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.
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.