Compared to other immigrant religions, Hinduism does not appear to experience major problems in functioning in US society. But such is not the opinion of Belgian scholar Jakob De Roover (Center for Comparative Science of Cultures, University of Ghent). In an analysis posted on India Forum (January 22), he claims that “the American model of pluralism is unable to accommodate these pagan traditions.” He sees the recent California textbook controversy, where Hindus claimed that their religion was misrepresented in public school texts, as one more indicator supporting his assessment.
Despite its claims to neutrality, the American model of pluralism has Protestant Christian religious roots: a theological framework became secularized, but Christian principles persist under a secular guise, Roover observes. Those principles are, however, not relevant for Hinduism.
The American understanding of religion puts the emphasis on doctrines, around which denominations are united, each claiming to possess religious truth, but all sharing a common understanding of religion. The Christian notion of God is missing from the Hindu traditions, writes Roover, and doctrines do not play the same role.
The Hindu community in the USA may respond to the challenge by transforming its traditions “into pallid variants of biblical religion.” While this is the most tempting way — and the one adopted by most Hindus today– Roover suggests that it might choose another way and break with a framework inherited from the colonial period, thus promoting a pluralism “liberated from the biblical straitjacket” and from Christian-inspired concerns.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer