Wendy Doniger at Shimer College in 2012
November 20, 1940 |
New York City
|Residence||Chicago, Illinois, United States|
History of Religions
|Institutions||University of Chicago|
|Alma mater||Radcliff College (BA),
Harvard University (PhD),
Oxford University (DPhill)
|Doctoral advisor||Daniel H. H. Ingalls, Sr. (Harvard)
|Doctoral students||62, including Jeffrey Kripal|
Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty (born November 20, 1940) is an American Indologist whose professional career has spanned five decades. A scholar of Sanskrit and Indian textual traditions, her major works include, Asceticism and Eroticism in the Mythology of Siva; Hindu Myths: A Sourcebook; The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology; Women, Androgynes, and Other Mythical Beasts; and The Rig Veda: An Anthology, 108 Hymns Translated from the Sanskrit.
Doniger was born in New York City to immigrant non-observant Jewish parents, and raised in Great Neck New York, where her father, Lester L Doniger (1909–1971), ran a publishing business. While in high school, she studied dance under George Balanchine and Martha Graham. She graduated summa cum laude in Sanskrit and Indian Studies from Radcliffe College in 1962, and received her M.A. from Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in June 1963. She then studied in India in 1963–1964 with a 12-month Junior Fellowship from the American Institute of Indian Studies. She received a Ph.D. from Harvard University in June 1968, with a dissertation on Asceticism and Sexuality in the Mythology of Siva, supervised by Daniel H. H. Ingalls, Sr.. She obtained a D. Phil. in Oriental Studies from Oxford University, in February 1973, with a dissertation on The Origins of Heresy in Hindu Mythology, supervised by R.C.Zaehner.
Doniger holds the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor Chair in History of Religions at the University of Chicago. She is the editor of the scholarly journal History of Religions, having served on its editorial board since 1979, and has edited a dozen other publications in her career. In 1985 she was elected President of the American Academy of Religion, and in 1997 President of the Association for Asian Studies. She serves on the International Editorial Board of the Encyclopædia Britannica.
Since she began writing in the 1960s, Doniger has gained the reputation of being "one of America's major scholars in the humanities". Assessing Doniger's body of work, K. M. Shrimali, Professor of Ancient Indian History at the University of Delhi, writes:
... it (1973) also happened to be the year when her first major work in early India's religious history, viz., Siva, the Erotic Ascetic was published and had instantly become a talking point for being a path-breaking work. I still prescribe it as the most essential reading to my postgraduate students at the University of Delhi, where I have been teaching a compulsory course on 'Evolution of Indian Religions' for the last nearly four decades. It was the beginning of series of extremely fruitful and provocative encounters with the formidable scholarship of Wendy Doniger.
I myself am by both temperament and training inclined to texts. I am neither an archaeologist nor an art historian; I am a Sanskritist, indeed a recovering Orientalist, of a generation that framed its study of Sanskrit with Latin and Greek rather than Urdu or Tamil. I’ve never dug anything up out of the ground or established the date of a sculpture. I’ve labored all my adult life in the paddy fields of Sanskrit, ...
Her books both in Hinduism and other fields have been positively reviewed by the Indian scholar Vijaya Nagarajan and the American Hindu scholar Lindsey B. Harlan, who noted as part of a positive review that "Doniger's agenda is her desire to rescue the comparative project from the jaws of certain proponents of postmodernism". Of her Hindu Myths: A Sourcebook Translated from the Sanskrit, the Indologist Richard Gombrich wrote: "Intellectually, it is a triumph..." Doniger's (then O'Flaherty) 1973 book Asceticism and Eroticism in the Mythology of Śiva was a critique of the "Great tradition Śivapurāṇas and the tension that arises between Śiva's ascetic and erotic activities." Richard Gombrich called it "learned and exciting"; however, John H. Marr was disappointed that the "regionalism" so characteristic of the texts is absent in Doniger's book, and wondered why the discussion took so long. She has also been called "one of the most distinguished mythologists of our time" by psychoanalyst and author Sudhir Kakar. Doniger's Rigveda, a translation of 108 hymns selected from the canon, was deemed among the most reliable by historian of religion Ioan P. Culianu. However, in an email message, Michael Witzel called it "idiosyncratic and unreliable just like her Jaiminiya Brahmana or Manu (re-)translations."
