cyclic: At the end of each Kali Yuga, the
universe is destroyed by fire and flood, and a new golden
Firstly, this is not philosophy, but as the author points
out, cosmology. Secondly, as a description of Hindu
cosmology, it is fairly inadequate and reductive. It fails
to point that there are multiple creation myths in Hindu
texts. Also, as far as Hindu cosmology goes, people like
notable astronomer and author, Prof. Carl Sagan, have
pointed that the calculations of the age of the universe
based on this cosmology works out to be fairly close to our
current scientific estimates—and" (Hinduism) is the only
ancient religious tradition on the Earth which talks about
the right time-scale."[i] Mentioning any of this, would, of
course be quite contrary to the tone of the article. Rather
than presenting the creation myth as a story and presenting
the hidden elements of scientific truth, the article gives a
reductive description, preceded by the phrase"Hindus
To understand this better, let us compare it with the
article in Encarta about the Biblical creation myth.
Adam and Eve:
"Adam and Eve, in the Bible, the first man and woman,
progenitors of the human race. The biblical account of the
creation of human beings occurs twice: in Genesis 1:26-27
and in Genesis 2:18-24. Marked differences in vocabulary,
thought, and style between these accounts have led to the
scholarly consensus that these creation stories reflect two
distinct sources (see Bible: The Development of the Old
Testament). In the first account, the Hebrew common noun
Adam is used as a generic term for all human beings,
regardless of gender; Eve is not mentioned at all. In the
second account, Adam is created from the dust of the earth,
whereas Eve is created from Adam's rib and given to him by
God to be his wife."
The first notable difference is that of the expository
technique. The latter article presents different creation
accounts in the reading of Biblical texts. Note how this
shifts subtly if it were preceded by"Christians believe ...".
That there are differences in the two stories in the same
book could then be extrapolated, as is done in the article
on Hinduism to state," Christians believe many contradictory
things."Instead the article about Adam and Eve treats it as
a scholarly study of text (where different"Accounts"Are
found), rather than conclusive statements about"Christian
belief."Let us see how one would present a section on
Christian"Philosophy"With the same approach as in the case
Christians believe that all humans descend from one man and
woman, called Adam and Eve and calculated the age of the
world to be about 10,000 years. They believe also that the
female Eve was created from male Adam's rib by God to be his
wife (which is used to justify Christian attitudes towards
women such as a historical denial of voting rights).
Christians believe many contradictory things—for example,
that an all-loving, forgiving God puts human beings in
everlasting Hell, if they sin without repenting in this
life. [Em. added]
This would be a similarly reductive account presenting
"Christians"As irrational, and failing to grasp the
multiple levels of subtleties involved in understanding a
religion. As we see in the description of Hinduism, this is
precisely the approach of the Encarta article.
An account similar to the one in Encarta of Adam and Eve
would be a neutral objective treatment of similar material
in Hindu mythology, rather than a treatment that"boxes-in"
the rich and diverse Hindu cosmology into"Hindu belief."
Adding the relationships to modern scientific understanding
would make it a"sympathetic"treatment for current
audiences. Instead, the Encarta article on Hinduism
consistently chooses a subtle (and sometimes, not so subtle)
Despite a very rich philosophical tradition, the
anthropological view dominates the article on Hinduism. Both
the articles on Christianity and Islam, lead instead with
the philosophical ideas. Apparently the broadness of Hindu
philosophical ideas"Vasudeva Kutumbha" (the world is a
family), and the ideas of religious pluralism ("many paths
lead to God") that continue to guide most Hindus, find no
place in the Encarta article.
Nowhere is the anthropological view more apparent than in
the treatment of"gods." Firstly, an inadequate attempt is
made to put the idea of"gods" (not"Gods") in proper
perspective for a Western reader. The word"deva"In
Sanskrit, is less akin to the"God"of Christianity, but
more so to"Angel" (a power higher than man but lesser than
"God"). Secondly, the concepts that"God"Is"unknowable"
and that different deities are thus representations of
different aspects ("roop") of"God," is glossed over. The
Encarta article also completely misses the concept of the
Hindu trinity—that any Hindu child could recite—a key
idea in the presentation of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva as
creator, preserver and destroyer, and their female
counterparts as three aspects of the One God. That the male
and the female energies co-exist in Indian thought and the
idea of God as both male and female (at the same time being
beyond gender) is also missed. Having skipped all the
structure, the topic of"Gods"Is presented as a confusing
"curio-shop"of unrelated deities and sects, complete with
sensational descriptions of blood and gore.
