Although I’d like to praise this work, as I largely liked Nicholson’s analyses and enjoyed reading some of them, I’m compelled by my own academic standards to give Unifying Hinduism a negative review. First, let me just say that for the average reader that this book will possibly satisfy interest in examining interesting parts about Hindu philosophy that can be parsed through this text, but its largely with opinion pieces presented with an academic veneer. I read this book in conjunction with Oxford’s handbook of Indian philosophy in the hopes of better understanding the ancient Indian theology and its differences with Modern Hinduism since it was argued by Western academia that modern Hinduism can’t be called anything but a modern invention in reaction to oppressors. Nevertheless, I’ve since concluded these people don’t even bother following the clear references in the text, or understanding the legacy of inclusivity within Hinduism, or look into India’s history for a fuller understanding, or well . . . anything resembling what is typical in academia. Religious Studies is known as the least academic of all disciplines since it doesn’t use actual history, archaeology, or any type of credible research; the Oxford handbook is rife with paranoid conspiracy theories taken as fact, as an example. Religious Studies seems to try to purport some privileged understanding, but they seem to hold no real knowledge of Western analytical philosophy and seem to just be glorified translators with mistaken perceptions on their knowledge.
I was initially discouraged because reading the arguments of Edward Said, and the fact Indology takes them seriously, was very disconcerting. Nicholson prefaces the book by detailing how an entire school of Indology is based on Edward Said’s views on indigenous people. Said seems to be considered a pillar of Indology, and his assertion is that indigenous people were formed into their way of thinking by imperialism and therefore have no right to any opinion regarding their own ancient texts. Said argues none of an indigenous person’s views are credible, because they’ve been brought up as a result of imperialism. Allusions to the idea that indigenous people were merely savages before Western colonization abound as implications for this reasoning. However, Edward Said’s entire argument is a fallacy of Circular Reasoning; he asserts the premise with the conclusion. That is, he argues that indigenous people are products of Western imperialism and therefore can be dismissed because their opinions are products of Western imperialism. This is very flawed reasoning and the fact it’s a respected opinion in Indology seemed asinine to me since I could easily pick apart the flaws using analytical philosophy. In fact, this is even more bizarre than at first glance, since Indology seems to parade analytical philosophy in many of its texts . . . but don’t even have a basic understanding of it. There’s simply no logical or reasonable basis to respect Edward Said’s assertions; he’s homogenizing billions of people based on their ethnic background and literally devaluing the very idea they have any say based on their race. Moreover, the premise is false; it was the literal opposite of what Said espoused. Schools from Ireland to India were shut down or demolished, people were repeatedly starved, and mass genocides in internment camps due to cholera or starvation or both ensued under imperialism. As a direct result, religious fanaticism increased to a fever-pitch in response to such brutality. Pre-modern India, with mathematicians like Aryabhata and Brahmagupta, were more focused on logical reasoning than the sadly illiterate India that followed after British colonial rule. Nevertheless, I thought it couldn’t be comprised of all what Nicholson had to say, so I bought the book and eagerly began reading.
Some arguments are just teeming with arrogance. In one such argument in favor of a unified Hinduism, Nicholson argues in support of a Hindu identity and contends the assertions of his Indologist colleague Paul Hacker who tries to assert some bizarre generalization that a billion Hindus feel inferior and his even more bizarre re-contextualization of Modern Hinduism and pre-modern Hinduism into some neo-terms that have no basis. I held a favorable disposition for Nicholson and an unfavorable one for Hacker, I readily admit this and I found Nicholson provided a better argument . . . but by the end, Nicholson diverges into ad hominem and implies Hacker has no right to an opinion because he’s a Christian. I sort of just stared at that as it took me a moment to process that a Western scholar could be so blatantly bigoted and provide such a ridiculous error in reasoning. Nicholson attempts to argue a middle approach that rejects what he sees as Hacker’s presumable extremism. He doesn’t seem to understand that he’s using the logical fallacy of ad hominem against Hacker. He’s also committing the middle-ground fallacy. He doesn’t seem to understand that he’s given ample cause to dismiss this entire branch of Western academia as worthless; if even his fellow Indologists are considered to have valueless opinions, based on a bigoted notion against their religious beliefs, then how on earth is one suppose to make any progress in this discipline? What does progress even look like? What viewpoints can even be called worthwhile? Also, Indology admits it makes random guesses and will never actually progress with anything meaningful. What even is this? How can an entire department of academia lack so much in its credibility?
