Category Archives: Scholars of the Hindu Tradition

academic resources for teaching and learning about hinduism

Understanding Our Religious World (Series)

HINDUISM: Understanding Our Religious World

There is an assortment of reasonably-priced, richly illustrated, engaging digital texts for the academic study of the major religious traditions on this site. These include: Hinduism, Buddhism, East Asian Religions, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. The site contains many free resources (for students and instructors), as well as PowerPoint slides and useful materials for instructors. These are best suited for teaching more than one religion in a given semester. In a World Religions course, one might assign the Western and Eastern Religions texts, or utilize various combinations of individual books to best suit the course needs. These books have a robust appeal for their pedagogic effectiveness.

Review from The International Journal of Hindu Studies

Hillary P. Rodrigues, Hinduism: Understanding Our Religious World. eBook. Robinest, 2020. 122 pages.

The year 2020 presented a number of difficulties for all of us, as the global COVID-19 pandemic upended our typical patterns of working, shopping, socializing, parenting, and everything else that involved human contact. For those of us used to teaching in the classroom on a college campus, our patterns and expectations were also altered, to say the least. Most of us needed to adjust our sources, lectures, and teaching styles as we taught from home, uploading audio-visual lectures and/or streaming lectures to one of the many available platforms, in an attempt to engage students in new ways that were sometimes successful. Though we won’t use all of the new forms of technology and new teaching strategies we adopted during the pandemic, we have all acquired some hints and tips that we and our institutions might take with us even after the pandemic subsides.

Though produced slightly before the pandemic, the book under review represents a teaching tool that not only would have been helpful then, but will also be helpful in a more standard classroom setting moving forward. Produced specifically as a digital source (eBook), Hillary P. Rodrigues’s Hinduism provides a concise and visually appealing introduction to Hinduism, ideal for an introductory course.

Its first section on History begins with the Indus Valley Civilization and ends with a number of short sections on modern India, including the British Colonial Period, Global Hinduism (for example, ISKCON), and Hinduism in Popular Culture (for example, Bollywood). Its second section on Beliefs includes larger sections on Hindu Texts, Deities, and Temples. Its third section on Structure outlines the Four Classes, Religious Specialists, and Gender and Sexuality. And its fourth and final section, Practice, details Yoga, Pūjā, and a number of Hindu festivals (for example, Holī).

Just eighty pages in length, the succinctness of the core of this text cannot be overstated. Each subsection named above is brief: the section on British Rule, Reform, and Independence is summarized in just one page, while more complex sections are somewhat longer, with each deity (for example, Śiva) or each text (for example, the Rāmāyaṇa) given its own single page. Nearly every page of the book also contains illustrations: photos of the Taj Mahal and Victoria Memorial detail Mughal architecture (12), the ten avatāra of Viṣṇu depict Hindu deities (41–43), the Bṛhadīśvara and Mīnākṣī temples illustrate northern- and southern-style Hindu temples (47–48), and Holī and the Kumbha Melā illustrate Hindu festivals (77–78). The text also contains useful maps of the Indus Valley (5), the Mughal Empire (11), and religious sites in India (18) and charts of Cosmic Time (24), the Four Classes and the Four Stages and Goals of Life (53–54), and the Hindu calendar (76).

A ten-page section containing a Quick Review and eighteen Vocabulary Audio Files (pushing a button, a reader hears a native speaker of Indian languages properly pronounce words like “Mahābhārata” and “Bhagavad Gītā”) makes this text even more accessible to introductory students in the physical or virtual classroom. The text concludes with a thirty-page Reader of selected texts culled from traditional ancient, medieval, and modern sources (for example, Ṛg VedaDevī Māhātmya, and Gandhi’s autobiography), all of which had been referenced earlier in the text.

The concise nature of this book is also in part a product of its publication. As the opening notes state, “This eBook has adapted and modified the text used in a chapter of [Thomas A.] Robinson and [Hillary P.] Rodrigues, World Religions: a guide to the essentials, published by Baker Academic.” The content of that book has been apportioned out into a number of texts, equally accessible and equally inexpensive (each available for $8 on the Google Play digital app). The content of Hinduism is also contained nearly verbatim in Rodrigues’s Eastern Religions: Understanding Our Religious World, which also covers Buddhism and East Asian Religions (Confucianism, Daoism, and Shinto), and Hinduism’s Reader is also contained in full in the larger Eastern Religions Reader.

The introductory notes state that Robinson and Rodrigues designed and developed this book while “team-teaching a world religions course numbering 500 students a year,” providing a key to the better uses to which it might be put. Not intended for a full-semester course on Hinduism or South Asian religions, this book provides an excellent, approachable, and financially prudent option for a larger World Religions course written by an engaged and respected scholar with a keen eye towards the needs of today’s students.

Michael Baltutis

University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh

Oshkosh, Wisconsin, USA

Hinduism – the eBook

This is a very reasonably priced digital version of the widely-used Introducing Hinduism, 2e (Routledge), described below. It contains weblinks, color images, pronunciation guides, research resources. It is especially effective for courses that are taught and received through remote, digital instruction, but has been widely used in live classroom settings as well. The reviews for Introducing Hinduism listed below also pertain to this volume. The many other books listed on this site include: Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Tibetan Buddhism, Japanese Religion, Daoism, Islam, Christianity, and World Religions. These books are best suited for semester-long courses dedicated to a single religious tradition.

