Academic Bias Discussed in Joint Program Hosted by HAF and AJC

DATE: December 20, 2005

PALO ALTO, CA - On November 16, 2005, the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) and the American Jewish Committee (AJC) jointly organized a program at Stanford University entitled “COUNTERING BIASES AGAINST HINDUS AND JEWS ON THE COLLEGE CAMPUS: The Who, What, and When of Responses to Hostile and Intimidating Rhetoric and Behavior in the Classroom.”

Professor Ramdas Lamb, an Associate Professor at the University of Hawaii, specializing in methodology in religious studies, mysticism, Indic religions (especially Ram Bhakti, Untouchable, and monastic traditions), interface of religion and contemporary society, and fieldwork studies, spoke on the history of bias against Hinduism, stemming from the “built-in resentment of Hindus by Protestant missionaries.” He stressed that part of the difficulty in adequately understanding Hinduism comes from the fact that Hinduism is a way of life, not just a belief. Near the end of his speech, he said many non-tenured faculty in religious studies who are practicing Hindus are afraid “to come out of the closet” reflecting a bias in academia where one can practice another religion and teach it, but a Hindu teaching Hinduism is assumed to lack objectivity.

Professor Arnold Eisen, Koshland Professor of Jewish Culture and Religion at Stanford University and the author of numerous books and articles about contemporary Jewish life and thought in America and Israel, spoke on the importance of religious dialogue but stated he could not remember the last time Hindus and Jews had such a program during his career. He mentioned that textbooks often do not portray religions properly and that a Hindu commented to the California State Board of Education’s Curriculum Committee that “a Hindu can’t find himself” in the textbooks currently up for review in the state. He said that, “it may be better to not teach a religion than to have it taught the way it is.”

The session was moderated by Aaron Gross, a Ph.D. Student, University of California (Santa Barbara), whose areas of scholarship include Modern Judaism, South Asian religions, Jewish-Indian contact, animals and religion, comparative religious ethics, critical theory and history of religions. The program was cosponsored by ACCESS (AJC’s emerging leadership group), Hillel at Stanford and the Hindu Students Council at Stanford.