New orientalists: fashioning a monolithic Hinduism
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My main concern is not with the history of these aforementioned organizations but with illustrating how they promote and mediate orientalist constructions of Hinduism. One of the marks of orientalism is the construction of Hinduism as devoid of any heterogeneous voices. In nineteenthcentury colonial India, Hindus such as Rammohan Roy and Day¨nanda Saraswat± used orientalist constructions of the golden past in order to challenge missionary denunciations of Hinduism. Now a high-profile gurucentered Vaiª¦ava saºprad¨ya (tradition) such as Swaminarayan,3 which has a large Gujarati following both in India an the diaspora, draws on Western orientalist affirmations of Hinduism. A conspicuous case in point is the exhibition Understanding Hinduism, held in the magnificent Swaminarayan temple in north London. The exhibition guidebook sings the praises of Hinduism’s splendid achievements in numerous fields ranging from mathematics to literature and science. It is a neat little book, giving a brief historical introduction, followed by a simplified statement of Hindu beliefs. In other words, the guide is a tailor-made introduction to Hinduism and to the Swaminarayan tradition, one that blurs internal diversity and complexity and represents Hinduism in a monolithic fashion. Such an idealized representation of Hinduism speaks to the Hindu minority in the diaspora, especially the young who constantly face stereotypical images of Hinduism, thus enabling them to take pride in their ancient culture.