Catherine A. Robinson. Interpretations of the Bhagavad-Gita and Images of the Hindu Tradition: The Song of the Lord. London: Routledge, 2006. Hardcover, 192 pp.
Scholarship is as good as its degree of self-criticism. Twentieth-century deconstructionists like Jacques Derrida have left their mark also on Indology. Once unashamedly biased in favor of Christianity and European colonialism, the scholarly study of India’s culture has come of age, questioning its own assumptions and concepts. This monograph is part of the deconstructionist stream within Indology. The author’s trigger for self-reflective investigation is what is today one of the most popular—if not the most popular—traditional works of Hindu India: the Bhagavad-Gita.
In particular, she seeks to show how the prominence of the Gita has contributed to our Western concept of Hinduism. That “Hinduism” itself is a modern construct is now accepted by most Indologists. In her Introduction, Prof. Robinson re-examines the concepts of “Hinduism,” “religion,” and “scripture”—all notions that are fundamental to the universalization of this Sanskrit text, as already E. J. Sharpe has argued in his book The Universal Gita: Western Images of the Bhagavadgita (1985).
The body of Robinson’s book is a careful and well-documented examination of various approaches to the Gita—from the academic/scholarly orientation to the perspective of social-political activism, to Christian theological and missionary critiques, to universalist visions, and finally to the approach favoring romantic and mystical insights (notably Transcendentalism, Theosophy, and the Philosophia Perennis movement).
Many of the author’s observations are very astute and will undoubtedly become part of all more self-critical scholarly studies of the Gita.
Copyright ©2006 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
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