Introducing Hinduism, 2e

It is an ideal sourcebook for those seeking a comprehensive overview of the Hindu tradition. This second edition includes substantial treatments of Tantra, South India, and women, as well as expanded discussions of yoga, Vedanta and contemporary configurations of Hinduism in the West. Its lively presentation features: case studies, photographs, and scenarios that invite the reader into the lived world of Hinduism; introductory summaries, key points, discussion questions, and recommended reading lists at the end of each chapter; narrative summaries of the great epics and other renowned Hindu myths and lucid explanations of complex Indian philosophical teachings, including Sankhya and Kashmir Saivism; and a glossary, timeline, and pronunciation guide for an enhanced learning experience. This volume is an invaluable resource for students in need of an introduction to the key tenets and diverse practice of Hinduism, past and present.

The digital version listed above is also effective and easy to access for instructors and students.


“In this new edition Rodrigues extends his comprehensive approach to Hinduism’s long history and complex network of sacred stories, ritual practices, and philosophical thought that he constructed in the first edition. This new edition weaves case studies of communities, leaders, and perspectives that take the reader closer into the lived realities of Hindu life. For students and readers who want to know where to begin in their understanding of Hinduism, this is the book.” Paul B. Courtright, Emory University, USA

“This edition will provide a comprehensive and useful introduction, starting point, and reference to the Hindu tradition… . It is extremely well suited for the classroom.” Sushil Mittal, Professor of Hindu Studies, James Madison University, USA

“Introducing Hinduism is, quite simply, the best book of its kind. An instructor can, by being selective, use it quite effectively as an introductory text, but it has enough depth that it can be a springboard for more advanced examination of primary texts or anthropological case studies. It is comprehensive, thorough and engaging enough for the general reader to get an excellent grounding in the dauntingly complex web of Hindu traditions.” David McMahan, Franklin and Marshall College, USA

An Introduction to Hinduism

This book provides a much-needed thematic and historical introduction to Hinduism, the religion of the majority of people in India. Dr. Flood traces the development of Hindu traditions from ancient origins and the major deities to the modern world. Hinduism as both a global religion and a form of nationalism are discussed. Emphasis is given to the tantric traditions, which have been so influential; to Hindu ritual, more fundamental than belief or doctrine; and to Dravidian influences. It introduces some debates within contemporary scholarship.

Academically solid and once widely used, this book is in need of a new edition.

Studying Hinduism in Practice

Drawing on personal experiences of Hinduism on the ground, this book provides a reflective context within which religious practices can be understood and appreciated. It conveys the rich realities of the Hindu tradition and the academic approaches through which they are studied. The chapters cover a wide range of topics, including dance, music, performance, festival traditions, temples, myth, philosophy, women’s practices, and divine possession. The engaging narratives are accompanied by contextual discussions and advice on such topics as conducting fieldwork, colonialism, Hindu seasonal celebrations, understanding deities, and aesthetics in Hinduism. All the entries are accompanied by photographs and suggestions for further reading.

This is an excellent complement to any of the aforementioned textbooks on Hinduism, and best utilized in a semester-long course.

The Life of Hinduism

The Life of Hinduism brings together a series of essays—many recognized as classics in the field—that present Hinduism as a vibrant, truly “lived” religion. Celebrating the diversity for which Hinduism is known, this volume begins its journey in the “new India” of Bangalore, India’s Silicon Valley, where global connections and local traditions rub shoulders daily. Readers are then offered a glimpse into the multifaceted world of Hindu worship, life-cycle rites, festivals, performances, gurus, and castes. The book’s final sections deal with the Hinduism that is emerging in diasporic North America and with issues of identity that face Hindus in India and around the world: militancy versus tolerance and the struggle between owning one’s own religion and sharing it with others.

This is an excellent complement to any of the aforementioned textbooks on Hinduism, and best utilized in a semester-long course.

The Camphor Flame: Popular Hinduism and Society in India

Popular Hinduism is shaped, above all, by worship of a multitude of powerful divine beings — a superabundance indicated by the proverbial total of 330 million gods and goddesses. The fluid relationship between these beings and humans is a central theme of this rich and accessible study of popular Hinduism in the context of the society of contemporary India. Lucidly organized and skillfully written, The Camphor Flame brings clarity to an immensely complicated subject. C. J. Fuller combines ethnographic case studies with comparative anthropological analysis and draws on textual and historical scholarship as well. The book’s new afterword brings the study up-to-date by examining the relationship between popular Hinduism and contemporary Hindu nationalism.

Especially effective for anthropologically oriented approaches to the teaching of Hinduism.

Hinduism: A Very Short Introduction

Hinduism is practised by nearly eighty per cent of India’s population, and by some seventy million people outside India. In this Very Short Introduction, Kim Knott offers a succinct and authoritative overview of this major religion, and analyses the challenges facing it in the twenty-first century. She discusses key preoccupations of Hinduism such as the centrality of the Veda as religious texts, the role of Brahmins, gurus, and storytellers in the transmission of divine truths, and the cultural and moral importance of epics such as the Ramayana.

As part of the Very Short Introductions series, these is a slim volume (160 pages), best suited if used in tandem with other materials for semester-long courses.

