How Hindu Dharma Transformed America

Course content:

In rigorously exploring the history and influence of Hindu Dharma, the course will be organized mainly around the key disseminators who forged a vital connection between the ancient rishis and the modern West. First among those Vedic transmitters were the swamis, gurus, and yogacharyas who brought their gifts to the West, from the earliest (Swami Vivekananda and Paramahansa Yogananda) to those who established a foothold in the 1960s and 70s (Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Srila Prabhupada, Swami Muktananda, and others) to those teaching today (Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Mata Amritanandamayi, Sadhguru, etc.) – as well as luminaries who strongly impacted America without ever coming here (Sri Aurobindo, Ramana Maharshi, and others). We’ll examine both the diversity and commonalities of teachings that penetrated America’s spiritual soil, and show how the core principles were skillfully adapted to the language, values, and communication methods of the new cultural context—and the tradeoffs that were made in the process. The obstacles the ambassadors from India had to overcome—racism, religious bigotry, colonial assumptions, finances, etc.—will be discussed as well. Also covered will be the prominent Westerners who imbibed Vedic wisdom through gurus and/or texts, integrated what they learned into their personal lives and their areas of expertise, and ultimately disseminated what they valued most to vast numbers of people. This second-hand transmission was sometimes explicit and properly attributed, and at other times altered so much (in style if not substance) that the original source was either vague or entirely obscured. In that context, we’ll examine the contribution of philosophers and public intellectuals (from Emerson to Aldous Huxley to contemporary scholars); psychologists (William James, Carl Jung, Abraham Maslow); scientists (Nikola Tesla, Erwin Schrodinger); and artists, including novelists (Herman Hesse, J.D. Salinger), poets (W.B. Yeats, Allen Ginsberg), filmmakers (George Lucas), and musicians (the Beatles especially).  The course will also describe how Hindu Dharma has influenced certain Christian and Jewish leaders, leading to significant shifts in religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices. The course will conclude with a look at the future in light of recent phenomena such as the medical embrace of hatha yoga and meditation and the assimilation of Hindu citizens of Indian descent since 1965.

Course Learning Objectives:

In this course students will be able to:

  1. Understand the profound impact of Hindu Dharma on American institutions, culture, and spirituality.
  2. Appreciate the remarkable achievements made by gurus, swamis, and yogacharyas in the face of challenges, obstacles, and resistance.
  3. Identify and evaluate the subtle (sometimes hidden) ways that Vedic principles changed American psychology, medicine, the arts, and religion.
  4. Distinguish between skillful adaptation and misappropriation in the Western embrace of Hindu Dharma.
  5. Discover the enormous breadth, variety, and depth of the Dharmic teachings that came to America.
  6. Learn about American history from different angles.
  7. Contemplate the future of Hinduism in America and how to safeguard the integrity of the ongoing adaptation to Western culture.

Class Structure

The class will meet once a week for up to 90 minutes. The teacher’s presentation, with the help of audio and video recordings, will last approximately 60 minutes. The remaining time will be devoted to questions and open discussion. There will be 10 such sessions followed by an additional session devoted to the presentation and discussion of student’s reflections regarding what they learned from the course and how they expect it will influence their lives.

Required/Elective: Elective

Area of Study: History & Methods

Prerequisites: None

Faculty/InstructorPhilip Goldberg

Start Date: October 5, 2021

End Date: December 14, 2021

Day: Every Tuesday

Time: 08:30 pm EST – 10:00 pm EST

Quarter Offered: Fall 2021