Shiva embodies the apparently contradictory aspects of a god
of ascetics and a god of the phallus. He is the deity of
renouncers, particularly of the many Shaiva sects that
imitate him: Kapalikas, who carry skulls to reenact the myth
in which Shiva beheaded his father, the incestuous Brahma,
and was condemned to carry the skull until he found release
in Benares; Pashupatas, worshipers of Shiva Pashupati," Lord
of Beasts"; and Aghoris," to whom nothing is horrible,"
yogis who eat ordure or flesh in order to demonstrate their
complete indifference to pleasure or pain. Shiva is also the
deity whose phallus (linga) is the central shrine of all
Shaiva temples and the personal shrine of all Shaiva
householders; his priapism is said to have resulted in his
castration and the subsequent worship of his severed member.
While"phallus"Is one interpretation of"linga"There are
others as well. Apparently the author, whose interests
appear to have a limited focus, continues to find
contradictions from that single point of view—missing
both other common interpretations as well as the underlying
symbolisms. A disproportionate interest in the dimension of
esoteric"sects"," phallus"," skulls"," flesh"And"ordure"
dominates the article and we find that practices and aspects
far more prevalent and relevant to contemporary times—
like Yoga or Chakras, meditation or mantras, breath and
Pranayama that are practically absent in the article.
The article continues with these descriptions, clearly
showing the author's interest in particular ways of looking
As Durga, the Unapproachable, she kills the buffalo demon
Mahisha in a great battle; as Kali, the Black, she dances in
a mad frenzy on the corpses of those she has slain and
eaten, adorned with the still-dripping skulls and severed
hands of her victims. The Goddess is also worshiped by the
Shaktas, devotees of Shakti, the female power. This sect
arose in the medieval period along with the Tantrists, whose
esoteric ceremonies involved a black mass in which such
forbidden substances as meat, fish, and wine were eaten and
forbidden sexual acts were performed ritually.
In the well-embellished description of Kali, the intensity
of the language speaks for itself of the Encarta's author
interest in this particular area. Clearly blood and gore,
erotica and exotica are of much greater interest to this
particular writer than Hindu philosophy, or any of the
symbolism of these ancient descriptions. Again, the article
shows more interest in the portrayal of esoteric sects and
ceremonies than exploring mainstream and commonplace Hindu
rituals—like saying"namaste", the sacred syllable"Om",
lighting diyas or wearing bindis (the"dot on the forehead")
—practices that are vastly more familiar to a Westerner
and a Hindu child alike, none of which find a place in the
The article instead describes various"Gods"And
"Goddesses", particularly emphasizing the sensational, as we
saw in the description of Kali above, without presenting
these within the unifying coherent theme that most Hindus
view these manifestations—of different forms of One
Supreme Reality, which cannot be boxed into a single set of
attributes or descriptions.
As the section on"Indian Philosophy"on Encarta states:
"Most of the poems of the Veda are religious and tend to be
about the activities of various gods. Yet some Vedic hymns
and poems address philosophic themes ... such as the
henotheism that is key to much Hindu theology. Henotheism is
the idea that one God takes many different forms, and that
although individuals may worship several different gods and
goddesses, they really revere but one Supreme Being."[Em.
Has the Encarta article on Hinduism lost all keys? While
there is a passing mention of this concept in the Encarta,
it is, characteristically, watered down from the clearer
In this way Hindus have been able to reconcile their
Vedantic monism (see Vedanta) with their Vedic polytheism:
All the individual Hindu gods (who are said to be
saguna," with attributes") are subsumed under the godhead (nirguna," without
attributes"), from which they all emanate. [Em. added]
A common Hindu saying is: "As you are, so God's image
appears to you"—since God is beyond images or attributes,
we superimpose our own. Does Encarta's choice of subjects
and descriptions in the article—scatological and
incoherent, reflect the author's own state?
Finally, let us see how the article describes Rama and
Krishna, considered as incarnations of God (as Vishnu).