Max Muller

German grammarian, Orientalist, mythographer, Friedrich Max Muller, better known simply as Max Muller was born on December 6th, 1823 to Wilhelm Muller and Adelheide Muller. Muller’s parents, who were already well known and respected themselves, gave birth to and raised him and his older sister, Augusta, in a small town called Dessau, in the capital of Duchy of Anhalt-Dessau, located today in Germany. Muller’s father was an esteemed poet, with one of his poems even being set to the very well known songs Die Schone Mullerin and Die Winterreise, also known as The Beautiful Miller’s Daughter and The Winter Journey, composed by Franz Schubert (New world Encyclopedia)  Muller’s mother, Adelheid, was the oldest daughter to one of the chief ministers of Anhalt-Dessau, Adolf von Basedow. Sadly, Adelheide would become a widow before Max and Augusta were old enough to comprehend their father’s passing. Even though their parents’ marriage only lasted six short years, the Muller children would have to learn to live with the grief of their father’s sudden passing as well as their emotionally unstable mother. As a result, they lived in the shadow of their father’s death, and their whole life became dominated by their mother’s sorrow (Bosch 11).

As a young child, Muller shared his father’s passion for poetry and music. However, in his later years, when Muller decided to expand his knowledge and attend Leipzig University, he chose a different pattern of thought and completed his PhD. in philosophy. Even though Muller achieved his doctorate of philosophy, he still expressed a love for language. After having a brief introduction to Greek and Latin, Muller changed his direction to more oriental focused languages, stating in his unfinished autobiography, “It seemed to me more and more to narrow a sphere” (Bosch 22). For this reason, Muller changed his path and started learning more about Arabic, Hebrew, Persian and the language he is most well known for, Sanskrit. Looking back on Muller’s career, it can be assumed that he became disinterested with the common languages of Greek and Latin because anyone could study those languages, so he changed his direction to more complex and mysterious foreign languages. Muller was even said to believe that the study of ancient Sanskrit would lead him back to the common origin of the Indo-European people (Bosch 8). Throughout Muller’s time at Leipzig University, he took many different philosophy and language classes. He met many prestigious instructors and professors, but the one who seems to influence many of Muller’s early studies is Hermann Brockhaus. Brockhaus started his career as a professor at Leipzig University the same year that Muller began his studies, and he became the first professor of Sanskrit to teach at the university (Bosch 22)

In 1844, only one year after completing his PhD., Muller followed German philosopher Friedrich Schelling to Berlin, where he began to translate the latter part of the Vedas known as the Upanisads. While rendering these divine texts, Muller continued to expand his knowledge by continuing his study of Sanskrit, this time under the direction of another well-known scholar Franz Bopp (Bosch 27). Being a real scholar, Muller, during his time in Berlin, also completed and published his first of many translations, translating a collection of Indian moral tales called The Hitopadesa to German, which he dedicated to one of his many influences, Hermann Brockhaus. Muller was known as a very intellectual man within the professional community, which meant he had to improve his knowledge continuously. As a result, in 1845, Muller packed up and moved to Paris, France, following a very well known Vedic intellectual, Eugene Burnouf (Bosch 29). Burnouf, whose main topic of the study was the very well known Vedas, would later go on to encourage Muller to translate the Rig Veda ultimately.

            After he settled down in Paris, Muller began to notice his expenses were becoming far too costly, and the money that his mother had collected up for him was running out fast. Living in a flat graciously provided to him by a friend named Baron von Hagedorn, Muller began to live as inexpensively as feasible, avoiding auditoriums and cafes since they were costly, especially since he was a foreigner. Muller, even at one point, wrote to his mother saying, “With 12000 francs a year one could live here nicely; I am afraid I shall hardly work my income up to that. I am, on the whole, well, though I must live most economically and avoid every expense that is not actually necessary” (Bosch 30). Although broke, and working long, exhausting hours at the Bibliotheque Nationale, Muller still found time to attend the courses of Eugene Burnouf, accompanied by two other Sanskrit students, Theodore Goldstucker and Rudolph Roth. Together, the three of them studied the hymns from the first book of the Rig Veda in small classes led by Professor Burnouf. (Bosch 30) Combined with Muller’s initiative as well as his knowledge, Burnouf encouraged Muller to translate the complete Rig Veda. Burnouf reminding him, “Don’t publish extracts from the commentary; if you do that, you will publish what is easy to read and leave out what is difficult” (Bosch 31). Even still, Muller faced the problem of finances after becoming discouraged with the uncooperative and unfavourable responses from the publishers themselves.

Still trying to find a publisher, Muller wrote to many different people in London, Germany, and Russia trying to find a noteworthy person to give him the funds needed to publish his book. Finally, after months of searching, Otto Boehtlingk, who happened to also study Sanskrit, became very interested in helping Muller out financially. After Muller had found out that the contract between the two scholars would benefit Boehtlingk more than himself, Muller made the conscious and hard choice to keep looking for a publisher. Taking a precarious chance, Muller decided to use up the last of his funds to travel to London, where he met with Horace Hayman Wilson, Boden Professor of Sanskrit studies and Librarian of the East India House (Bosch 34). Muller would later go on to dedicate his book entitled A History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature to Wilson, who he called “his pupil and friend” (see Muller’s dedication page). Wilson, who Muller had been corresponding with for quite some time, consented to help Muller out as much as he could, and their initial three-week project turned into a project of a lifetime, with Muller permanently moving to London.

