Saturday, January 12, 2013

Appointment With Dr. Balagangadhara

Well, now that Banerjee has also sent me to Dr. B., I dipped again into The Heathen and His Blindness. It's not easy reading for me - filled with scholarly allusions I don't recognize and epistemological circumlocutions and qualifications I find hard to parse. Possibly a symptom of my inability to understand another culture - but I doubt it. Anyway, I skipped ahead to his summary (Chapter 12).

Here is one paragraph of interest:

In a way, one could also describe the entire argument of the book in the following way. A culture, the West, believes that all cultures are constituted (partially) by religion; it further believes that individuals and cultures require worldviews to orient and navigate themselves in the world. These beliefs are those of a culture and I show that they partially constitute the West. To show this, I specify how cultures differ from each other. Relating learning processes to cultural differences help us here.

My first quibble is that I don't think cultures really have beliefs of that sort - individuals do. That's true in every primitive village but it's far more true in a huge and highly varied culture like India or "The West." Each of us sees the world individually, and we communicate our perceptions to others in our own cultures much the way that we communicate with somebody in another culture, the only difference being that we need to make more allowance for differences the greater the difference in our backgrounds. The second thing I would say is that religion, broadly interpreted, is extremely widespread, even if it isn't universal.

The argument seems to be that Westerners are incapable of understanding Indian culture, and vice-versa. I don't believe that. Understanding anybody else's thoughts is imperfect, but it's a task we humans have invested a lot of wetware in and we are good at it.

He also seems to argue that Indians don't have religion. If he had said Indians didn't have one religion, I would certainly agree. If he had said most Indian religions are pretty different from the Abramaic religions, I would also agree. If he said Indian religion is not mostly about theology, I would agree with that too. But if he says they don't have religion, I just have to ask what all those temples and statues of spirit creatures are about.