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ACLS News

Video of 2015 Haskins Prize Lecture Released

7/15/2015

doniger_lecture_lgACLS is pleased to add to its media collection the 2015 Charles Homer Haskins Prize Lecture given by Wendy Doniger, renowned scholar of Hinduism and mythology, at the Council’s annual meeting in May.  The video is available at www.acls.org/media/haskins/, which also includes a link to the print version of the lecture.

In the lecture, Doniger reminisced with warmth and wit about her colorful childhood and education in Great Neck, New York, and later at Harvard and Oxford Universities and in India. She also described candidly the controversy ignited by her writing in recent years, including the court order obtained by conservative activists in India to remove her book The Hindus: An Alternative History from bookshelves and have all copies pulped.

Doniger, who mordantly refers to the last decade of storms over her scholarship as “my Indian wars,” has produced over thirty 30 books and numerous scholarly articles on topics as diverse as epic poetry, ancient art, and gender studies. Looking back at her publications to date, Doniger reflected that “the red thread through all of them seems to be the intersecting themes of rebellion and masquerade. More recently, I have been drawn away from masquerade, and into rebellion.” 

Introducing the lecture, ACLS President Pauline Yu observed that “the new knowledge that comes from research can—indeed, will—be unsettling to many. Professor Doniger has needed all her evident wit and determination to persist with her probing scholarship in the face of threats and harassment from both anonymous and organized opponents offended by her explorations of sexuality in myth and religion.”

“I’ve always felt that what I do is translation both in the literal sense, both in the literal sense, translating Sanskrit text into English . . . and in the broader sense of translating India for Americans,” Doniger said. Yu also stressed Doniger’s skill as a cultural translator: “She has taken on the great challenge of the humanities:  to make complex phenomena of human creativity meaningful across time, space, and language.”  

Haskins Prize Lecturers are asked to reflect on “a life of learning,” and Doniger does just that, tracing the roots of her prodigious scholarly career to a childhood guided by parents who thoroughly instilled a love of books, and to an early fascination with Indian civilization. Discussing her reading, as an adolescent, of Aubrey Menen’s “wickedly satirical retelling” of the Hindu epic the Ramayana, Doniger notes, “I didn’t know then that Menen’s book had already been banned in India under Indian Penal Code 295a. And of course I could not know that I would run headlong into that same law over half a century later.”

Wendy Doniger is the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions at the University of Chicago.

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