Finally, after a long and unpleasant wait, Muller got his “Grand edition of the Rig Veda” published in 1849. Muller would go on to marry his dedicated wife, Georgina Muller-Grenfell, whose father deliberately banned the two from getting married years before (Bosch 14). In the years to come, Max would experience many more successes, including the birth of his son Wilhelm Max Muller, becoming a professor of comparative philology at Oxford University, and translating many more well known Sanskrit texts. Looking at a few of his later writings, one can genuinely see that Muller continued to expand his knowledge until the day he died. Muller dedicated a large portion of his life to translating a portion of five books out of a fifty-volume book series entitled Sacred Books of The East (New World Encyclopedia). Being the editor-in-chief, this series alone made Muller one of the most respected people in India, and to this day, Muller is still regarded as a friend of India (Stone 4).

 Throughout Muller’s life, he had many significant accomplishments, whether in his personal or professional life.  The trials and tribulations that he received in his early life compared to his accomplishments later in life can be seen as inspirational to many. Muller indeed had an intense devotion to his education and career, one could say that all of us strive to have something similar. Max Muller, sadly would never get to see the impact he left on religion and language, but the effects can unquestionably be seen throughout the religious studies community.


Bosch, L. van den. (2002). Friedrich Max Müller: a life devoted to the Humanities. Leiden: Brill.

“Müller, Friedrich Max. (1823–1900).” In The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, edited by Robert E. Jr. Buswell, and Donald S. Jr. Lopez. Princeton University Press, 2013.

Müller, Friedrich Max 1860 A History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature So Far as it Illustrates the Primitive Religion of the Brahmans by Max Muller, London: Williams and Norgate.

Müller, Friedrich Max, and Hermann Oldenberg (1891) Vedic Hymns: Hymns to the Maruts, Rudra, Vâyu, and Vâta, translated by F. Max Müller. Vol. 32. Oxford, Clarendon Press.

New World Encyclopedia contributors, “Max Müller,” New World Encyclopedia, // (accessed February 3, 2020).

Stone, Jon, ed, The Essential Max Müller: On language, mythology, and religion. Springer, 2016.

Related topics for further investigation

The Rig Veda

The Sacred Books of The East

A History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature

Vedic Hymns: Hymns to the Maruts, Rudra, Vâyu, and Vâta


Buddhist Mahayana Texts


Wilhelm Muller

Eugene Burnouf

Hermann Brockhaus

Otto Boehtlingk

Horace Hayman Wilson

Oxford University

Leipzig University

Comparative Philology

The Sanskrit Language

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

This article was written by Azlyn Olson (February 2020), who is solely responsible for its content.


Wendy Doniger is a prolific scholar specializing in the study of Sanskrit and Hinduism. Doniger has published 21 interpretive works, 9 translations, 16 edited volumes, contributed to 4 different encyclopedia articles, and written 374 articles on a range of topics primarily focusing on the Hindu tradition. Her interpretive works discuss topics ranging from sexuality to mythology, and approach each topic with a unique modern perspective. Doniger’s writing style appeals to a wide audience as she is responsible for writing three of the most popular Penguin classics which discuss Hinduism (Gigerenzer). Doniger continues to take revolutionary strides today not only in her interpretive works but also in her translations. She has been credited with transforming the way the Kama Sutra is understood with her latest translation (Smith). At a young age Doniger participated in some fieldwork in India as well as Russia but otherwise has remained a dedicated teacher at a series of different universities including Harvard University. Doniger remains one of the most important Indologists today due to her many contributions to the field.

            Wendy Doniger was born in New York City on November 20th 1940. She has an older brother, her senior by 10 years, named Jerry, and a younger brother, born 10 years after her, named Tony (Doniger 2019: 98). Her father was Eleazar Doniger, who later changed his name to Lester Lawrence Doniger upon his arrival at Ellis Island. Lester was born in Raczki, a small town which was sometimes in Russia, but was also on occasion part of Poland or Germany. Lester was born in the year 1909, however when exactly is unknown as the birth dates of Jewish children went unrecorded (Doniger 2019: 7). Lester was Jewish, but he was a Jewish man with little faith. He would make a point of obeying the Talmudic law, but this was done to preserve a sense of identity and a connection to his family (Doniger 2019: 27). Lester worked as a publisher, using an English degree he received at NYU night school (Doniger 2015: 7). This had a large impact on Doniger, Lester would read all of her early works and help Doniger improve them (Doniger 2015: 16).

Her mother Rita Roth, was born in New York City June 9, 1911. However, shortly after her birth Rita’s parents moved to Vienna where Rita spent most of her early years (Doniger 2019: 13). Rita was a staunch atheist, although her family in Vienna was Jewish (Doniger 2015: 7). It is Rita’s influence, however, which led Doniger to the study of Hinduism. It was Pete Seeger, a friend of Rita’s, who taught Doniger her first Sanskrit words (Doniger 2019: 48). Rita also supplied Doniger with many books, all seeming to relate to India or Hinduism in some way. At the young age of 6 Doniger was given copies of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, the latter speculated to be heavily influenced by Indian philosophy. At the age of 12 Doniger was gifted A Passage to India, the book which Doniger recounts as inspiring her to travel to India and to study India. Lastly, at the age of 13, Rita gave Doniger a copy of Aubry Menen’s satirical retelling of the Ramayana (Doniger 2015:2-3).

