The following is a draft of the syllabus for a new course that I’ll be teaching next January (N.B.: I revised this syllabus on June 5, 2012).
Hinduism in American philosophy and culture, following the historical outline of Philip Goldberg’s recent book, American Veda (NY: Harmony Books, 2010), accompanied by the more focused and scholarly treatment of the same themes by Stefanie Syman, The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America (NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010).
1. Transcendentalists: Emerson, Hawthorne, Thoreau, together with poet John Godfrey Saxe, 1816-1897 (whose poetry, in his own day, sold better than Hawthorne’s and Tennyson’s), best known for his poem on the Indian parable “The Blind Men and the Elephant”, with its sarcastic conclusion. See also Walt Whitman, “Passage to India”.
2. The Parliaments of Religions in Chicago, 1893 and 1993; Vivekananda’s resounding voice at the first, the subtle Catholic presence at the second (Joseph cardinal Bernardin and the Benedictines). Gurus on the lecture circuit.
3. The Autobiography of a Yogi, 1946: Yogananda’s song of himself in India and America; compare with Thomas Merton’s autobiography, Seven Storey Mountain, 1948, and with Merton’s subsequent, wide-ranging dialogue with the East.
4. Offshoots of Yogananda’s mission, whether institutional or charismatic: Self-Realization Fellowship, Kriyananda and his Ananda Community, Roy Eugene Davis, Yogacharya Oliver Black. Yogananda’s ‘Christianity’ as opposed to ‘Churchianity’. Read Kriyananda, The Path.
5. American gurus: the Bernard family (Theos Bernard, his uncle Pierre, his father Glen); Hinduism in Anglo-American cinema (“The Razor’s Edge”, “Around the World in Eighty Days”, “A Passage to India”) and pop culture; Reincarnation for the masses; Health-club Yoga; rock-stars and transcendental meditators; the current claim to be ‘spiritual but not religious’.
6. Hinduism and the Scientific Paradigm: Quantum Physics compared with Vedanta, from Erwin Schrödinger to Fritjof Capra; Robert Oppenheimer, the military-industrial complex, and the Bhagavad Gita.
7. From West to East: Western scholarship and comparative religious studies and their influence in India: Raimon Panikkar; Mircea Eliade and the Chicago school. The controversy surrounding Jeffrey J. Kripal’s reading of Sri Ramakrishna. The work of Georg Feuerstein on Yoga and Tantra, and the spread of ‘Neo-Tantra’ in India.
8. Christian alternatives to (or clones of) Yoga: John Main’s meditation movement and his initial Hindu inspiration; Centering Prayer; the use of mantras; the Christian embrace of the Hindu greeting gesture, the namaskara. American devotees of Hindu gurus who have converted to the Catholic faith (Alex Lipski and others).
9. Building a traditional Hindu presence in America: the arrival in greater numbers of Indian immigrants, the building of temples across the continent, where authentic vedic rites are celebrated by immigrant Brahmins.
10. Provocation and golden opportunity: the possibilities of a new Christian inculturation in Vedic America. The Hindu Premise: rethinking Judeo-Christianity through Indian philosophical models.