Gavin Flood, ed. The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2005. Paperback, xiii + 599 pp.
Good anthologies are as hard to find as they are difficult to assemble. This is particularly the case with the complex cultural tradition of Hinduism. While Flood succeeded in assembling a team of fine scholars to produce this compilation of 27 essays, the coverage of subjects in this volume still turned out somewhat uneven.
Part I addresses important theoretical issues in the study of Hinduism, notably well-known Western biases that have long marred the study of India’s civilization. The current debate over the supposed “Aryan” origin of India’s civilization is conspicuous by its absence.
After clearing the ground, so to speak, Part II launches straight into the textual traditions based on Sanskrit and vernacular languages, as well as major historical developments. Here the anthology’s limited compass forced Flood to focus on just a few of the salient literary genres, languages, and religo-cultural traditions, notably Vaishnavism and Shaivism and the renunciate trend vs. householder existence. The exclusion in this part of a treatment of the vast dimension of ritualism is particularly strange.
Part III is dedicated to what Flood calls “Systematic Thought”—the Indian sciences and philosophy and theology. The coverage of philosophy and theology is rather meager and focuses on broad categories rather than specific systems. The essay on the use of reason in Hindu thought is clearly relevant to the kind of Western readership envisioned by the editor. It is counterbalanced by an essay that looks at Indian thought from a theological perspective, but the discussion never quite leaves the narrow platform of trying to make the concept of theology palatable in the context of Hinduism. It might have been more beneficial and appropriate to introduce the reader to how “revelation” works in practice—through the mediation of extraordinary (mystical) states of consciousness. This modality of experiencing is so fundamental to Hinduism that it should have been given equal importance to reasoning, which is discussed in some detail.
Part IV deals with aspects of Hindu society and politics, but the selection of topics is limited to some salient features, such as the caste system, nationhood, and gender.
In his Preface, Flood states that the purpose of this anthology is “to make available to a wide audience some of the most recent scholarship on the religions of South Asia within the broad category of Hinduism.” The approach taken by most of the contributors, however, seems to me to be too scholarly to appeal to a wide readership, and Flood’s compilation is more likely to suit the needs of university students in religious studies departments.
Copyright ©2006 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
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