Wendy Doniger went to Great Neck Highschool. One of her classmates was Barbra Stoler Miller. Miller, like Doniger, went on to earn a PhD in Sanskrit (Doniger 2019: 68-69). Through much of highschool, Doniger followed her mother’s footsteps and acted as a political activist, advocating for the benefits of communism as a political system (Doniger 2015: 6-7). In highschool Doniger aspired to become a ballet dancer, and for a time studied with George Balanchine and Martha Graham. Doniger credits two high school teachers with helping her grow and become who she is today. First, Anita Lilenfeld, who directed Doniger towards the study of Sanskrit after she expressed interest in ancient languages. Second, Jack Fields, a teacher who helped foster Doniger’s writing as well as supported the subject matter which she chose to write about (Doniger 2015: 4-6).

After highschool Doniger attended Radcliffe College, the female counterpart to the all male Harvard College. Here at Radcliffe, Doniger began the study of Sanskrit at 17 years old. She studied under Daniel Henry Holmes Ingalls, who taught her Sanskrit and Indian culture, including Indian history, literature, and religion. Doniger went on to write her PhD dissertation on the Puranas and the myths of Siva found in them. This dissertation later became her first book titled Siva: The Erotic Ascetic. Doniger graduated from Radcliffe summa cum laude and received the Jonathan Fay Prize(Doniger 2015:11-12).

After graduating from Radcliffe, Doniger left to live in India for a year. She was sent by Ingalls, her supervisor,  to work alongside Rajendra Chandra Hazra, the world’s leading expert on the Puranas at the time. Hazra quickly informed Doniger that he would not teach women, and this was the end of Doniger’s official studies of Sanskrit in India. Instead, Doniger took the six thousand dollars awarded to her from the American Institute of Indian Studies and used the money to travel throughout India for a year (Doniger 2015: 12-13).

Upon Donigers return to North America from India she married an old highschool sweetheart named O’Flaherty. Due to this, a bulk of her work is published under the title Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty (Doniger 2019: 118). Doniger then moved to Oxford with her then husband and stayed there from 1965 to 1975. She wrote her DPhil dissertation with Robin Zaehner and wrote her topic on the concept of heresy in Hinduism. Her dissertation later became the second book she published titled The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology (Doniger 2015:14-15). Much of this book was written in 1971 when Lester, Doniger’s father, passed away and Michael, Doniger’s son, was born only months later. Due to these events Doniger experienced the combined effects of depression at her father’s passing and postpartum depression following the birth of Michael. As a result of this Doniger was admitted to Waneford Hospital where she was given access to a typewriter and used her work on Hindu concepts of evil to work through her own depression (Doniger 2019: 120).

From 1968 until 1975 Doniger would lecture at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. In 1975, Doniger left her tenured lectureship and followed her husband to Berkeley. Doniger cites this instance as the point in which both her marriage and career began to fall apart, it was in the year 1978 that Doniger quit teaching in Berkeley and moved to Chicago, taking her son with her and leaving her husband (Doniger 2019:120). She has remained in Chicago from 1978 up to the present, teaching a variety of classes in the history of religions department and acting as chair for the same department. Doniger had a close relationship with Mircea Eliade, he was the only official reader for her dissertation. Eliade went on to publish two essays from it in History of Religions, a journal which he had founded in 1961. It is notable that Doniger is now the senior editor of the History of Religions. She also had an appointment in the Committee on Social Thought, a group of scholars all specialists in their field within the humanities (Doniger 2015: 19).

            Doniger’s impact on Indology is not limited to her many lectureship positions at prestigious schools. The many books and articles which Doniger has published have each had resounding effects on the field. One of Doniger’s most recent books titled The Hindus: An Alternative History received extensive media attention due to its negative reception in India. The book was published in 2010 and highlighted the aspects of Hinduism which were less popular. Some of the topics discussed in the book include more humorous tales of gods, less pious versions of folk tales, and protests against different civil issues such as the mistreatment of women. Shortly after the book’s publication a right wing Hindu group demanded that the book cease publication and that the remaining copies be destroyed (Doniger 2015:22-23). Four years later Penguin India agreed to cease publication of The Hindus: An Alternative History. There is an Indian law which allows any book deemed offensive to Hindus to be taken as a criminal offence (Joshua). It was using this specific Indian law that Doniger’s book was eventually forced to withdraw from the Indian market. The decision to pulp The Hindus: An Alternative History was still met with some resistance. Different prominent Indian figures such as Arundhati Roy spoke out against this, criticizing Penguin India for backing down so easily (Buncombe).

            Outside of the books previously mentioned, Doniger has published and translated some works that have had resounding impacts on the field of Indology. Some of her most popular interpretive works include The Implied Spider: Politics and Theology in Myth, a book which engages with a variety of religions while simultaneously analyzing patterns and themes throughout, Women, Androgynes, and Other Mythical Beasts, which focuses on the interaction between myth and everyday Hindu lifeand Other Peoples’ Myths: The Cave of Echoes, which aims to demonstrate the universal art of storytelling.Among her most popular translations there are the Kama Sutra and the Laws of Manu. Each of these works garnered significant respect in the ways in which they brought new light to old Sanskrit texts.

