Thanksgiving reading; like summer reading but shorter and less of an actual thing. Anyway, mostly I’m writing this to talk about the exceptionally cool book I read in the course of researching my paper. “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down” details one of the earliest publicized struggles between Hmong immigrants and Western doctors. Its used often times as a teaching aid in medical anthropology classes and occasionally in medical classes as well as an example of the difficulties in inter-cultural communication, and the barriers that language and culture can construct. I don’t want to give to much away (especially since you’re all going to have to read quite a bit about it in my paper) but the story talks about a young girl who suffered from epilepsy and her parents, who spoke very, very limited English and the difficulties they had negotiating their own religious and spiritual practices and the expectations of Western doctors. The problem stemmed mostly from a lack of Hmong interpreters and from the way in which epilepsy is perceived in the Hmong culture. The title is the literal translation of the term for epilepsy. It is seen as showing a talent for entering the spirit world, which means that the person suffering from the seizures possesses the potential to become a shaman. Fadiman alternates chapters between detailing the greater picture behind the story and the case study itself, and does so quite masterfully (at least in my humble and poorly qualified opinion).
I have interviewed Pastor Kim from the Korean Church of True Light here in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. For my research paper I am gathering the history and general information about this church.
Three years ago a few members of a local protestant church split to form the Korean Church of True Light. While searching for a building to call their own, they held service in a local park. Soon after their split they formed a partnership with Calvary Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa.
They currently use the old chapel adjacent to the main building of Calvary Baptist. Pastor Kim has been the senior pastor here for one year. He says, “God knows my heart. He put me in a place I love and can do God’s work”.
The versatility of clothing makes it a preferred means for constructing and negotiating identities; not only individual identities (just think of a teenager’s anxieties when choosing clothes!), but also collective ones. -Jean-François Bayart
So I saw this article on Patheos.com a couple of days ago titled “Why Do Hindus Wear Turbans [Google Questions Answered]”. Ambaa “the White Hindu” points out that there seems to be quite the confusion on the cultural identification of those who wear turbans. According to research from Stanford University, 70% of Americans ‘misidentify’ turban wearers as “Muslim (48%), Hindu, Buddhist or Shinto.” However, this seems quite problematic. Some Muslims actually do wear turbans and many people around the world wear turbans for all sorts of reasons not necessarily having to do with religious affiliation.
My issue lies in the religious identification vis-a-vis religious garb. Despite all the good intentions of Ambaa or a similar article from the Huffington Post defending Sikhs from discrimination, they are actually just as much participating in the same system of essentializing an entire group by a peice of clothing. The turban becomes the identifier for religion, the central and usually only important part of a groups identity, whether it be the turban identifying Muslimness by some or indentifying Sikhness by others. Religion becomes the entire identity of the other. I’ll try not to get into the irony of the Orientalism of “the White Hindu” (yes Orientalism despite her defending against Orientalism) who has self identified as a white woman of European descent and is “appropriating Indian culture” for her own (I don’t think she is appropriating Indian culture since, but see how I seamlessly make race rather than religion the means of identification of an entire group). Perhaps religion as the primary indicator of indentity is a proverbial wink identifying us as Americans rather than saying something about the ‘other’.
This of course is only a problem if we think people are more than their clothing or their religion. If that is the case, did you correctly identify the religion of the person wearing the turban in the photo at the top? If you guessed Christian you are right!
The short answer is that it seems like no one knows anymore.
I went into this week intending to talk about this article, in which Lawson discusses various movements against the “Americanization” of Yoga, including the efforts of the “Take Back Yoga” movement of the Hindu American Foundation, which sparked as a reaction to the perception of yoga in America as something purely secular, not to mention a lucrative market to exploit, turning it into a multi-million dollar industry in a truly American fashion. Lawson is insistent that the whole situation “is about blanching the culture out of something to make it fit our needs.” But is this the whole story? An article I found shortly thereafter states that issue may not be so wonderfully clear cut anymore. The article details the many differing viewpoints on the issue within India itself- meaning its not the clear cut co-opting of a tradition that Lawson makes it out to be. No, it appears to go much deeper than that. Would would assume that, within India yoga would be more wholly understood, with a cohesive public opinion. This would be incorrect, however. Many push for it as an important part of spirituality and want it to be installed as part of school curriculum. Others argue that its inherent use of religiously significant chanting and terminology (such as the use of the ‘Om’, an important symbol in Buddhism and Hinduism alike) means that due to India’s nature as a secular democracy, yoga cannot be implemented in public schools. Still others find it to be purely physical, and others deem it a tool for cultural nationalism in India, thanks to the actions of prominent guru Baba Ramev.
And maybe that’s the basic, extremely simplified answer. Maybe yoga has become a tool, be it for spiritual enlightenment, for peace, for money, for cultural nationalism, or for physical fitness. Maybe no one knows what yoga really is anymore because it is in such a constant state of flux, meaning different things to different people, but useful to all of them. Whether or not that cheapens yoga’s rich spiritual history or ensures that it will continue to persist in a constantly changing world remains yet to be decided.
One of the premier critiques of religion is this oft stated question. This article by a young stroke survivor relates a tale that asks this question. She has a positive outlook on life after her suffering, but she has doubts about one of the key tenants of her religion. The ugly truth, according to the author, is that Karma is not real. I am not one to judge the truth or falsity of her claim, but I can acknowledge the problem she posits is almost universal for other religions. It is interesting that if you read the comments section, several people have given her answers that will accommodate her new found view of Karma, that it doesn’t exist, while keeping her religious identity intact.
