Nicholson's Untruths

American  scholar Andrew Nicholson has accused noted author Rajiv Malhotra of  plagiarising from his book Unifying  Hinduism in his Indra’s  Net.  Malhotra responds.

The  hard evidence that cannot be ignored

Given  the media’s mediocrity in blindly repeating what other journalists  say (without reading the evidence), I want to list the hard evidence  from Indra’s  Net and let intelligent readers decide for themselves. Everyone I have  showed this to, including academic scholars with no familiarity or  interest in the specific subject matter, have told me that if one has  this many references to Nicholson it would be ridiculous to shout  ‘plagiarism’.

Note  that most of the reference to his work are in chapter 8 between pages  157-170. The references after page 300 are located in the end notes.

At  most they could claim that in a few instances the quotation marks  were omitted, but there is no doubt that the author is referring to  Nicholson’s work.

Indra’s  Net has about 450 end notes, of which about 350 are references to various  works by others. There is no intention to hide others’ works at  all, in fact, quite the contrary: I am often chided for over-doing  references. Nicholson cites far fewer references in any of his works.

Also,  less than 3% of Indra’s Net references pertain to Nicholson,  because he is relevant only to minor portions of the book. Hence, he  is hardly supplying anything major.

Analysis  of the facts

My  conclusion is that I have pumped his ego by giving him too much  importance. His book came into the limelight only after Indra’s  Net referred to it. Although it had been out for a few years,  only after Indra’s Net his publisher put out his interviews  and promoted it heavily. Rather than being grateful, he made a u-turn  once I explained that my next book is a critique of his PhD mentor,  Sheldon Pollock. His MA was done under Wendy Doniger.

He  is extremely critical of ‘Hindutva’, etc. He gladly accepted  another award given by Uberoi Foundation, a very explicitly Hindutva  organization. Ehen it comes to duping Hindus and taking their money,  he has done well as a ‘good cop’. His ‘good cop’ facade that  had fooled me has now come off under the false pretext of being a  victim.

An  arrogant allegation of distortion

Another  allegation he makes is that where I disagree with his stance, it  amounts to a distortion – as though I cannot give my position and  must always agree with him. The specific instance is where he says  Vijnanabhikshu was unifying Hinduism. I cite him with agreement. Then  I add that Swami Vivekananda was also doing the same thing. Nicholson  is angry that I say this of Vivekananda when he meant to say this  only for Vijnanabhikshu. My statement on Vivekananda is my own and I  am entitled to it.

My  mistake in citing his substandard work

I  decided to do as new edition of Indra’s Net in which I will  remove all references to Nicholson. After reflecting further on his  work, I realized that many Indian writers have said the same thing he  says, and in greater detail. I am better off citing them instead of  him. Also, his notion of ‘unity’ is a synthetic unity whereas  mine is integral unity: these are my original concepts and explained  in my book, Being Different. So rather than using an  unreliable and contradictory source like Nicholson, I will bypass him  entirely and explain the deeper integral unity of Hinduism based on  Indian sources.

Further  De-colonizing myself

Why  do we like to cite western sources so much? Partly it’s a colonial  habit to assume that the westerner must be more reliable. But in so  many cases one finds the opposite: the westerners are better at  language, style, appearance of polished presentation. But the work is  superficial and often hides a bias underneath. Nevertheless, more  publishers and media outlets get interested if a work cites many  western sources. We must become self-conscious of this colonial mind  set and change it.

There  is another reason as well: When I go searching for research works on  some specific topic, it is the western works that are predominantly  available electronically and in local libraries. Often one has to  hunt down an Indian work for weeks or months to get it. Often one  does not even know about good Indian works because Indians are not as  effective at promoting their works.

But  with the help of Indian scholars like Vishal Agarwal and Shrinivas  Tilak, I have been able to cite Indian works that had appeared long  before Nicholson’s, and that are far deeper and more comprehensive  than his work. In fact, it’s a shame that he ignores them or gives  lip service when in fact he ought to cite them as heavily as he  demands of me.

List  of references to Nicholson

Following  is the list of references to Nicholson, each item preceded by the  page number in Indra’s Net.

Indra’s  Net, 15:
In  his excellent study of the pre-colonial coherence of Hinduism, titled Unifying Hinduism, Andrew Nicholson explains that prior to the  medieval period there was no single way to define what ‘astika’  meant.