Beginning in the early 2000s, a disagreement arose within the Hindu community over whether Doniger accurately described Hindu traditions. Together with many of her colleagues, she was the subject of a critique by Rajiv Malhotra for using psychoanalytical concepts to interpret non-Western subjects. Christian Lee Novetzke, associate professor of South Asian Studies at the University of Washington, summarizes this controversy as follows: "Wendy Doniger, a premier scholar of Indian religious thought and history expressed through Sanskritic sources, has faced regular criticism from those who consider her work to be disrespectful of Hinduism in general." Professor Novetzke cites Doniger's use of "psychoanalytical theory" as
a kind of lightning rod for the censure that these scholars receive from freelance critics and 'watch-dog' organizations that claim to represent the sentiments of Hindus.
Martha C. Nussbaum, concurring with Novetzke, adds that while the agenda of those in the American Hindu community who criticize Doniger appears similar to that of the Hindu right-wing in India, it is not quite the same since it has "no overt connection to national identity", and that it has created feelings of guilt among American scholars, given the prevailing ethos of ethnic respect, that they might have offended people from another culture. While Doniger has agreed that Indians have ample grounds to reject postcolonial domination, she claims that her works are only a single perspective which does not subordinate Indian self-identity.
Doniger's trade book, The Hindus: An Alternative History was published in 2009 by Viking/Penguin. According to the Hindustan Times, The Hindus was a No. 1 bestseller in its non-fiction category in the week of October 15, 2009. Two scholarly reviews in the Social Scientist and the Journal of the American Oriental Society, though praising Doniger for her textual scholarship, both criticized Doniger's poor historiography and lack of focus. In the popular press, the book has received many positive reviews, for example from the Library Journal, the Times Literary Supplement, the New York Review of Books, the New York Times, and The Hindu. In January 2010, the National Book Critics Circle named The Hindus as a finalist for its 2009 book awards. The Hindu American Foundation protested this decision, alleging inaccuracies and bias in the book.
In February 2014, as part of settlement with plaintiff to a lawsuit brought before an Indian district court, The Hindus was recalled by Penguin India. Referring to Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code which criminalizes "deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class of citizens” Doniger said:
They [Penguin India] were finally defeated by the true villain of this piece – the Indian law that makes it a criminal rather than civil offense to publish a book that offends any Hindu, a law that jeopardizes the physical safety of any publisher, no matter how ludicrous the accusation brought against a book.
She anticipates more such controversy in her forthcoming Norton anthology of primary Hindu writings (releasing in November 2014), of which she is the editor.
- 2000 PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Award for excellence in multi-cultural literature, non-fiction, for Splitting the Difference
- 2002 Rose Mary Crawshay prize from the British Academy, for the best book about English literature written by a woman, for The Bedtrick
- 2008 Martin E. Marty Public Understanding of Religion Award from the American Academy of Religion
- 2015 Charles Homer Haskins Prize of the American Council of Learned Societies
Doniger has written 16 books, translated (primarily from Sanskrit to English) with commentary nine other volumes, has contributed to many edited texts and has written hundreds of articles in journals, magazines and newspapers. These include New York Times Book Review, London Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement, The Times, The Washington Post, U.S. News and World Report, International Herald Tribune, Parabola, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Daedalus, The Nation, and the Journal of Asian Studies.
Published under the name of Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty:
- Served as Vedic consultant and co-author, and contributed a chapter ("Part II: The Post-Vedic History of the Soma Plant," pp. 95–147) in Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality, by R. Gordon Wasson (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1968).