"Most popular by far are Rama (hero of the Ramayana) and
Krishna (hero of the Mahabharata and the Bhagavata-Purana),
both of whom are said to be avatars of Vishnu, although they
were originally human heroes."[Em. added]
The article appears to speak with the certainty of divine
knowledge! Let us see how a similar issue, the divinity of
Jesus is treated in the article on Christianity;
"The ultimate mystery of the universe, called by many
different names in various religions, was called"Father"In
the sayings of Jesus, and Christians therefore call Jesus
himself"Son of God."At the very least, there was in his
language and life an intimacy with God and an immediacy of
access to God, as well as the promise that, through all that
Christ was and did, his followers might share in the life of
the Father in heaven and might themselves become children of
We note both the subtlety of thought and the sensitivity of
expression in description, versus the heavy-handed certainty
by which the article on Hinduism speaks, of happenings and
events further back in time than the historical Jesus. Is
this certainty born out of knowledge of fact, or simply a
disregard for the corresponding religious sentiment?
The presentation of"Gods"Is not the only place in the
article that Encarta is interested in gory descriptions—
of"blood"," skulls"," ordure"And the like. Starting from
the concept of ahimsa (which refers to"blood sacrifices")
to the celebration of the Indian festival of Holi, this
point of view permeates the article. In fact, the Encarta
article on Hinduism has more references to"blood"And
"Animal sacrifices"than it does to Yoga. Yoga, arguably the
most popular contribution of Hinduism to the West is
mentioned in two places—both insignificant, as we see
later on. Other than the quote above, let us see where else
Encarta mentions themes related to"blood"or"Animal
sacrifice"In the article on Hinduism.
"Holi, the spring carnival, when members of all castes
mingle and let down their hair, sprinkling one another with
cascades of red powder and liquid, symbolic of the blood
that was probably used in past centuries.
Let us start with factual accuracies—Holi, as any Hindu
knows, is celebrated with all the colors of spring—green,
yellow, red, pink, not just"red"As the article states. It
celebrates the coming of spring with a riot of color.
Factual details aside, for Encarta the suggestion of
"cascades of red powder and liquid"Works well to further
the theme of blood and gore prevalent in the article. This
goes on in the description of"Worship and Rituals."
"In many temples, particularly those sacred to goddesses
(such as the Kalighat temple to Kali, in Kolkata), goats are
sacrificed on special occasions. The sacrifice is often
carried out by a special low-caste priest outside the bounds
of the temple itself.
Similarly, the vast majority of Hindus living today have
probably never seen an animal sacrifice in their life—and
"many temples"Is certainly a gross inaccuracy. Why is this
rare practice chosen when we don't find mention of
commonplace practices like"satsang" (literally, company of
truth, or good), meetings where people congregate to
communally chant or read from scripture, that are orders of
magnitude more prevalent? The comment on"low-caste"that
rounds out the quote above is obligatory to keep the
"otherness"of Hinduism on centre stage—a technique we
find employed elsewhere in the article.
It is also very worthwhile to compare this overall approach
to highlighting"blood and gore"With the treatment of
"Animal sacrifice"In the Encarta article on Islam, a
religion on which such sacrifices are obligatory that every
Muslim is required to perform on Hajj (rather than a rare
"The final ritual is the slaughter of an animal (sheep,
goat, cow, or camel). This is a symbolic reenactment of
God's command to Ibrahim to sacrifice his son Ismail, which
Ibrahim and Ismail duly accepted and were about to execute
when God allowed Ibrahim to slaughter a ram in place of his
son. (In the Hebrew and Christian Bibles, Abraham is called
to sacrifice his son Isaac rather than Ishmael.) Most of the
meat of the slaughtered animals is to be distributed to poor
Notice how the stress is on symbolism and how the last line
is used to soften the theme. We shall spare the reader a
rewrite of the Islamic depiction with details of the
animal's severed head and pouring blood and omitting any
hint of symbolism. Would an anthropologist probing the Bible
many millennia from now condemn Christians as cannibals when
reading of Christ's disciples being asked to partake of
Christ's"blood and flesh"? If approached from the point of
view of the Encarta article on Hinduism, devoid of either
sensitivity or an understanding of symbolism, this would
probably be the case. Surprisingly, the author chooses this
approach to Hinduism, which is a living contemporary
tradition rather than simply an anthropological study of
relics and past rituals.
These are choices in both omission and commission that are
worth noting. While including exotic details and ritual the
author continually misses large and commonplace topics—
like the forms of Indian dance and music as a component of
the religion, the celebration of"Ram Lila"—public
enactments of Ram's life common throughout the north, and
major Hindu celebrations like Janamashtami (Krishna's
birth), Raksha Bandhan or Onam.