While all of these elements point to the Hindu religious tradition, we were not Hindus. There is a qualitative difference between people who have been raised in a tradition in which the rituals, the foods, the prayers, and the ethics are second nature, and people who have incorporated only parts of a tradition into their religious style. This is why I use the term “Hindu inspired” rather than “Hindu” to describe Transcendental Meditation and similar movements.
I think I will channel my inner Russell T. McCutcheon when I say “show me a category and I will show you someone making the category.” The block quote above comes from the book Transcendental in America: Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements in America by Lola Williamson. This book is great for laying out the evolution and belief systems of these things called HIMMs that Lola names–the evolution of differences in groups, ethic systems, focuses on the experiential, focus on the guru figures, etc. My critique of the book comes from the underlying tone behind her categories. There seems to be an assumption of an authentic Hindu religion that Americans have access and appropriated to make a less authentic American version and within those American versions there are some that are more authentic than others.
I think we can also learn a lot about Lola Williamson from this book. For instance from page 11 I learned that Lola believes that Americans are “culturally indoctrinate into the Judeo Christian worldview.” Without getting into how problematic a term like “Judeo-Christian worldview” is, does this mean that Jews and Christians have been indoctrinating innocent HIMM children in America?
I found it particularly interesting that I learn on page 179 that Lola uses William James as her theoretical framework for experience with experience being a large focus of her data. That was rather disappointing since it was right after a discussion that experience is shaped by the language that is taught–that is to say belief leads to experience rather than the other way around.
Our class is finishing our discussion of “Transcendent in America” by Lola Williamson. The author gives a detailed look into HIMMs or Hindu-Inspired Mediation Movements. In part two of her book she discusses three specific movements that include Transcendental Mediation, Self-Realization Fellowship, and Siddha Yoga. I enjoyed reading and learning about these movements. Williamson is unbiased in explaining these HIMMs. Usually I find informational books such as this to be boring and unbearable. I found this book less painful than expected. I feel that the author tried her best to convey her experiences as well as others’ experiences. I believe some things were lost in translation, based on the fact that I have not had a personal HIMM experience.
Over the past few class meetings we read and discussed “Transcendent in America” and have been tasked with writing a review. While I can’t speak to how qualified I am to do this, I’ll attempt to give you an idea of how I felt about the book and its usefulness in our curriculum. Transcendent in America presents an interesting look at HIMM (Hindu -Inspired Meditation Movements) and how they came to shape Hinduism in America over the years. The author is able to come from aplace of personal experience, having participated in and had contact with many of these movements first hand, which provided a plethora of fascinating first hand accounts and testimonies. She did a fair job nof addressing negative aspects or things that were widely perceived negatively, but her overall look at HIMM ignored more ‘cultish’ aspects as discussed in class. Furthermore she did little to relate the HIMM and Christianity at the time, though only selectively. She relates spiritual experiences to Pentacostalism, for example, but later pointedly states the stark line between Evangelical Christianity and HIMMs. She also seems rather reluctant to delve into the question of why abuse of power (and abuse in general) seemed to be so endemic to these organizations (as well as many other organizations, of course, particularly those featuring charismatic leaders who demand loyalty), though she displays a great deal of empathy and compassion for those hurt in said scenarios. Additionally, she spends a great deal of time towards the end of the book relaying first hand accounts of spiritual experiences without providing much analysis, or any methodological information. In this way I think she occasionally presents a more narrowed view. However, despite these issues I found the book as a whole to be incredibly informative and useful, as well as inadvertently raising interesting questions on the nature of insider/outsider observation.
We are currently going over “Transcendent in America” in class. This book goes into detail concerning Hindu-inspired meditation movements (HIMMs). I thought that the first section of this book was good and that the second section was informative, and I found the third section enlightening. Overall I think that this book was very informative and a good read. I really had no idea what went on in these religious movements, and this book really helped to explain it. The author does a good job at remaining impartial in her explanations despite her background of being in a HIMM, and she does not leave out information that show the HIMMs in a less than positive light. The author does her best to make some of the stranger practices seem relatable, but some of the things that go on in Hindu-inspired meditation movements seem a bit cultish. The absolute faith that one is expected to place in one’s guru seems to me to be dangerous, especially since this relationship is abused on occasion, and the cover-ups that happen to hide negative information do not sit well with me either. I think that the biggest problem that the author has is that there is an innate inability to explicate the experiences had by those who participate in HIMMs. The book relates some of them to Pentecostal church happenings, which are equally mysterious to me, and sometimes attempts physiological explanations (i.e. tingling spine), but ultimately I do not know what their spiritual experiences are like. If you have a spiritual experience by looking at the image of Gurumayi on this blog, please let me know.
Murali Balaji wrote this article that highlight the misconceptions between Hindu Americans and their teachers and classmates. Balaji grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs and was often confronted with inappropriate questions from “misinformed” classmates and teachers. His parents would feel frustrated and powerless about their child’s unfortunate circumstances. He gives two extremes that could arise between Hindu parents and their children’s teachers. This first approach is the “in-your-face” and the second is the “non-confrontational”. Often Hindu parents take the latter approach.
Balaji is the Hindu American Foundation’s Director of Education and curriculum Reform where he has talked with many parents frustrated by what their children are learning about Hinduism. He points out two truths in education: 1) teachers don’t intentionally teach wrong information and are almost always willing to learn and 2) parents can work with schools, school boards, and individual teachers to help fight stereotypes and wrong information. Harsh confrontation rarely yields results, as with Passivity. He encourages parents to meet with their child’s teachers to calmly discuss cultural or religious meanings.