Hinduism and Modernity

Article excerpt

Hinduism and Modernity. By David Smith. Oxford: Blackwell, 2003. Pp. 250. £501 $62.95; paperback £15.99 / $26.95.

Hinduism and Modernity by David Smith seeks to explore how the seemingly disparate forces of Hinduism and modernity have interacted with one another. Smith demonstrates his pedagogical abilities through an insightful array of metaphors borrowed from popular Hinduism that he uses to illustrate various themes within Hinduism and modernity. This approach serves him particularly well in part 1 of the book when he is defining Hinduism and modernity and tracing the broad, historical themes in each movement. For example, his comparison of the great, rolling Jagannath from the great temple at Puri with the great, rolling juggernaut of modernity and its commitment to neverending progress is nothing less than brilliant.

In part 2 the author explores the history of India's discovery of modernism and the European discovery of Hinduism. In this part a knowledgeable reader will be surprised by the glaring omissions in Smith's historical survey. Major Indian Christian figures (such as Brahmabandhav Upadhyay), as well as a whole array of Western missionaries who played such a vital role in stimulating the Bengali Renaissance, are all curiously neglected. The role of the printing press and the emergence of vernacular, prose writings by Hindu reformers in mediating modernism and Hinduism are likewise omitted.

In part 3 the author chooses three themes for comparison: gender issues in modernity and Hinduism, idolatry in East and West, and the notion of the self in the modern West and the Hindu East. …