Indra’s  Net, 65:
Hacker’s  suppression of this material compromised his integrity as an  objective scholar, as it misled readers into thinking his writings on  Hinduism were objective evaluations when in fact they were, in Andrew  Nicholson’s words, the work of a ‘Christian polemicist’.i

Indra’s  Net, 157:
I  agree with Nicholson that:

Modern  historiographers of Indian philosophy have largely been blind to the  numerous intertextually related definitions of the terms astika and  nastika. This oversight is further evidence of our own credulity and  overreliance on a handful of texts for our understanding of a complex  situation in the history of ideas.ii

Indra’s  Net, 158:
[Without  quotation marks but see the end note where reference is given to Nicholson]: Later still, these six got further consolidated  with a shared commitment to Vedic authority, by which they  differentiated themselves from Jains and Buddhists.iii

Indra’s  Net, 159-60:
Andrew  Nicholson places the growing consolidation of Hindu ‘big tent’  unity in roughly the fourteenth to sixteenth century CE period.iv He shows  that the categories of astika/nastika were fluid previously, but in  this period they became solidified and hardened. He sees the medieval  consolidators of contemporary Hinduism as analogous to European  doxographers. A doxography is a compilation of multiple systems of  thought which are examined for their interrelationships, and  sometimes new classifications are proposed. It is like a survey of  various philosophies from a particular point of view that is looking  for relationships across various systems. Often the bias of the  doxographer is expressed by the set of schools that he includes and  the ones he excludes, and the criteria by which he ranks them.v

Nicholson  goes into great detail to show that the writings and classifications  by rival Indian schools changed during the medieval period, with many  cross-borrowings and new alliances.viHe argues  that this Indian genre, akin to European doxography, served as the  means to cross-fertilize among traditions, thereby making each  tradition more accessible to others.

Indra’s Net,  161-62:
Nicholson’s view  is that the medieval scholars such as Vijnanabhikshu became the  pathway for Western Indology. Nicholson writes how a new kind of  unified view of Hinduism emerged:

Between  the twelfth and sixteenth centuries CE, certain thinkers began to  treat as a single whole the diverse philosophical teachings of the  Upanishads, epics, Puranas, and the schools known retrospectively as  the ‘six systems’ (darsana) of mainstream Hindu philosophy. The  Indian and European thinkers in the nineteenth century who developed  the term ‘Hinduism’ under the pressure of the new explanatory  category of ‘world religions’ were influenced by these earlier  philosophers and doxographers, primarily Vedantins, who had their own  reasons for arguing the unity of Indian philosophical traditions.vii

Indra’s Net,  169-70:
Andrew  Nicholson, whose work on the coherence and antiquity of Hinduism is  the positive exception to many of these trends in scholarship,  further explains this problem as follows:

In  the west, our understanding of Indian philosophical schools (as the  word darsana is generally translated) has been colored by our own  history. The default model for the relationship between these schools  is often unwittingly based on models derived from Western religious  history: the hostilities between the three religions of the Book, the  modern relationship of the various Christian denominations, or even  the relation between orthodox and heterodox sects in early  Christianity.viii

Nicholson  is also concerned about making sure that Indian thinkers are studied  as individuals and given their due, and not simply lumped together  into frozen ‘schools’:

Once  the theory of the British invention of almost everything in modern  India has been properly debunked, we can look realistically at the  ways that such thinkers creatively appropriated some Indian  traditions and rejected others. This is not the only reason to study  premodern India, but it is one of the most important. Sanskrit  intellectual traditions should be approached not as a rarefied sphere  of discourse hovering above everyday life and historical time but,  rather, as a human practice arising in the messy and contingent  economic, social, and political worlds that these intellectuals  occupied.ix

Nicholson  suggests that other models are available for Westerners to appreciate  the distinction of each thinker, such as the one used in science.  Different scientific disciplines operate in separate domains. They  discover in parallel, and they continually try to reconcile their  differences. But they are not mutual enemies. In the same manner, we  can say that different Indian systems have focused on different  domains: Mimamsa focuses on exegesis of Vedic ritual injunctions;  Vedanta on the nature of Brahman; Nyaya on logical analysis;  Vaisheshika on ontology; Yoga on the embodied human potential; and so  on. Nicholson writes:

One  of the important differences between the analytical terms darsana and  vidya is that ‘sciences’ are not inherently at odds in the way  that ‘philosophical schools’ are often depicted. Instead, they  can represent different, and often complementary, branches of  knowledge, much in the way that modern biology, chemistry, and  physics are understood as complementary.x

Indra’s  Net, 316:
Nicholson  points out the huge borrowings made by Christianity: ‘Does this  apply equally to the Christian theology's illicit borrowing of the  theological concepts of the immortal soul and the infinity of God  from Greek philosophy? Such concepts are not found in Christianity in  its pure, Semitic, pre-Hellenized form. The widespread tendency of  ”claiming for one's own what really belongs to another” is a  primary means of change, growth, and innovation in all philosophical  and theological traditions, not just in Hinduism.’ (p. 188)

Indra’s  Net, 325:
Nicholson,  2010, p. 179: "Believer” and “infidel”, though tempting,  are also too fraught with Western connotations of right theological  opinion (and the latter too closely associated with medieval  struggles between Christians and Muslims). The terms “affirmer”  and “denier” are better, since these are neutral with regard to  the question of right opinion versus right practice. An affirmer  (astika) might be one who “affirms the value of ritual”  (Medhatithi), one who “affirms the existence of virtue and vice”  (Manibhadra), one who “affirms the existence of another world after  death” (the grammarians), or one who “affirms the Vedas as the  source of ultimate truth” (Vijnanabhikshu Madhava, etc.). The  typical translations for the terms astika and nastika, “orthodox”  and “heterodox”, succeed to a certain extent in expressing the  Sanskrit terms in question.’