Sadly, this isn’t the first time Nicholson has done this. Andrew Nicholson, the translator of Siva Song and author of this book Unifying Hinduism, seems to lack the critical thinking faculties of the much-loved Analytical Philosophy that his colleagues repeatedly harp about when he adamantly defends his thesis advisor. He made a response to Rajiv Malhotra, claiming on twitter that Malhotra had plagiarized him, yet he never took Malhotra to court. In his criticism of Rajiv Malhotra, he actually argues that Malhotra has no right to an opinion because he doesn’t understand Sanskrit; Nicholson proceeds to completely destroy his own argument against Malhotra’s assertions that Western academia is making spurious assertions against Hinduism by attributing his own personal guesses on ancient Hinduism to the influence of his thesis advisor Pollock. Why is this self-refuting? Because it means that both Nicholson and Pollock’s ideas have absolutely nothing to do with Hinduism and are their own personal opinions on the religion. If Pollock’s ideas are original, which I don’t dispute, then he isn’t actually doing research since that means he isn’t trying to uncover an ancient philosophy of a religion analogous to an archaeologist, but rather just making things up without sufficient evidence. Evidently, Malhotra has no right to an opinion because he isn’t a translator and Hacker has no right to an opinion because he is a Christian.
In what could have been an interesting final analysis, Nicholson consistently asserts his confusion about why Islam wasn’t integrated into Hinduism and tries to use the Rama re-tellings of replacing Asuras with terms identifying Muslims as proof of Hindu bigotry. He poorly asserts that arguments about Islam being nihilistic is proof Hindus were ignorant since it was the same assertion against Buddhists. He seems entirely unaware of the genocide of approximately 80 million people that Islam committed in Northwestern India, he seems to fail to understand that the re-tellings are parallels to the religion of Zoroastrianism which also forbids the usage of interest rates and believes in sinfulness, and it’s made abundantly clear that he has absolutely no understanding of Islamic theology at all when trying to figure out why Hinduism never tried to adapt it. He consistently asserts Hindu bigotry, but makes no attempt at actually comparing the religions. How hard would it have been to simply seek advice and information from a fellow colleague within his own Religious Studies department? Failing that, how hard would it have been to google search a local Mosque or Islamic center and go ask about Islam there? How hard would it have been to simply research Islamic theology through google or go on the multitude of Islam learning websites to gain a better understanding in order to compare and contrast the religions? Yet, he doesn’t even bother to put even that much effort into this chapter that supposedly tries to compare the religions. This is just laziness on his part and it really repudiates his credibility. Even a ten minute google search of the basic facets of Islam would have answered this question; Islamic jurisprudence is specifically designed to prevent such attempts since any outsider’s views on the theology is considered worthless unless they follow Sharia, Jihad against non-believers of the Abrahamic God is a religious doctrine among the four forms of Jihad that a Muslim must commit to, and any Hindu that did compare them would have been brutally murdered similar to the massacres that made the Hindu Kush (Hindu Murder/Hindu Slaughter) mountains that the Islamic invaders named in their triumphant massacre of approximately 80 million people. Something these Indologists evidently refuse to even engage within any discussion. Never mind the silent destruction and cultural genocide of Zoroastrianism in Iran, Zoroastrianists and Jews of Iran are still persecuted to this very day in modern-day Iran.