Bibliography and Recommended Reading


Doniger, Wendy (2019) The Donigers of Great Neck: a Mythologized Memoir. Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press.

Doniger, Wendy (2010) The Implied Spider: Politics and Theology in Myth. New York: Columbia University Press.

Doniger, Wendy (2009) The Hindus: An Alternative History. New York: Penguin.

Doniger, Wendy, and Brian Smith (1991) The Laws of Manu. London: Penguin UK.

O’Flaherty, Wendy Doniger (1995) Other Peoples’ Myths: The Cave of Echoes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

O’Flaherty, Wendy Doniger (1982) Women, Androgynes, and Other Mythical Beasts. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

O’Flaherty, Wendy Doniger (1981) Siva: The Erotic Ascetic. London: Oxford University Press.

O’Flaherty, Wendy Doniger (1976) The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology. Berkeley: University of California Press.


Doniger, Wendy (2015) “A Life of Learning” ACLS Occasional Paper. 72: 1-24. Accessed January 28, 2020.

O’Flaherty, Wendy Doniger (1980) “Inside and outside the mouth of God: the boundary between myth and reality.” Daedalus: 93-125.

O’Flaherty, Wendy Doniger (1971) “The origin of heresy in Hindu mythology.” History of Religions 10, no. 4: 271-333.

Shinn, Larry D. (1981) “Precision or Reductionism: Whence Myth Studies?” Religious Studies 17, no. 3 : 369–76.

News Sources

Arora, Kim (2014) “Penguin to destroy copies of Wendy Doniger’s book ‘The Hindus’” The Times of India. Accessed January 28, 2020.

Buncombe, Andrew (2014) “Arundhati Roy criticises Penguin for pulping The Hindus: An Alternative History” Independant. Accessed January 28, 2020.

Gigerernzer, Thalia (2009) :Q&A with Wendy Doniger, the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor and author of The Hindus” UChicago News. Accessed January 28, 2020.

Joshua, Anita (2014) “Penguin withdraws book on Hinduism” The Hindu. Accessed January 28, 2020.

Rothstein, Edward (2005) “The Scholar Who Irked the Hindu Puritans.” The New York Times. Accessed January 29, 2020.

Smith, Dinitia (2002) “A New Kama Sutra Without Victorian Veils.” The New York Times, Accessed January 29, 2020.

Related Topics

  • Mircea Eliade
  • Kama Sutra
  • Laws of Manu
  • Siva
  • Sanskrit
  • Puranas
  • Robin Zaehner
  • Ramayana

Related Websites

This article was written by Stella Y. MacMahon (Spring 2020), who is entirely responsible for its content.

Mircea Eliade

Mircea Eliade (1907-1986) was a widely respected intellectual whose prolific writings embraced a multitude of genres, from creative novels and short stories written in his native Romanian, to the scholarly works for which he is most renowned as an eminent historian of religions, orientalist, and interpreter of myths and symbols (Allen and Doeing vii). His writing style appealed to a wide audience beyond the halls of academia to embrace readers interested in the arts, literary criticism, journalism, travel or simply a good story line (Beane and Doty xvii). Indeed, Eliade enjoyed two productive careers throughout his seventy-nine years. In Romania prior to World War II, he was lauded as a major literary figure while his scholarly work went relatively unnoticed. In the West after World War II, he was hailed as an important historian and phenomenologist of religions while his Romanian literary works remained unknown, untranslated from Romanian and unpublished (Allen 545).

Mircea Eliade was born in Bucharest on March 9, 1907. His father, Captain Gheorghe Eliade, was a career army officer and was often away from home. Mircea’s mother, Joana Stoenescu, was left at home to raise three children, Mircea being the middle child. He was not an easy child to control, preferring to roam the streets rather than attend school which he found boring. However, with the help of a few of his respected teachers who took an interest in their wayward student, he managed to get through his secondary school studies and to enrol in the University of Bucharest in 1925 in the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy (Ricketts 10). His favorite professor, Nae Ionescu, guided Eliade’s progress through university to a master’s degree in Philosophy in 1928 with a dissertation on Italian Philosophy.

Given his past, one might assume that Mircea Eliade had been an unproductive student as well as an undisciplined one. This was far from being the case: during his formative years in Bucharest, Eliade had been honing skills and interests which would serve him well in his professional life. By far the most important skills he attained were those of reading and writing. Blessed with educated parents who wanted the best for their children, Eliade had learned to read at an early age (Ricketts 12). He read widely but primarily materials that stimulated his imagination and interests. His mother willingly supplied her son with reading material, having discovered that a book kept her wayward son at home, off the streets and out of mischief (Ricketts 20). He did not confine himself to reading only Romanian works. While still a teenager, Eliade learned Italian in order to read the works of G. Papini and V. Macchioro and English to read Max Muller and Frazer. He also studied Persian and Hebrew (Allen and Doeing xiii). Eliade was curious about everything and took pains to satisfy that curiosity through the printed word.