- Asceticism and Eroticism in the Mythology of Siva (Oxford University Press, 1973).
- The Ganges (London: Macdonald Educational, 1975).
- The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology (Berkeley: University of California, 1976).
- Women, Androgynes, and Other Mythical Beasts (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980).
- Dreams, Illusion, and Other Realities (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984 ).
- Tales of Sex and Violence: Folklore, Sacrifice, and Danger in the Jaiminiya Brahmana (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985).
- Other Peoples' Myths: The Cave of Echoes. (New York: Macmillan, 1988).
Published under the name of Wendy Doniger:
- The Implied Spider: Politics and Theology in Myth. The 1996–1997 ACLS/AAR Lectures. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.
- Splitting the Difference: Gender and Myth in Ancient Greece and India. The 1996 Jordan Lectures. Chicago and London: University of London Press and University of Chicago Press, 1999.
- Der Mann, der mit seiner eigenen Frau Ehebruch beging. Mit einem Kommentar von Lorraine Daston. Berlin: Suhrkamp, 1999.
- The Bedtrick: Tales of Sex and Masquerade. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
- La Trappola della Giumenta. Trans. Vincenzo Vergiani. Milan: Adelphi Edizione, 2003.
- The Woman Who Pretended to Be Who She Was. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
- The Hindus: An Alternative History. New York: Penguin Press, 2009.
Published under the name of Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty:
- Hindu Myths: A Sourcebook, translated from the Sanskrit. Harmondsworth: Penguin Classics, 1975.
- The Rig Veda: An Anthology, 108 Hymns Translated from the Sanskrit (Harmondsworth: Penguin Classics, 1981).
- (with David Grene) Antigone (Sophocles). A new translation for the Court Theatre, Chicago, production of February 1983.
- Textual Sources for the Study of Hinduism, in the series Textual Sources for the Study of Religion, edited by John R. Hinnells (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990).
- (with David Grene). Oresteia. A New Translation for the Court Theatre Production of 1986. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988).
Published under the name of Wendy Doniger:
- Mythologies. A restructured translation of Yves Bonnefoy's Dictionnaire des Mythologies, prepared under the direction of Wendy Doniger (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1991). 2 vols.
- The Laws of Manu. A new translation, with Brian K. Smith, of the Manavadharmasastra (Harmondsworth: Penguin Classics, 1991).
- Vātsyāyana Kāmasūtra. A new translation by Wendy Doniger and Sudhir Kakar. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
- The Lady of the Jewel Necklace and The Lady Who Shows Her Love. Harsha’s Priyadarsika and Ratnavali. Clay Sanskrit Series. New York: New York University Press, JJC Foundation, 2006.
Published under the name of Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty:
- The Concept of Duty in South Asia. (with J. D. M. Derrett).(London: School of Oriental and African Studies).
- The Critical Study of Sacred Texts. (Berkeley: Graduate Theological Union, Religious Studies Series, 1979).
- Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions. (Berkeley: University of California Press; 1980).
- Elephanta: The Cave of Siva. Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty, Carmel Berkson, and George Michell (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983). ISBN 0691040095
- Religion and Change. Edited by Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty. History of Religions 25:4 (May 1986).
Published under the name of Wendy Doniger:
- Animals in Four Worlds: Sculptures from India. Photographs by Stella Snead; text by Wendy Doniger and George Michell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989).
- Purana Perennis: Reciprocity and Transformation in Hindu and Jaina Texts. Essays by David Shulman, V. Narayana Rao, A. K. Ramanujan, Friedhelm Hardy, John Cort, Padmanabh Jaini, Laurie Patton, and Wendy Doniger. Edited by Wendy Doniger. (SUNY Press, 1993).
- Off with Her Head! The Denial of Women's Identity in Myth, Religion, and Culture. Ed., with Howard Eilberg-Schwartz. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.