Where is the real"Philosophy"And"Yoga"?
Now that we have read the description in Encarta of Aghoris,
" "to whom nothing is horrible," yogis who eat ordure or
flesh in order to demonstrate their complete indifference to
pleasure or pain," we look around for the yogis we have seen
or known. Unfortunately, with the concern of the Encarta
article on Hinduism in looking for scatology, it completely
misses the highly refined theology and practices like Raja
Yoga or Hatha Yoga or Patanjali or yogic meditation. In
fact, the word"Yoga"has exactly two occurrences in the
article (other than the one description of"Aghoris"As
"Many elements of Hinduism that were not present in Vedic
civilization (such as worship of the phallus and of
goddesses, bathing in temple tanks, and the postures of
yoga) may have been derived from the Indus civilization,
however. See Indus Valley Civilization."
"The philosophies of Shankara and Ramanuja were developed in
the context of the six great classical philosophies (darshanas)
of India: the Karma Mimamsa ("Action investigation"); the
Vedanta ("end of the Vedas"), in which tradition the work of
Shankara and Ramanuja should be placed; the Sankhya system,
which describes the opposition between an inert male
spiritual principle (purusha) and an active female principle
of matter or nature (prakriti), subdivided into the three
qualities (gunas) of goodness (sattva), passion (rajas), and
darkness (tamas); the Yoga system; and the highly
metaphysical systems of Vaisheshika (a kind of atomic
realism) and Nyaya (logic, but of an extremely theistic
The first reference serves to separate Yoga from Hinduism.
In the second reference, it is buried in a list of themes,
each of which is probably more significant to describe than
long-winded descriptions of Kali. Note that this section
which lists classical philosophies is the only significant
description of these philosophies in the entire article on
Hinduism—that too not in the explicit section for
Philosophy, but embedded in the"Rise of Devotional
To be fair to Encarta, there does exist a separate article
on Yoga that the article on Hinduism does not directly
reference. That article states:
As a system of practice, Yoga has from the beginning been
one of the most influential features of Hinduism.
Surely, as one of the most influential features of Hinduism,
Yoga merits more than a single word (with no link or
reference) mention in the article on Hinduism.
In the obsession with external aspects of myth and ritual,
blood and gore, the article gives very little space to
either the highly developed systems of Hindu theology and
philosophy or its most commonplace practices in comparison
to the other articles on religion, neither does it link
directly to a separate article on Indian philosophy. In the
next section we will see a surprising example of what it
does choose to include as a link.
Contemporary growth of the religion
There are other differences in detail that consistently add
an unsympathetic flavor to the reading on Hinduism. We will
end with some examples relating to the contemporary spread
of these religions.
"The Muslim community comprises about 1 billion followers on
all five continents, and Islam is the fastest-growing
religion in the world."
"Today about 1 billion Muslims are spread over 40
predominantly Muslim countries and 5 continents, and their
numbers are growing at a rate unmatched by that of any other
religion in the world."
Both in the introduction and conclusion, the article on
Islam repeats positively how Islam is growing, almost from
the point of view of an evangelist.
Let use see how Encarta covers the spread of Hinduism.
"In more recent times, numerous self-proclaimed Indian
religious teachers have migrated to Europe and the United
States, where they have inspired large followings. Some,
such as the Hare Krishna sect founded by Bhaktivedanta,
claim to base themselves on classical Hindu practices."
As is consistent with the tone of the article, notice the
deprecating use of"self-proclaimed"And"claim to", words
rarely used in similar ways in the other articles. The
author also fails to mention the fast growing"Yoga"
movement (which Time magazine reported as having over 15
million practitioners in the US) and the large influence of
Hindu thought on the"New Age"movement. The article
completely misses movements like"Transcendental Meditation"
of Maharishi Mahesh Yoga and the Self-realization fellowship
of Parmahansa Yogananda, or the influence on Americans of
the beat generation or the 60's culture (Swami Satchitananda
was called the"Woodstock guru")—people like George
Harrison, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Mia Farrow, Madonna.
To do that would bring Hinduism in, leave it less"other."
But, unfortunately, the quote above follows the general
theme of the article—to obscure or denigrate anything
positive, and find and highlight that, which is likely to be
misunderstood, failing to provide it in the proper context.