He harps about the Hindu extremism, yet seems to be utterly ignorant of the fact India took in Hindu and Sikh refugees from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Kashmir that were being persecuted with kidnappings, mass murder, and organized rape campaigns by Muslims in all three countries and rebellious Indian State. Evidently, Pakistan is happy to protest against extrajudicial killings by their police on Pashtun groups that support Al Qaeda and the Taliban, but don’t concern themselves with the sprees of murder, rape, and torture of Hindu and Sikh minorities that have all but left for India for their own safety. Nor does Nicholson seem to think over Intra-Abrahamic violence that could also pose a substantial problem to his own confusion of why Hinduism never adapted to anything of Islam’s theology, he seems blissfully unaware of the outright genocide of Christian Iraqis by ISIS. Both of these events are contemporary and happened only a couple of years ago as of this writing. This shouldn’t be perceived as an attempt to deflect Hindutva or Indian army human rights crimes. The deaths of journalists throughout India and the Indian army’s rapes and murders should absolutely be held accountable with punishable jail time, but these horrible crimes cannot be the only issues highlighted regarding controversial topics for the sake of intellectual honesty. I don’t support the anti-intellectual stupidity of Hindutva or would ever condone what unsavory people in the Indian army have done to civilians, but the refugee crises that Islamic militia groups caused cannot be ignored. Hundreds of thousands of Hindu and Sikh men, women, and children were being gang raped and/or murdered by Islamist groups in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. This is not limited to just them as victims; reports of Christian minorities being gang raped and mass murdered have also abounded but gain less notoriety in the West for whatever reason; evidently, forced conversions in safer countries like India of Hindus who respect Christians is more important to US Christian missionaries than helping their fellow Christians who suffer in the absolute worst offenses to human rights and human dignity under Sharia (Islamic Divine Law) in three separate countries. Not surprising, since helping their fellow Christians would cause them great personal risk and would actually be an act of compassion; instead of their forced conversions and unvarnished hatred of Hindus who respect their beliefs.
He and fellow Indologists argue about theories on how to unify Hinduism or why it’s impossible to unify Hinduism, but after reading several chapters of this book and the Oxford Handbook of Indian Philosophy, I no longer believe they have honest intentions. In fact, I suspect this entire academic discipline never had any honest intentions and never focused on explicit texts or social customs. It should come as no surprise considering its imperialistic background. Nicholson admits that various forms of belief were accepted under the inclusiveness of Ancient India, he uses one example of Rama’s belief and how people who believed in Rama were free to practice belief when placed under as a component of Vishnu, but he actually seems to argue that this doesn’t prove any unified form of Hinduism. After that, he goes on the most vapid of arguments saying it doesn’t prove inclusiveness just because Hindus were inclusive by nature… What is even being argued anymore? He tries to argue the word Hindu not being used constitutes there being no unified Hinduism, but that’s an argument of semantics. Sanatana Dharma could easily qualify and we’d know what was being referred to. Overall, the fact they try to ignore the inclusiveness or denigrate Hinduism as not unified when not even looking at any historical accounts, denigrating the inclusivity they themselves find in their Sanskrit translations, and the fact they pick and choose such as when Nicholson ignores the parts of the Bhagavad Gita (in which Krishna says all ways, even those that don’t believe in him are acceptable and can lead to Moksha (self-liberation) so long as someone is selfless and helps others) in order to argue that Samkhya isn’t atheistic when their previous research asserts it had theistic and atheistic followers and that by the time of medieval translations the entirety of India had recognized Samkhya as atheistic school of Vedic theology.