Not only was he a voracious reader in his youth, he was also a prolific writer. At age fourteen, he began a diary, Jurnalul, which he maintained throughout his life and from which much of his creative writing flowed (Allen and Doeing xiii).  He was the main character in many of his stories, which described events that had actually happened to him with perhaps a few added fictional details. While still a youth, he wrote articles for newspapers and magazines, articles which demonstrate his early interests in entomology, orientalism, folklore, alchemy and travel (Allen and Doeing xiii). His first autobiographical novel, Romanul adolescentului miop, was written in 1925, followed by a sequel, Gaudeamus, in 1928. Neither of these novels were published and are now almost completely lost (Allen and Doeing xiv).

Another trait that was to serve Eliade well was a genuine interest in meeting people and learning from them. He had no qualms about deliberately getting in touch with people he admired. On his first trip to Italy in 1927, for example, he visited G. Papini in Florence and V. Macchioro in Naples (Allen and Doeing xiv). He possessed a certain brashness and genuine friendliness that opened doors for him. It seemed that he was destined to do something great with his life and he himself was convinced of it from an early age.

In 1928, Eliade, already steeped in the folklore of Romania and the iconography of the Eastern Orthodox Church, decided that he might profit from experiencing life in India. Some scholars suggest that the multi-media atmosphere of the Eastern Church prepared Eliade for his experiences with India (Rennie 2640). Eliade himself, however, admits that his real introduction to the “other” began with India (Beane and Doty xviii). He had been reading Surendranath Dasgupta’s A History of Indian Philosophy when he decided to write to the professor to inquire if he might study Sanskrit and Indian philosophy under him at the University of Calcutta. At the same time, he wrote to the Maharajah of Kassimbazar to acquire funds for his proposed stay in India. Both men agreed to sponsor him and he set out on the journey on November 20, 1928. The journey, via Egypt and present-day Sri Lanka, took him to Madras where he met Dr. Dasgupta and on December 26, he arrived in Calcutta, taking up residence in a boarding house for foreign students (Ricketts 346).

Eliade’s studies at the University of Calcutta began successfully but old habits die hard and his studies seemed increasingly interrupted by the pleasures of student life and by the many new sights and sensations that India had to offer. In January 1930, Dr. Dasgupta took his Romanian student into his own home where Mircea at last made every effort to live like an Indian (Ricketts 347).   Studying Sanskrit and Indian philosophy by day, Eliade nevertheless continued to write novels in his native Romanian by night. Most of Eliade’s fiction featuring Indian themes was written and published while he was in the country or shortly after returning to Romania (Calinescu 559). This ideal arrangement, however, was to end abruptly when Dr. Dasgupta discovered that his daughter Maitreyi was romantically involved with Mircea. Immediately he was banished from the professor’s home and from the university (Ricketts 347).

Eliade had already decided that his doctoral dissertation would be a comparative history of the techniques of Yoga. With this in mind, he set out to learn all he could from Swami Sivananda at the asrama at Rishikesh, Himalaya (Allen and Doeing xv). Many of the results of his six-month crash course in Yoga techniques and philosophy can be inferred from Eliade’s mystical short story “The Secret of Dr. Honigberger.” It is a riveting story, a mixture of fact and fiction, through which Eliade is able to relate his personal experiences with yogic practices on an emotional level. He admits freely that he could not find scientific words to describe the same experience (Ricketts 1186).

Eliade was called back to Romania for compulsory military service in January of 1932, but the lessons he learned in India, along with the subject matter of his doctoral dissertation, set his subsequent career path through academia as an expert of the Orient and oriental philosophy (Azim 1035). He believed that he had discovered great truths while in India. He had discovered a spiritual dimension in Indian life in Samkhya Yoga and Tantrism that he had never encountered before. He had discovered insights into symbolism and what he called “cosmic religion” among peasants that applied worldwide (Ricketts 363).

In 1933, he successfully defended his Ph.D. with a dissertation in Yoga and was appointed Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Letters at the University of Bucharest where he taught courses on India and Hindu philosophy (Allen and Doeing xvi). His theories on the significance of symbols, rites and myths became part of the growing discipline of the history of religions. In 1933, his novel Maitreyi, based on his ill-fated love affair, was a huge success in Romania (Ricketts 537). Indeed, many of Eliade’s writings are autobiographical and are based on the extensive journals that he kept throughout his life.

Eliade could well have stayed at the University of Bucharest for his entire academic career, had peace prevailed. However, he was sent to London as part of the Romanian diplomatic corps, at the outbreak of World War II. He was transferred to Portugal in 1941 and remained there as a cultural attaché until 1945. With a communist government now in control of Romania, Eliade found himself in exile and looking for a university teaching position. In 1945 through his friendship with Georges Dumezil, a scholar of comparative mythology, Eliade secured a position as a professor at the Sorbonne in Paris where he taught courses in comparative religion until 1956 (Rennie 266).

The years between 1945 and 1956 proved to be a very productive time for Eliade. In addition to his teaching, he became a member of the Asiatic Society and was a regular attendee and presenter at the International Congresses of Orientalists and the International Congresses of the History of Religions during those years (Allen and Doeing xviii). It was in Paris that Eliade wrote many of his best known works; English translation would follow. The Myth of the Eternal Return (1949) was Eliade’s first major work in his new position at the Sorbonne. In it he discusses “fundamental characteristics of archaic societies” and “nostalgia for a periodical return to the mythical time of the beginning of things” (Allen and Doeing 16). Images and Symbols followed in 1952. It is a collection of case studies analyzing the structures of different symbols. It was highly controversial containing some of Eliade’s boldest statements about the history of religions (Allen and Doeing 22). The Sacred and the Profane (1956), which expresses Eliade’s view of the sacred and the profane as two planes of being in the world, became very popular with the general public, just as Eliade had intended from the outset. It was to become his best known work, encompassing a wide range of sacred phenomena, space, time, myth, symbolism, cosmic religion, etc. (Allen and Doeing 24).