The article on Hinduism ends with a bang—something that
can aptly demonstrate the deep-seated prejudice and even,
perhaps, a political agenda. After failing to have links for
"yoga"or"Indian philosophy"In the Encarta article, at the
very end Encarta discovers the power of links.
For information on religious violence in India, See India.
This is the appropriate ending for the article on Hinduism?
We first surmised that this might be due to some current
events (even then it would not be an appropriate ending for
an academic article on Hinduism, other than motivated by
considerable prejudice). But we find the same ending, for
the same article, as far back as Encarta 1999! As a
crosscheck, let us look at the other articles on religion.
"For additional information, see articles on individual
Christian denominations and biographies of those persons
whose names are not followed by dates."
Islam: [No link suggested at the end]
Given the thread of negativity that permeates the Encarta
article on Hinduism, it comes as no surprise when, in the
end, it suggests the topic of"religious violence"As
additional reading. If the articles of Christianity and
Islam were written with the same intent, this is what the
last links could look like.
For additional information about burning witches at the
stake, see Witch Hunt.
For terrorist violence, see International Terrorism.
Again, we do not suggest these endings be used, nor does
Encarta do so. They are provided for the purpose of
illustrating the underlying attitude in choosing such
endings—an attitude that pervades the article on
Analysis of cause
We have established a significant difference in the
treatment of Hinduism versus other religions, notable
Christianity and Islam. In this section, we look at probable
cause for the difference in treatment.
Selection of Authors
Encarta provides the following names and biographical
information for the authors of the three Encarta articles in
- Christianity. Prof. Jaroslav Pelikan, B.D., Ph.D. Sterling
Professor Emeritus of History, Yale University. Author of
The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of
Doctrine, Historical Theology, and other books.
- Islam. Associate Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies,
Yale University. Dallal, Ahmad S., B.E., M.A., Ph.D. Author
of An Islamic Response to Greek Astronomy: Kitab Ta'dil
Hay't al-Aflak of Sadr al-Shari'.
- Hinduism. Doniger, Wendy, M.A., Ph.D., D.Phil. Mircea
Eliade Professor of History of Religions and Indian Studies,
University of Chicago. Author of The Origins of Evil in
Hindu Mythology, Siva: the Erotic Ascetic, and Dreams,
Illusion, and Other Realities.
Emic or Etic?
The first observation we make is that scholars who profess
those faiths have written the articles on Christianity and
Islam; this is not the case with Hinduism. While the topic
of emic (insider) and etic (outsider) study is often debated
within academia, we would expect Encarta to choose uniformly
either the emic or etic view of the major religions. In the
Encarta article on Christianity, Prof. Jarsolav Pelikan
strongly defends the emic viewpoint:
"Like any system of belief and values—be it Platonism,
Marxism, Freudianism, or democracy—Christianity is in
many ways comprehensible only"from the inside," to those
who share the beliefs and strive to live by the values; and
a description that would ignore these"Inside"Aspects of it
would not be historically faithful. To a degree that those
on the inside often fail to recognize, however, such a
system of beliefs and values can also be described in a way
that makes sense as well to an interested observer who does
not, or even cannot, share their outlook."
The same logic, apparently, does not apply to Eastern
religions. In general, though not always, we would expect
the"emic"view to be more sympathetic than the"etic"view,
particularly when the"emic"Author is a practicing member
of their faith.
Areas of interest of the authors
While the orientation of study of Professors Pelikan and
Dallal is towards the philosophical, scientific and
theological aspects of the religions they write about, Prof.
Doniger's orientation is more anthropological—studying
rituals and myths rather than philosophy and theology. Even
within that field, Prof. Doniger's dominant area of
interest, going by the books she has authored, is in the
exotic and erotic aspects of these rituals and myths. Thus
the study of Professors Pelikan and Dallal is a living
practicing view of the religion, including theological,
metaphysical and scientific issues that would positively
engage contemporary audiences, Prof. Doniger's appears to be
an archeological dig, turning over quaint specimens that
strike her fancy for examination. While this is certainly a
valid field for study, it is clear that it leads to very
different viewpoints and results in the articles.