Indra’s  Net, 326:
Nicholson (2010) writes that ‘the sixteenth-century doxographer  Madhusudana Sarasvati, argues that since all of the sages who founded  the astika philosophical systems were omniscient, it follows that  they all must have shared the same beliefs. The diversity of opinions  expressed among these systems is only for the sake of its hearers,  who are at different stages of understanding. … According to  Madhusudana, the sages taught these various systems in order to keep  people from a false attraction to the views of nastikas such as the  Buddhists and Jainas.’ (p 9)

Indra’s  Net, 328:
Examples  of Indian doxographies named by Nicholson include the following: …  [followed by a list of 11 lines not in quotation marks, but it is  clear they refer to Nicholson]

Indra’s  Net, 329:
Although  Vivekananda was a passionate advocate of a Vedanta-Yoga philosophy  and spirituality, he was not averse to drawing on elements of Western  philosophy and metaphysics that were popular at his time. His  predilection for Herbert Spencer and other Europeans of the time was  to borrow English terminology in order to present his own philosophy  more persuasively. He did so because his own philosophical tradition  had been savaged by colonial and Orientalist polemics. (Nicholson  2010, pp. 65, 78)

Indra’s  Net, 344-345:
This  is a long end note that has Nicholson referenced in it by name 4  times; but the material is not in quotation marks.


i Nicholson, 2010, p. 188.

ii Nicholson, 2010, p. 175.

iii Nicholson, 2010, pp. 3, 5, 25.

iv [Malhotra’s comment: Though Nicholson mention in main text,      this end note backs up the statement by using Lorenzen’s work,      because Nicholas was inadequate.] One may ask why this consolidation      into modern Hinduism took place in the medieval period. Some      scholars have theorized that the arrival of Islam might have led to      a coalescing of various Hindu streams into closer unities than      before. It has been surmised that the attempts by Akbar and then      Dara Shikoh to synthesize Hinduism and Islam into one hybrid might      have been seen threatening Hindu digestion into a subset of Islam.      This threat could have been a factor in this trend to bring many      nastika outsiders into the tent as astika insiders. Regardless of      the causes for this, there is ample evidence to suggest that      multiple movements began to organize diverse Hindu schools into a      common framework or organizing principle. Each of these rival      approaches had its own idea of the metaphysical system in which it      was at the highest point in the hierarchy, with the rest located in      lower positions in terms of validity and importance, but the point      here is that highly expansive unities were being constructed.      Another scholar espousing this thesis of the development of an      ‘insider’ sense of Hinduism as a response to Islam is David      Lorenzen. He notes that between 1200 and 1500, the Hindu rivalry      with Muslims created a new self-consciousness of a unified Hindu      identity. Lorenzen draws his evidence from medieval literature,      including the poetry of Eknath, Anantadas, Kabir and Vidyapati, and      argues that the difference between Hinduism and Islam was emphasized      in their writings. This emphasis showed the growth of an implicit      notion of Hindu selfhood that differed from Islam. For instance,      many bhakti poets contrasted Hindu ideas that God exists in all      things, living and not living, with Islam’s insistence on banning      this as idolatry. Lorenzen concludes: ‘The      evidence instead suggests that a Hindu religion theologically and      devotionally grounded in texts such as the Bhagavad-Gita, the      Puranas, and philosophical commentaries on the six darsanas,      gradually acquired a much sharper self-conscious identity through      the rivalry between Muslims and Hindus in the period between 1200      and 1500, and was firmly established long before 1800.’ (Lorenzen,      2005, p. 53)

v [Malhotra’s comment: The following End note is my      reflection on the point made in the main text.] This method of      writing is common among historians of ancient civilizations,      especially when they deal with works that have become extinct, and      hence there is a need to fill in the blanks with some degree of      invention. For example, Plato's book on Socrates gives the only      information available today on an earlier philosopher called      Anaxagoras. The same is true of the Charvakas in India: very little      of their own work survives and it is only through third-party      critiques that we can reconstruct what the Charvakas were thinking.      In a sense, most of the known ancient history of the world is of      this kind, because little is based on direct accounts written at the      time.

vi Examples of Indian doxographies named by Nicholson include      the following… [Malhotra’s comment: An 11-line list from      Nicholson is stated, but without quotation marks because it is a      summary of his text. Nevertheless, the reference to his work is      clear right at the beginning of the end note as indicated above.]

vii Nicholson, 2010, p. 2.

viii Nicholson, 2010, p. 13.

ix Nicholson, 2010, p. 18.

x Nicholson, 2010, p. 163.

First published Click here to view

Receive Site Updates