Georgetown Course Criticized for Portrayal of Hinduism
Published: Friday, September 14, 2012
Updated: Friday, September 14, 2012 02:09
Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism, released a statement to the media Saturday criticizing Georgetown’s representation of the Hindu faith in its theology courses.
Zed said that a spring 2012 Georgetown course on Hinduism, “Hinduism Today,” made use of dacoit film, a genre that depicts bandits in rural India. He argued that the course should instead focus on the more religious aspects of Hindu culture.
“GU should treat the … third largest religion of the world more respectfully and depict it more honestly,” he said in the statement.
The film in question, “Bandit Queen,” tells the nonfictional story of a child bride who escapes from her much older husband to live as a criminal but eventually becomes a member of the Indian parliament.
Ariel Glucklich, the theology professor who taught the course last spring, defended his decision to show the film in class.
“It’s not dacoit. It’s not an exploitative commercial movie,” he said. “I would wager any amount of money [Zed] never saw the movie.”
Zed’s statement listed many alternative media sources and texts that he thought would be more appropriate to a Hinduism course. In response, Glucklich explained that “Hinduism Today” was intended to focus on modern representations of Hinduism as well as current cultural practices. He said that in his other courses, which focus on the history of traditional Hinduism, he teaches many of Zed’s suggested texts.
“This critique came from someone trying to defend a point of view, not thinking about students’ education,” Glucklich said. “He’s thinking of defending a privileged point of view, and that’s not my job at Georgetown.”
Theology courses that explore Hinduism attract Hindu and non-Hindu students alike, and some agreed with Zed’s criticisms.
“I was worried for the people who didn’t have a background in Hinduism,” Hindu Students Association President Anwesha Banjeree (COL ’13) said. “I remember sitting in class, wondering what everyone else was thinking about us.”
Banjeree, who took Gluckich’s class “Hindu Religious Tradition,” said she thought she interpreted the lectures differently from her non-Hindu classmates.
“To me it was like a history class, but to other people it was a Hinduism class,” she said. “I liked it, but it still concerned me to some extent.”
Smiti Mohan (MSB ’15), who serves as HSA’s treasurer, took the course in question, Glucklich’s “Hinduism Today,” in the spring of 2012.
“I would speak up if [the professor] asked if any practicing Hindus had anything to say,” she said.
Some of Georgetown’s introductory theology classes also touch on Hinduism.
HSA Vice President Neha Jejurikar (NHS ’13), who is currently enrolled in “The Church in the 21st Century,” taught by Fr. Kevin O’Brien, S.J. (CAS ’88), said she has enjoyed her theology courses.
“Although our focus is on Christianity today, [O’Brien] is very proactive about including the Hindu faith in discussion in the classroom,” Jejurikar wrote in an email. “I am thankful that he makes a conscious effort to relate the issues we talk about in class to every student’s faith tradition.”
But Banjeree, Mohan and Glucklich agreed that they want to see more resources for Hindu students at Georgetown.
“Hinduism is so vast and diverse, so having classes that focus on smaller aspects of the religion could be cool,” Mohan said. “Maybe a class about holidays or a class exploring different incarnations of the gods. The [current] classes are so broad and try to cover so much.”
Glucklich also expressed interest in reintroducing classes that focus on teaching the Hindi language.
“We had a Hindi teacher for two years, but she’s gone,” he said. “Sanskrit is taught by a professor in the linguistics department, so the approach is not to read scripture but from a linguistic perspective.”