Unifying Hinduism: Philosophy and Identity in Indian Intellectual History

Unifying Hinduism: Philosophy and Identity in Indian Intellectual History

by Andrew Nicholson

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Some postcolonial theorists argue that the idea of a single system of belief known as "Hinduism" is a creation of nineteenth-century British imperialists. Andrew J. Nicholson introduces another perspective: although a unified Hindu identity is not as ancient as some Hindus claim, it has its roots in innovations within South Asian philosophy from the fourteenth to seventeenth centuries. During this time, thinkers treated the philosophies of Vedanta, Samkhya, and Yoga, along with the worshippers of Visnu, Siva, and Sakti, as belonging to a single system of belief and practice. Instead of seeing such groups as separate and contradictory, they re-envisioned them as separate rivers leading to the ocean of Brahman, the ultimate reality.

Drawing on the writings of philosophers from late medieval and early modern traditions, including Vijnanabhiksu, Madhava, and Madhusudana Sarasvati, Nicholson shows how influential thinkers portrayed Vedanta philosophy as the ultimate unifier of diverse belief systems. This project paved the way for the work of later Hindu reformers, such as Vivekananda, Radhakrishnan, and Gandhi, whose teachings promoted the notion that all world religions belong to a single spiritual unity. In his study, Nicholson also critiques the way in which Eurocentric concepts—like monism and dualism, idealism and realism, theism and atheism, and orthodoxy and heterodoxy—have come to dominate modern discourses on Indian philosophy.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780231526425
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Publication date: 10/14/2010
Series: South Asia Across the Disciplines
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 304
File size: 18 MB
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About the Author

Andrew J. Nicholson is assistant professor of Hinduism and Indian intellectual history in the Department of Asian and Asian American Studies at Stony Brook University.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

List of Abbreviations xi

1 Introduction 1

Contesting the Unity of Hinduism 1

Vijñanabhiksu and His Late Medieval Milieu 6

Doxography and Method 9

Premodern Philosophy in a Postcolonial World 14

2 An Alternative History of Vedanta 24

Vedanta and Orientalist Historiography 24

Early Bhedabheda Vedanta 26

Bhedabheda Vedanta After Sankara 30

The Future of Bhedabheda Vedanta 37

3 Vijñanabhiksu's "Difference and Non-Difference" Vedanta 39

The Meaning of "Bhedabheda" 39

Self and Brahman as Part and Whole 50

Brahman's Causality in Advaita and Bhedabheda Vedanta 56

Bhedabheda and the Unity of Philosophies 65

4 A History of God in Samkhya and Yoga 67

Samkhya: An Atheist Philosophy? 67

Theism in Early Samkhya and the Puranas 69

Atheism and Theism in "Classical" Samkhya 76

Samkhya and Yoga 79

5 Reading Against the Grain of the Samkhyasutras 84

Atheism in the Samkhyasutras 84

Kapila's "Bold Assertion" as Speech Act 90

Degrees of Deception in Samkhya and the Puranas 96

Disproving God in the Samkhyasutras 100

6 Yoga, Praxis, and Liberation 108

The Excellence of the Yogic Path 108

Karma and Embodied Liberation 114

The Unity of Yoga and Vedanta Soteriologies 118

7 Vedanta and Samkhya in the Orientalist Imagination 124

Indian Philosophy and the Critique of Orientalism 124

Colebrooke and Gough: The Struggle for the Essence of Vedanta 128

Paul Deussen and the Influence of German Idesdism 133

Richard Garbe: Samkhya as the Foundation of Indian Philosophy 138

Orientalism and Modern Hindu Thought 142

8 Doxography, Classificatory Schemes, and Contested Histories 144

Doxography as a Genre 144

Early Models for Doxography in India: Cattanar and Bhaviveka 148

Haribhadra, Jainism, and the Six Systems 154

Madhava and the Influence of Advaita Doxography 158

Madhusudana Sarasvati: Foreignness and the Philosophical Other 163

9 Affirmers (Astikas) and Deniers (Nastikas) in Indian History 166

Toward a Comparative Heresiology 166

The Meaning of Astika and Ndstika 168

Perspectives from the Jainas, Buddhists, and Grammarians 172

Beyond Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy 176

Astika and Nastika in the Late Medieval Period 179

10 Hindu Unity and the Non-Hindu Other 185

Inclusivism and Hindu Toleration 185

Decoding Late Medieval Doxography 190

The Absence of Islam 192

Hinduism: A Modern Invention? 196

Communalism, Universalism, and Hindu Identity 201

Notes 207

Bibliography 239

Index 251

What People are Saying About This

Jonardon Ganeri

Andrew J. Nicholson's courageous and challenging thesis is that processes of unification were at work in early modern India, particularly in the attempt by Vedanta philosophers to create hierarchies of philosophical schools, and these processes 'made possible the world religion later known by the name Hinduism.' Unifying Hinduism is a fluent, eminently readable, and absorbing study of a period in Indian intellectual history that fully deserves the attention it is now receiving.

Johannes Bronkhorst

Unifying Hinduism does much more than deal with the philosophy of Vijnanabhiksu, it questions in an intelligent and constructive manner how Indian philosophy has been studied in modern scholarship—and ways in which it has been done wrong.

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