Acceptability of the authors in the represented community
The third aspect of authorship is the broad acceptability of
the author in the religious community they purport to
represent. In general, it is more likely for emic authors to
be acceptable, though not universally so. A research on the
web shows that while Profs. Pelikan and Dallal are not
regarded as controversial, Prof. Doniger has come in for
considerable criticism for her lopsided portrayal, and
unsubtle understanding of Hinduism[ii]. While Hindus, in
general, are known for their tolerance of criticism (which
is probably why the Encarta article has survived, without
protest, for several years), we wonder why Encarta, as a
mainstream encyclopedia, would deliberately choose to
continue with authors that are highly controversial within
the communities they write about. Note that, particularly in
Hinduism, this could be very true for supposedly"emic", but
in reality, non-practicing, authors as well.
Deliberate prejudice or error?
While there is some evidence of prejudice on the part of
Encarta's author on Hinduism, it is not clear whether
prejudice also exists in Encarta as well. Certainly, as the
ultimate editorial authority, Encarta cannot evade
responsibility for the situation, at the very least in the
selection of authors and editorial oversight over prejudiced
treatment in a sensitive topic like religion. However,
Encarta may well have, knowingly or unknowingly participated
in an environment of bias.
A western graduate student of Hinduism in a US university,
suggests a broader prejudice: .".. in American academia it is
politically incorrect to treat Hinduism in a positive light
and it is taboo to deal negatively with Islam."[iii]
Certainly, the comparison of the articles on Encarta would
validate this thesis. However, more study of this topic is
We have not studied the effects of such negative portrayal
of Hinduism on Hindu children growing up in America. We can
speculate that derogatory mainstream portrayals of Hinduism,
quite different from what they have seen or experienced
first hand, would at the very least be confusing, and
ultimately damaging to the self-esteem of such children. In
the author's personal experience, many Hindus are reluctant
to identify themselves as such publicly, even when they are
practicing Hindus—we conjecture that this may result from
unconsciously accepting the negative portrayals of their
religion. We find that this subject has not been studied
much—however, the one study[iv] that we found supports
this possibility. There are also accounts that scholars
studying Hinduism that also"come out"to be practicing that
faith face allegations of"bias"—apparently this is not
seen to be the case when Christians or Muslims study their
own faiths in the academic community (which is the general
Such articles in"Encarta"Also get used by various
religious fundamentalists and hate groups to label Hinduism
a"cult"—the Encarta article serves as a good"objective"
reference to make their point. The interested reader can do
a web search on"Hinduism cult Encarta"to find examples.
Inaccurate, negative mainstream portrayals of a religion can
ultimately only prove harmful to the community. Clearly much
more work is needed to study the exact effects and
consequences of such portrayals.
Conclusion and Recommendations
In this article, we compare the treatment of different
religions in Encarta. We find that there are significant
differences in the treatment of Hinduism vs. the treatment
of Islam or Christianity in both the selection of content
and the attitude displayed in the writing—resulting in a
distinctly negative portrayal of Hinduism vs. the other
religions. We conjecture that the reason for this difference
is related largely to the difference choices in the
selection of authors—whether they are emic or etic and
their area of interest or specialization in the religion
they study. We also find that Prof. Doniger, the author of
the Encarta article on Hinduism is controversial within the
The authors of the article on"Islam"And"Christianity"
have a mature and balanced viewpoint and they represent
their religions in a way that the vast majority of adherents
will find appropriate and positive. We commend Encarta for
their choice of authors in portraying these religions in a
sympathetic way. Unfortunately, the same balance and
sympathy is not visible in the article on Hinduism. While
Prof. Doniger is certainly free to pursue her specific areas
of interest and scholarship in Hinduism, we do not believe
that her article represents the mainstream of Hindu thought
in both the selection of content and its interpretation,
which would be appropriate for a widely read source such as
Given that Prof. Doniger's specific interests and attitudes
strongly influence the article, it would be insufficient
to simply remove a few of the most glaring examples of
negativism, while leaving the rest of the article unchanged.
We recommend instead that an article written by someone
"emic"to the community, who can represent Hinduism in a
positive, mainstream viewpoint, promptly replace the article
on Hinduism in Encarta.
We also recommend that further research be done to study the
instances, causes, effects and resolutions for the prejudice
in the study of Hinduism in America.
Hinduism studies prejudiced? A look at Microsoft Encarta by
Microsoft® and Encarta® are registered trademarks of
Unless otherwise stated, all quotes are from Microsoft®
Encarta® Reference Library 2002. © 1993-2001 Microsoft
* These are hypothetical quotations for the purpose of
illustration, not actual quotations from Encarta. These
quotations are also not the views of the author who neither
supports these quotations nor suggests that they be used to
depict that religion in question.