In the autumn of 1956, Eliade was invited by Joachin Wach (1898-1955), the chair of the History of Religions department at the University of Chicago, to deliver the prestigious Haskell Lectures. After Wach’s sudden death the following year, Eliade accepted a position as a regular professor and Chairman of the History of Religions department at the University of Chicago, a position which he held, publishing and continuing to write his Romanian fiction, until his own death in 1986 (Rennie 266).

At the time of his death, Mircea Eliade was one of the most renowned and revered men in his discipline. He received many accolades from his peers including the compendium Myths and Symbols: Studies in Honor of Mircea Eliade in honor of his sixtieth birthday (Popescu 87). He was awarded many honorary titles at universities throughout the world (Allen and Doeing xx). However, change is inevitable if progress is to be made, and a new generation of young scholars was waiting to question the findings of the old. Mircea Eliade was to come under severe scrutiny and criticism for his position on a variety of religious topics. Young anthropologists, in particular, who had spent many months in the field living with their subject tribe, noting every nuance of daily life, rite and ceremony, complained that Eliade was not quite so thorough (Saliba 3). These new disciplines laid more emphasis on fieldwork and objective reporting, whereas Eliade was comfortable with generalizations and subjectivity and he freely admitted that to be the case.

John Saliba was one such anthropologist who viewed the religious man in a totally different light from Eliade’s (Saliba 2). Saliba felt that Eliade’s view of the religious man appealed more to the theologian or the literature student than to the anthropologist who had never actually encountered such a man in the field (Saliba 141). In Saliba’s opinion, Eliade had given up on the search for the true origins of religion, the holy grail of the discipline (Saliba 103) and  most of Eliade’s conclusions he found to be  “highly questionable” and “sweeping generalizations” or “overstating his case” (Saliba 140).

Saliba was not alone in his criticism. Thomas Altizer also held that Eliade’s methods were  “mystical” and “romantic” when they should have been “rational” and “scientific” (Allen 548). He too saw Eliade’s methodology as “uncritical, arbitrary and subjective” (Allen 545). It is not surprising that Eliade’s prolific writings became the focus for a whole new generation of Religious Studies’ scholars bent on reassessing the theories of past generations and adding to the discipline’s position in academia.

Eliade died in 1986, leaving generations of students with a wealth of materials, often difficult to understand and internalize, requiring thoughtful interpretation. He has left the world much food for scholarly critical discussion as well as a wealth of literature written in his native Romanian that warrants translation and appreciation by the Western World (Ricketts 1216). His legacy lives on in his writings, in the accolades of his peers, and in the thought-provoking ideas that flowed from a lifetime of study.


Allen, Douglas (1988) “Eliade and History.” The Journal of Religion 68:545-65.

Allen, Douglas, and Dennis Doeing (1980)  Mircea Eliade: An Annotated Bibliography. New York: Garland Publishing Inc.

Azim, Firdaus (1996) “Review of Bengal Nights: A Novel by Mircea Eliade.” The Journal of Asian Studies 55:1035-37.

Barth, Christine (2013) “In illo tempore, at the Center of the World: Mircea Eliade and Religious Studies’ Concepts of Time and Space.” Historical Social Research 38:59-75.

Beane, Wendell C., and William G. Doty (1975) Myths, Rites and Symbols: A Mircea Eliade Reader. New York: Harper and Row.

Calinescu, Matei (1978) “The Disguises of Miracle: Notes on Mircea Eliade’s Fiction.” World Literature Today 52:558-64.

Eliade, Mircea (1992) Mystic Stories: The Sacred and the Profane, edited by Kurt W Treptow. New York: Columbia University Press.

Popescu, Mircea (1971) “Eliade and Folklore.” In Myths and Symbols: Studies in Honor of Mircea Eliade, edited by Joseph M. Kitagawa and Charles H. Long, 81-90. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Rennie, Bryan (2013) “Mircea Eliade’s Understanding of Religion and Eastern Christian Thought.” Russian History 40:264-80.

Ricketts, Mac Linscott (1988) Mircea Eliade: The Romanian Roots, 1907-1945. New York: Columbia University Press.

Saliba, John A. (1976) ‘Homo Religiosus’ in Mircea Eliade: An Anthropological Evaluation. Leiden: E. J. Brill.

Sarbacker, Stuart Ray (2002) “Enstasis and Ecstasis: A Critical Appraisal of Eliade on Yoga and Shamanism.” Journal for the Study of Religion 15:21-37.

Wasserstrom, Steven M. (1990) Religion after Religion: Gersham Scholem, Mircea Eliade, and Henry Corbin at Eranos. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Nae Ionescue


  1. Papini
  2. Macchioro

Max Muller



Eastern Orthodox Church


Samkhya Yoga


Haskell lectures




Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic



This article was written by Mary E. Anderson (Fall 2018), who is entirely responsible for its content.

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