2002 Indic Colloquium
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Tara Sethia

Contact Information




History Department
California State Polytechnic University
3801 West Temple Avenue
Pomona, CA 91768



(909) 869 3868





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Background Information

Tara Sethia is Professor of History at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. She received her Ph.D. in History from UCLA. Her course offerings include History of India, South Asia, Gandhi, Women in Asia and World History. Her research and publications focus on the impact of colonialism on the economic development of Modern India. She is particularly interested in issues pertaining to education about India, and has served as the Principle Investigator and Project Director of a National Endowment for the Humanities funded multi-year program on India and China for school teachers. She is currently editing the proceedings of the international conference, "Celebrating Mahavira: The Lessons of Ahimsa and Anekanta for Contemporary Life," organized by her and hosted at her campus in January 2002..


Representation of Jainism and Buddhism in Indian History Textbooks

Read the entire paper in PDF format (72K, 21 pp.)

Textbooks play a critical role in the process of learning as "authentic" sources for college students, who sometimes know nothing or little about the subject matter. This is particularly true of college students in the United States enrolling in survey courses such as history of India. One of the topics students are most interested in is Indian religions. In this paper, I focus on the representation of Jainism and Buddhism in the Indian history textbooks. The textbooks I have reviewed in this paper are written by internationally known scholars of India from Britain, Germany, India and the United States, and are published by reputable publishers. Some of these titles have been reprinted more than once. The books, in order of their original publication dates, are

Based on my analysis, it appears that for the most part, the authors' understanding of these religions in the context of Indian history is dictated by the assumption that religion is matter of antiquity and, therefore, does not deserve any discussion in their historical narrative of subsequent time periods. Within the context of the ancient’ period, their coverage is often superficial, impertinent and, at times, not grounded in facts but based on assumptions. That is, in their discussion, they are more occupied with the description of physical appearances rather than principles; more concerned with the exotic and the strange customs without regard to the understanding of key concepts they embody. There is also a tendency to present these as uniform systems disregarding the diversity that characterizes each of the two religions. In what is said about Jainism and Buddhism in these textbooks, and also how it is said there, I see a variety of problems that can broadly be categorized as follows: 1) inadequate coverage, 2) misconception, 3) flawed comparisons, 4) misrepresen-tation, and 5) neo-orientalism.

Given such problems, the real essence and wisdom of these traditions is lost and their significance is diminished, and at times distorted in the history textbooks reviewed in this paper.

Read the entire paper in PDF format (72K, 21 pp.)