A few years ago, I wrote on this blog about controversial yoga program for elementary school students in California. Some parents complained that the program subtly indoctrinated their kids into Hinduism. The school district responded that its yoga program was just a stretching exercise, without religious content–which response led Hindu organizations to complain the the school had co-opted their religious tradition and transformed it into something else. It is a fascinating story that reveals how difficult it is to negotiate religion in the public schools.
A forthcoming book from the University of North Carolina Press, Debating Yoga and Mindfulness in Public Schools: Reforming Secular Education or Reestablishing Religion, discusses the controversy. The author is Indiana University religious studies professor Candy Gunther Brown. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:
Yoga and mindfulness activities, with roots in Asian traditions such as Hinduism or Buddhism, have been brought into growing numbers of public schools since the 1970s. While they are commonly assumed to be secular educational tools, Candy Gunther Brown asks whether religion is truly left out of the equation in the context of public-school curricula. An expert witness in four legal challenges, Brown scrutinized unpublished trial records, informant interviews, and legal precedents, as well as insider documents, some revealing promoters of “Vedic victory” or “stealth Buddhism” for public-school children. The legal challenges are fruitful cases for Brown’s analysis of the concepts of religious and secular.
While notions of what makes something religious or secular are crucial to those who study religion, they have special significance in the realm of public and legal norms. They affect how people experience their lives, raise their children, and navigate educational systems. The question of religion in public education, Brown shows, is no longer a matter of jurisprudence focused largely on the establishment of a Protestant Bible or nonsectarian prayer. Instead, it now reflects an increasingly diverse American religious landscape. Reconceptualizing secularization as transparency and religious voluntarism, Brown argues for an opt-in model for public-school programs.
In May, Stanford University Press will release “Aurangzeb: The Life and Legacy of India’s Most Controversial King,” by Audrey Truschke (Rutgers University). The publisher’s description follows:
The Mughal emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir is one of the most hated men in Indian history. Widely reviled as a religious fanatic who sought to violently oppress Hindus, he is even blamed by some for setting into motion conflicts that would result in the creation of a separate Muslim state in South Asia. In her lively overview of his life and influence, Audrey Truschke offers a clear-eyed perspective on the public debate over Aurangzeb and makes the case for why his often-maligned legacy deserves to be reassessed.
Aurangzeb was arguably the most powerful and wealthiest ruler of his day. His nearly 50-year reign (1658–1707) had a profound influence on the political landscape of early modern India, and his legacy—real and imagined—continues to loom large in India and Pakistan today. Truschke evaluates Aurangzeb not by modern standards but according to the traditions and values of his own time, painting a picture of Aurangzeb as a complex figure whose relationship to Islam was dynamic, strategic, and sometimes contradictory. This book invites students of South Asian history and religion into the world of the Mughal Empire, framing the contemporary debate on Aurangzeb’s impact and legacy in accessible and engaging terms.
In June, the Oxford University Press released “Filing Religion: State, Hinduism, and Courts of Law,” edited by Daniela Berti (National Centre for Scientific Research), Gilles Tarabout (National Centre for Scientific Research), and Raphaël Voix (National Centre for Scientific Research). The publisher’s description follows:
The Indian Constitution posits a separation between a secular domain that the state can regulate and a religious one in which it should not interfere. However, defining the separation between the two has proved contentious: the state is involved in various ways in the direct administration of many religious institutions; and courts are regularly asked to decide on rights linked to religious functions and bodies. Such decisions contribute to (re)defining religious categories and practices.
This edited volume aims at exploring how apparently technical legalistic action taking place in courts of law significantly shapes the place Hinduism occupies in Indian and Nepalese societies, perhaps even more so than the ideology of any political party. Thus, this volume does not deal so much with politics of secularism in general, but with how courts deal in practice with Hinduism. The approach developed in this volume is resolutely historical and anthropological. It considers law as part of social, religious, and political dynamics while relying on in-depth ethnography and archival research.
In October, Columbia University Press will release A Dharma Reader: Classical Indian Law, translated and edited by Patrick Olivelle (University of Texas at Austin). The publisher’s description follows:
Whether defined by family, lineage, caste, professional or religious association, village, or region, India’s diverse groups did settle on an abstract concept of law in classical times. How did they reach this consensus? Was it based on religious grounds or a transcendent source of knowledge? Did it depend on time and place? And what apparatus did communities develop to ensure justice was done, verdicts were fair, and the guilty were punished?
Addressing these questions and more, A Dharma Reader traces the definition, epistemology, procedure, and process of Indian law from the third century B.C.E. to the middle ages. Its breadth captures the centuries-long struggle by Indian thinkers to theorize law in a multiethnic and pluralist society. The volume includes new and accessible translations of key texts, notes that explain the significance and chronology of selections, and a comprehensive introduction that summarizes the development of various disciplines in intellectual-historical terms. It reconstructs the principal disputes of a given discipline, which not only clarifies the arguments but also relays the dynamism of the fight. For those seeking a richer understanding of the political and intellectual origins of a major twenty-first-century power, along with unique insight into the legal interactions among its many groups, this book offers conceptual detail, historical precision, and expository illumination unlike any other volume.