Against Dharma


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Dissent in the Ancient Indian Sciences of Sex and Politics

Wendy Doniger

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An esteemed scholar of Hinduism presents a groundbreaking interpretation of ancient Indian texts and their historic influence on subversive resistance

Ancient Hindu texts speak of the three aims of human life: dharma,artha, and kama. Translated, these might be called religion, politics, and pleasure, and each is held to be an essential requirement of a full life. Balance among the three is a goal not always met, however, and dharma has historically taken precedence over the other two qualities in Hindu life. Here, historian of religions Wendy Doniger offers a spirited and close reading of ancient Indian writings, unpacking a long but unrecognized history of opposition against dharma.

Doniger argues that scientific disciplines (shastras) have offered lively and continuous criticism of dharma, or religion, over many centuries. She chronicles the tradition of veiled subversion, uncovers connections to key moments of resistance and voices of dissent throughout Indian history, and offers insights into the Indian theocracy’s subversion of science by religion today.

Wendy Doniger is the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions, University of Chicago Divinity School, and author of more than forty books, including The Hindus: An Alternative History

“A groundbreaking book! Wendy Doniger subverts accepted notions of dharma using the prism of the Arthasastra and Kamasutra. This is not simply 'original'; nothing like this has been done before.”—Patrick Olivelle, author of King, Governance, and Law in Ancient India

“No one (as far as I know) has attempted a synthetic analysis of the sort Wendy Doniger has undertaken. It is in keeping with her courageous tackling of big topics in the Hindu tradition.”—Richard Lariviere, Field Museum of Natural History

“Wendy Doniger does it again! A book I hate to love because it challenges my own work and demands that we all reconsider the resistance to self-righteous moralizing offered by the ancient Indian treatises on sex and politics.”—Donald R. Davis, Jr., author of The Spirit of Hindu Law

“With ease and wit, Doniger builds her novel case that the Kamasutra and the Arthashastra dissented from the status quo of their day.”—Publishers Weekly

“Fascinating in its command of Indian politics and religion . . . For Doniger fans, another keeper.”—Sandra Collins, Library Journal

“Doniger returns to what she does best—an iconoclastic, psychoanalytically inflected reading of ancient Hindu texts to highlight dissent and subversion within them.”—Pinky Hota, Reading Religion

"The detailed comparative study in Against Dharma is at once so promising and so fruitful that one wonders why it has not been attempted more often. . . . Against Dharma bristles with insights about the trivargapradhanasastra?i and the traditions of skepticism and materialism in ancient India."—Mark McClish, Journal of the American Oriental Society

“While of particular interest to Sanskritists, this volume—originally delivered as the Terry Lectures at Yale—is accessible to nonspecialists, framed in terms of urgent contemporary politics, and would make a useful, even provocative, addition to a variety of comparative law courses.”—Spencer Dew, Religious Studies Review

Finalist for the 2019 PROSE awards, Theology & Religious Studies category
ISBN: 9780300216196
Publication Date: March 20, 2018
248 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
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