Against Dharma Dissent in the Ancient Indian Sciences of Sex and Politics Wendy Doniger

The Terry Lectures Series
Publication date:
20 Mar 2018
Yale University Press
248 pages: 210 x 140 x 22mm
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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

Finalist for the 2019 PROSE awards, Theology & Religious Studies category

“A groundbreaking book! Wendy Doniger subverts accepted notions of dharma using the prism of the Arthaśāstra and Kāmasūtra. 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