It seems peculiar to me how so many Indologists can translate texts in which deities of various Gitas explain repeatedly that all other Gods and Goddesses are unified with them and that Brahman is an aspect of them; but somehow, even despite Nicholson himself translating the Ishvara Gita which has 2 whole chapters devoted to Shiva explaining how all the other deities and him are unified, they somehow conclude there is no unified Hinduism . . . despite the explicit, blatant, and repeated assertions on this unity in the texts themselves. In Siva Song (Ishvara Gita), Great Goddess Song (Devi Gita), and the Song of God (Bhagavad Gita), they all detail this unity with Brahman and the voluminous amount of other deities. If they had argued denominational differences, that would have been valid based on the evidence, but instead they argue different religions even when religions like Rama grow out of Vishnu. It no longer makes any sense. Hinduism has been based on inclusiveness, the belief in Brahman, and even acceptance of Atheism since ancient times; in fact, myself and even the average Westerner who’ve asked questions or been curious about researching Hinduism come to believe – based on Hindu theology – that it’s just separate interpretations and denominations of a unified belief and that people can take whatever interpretation they like from the Upanishads, Gitas, Vedas, and Mahabharata to form our own interpretation. The philosophical aspects of selfless service or doing good based on intrinsic desire in the Upanishads is just as paramount in understanding Hinduism as a philosophy too. Truth seeking and selflessness are paramount teachings. That’s how my family has seen it, how I’ve seen it, how the average US citizen who takes an interest sees it, and even how historically pre-modern India saw itself – the last one is according to Nicholson himself. The belief that they’re different religions seems largely unfounded and the Oxford Handbook of Indian Philosophy repeatedly references a paranoid conspiracy theory of an Aryan invasion, doesn’t use actual history or archaeology, and doesn’t present any credible evidence for its assertions beyond guesswork; Nicholson’s book also follows suit in this meaningless and trite guesswork presented as “academic” but lacking any actual substance or evidence-based reasoning. Therefore, this book by Nicholson, and possibly everything Indology does from Pollock’s racist and Nazi-friendly assertions (since the Aryan Race Theory is a debunked Western conspiracy only asserted by Neo-Nazis outside of Indology) to Doinger and Larson’s poorly reasoned and poorly argued books, and essentially this entire attempt by translators to act in the most pretentious manner possible should be rebuked and identified as the poorly reasoned trash that it is.
None of these people display any firm understanding of Analytical Philosophy, Nicholson’s book repeatedly uses several logical fallacies, his reasoning of Hindu bigotry largely lacks any historical or reasoned basis and he clearly never bothered to look into Islam before positing possibilities of why Hinduism never adapted it (in fact, I provided a more valid reasoning in this one review then he did in his entire chapter about the subject in his book), and like with the Oxford handbook, Larson’s books, and the actual texts of Hindu theology; I’m simply given more reasons to believe Hinduism was a unified theology and that Nicholson and his ilk are simply acting in bad faith since they never bring any valid evidence for their assertions. In fact, Nicholson’s very book gives ample evidence to this; from his ridiculous ad hominems, to the fact that he pointed out a medieval Marathi text that proves awareness of Islam was very well known at the time of its conquest in India. However, this example of the Marathi texts only gives me further credence to doubt the veracity and validity of Indology as an academic discipline since an entire department claiming to do religious studies was too lazy or too stupid to look into other language translations of a country with approximately 3000 different languages to verify any of their guesswork on evidence. These Indologists instead chose to make assertions strictly based on their fabricated ideas of Sanskrit teachings with no attempt at evidence-based research at all.
I can only conclude that the assertions of this book, and frankly all of Indology, are a worthless failure. These people are translators and they don’t have any special or privileged knowledge. Their books are nothing more than wild speculation and are of no value to understanding Hinduism / Sanatana Dharma.
2 thoughts on “Review of Unifying Hinduism by Andrew Nicholson: Errors in Reasoning”
who is the author
i enjoyed nicholsons youtube talk on ssmkya but the vrry emphasis on emphasis on theism and atheism is a western concernas an indisn in practical terms the atheistic jainism and buddhism are never considered outsude sanatana tradition
my nephew is married to a vietnamese and he happily accepts buddha and she hinduism it would be akin to a methodist marrying an episcopalian
Yeah, they don’t understand that at all.