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Yoga, karma, meditation, guru—these terms, once obscure, are now a part of the American lexicon. Combining Hinduism with Western concepts and values, a new hybrid form of religion has developed in the United States over the past century. In Transcendent in America, Lola Williamson traces the history of various Hindu-inspired movements in America, and argues that together they constitute a discrete category of religious practice, a distinct and identifiable form of new religion.
Williamson provides an overview of the emergence of these movements through examining exchanges between Indian Hindus and American intellectuals such as Thomas Jefferson and Ralph Waldo Emerson, and illuminates how Protestant traditions of inner experience paved the way for Hindu-style movements’ acceptance in the West.
Williamson focuses on three movements—Self-Realization Fellowship, Transcendental Meditation, and Siddha Yoga—as representative of the larger of phenomenon of Hindu-inspired meditation movements. She provides a window into the beliefs and practices of followers of these movements by offering concrete examples from their words and experiences that shed light on their world view, lifestyle, and relationship with their gurus. Drawing on scholarly research, numerous interviews, and decades of personal experience with Hindu-style practices, Williamson makes a convincing case that Hindu-inspired meditation movements are distinct from both immigrant Hinduism and other forms of Asian-influenced or “New Age” groups.
A Note on Transliteration vii
Part 1 Background
1 What Are Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements? 3
2 Laying the Foundation for American-Style Hinduism 26
Part 2 Three Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements
3 Self-Realization Fellowship 55
4 Transcendental Meditation 80
5 Siddha Yoga 106
Part 3 In Their Own Words
6 The Guru-Disciple Relationship 135
7 Mystical Experiences 161
8 Worldview 186
About the Author 261
Posted January 25, 2011
This book is not worth the money, nor the time to read. Interesting, yes. But the research is shallow, with questionable references; the author will quote an e-mail from an anonymous source.
Very little is new. Almost anything you want to know about the three organizations she discusses can be found on their respective websites and it looks like that is about all the research she did. Short on new information, thin on meaningful analysis.