On Lorenzen’s “Who invented Hinduism?”

[For extended treatment on Lorenzen’s, check Orientalism, Postcolonialism and the Construction of Religion]


Summary of Lorenzen’s article: “Lorenzen doesn’t only cite Jesuits and Muslims, but also ‘Hindus’ themselves. His main argument is that Hinduism isn’t an invention by anyone in particular. It grew out of a need to establish an identity vis-à-vis foreigners (mlecchas). In other words, an identity by contrast with the ‘others.'”

There is a world of difference between what one wants to argue and what one, in fact, argues. The above (accurate) summary literally begs all the questions the article intends to solve.

1. The assumption is that the ‘self’ builds its identity by contrasting itself with the ‘other’. There are four possible sources for this assumption.

1a. This is ‘our’ (whose?) commonsense. Of course, just because some people believe this claim to be true does not make it true. Not long ago, it was a part of the commonsense that Earth was flat.

1b. This is a theory in individual psychology. Even if we assume that this is true of individuals, its extension to a people (or a collective) requires empirical proof. It is not possible to argue for its truth on logical grounds. Such a move commits the fallacy of composition: from the claim that none of my bodily parts weighs more than 10 kilos, I cannot argue that my body, as a whole, does not weigh more than 10 kilos.

1c. This is a theory in social psychology. It is not. As of 2004, we do not have any theory in social psychology that tells us how all human groups build a social identity for themselves.

1d. It is a philosophical claim. It indeed is. Unfortunately, this is a claim advanced by certain strains in Western philosophy. It is unfortunate not because it is Western, but because the ‘self-other’ dialectic is not the only way to build the identity of the self. Contrasting itself with the other is one way of building an identity for the self. There are other ways, where the ‘self’ does not even enter the picture. To the readers on this list, the so-called mahavakyas are very familiar: “Tat tvam asi”, thou art that, i.e., the ‘self’ is the other of the other. That is to say, there is the other, and everything else (including the ‘self’) is the other of the other. The ‘self’ is undefined, whereas both the ‘other’ and the ‘other to the other’ are defined. In other words, the ‘other’ and the ‘other to the other’ dialectic replace the ‘self’ and the ‘other’ dialectic.

Lorenzen’s claim requires proof of its truth. He has not provided it.

2. Even if the Indians wanted to build an identity for themselves by contrasting themselves with the ‘mlechhas’, it is not at all obvious why they  would do so by calling Hinduism a religion. In fact, it is much more plausible for them to say that Christians and Muslims are different ‘jatis’. (Anyone with any degree of familiarity with India would know why such would be the case.) No Indian ever considered ‘Hinduism’ a jati. So, we need more compelling proof and argument than Lorenzen has provided to believe that the Indians, by contrasting themselves with Muslims and Christians, ‘invented’ Hinduism as a religion.

3. Even worse, it is not at all obvious what Lorenzen is trying to ‘disprove’. The import, meaning and the reference of his title is very unclear. What is he asking? Who invented the word ‘Hinduism’? Who invented Hinduism as a label? Who invented Hinduism as a name for a set of phenomena? Who invented the phenomenon of Hinduism? Who invented Hinduism as a religion? Who invented the ‘religion’ that Hinduism is? The questions are endless. His article does not even distinguish between these questions. Consequently, what exactly is he trying to prove with his ‘arguments’?

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