- Myth and Method. Ed., with Laurie Patton. Virginia: University of Virginia Press, 1996.
- Taylor 2011, p. 149.
- Shrimali 2010, p. 67.
- The John U. Nef Committee on Social Thought,"Wendy Doniger". Accessed February 22, 2014.
- "Q&A with Wendy Doniger, the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor and author of The Hindus", UChicago News, November 5, 2009. Accessed February 22, 2014.
- History of Religions Editorial Board. Accessed February 22, 2014.
- American Academy of Religion, "Past Presidents: Past Presidents of the AAR. Accessed February 22, 2014.
- Association for Asian Studies, AAS Board of Directors and Officers: AAS Past Presidents. Retrieved February 22, 2014.
- Chicago Humanities Festival | Art Institute of Chicago President's Lecture: Wendy Doniger, The Lingam Made Flesh
- Martha Craven Nussbaum, The clash within: democracy, religious violence, and India's future, Harvard University Press, 2007 p.249.
- Shrimal 2010, p. 68.
- Doniger, Wendy, The Hindus: An Alternative History, Viking-Penguin, p. 35
- Vijaya Nagarajan, 'Review of The Bedtrick,' in Journal of Religion 84.2 (April 2004).
- Lindsey B. Harlan, 'Review of The Implied Spider,', in Church History 68.2 (June 1999)
- Richard Gombrich, Hindu Myths: A Sourcebook Translated from the Sanskrit by Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty Religious Studies, Vol. 14, No. 2 (Jun. 1978), pp. 273–274
- Marr 1976, pp. 718–719.
- Singh, Khushwant (25 April 2011), "Me and my couch: A review of A Book of Memory—Confessions and Reflections By Sudhir Kakar, Penguin/Viking, Pages: 318", Outlook
- Sudhir Kakar, untitled review of Other People's Myths: The Cave of Echoes by Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty The Journal of Religion, Vol. 70, No. 2 (Apr. 1990), pp. 293–294 The University of Chicago Press 
- Ioan P. Culianu, "Ask Yourselves in Your Own Hearts..." History of Religions, Vol. 22, No. 3 (Feb. 1983), pp. 284–286
That is why, with the exception of Geldner's German translation, the most reliable modern translations of the Rgveda-W. O'Flaherty's being one of them-are only partial. However, W. O'Flaherty has, in her present translation, a wider scope than other scholars – Louis Renou, for instance, whose Hymnes speculatifs du Veda are a model of accuracy – who prefer to limit their choice to one thematic set of hymns.
- Taylor 2011, p. 160.
- The interpretation of gods
- The axis of neo-colonialism, Malhotra Rajiv, World Affairs, Year : 2007, Volume : 11, Issue: 3, Print ISSN: 0971-8052.
- Christian Lee Novetzke, "The Study of Indian Religions in the US Academy", India Review 5.1 (May 2006), 113–114 doi:10.1080/14736480600742668
- Martha C. Nussbaum, The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence, and India's Future, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009), p. 248
- "I don't feel I diminish Indian texts by writing about or interpreting them. My books have a right to exist alongside other books." Amy M. Braverman. "The interpretation of gods". University of Chicago Magazine, 97.2 (December 2004).
- "Top authors this week" Hindustan Times Indo-Asian News Service New Delhi, October 15, 2009
- Shrimali 2010, p. 80: "There are several issues that need more detailed and nuanced analysis rather than straight-jacketed formulations that we read in The Hindus. These concern terminologies and chronologies invoked, perfunctory manner in which class-caste struggles have been referred to — almost casually, complex inter-religious dialogue seen only in the context of Visnu's avataras, and looking at the tantras merely in terms of sex and political power. The work rarely rises above the level of tale telling. On the whole, this is neither a serious work for students of Indian history, nor for those with a critical eye on 'religious history' of India, nor indeed it is the real Alternative History of the 'Hindus'.
