Marko Geslani

“Cold War Orientalism and Model Minoritization in U.S. Hindu Studies”

Marko Geslani Speaker Photo SORAAAD 2019My presentation situates the theme of translation in the context of U.S. Hindu studies during the latter decades of the twentieth century, mobilizing two formative and related discourses, Cold War Orientalism and liberal multiculturalism, in the interests of racial critique. I center a reading of Diana Eck’s well-known 1982 text, Darśan, one of the most widely read pedagogic sources in the Hindu studies classroom in the last thirty years. Attending to the trope of translation in this source helps to politicize various discursive trajectories within Hindu studies over the last generation. Darśan deploys a number of textual metaphors for the reading of lived practice, a move that simultaneously supersedes the text-bound aura of the traditional Orientalist, while retaining the textualist’s interpretive authority for an ambitious internationalist project of cultural translation. Drawing on Christina Klein’s conception of Cold War Orientalism, this specific mode of American Orientalism can be shown to be congruent with Cold War era intentions to integrate postcolonial Asian nations into the American capitalist order, a project that operated especially through a sentimental ethos of “people-to-people” contact, deployed through various cultural projects. A further emergent property of such texts appears when we consider the diasporic terrain of the university in the 1980s and 90s, when the South Asian (especially Indian) American diaspora began to register in significant numbers in the classroom. For this postcolonial audience, the ethos of cultural translation in Eck’s work doubles as a mode of assimilation. Read against Jodi Melamed’s critique of the liberal and neoliberal university, a text like Darśan operates as a script for the performance of acceptable multicultural difference in the post-civil rights era.

These conceptual resources from Asian American and critical university studies allow us to situate U.S. Hindu studies within its proper political terrain, at a historical juncture that witnessed the rise of postcolonial studies in the academy, Hindu nationalism in India, and the growth of the South Asian American diaspora. Applying such resources, which have remained largely alien to Hindu studies, to a project of critical self-reflection may help diagnose the recent chord of post-Saidian retrenchment in Hindu studies, in service of a full-scale decolonization of religious studies. They do so by returning us to the crucial interstice of scholastic textuality and cultural (i.e. anthropological) representation that animates Orientalism itself.