It would be appropriate if the Conference on the Study of Religions of India and Georgetown University’s Berkley Center on Religion are declared hate groups and the people associated with them are placed on a blacklist and permanently banned from visiting India for attempting to create social strife.
The conference to attack Hinduism that was scheduled to be hosted by the Department of Christian Studies at the University of Madras in July has been cancelled after the expose in this column caused a massive public outcry. The earlier piece, USCIRF against India: prejudice and hate in the time of coronavirus, had pointed out the links between various groups such as USCIRF, Georgetown University, University of California at Davis, Butler University, Elon University, St. Michael’s College in Toronto, and professors in the Department of Christian Studies of the University of Madras, and explained how they worked in tandem to further certain foreign goals of identified interests to undermine Hinduism in their often open project of converting India’s population to a faith of the millennial theology.
People like Dr Subramanian Swamy took note of the report and acted. Organisers of the conference now claim they cancelled it due to the disruptions related to coronavirus. The conference webpage hosted by Butler University states, “As indicated above, the conference had already been postponed due to coronavirus.”
This claim is laughable as the email from James Ponniah of Madras University’s Department of Christian Studies announcing the cancellation of the conference is dated 14 May 2020 (see image), four days after the article appeared on these pages and long after the organisers had been pushed on the defensive by the ensuing public anger. And long after the virus struck the world.
The webpage also tries to rebut the previous article using claims never made in the article. It then uses carefully constructed sentences in order to make it appear that the conference was an independent effort that had nothing to do with the Department of Christian Studies at the University of Madras. Or that there has never been any connection between the taxpayer funded Christian theocratic group called the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) and the organisers of the conference. These claims are disingenuous as the university’s faculty clearly made arrangements to use university resources available to them in order to host this patently anti-Hindu conference and further the goals of USCIRF, which includes active proselytism around the world. Besides, Chad Bauman, who is a key organiser of the conference, has co-authored at least one work with James Ponniah in which they attack Hinduism and has published at least one paper in which he admits to advising American foreign policy specialists “on how to intervene in (and/or not intervene) productively” in support of “religious freedom” [otherwise called frank proselytism,] and “religious minorities in India.” The cynical claim in this paper that not only not extending reservations to Muslims and Christians amounts to discrimination by Hindus, but granting special privileges to them too amounts to discrimination as it would provide fodder to Hindus to claim that minorities were appeased, has become a cornerstone of American foreign policy. He has also been involved with Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, which works with USCIRF Commissioners. It may be mentioned that numerous proselytisers were given red carpet receptions in India during the Sonia Gandhi decade of untrammelled power (2004-14). When some of these were withdrawn by the current government, it became the target of a vicious attack that has brought in fundamentalist and conversion lobbies in several countries on the common platform of demonizing Hindus. As though Hindus were those who killed Christians in Iraq, Libya and Syria or minorities (including themselves) in Pakistan.
The same webpage makes the claim that the conference is not anti-Hindu and invites “those interested to browse the Tables of Content of the volumes CSRI conferences have produced over the years, or (even better) to read the chapters themselves” and then provides a link to material that cannot be accessed without a payment. There is no need to pay the organisers to judge them, as that can be done for free, based, for example, on the contents of the “Conference on Religions of India” held in 2018 at Davis.
The main organisers of that conference—who also happen to be involved with the 2020 conference—are Brian Pennington, Chad Bauman, Reid Locklin and Archana Little (who slickly markets herself as Archana Venkatesan, thus obfuscating her actual connection). Several presentations are listed in the official schedule of the conference organised by them. Every single presentation launched a vitriolic attack against Hinduism as can be seen from their titles.
Those titles were: “‘Tell Us Your Name and Do as We Say!’: Concealing and Revealing in the Making of Family Gods in Tamil Nadu”; “Divine Deception or Priestly Artifice: Its Rationale and Justification in Śrī Svasthānīvrata”; “When Spirit Possession is Deception: Reassessing Religious Tradition as Modern Industry”; “Dissimulation in Early American Yoga”; “Celebrity, Scandal and the Modern Godmen of India”; “Beware the Charlatan: Sant and Asant in Niṣkuḷānanda Svāmī’s Cosaṭh Padī”; “Desire, Deception, and Sinister Sovereigns”; “Shadows of Inauthenticity: History and Hagiography in Vīraśaiva/Liṅgāyat Origin Stories”; “Arts of Artifice: Transformations of the Hindu Divine”; “Two Stories of the Origins of the Pāṇḍavas: Yudhiṣṭira’s Authenticity, Legitimacy and Deceit”; “Nikṛtyā Nikṛtiṃ Hanyāt: Defending Deception in the Mahābhārata Commentarial Tradition”; “Will the Real Mirabai Please Stand Up?: Competing Claims to Authenticity and Truth”; “Accommodating Esotercism or Hiding a Secret in Plain Sight: The Social Place of the Śākta Tantras in the Medieval Deccan”; “#Mood: When the Goddess Becomes a Woman on Social Media”; “Devotion to Deceiving Gods or a Dispassionate Being? Objects of Praise and Disdain in Hemacandra’s Hymns”, “Necessary Subterfuge?: ‘Hinduism’ and Pedagogy”; “Fictive History, Ignorance, and the Constitution of American Hindu Communities”; “Reform in Fragments: An Essay on Orthodoxy”; and “(Mis)Translating Self-Realization: Strategic Misreading in an Advaita Commentarial Tradition”.
In complete contrast, a course on Indian Christianity offered by one of the main conference organizers, Reid Locklin at Wabash College states that the course objective is “to acquire and demonstrate sympathetic familiarity with the history of Christianity in India” and prescribes books from a Christian religious bookstore named “Crux Books”, establishing Locklin’s credentials as an anti-Hindu zealot. Locklin also left no doubts about his intentions in an interview to the Christian group Collegeville Institute when he stated about his project named “Advaita Mission, Christian Mission”, “[My] project aspires to be interfaith, I suppose, but it is still a very Christian project: I am a Christian theologian who studies Hindu traditions for the purposes of a renewal of Christian theologies.”
It would be appropriate if the Conference on the Study of Religions of India and Georgetown University’s Berkley Center on Religion are declared hate groups and the people associated with them are placed on a blacklist and permanently banned from visiting India for attempting to create social strife. The wounds created by the toxic policies of Sonia Gandhi are still festering, in part because of the kid glove treatment that those responsible have got from this government, including Sonia Gandhi and her extended family, details of whose wealth remain a secret hidden in government records in multiple countries that could easily be made public, once there is the political will to do so in the leafy and luxurious confines of Lutyens Delhi.
Arvind Kumar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org