Gavin Dennis Flood (born 1954) is a distinguished British scholar of comparative religion. His research interests span South Asian traditions, and he has specialised in Shaivism and phenomenology. He has worked as a professor in Great Britain for many years, also at the University of Oxford from 2008 to 2015, until he became a professor at Yale-NUS College in Singapore, from January 2016. Yale-NUS is a collaboration between Yale University and the National University of Singapore.
Dr Flood has written very well received academic books on Hinduism. In his Introduction to Hinduism he writes:
The origins of Hinduism lay in the ancient cultures of the Indus valley civilization and Aryan culture. . . . the Dravidian Indus valley culture and the Aryan vedic [both] contribute to the formation of Hindu traditions . . . Hindu civilization can be seen as a product of the complex interaction between the Dravidian and Aryan cultural spheres. (1996, 50)
In his introduction to The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism (2003), the editor Gavin Flood writes that "What is Hinduism?" is closely related to "Who speaks for Hinduism?" and "Who defines Hinduism?" (p. 2)
Answer: It is a matter of identity and of social power among other things:
Towards the end of the eighteenth century "Hindu" or "Hindoo" was adopted by the British to refer to the people of "Hindustan," the area of northwest South Asia, who were not Muslim, Sikh, Christian, or Jain, and the "ism" was added to "Hindu" in the early nineteenth century. But many scholars have since argued that the ascription of "Hinduism" to the multiplicity of South Asian traditions was an exercise in power and . . . an expression of the West's desire for domination. Still others have argued on the foundation of Western, philological scholarship that the term "Hinduism" is a misnomer, an attempt to unify into a single religion what in fact is a number of distinct religions. Yet others argue that an inappropriate understanding of "religion" when it comes to the diversity of South Asian cultural forms entails assumptions that belief has primacy over practice. (p. 3)
We can trace the history of the fairly recent term "Hindu" and "Hinduism" from its initial coinage by those outside of the Hindu fold to its appropriation as a term of self-description by "Hindus" themselves. (p, 4)
The Unity of Root Ideas, Ritual, and Narrative
Discourse (váda), ritual (yajna, púja), and narrative (itihása) work together in a religion. The text of this section is rooted in Flood's introduction, with some changes. Aiming at clarity, I have contracted parts of his texts to get some messages through. Besides, his "discourse" in the following survey is replaced with "root ideas", which are basic, underlying or carrying ideas, and which should be fit enough.
1. Root Ideas
Discourse or reflection and philosophical commentary developed from an early date in Hinduism. The ancient texts of the Veda are regarded as revelation, and there is theological and ritual parts in the Brahmanas and Upanishads. Various traditions of textual exegesis and philosophy were developed from around the fifth century BCE, in that Sanskrit commentaries were added to sacred scripture and to aphorisms (sutras, condensed teaching extracts) of particular schools. Sciences such as astronomy and medicine were made. The six orthodox systems of Indian philosophy or "critical worldviews" were articulated in aphorisms and commentaries aimed at explaining their meaning. And in such ways and others, folks sought to get to grips with carrying ideas, or basic ideas.
The unity provided by textual exegesis in commentary is not a unity of content but a unity of genre, a common reference point in the Veda, and a unity of shared metaphysical concerns.
Other systems outside of the orthodox schools include Buddhist and Jain traditions.
2. Ritual, ceremonies
Ritual forms have originated, some have died out, and others have persisted with great tenacity and resistance to change over time. Vedic ritual still persists. Further, there has been erosion of tradition with modernity, and detraditionalization has been accompanied by a retraditionalization too. (p. 6)
The temple as a home for a god developed around 700 CE.
High-caste deities and temples generally accept only vegetarian offerings.
A consciousness or sacred power can be transferred temporarily to a paraded festival icon and also be placed in human beings.
There is a close connection between ritual and myth. (p. 7)
3. Savoury, engrossing stories
Dr James A. Kirk's hope:
In following the ways people naturally learn we may find an effective strategy for an introduction to Hinduism. . . . We can grow into Hinduism rather easily and delightfully if we start where children start. That is what this book is intended to make possible. . . . [T]here are samples of the variety, the humor, the pride and enthusiasm which is the heart of Indian literature and the fun of any story. The philosophy and more mature lessons are, in these stories too, as assumptions, implications, background, illustrations and underlying purposes. The commentary is designed to lift up part of this (1972, viii)
The US psychologist Jerome Bruner says about the same as Kirk in The Culture of Education, and adds to it:
What is a narrative? . . . A narrative involves a sequence of events. The sequence carries the meaning . . . But not every sequence of events is worth recounting. Narrative is discourse, and the prime rule of discourse is that there be a reason for it that distinguishes it from silence. Narrative is justified or warranted by . . . it tells about something unexpected, or something that one's auditor has reason to doubt. The "point" of the narrative is to resolve the unexpected, to settle the auditor's doubt, or in some manner to redress or explicate the "imbalance" that prompted the telling of the story in the first place. A story, then, has two sides to it: a sequence of events, and an implied evaluation of the events recounted. (Bruner 1996, 121) - [More]
Flood-based once again
The vast collections of "ancient stories," the Puránas and the epics reflect the rise of the righteousness (dharma) theme (exemplifying some root ideas) and others.
Local versions and interpretations of the epic stories are recited in villages and enacted in rituals.
The fabulous myths of the Puránas can be seen as attempts to bring diversity under a single, overarching and controlling system between ca. 300–700 CE.
Long before the influence of Sanskrit culture, Tamil culture was already rich in such as poetry on love and war and devotion and lots more.
Philology and textual studies
The terms "Hinduism" and "Hindu" are here to stay and can be meaningfully used. (p. 8)
The general thrust of scholarship goes against a wish to make assertions about a unified Hinduism stretching into the ancient past. But [this book can] make implicit claims about the centrality and importance of textual traditions and their exegesis that have led to the modern religion.
Texts are also social documents and indices of the communities who produced them.
If we take philology to be the "study of civilization based on its texts", then clearly philology is indispensable in an inquiry into the past. . . . One of the central activities of philology is the establishing of the critical edition as the foundation upon which other kinds of investigation can take place. But the establishing of such a critical text raises questions about authenticity - is the oldest version necessarily the more "authentic"? (p. 10-11)
Is the correction of grammatical forms legitimate? And so on.
That texts require commentary is an indication of their openness and nontransparent nature. Fit "contextualizing practice" can relate chosen texts to the practices and texts of a culture and a tradition, one or more of them. (p. 11)
It is the general contention of the volume that anthropological study and critical reading of tradition in South Asia needs to understand the textual tradition established, however tentatively, through philology, and conversely that the living traditions accessed through anthropology can throw light on textual history. (p. 12)
Bruner, Jerome. 1996. The Culture of Education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Flood, Gavin. 1996. Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Flood, Gavin, ed. 2003. The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
Flood, Gavin. 2004. The Ascetic Self: Subjectivity, Memory and Tradition. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Flood, Gavin. 2006. The Tantric Body: The Secret Tradition of Hindu Religion. London: I.B. Tauris.
Kirk, James A. 1972. Stories of the Hindus: An Introduction throiugh Texts and Interpretation. London: Collier-Macmillan Ltd.
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