- Rocher 2012, p. 303: "She especially loves to illustrate ancient stories by interjecting comparisons with situations with which the audience is familiar: Doniger commands an unbelievably vast array of comparable material, often, though not always, from American popular culture. Doniger acknowledges that the book was not meant to be as long as it turned out to be, "but it got the bit between its teeth, and ran away from me" (p. 1). Several pages are indeed filled with "good stories" that are only loosely, some very loosely, related to the history of the Hindu religion. Going into detail on the drinking and other vices of the Mughal emperors, even though carefully documented, is a case in point (pp. 539-41). ...When it comes to legal history in the colonial period in particular, there are passages that are bound to raise ... eyebrows. ... the history of Hindu law was more complex than is represented in this volume. Anglo-Hindu law was far more than "the British interpretation of Jones's translation of Manu."
- James F. DeRoche, Library Journal, 2009-02-15
- David Arnold. "Beheading Hindus And other alternative aspects of Wendy Doniger's history of a mythology", Times Literary Supplement, July 29, 2009
- David Dean Shulman, 'A Passion for Hindu Myths,' in New York Review of Books, Nov 19, 2009, pp. 51–53.
- Pankaj Mishra, "'Another Incarnation',", in New York Times, April 24, 2009
- A R Venkatachalapathy, "Understanding Hinduism" The Hindu March 30, 2010
-  "National Book Critics Circle Finalists Are Announced" New York Times January 23, 2010
- HAF Urges NBCC Not Honor Doniger's Latest Book, as reprinted in LA Times, New Yorker, Sify
- "Penguin to destroy copies of Wendy Doniger's book 'The Hindus'" The Times of India
- "Penguin to recall Doniger’s book on Hindus" The Hindu
- "How Doniger’s now-recalled ‘The Hindus’ ruffled Hindutva feathers" firstpost.com
- Nussbaum, Martha (21 February 2014), Law against bad behaviour, The Indian Express
- "'I Do Not Blame Penguin Books, India'" Outlook (magazine)
- "Academics, writers decry Penguin's withdrawal of Doniger's book 'The Hindus'"
- Buncombe, Andrew (13 February 2014). "Arundhati Roy criticises Penguin for pulping The Hindus: An Alternative History". The Independent (Delhi). Retrieved 13 February 2014.
- "US Intellectuals Criticize the withdrawal Wendy Doniger’s Book from India". IANS. news.biharprabha.com. Retrieved 24 February 2014.
- PEN Oakland Award Winners: Josephine Miles Award. Accessed February 22, 2014.
- British Academy for the Humanities and Social Sciences. "The Rose Mary Crawshay Prize 2002 Awarded to Professor Wendy Doniger". Accessed February 22, 2014.
- American Academy of Religion, "Martin E. Marty Public Understanding of Religion Award - Current and Past Winners". Retrieved February 22, 2014.
- "[ Wendy Doniger Named 2015 Haskins Prize Lecture]", ACLS News, October 22, 2013. Accessed February 22, 2013.
- Marr, John H. (1976), "Review of Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty: Asceticism and eroticism in the mythology of Śiva. (School of Oriental and African Studies.) Oxford University Press, 1973", Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London 39 (3): 718–719
- Rocher, Ludo (April–June 2012), "Review: The Hindus: An Alternative History by Wendy Doniger", Journal of the American Oriental Society 132 (2): 302–304
- Shrimali, K. M. (July–August 2010), "Review of The Hindus: An Alternative History by Wendy Doniger", Social Scientist 38 (7/8): 66–81
- Taylor, McComas (June 2011), "Mythology Wars: The Indian Diaspora, "Wendy's Children" and the Struggle for the Hindu Past", Asian Studies Review 35 (2): 149–168
- Doniger's homepage at the University of Chicago Divinity School website
- Wendy Doniger from Stanford University Presidential Lectures in the Humanities and Arts
|Awards and achievements|
|Rose Mary Crawshay Prize