The modern world is multi-polar, multi-cultural, and pluralistic. This is not just a reference to the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the retreat of Communism, but also a pointer to the end of colonialism, imperialism, traditionalism, and other “isms.” At the end of the twentieth century and at the dawn of the twenty-first century, human beings seem to be standing on familiar shores, but looking towards a horizon that is changing or has already changed. The changing horizons are cultural, societal, spiritual, political, and scientific/technological. As the six billion-plus people in the world struggle to comprehend these changes, and as they begin to acquire new skills and attitudes in dealing with each other, as individuals, as members of groups, and as citizens of diverse nations and cultures, there are opportunities for academic, political, and religious institutions and leaders to act in good faith to bring about a new cultural renaissance. What would American society be like if future generations are able to bring down old barriers, transcend their immediate, limited cultural vision and experiences, and learn to honor the contributions of all cultures? The future of humanity rests on the recognition that the world’s civilizations have developed through a cross-fertilization of ideas and because of the recorded and unrecorded interaction of peoples over millennia. A healthy and vibrant future for the world is also dependent on the recognition that temporary hegemonies achieved by groups have not been due to any innate superiority of any group.
The Need Defined:
Making this vision a reality will entail monitoring the collective American mindset towards different cultures, and taking corrective actions where chauvinism, misrepresentation, and/or prejudice color the pursuit of scholarship or the day-to-day interactions of people. This Council therefore will be involved in the process of conducting independent research to (a) document the contributions by India to world civilization and to (b) ascertain the degree to which the Indic traditions and their contributions are accurately and adequately portrayed in contemporary American society. Preliminary findings indicate that Indic traditions, which include Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism, have been and continue to be misrepresented, stereotyped, and pigeon-holed both in academic institutions and by the mass media. Such misrepresentations include:
- The use of negative stereotypes and disseminating false information.
- Providing factually correct information in inappropriate contexts or out of context.
- Over-emphasizing rare or minor aspects that are negative or sensational.
- Failing to acknowledge major contributions by Indic traditions to world civilization in the areas of science, mathematics, philosophy, health, technology, psychology, music, theater, culture, etc. This includes the lack of attribution or false attribution of Indian accomplishments to other traditions.
- Blaming Indic traditions for the negative aspects of modern Indian society, even where there are well-known historical factors operating independently of or even in opposition to Indic traditions.
These false and/or negative portrayals have deleterious effects on the millions of Americans who are either interested in Indic traditions or who are of Indian origin. There is thus an urgent need to revamp American understanding of the vast and complex civilizational ethos of the Indian sub-continent. Given the dynamic and pluralistic nature of American society, ethnic traditions and world religions are no longer about “others” as much as they describe our own citizens’ diversity of faiths and beliefs. Creating friendlier environments in which it is safe for all to practice and cherish their faiths without apology, ridicule, or taboo should be a major goal. This should be done by (a) dispelling common stereotypes through education and (b) incorporating in the educational material and media portrayals the various positive contributions of these traditions to the modern global society.
Public schools do not have teachers trained in or knowledgeable about these traditions. Poorly-trained or partially-informed teachers exacerbate the ignorance of or prejudice prevailing against these traditions in society. Teacher training is not only inadequate, but is also occasionally carried out without adequate sympathy for Indic traditions. Dominated by stereotypical images of cows and curry, kings and tigers, and caste and naked “god-men,” the common image of India is bereft of its rich intellectual heritage, ancient or modern.
In the past, these negative portrayals were typically self-serving justifications for colonial exploitation; such portrayals now continue to serve the divisive interests of those who seek to privilege one tradition over another and aggrandize one religion at the cost of another. Many educators now consider it important that these negative and deceptive portrayals be exposed, and that the positive contributions of these cultures be recognized. Therefore, our mission is to help bridge the chasm of misunderstanding about one of the world’s most ancient and complex civilizations, and to foster harmony between the world’s largest democracy with the world’s most powerful democracy. This enterprise should not be misconstrued or mischaracterized as just another academic exercise, or as just an airing of a “grouse” by yet another “ethnic minority.” Indic traditions have the potential to enrich the common culture of all humanity, and the Council’s efforts should be thus seen as an effort to further that cause.
Explaining the Focus:
Other world traditions have also been either short-changed or misrepresented in the United States. Although we wish to maximize the impact on academe and the media by focusing on Indic traditions, we do offer our moral support to all similar initiatives by other world traditions. Our Indic focus does not preclude nor deny interest in other cultures.
India is home to many cultures, some of which were forced to flee their native lands because of bigotry, hate, or narrow worldviews. Some of these cultures continue to have their nexus of development outside India and are adequately represented by other organizations.
Finally, we recognize the flaws within Indic traditions, which were cultivated, accumulated, or adopted in the face of threats by invading armies and alien cultures. These flaws need to be corrected, and social ills ought to be rectified. However, given the seriously lopsided portrayals of Indic traditions that have permeated modern American society, our focus will be on improving the quality of information concerning India in the United States, with an initial emphasis on the positive contributions of Indic traditions.
Proposed Structure of This Council:
The Council will be a non-profit foundation registered with the IRS. It will seek to raise the standard of education in American schools and colleges, and the quality of information purveyed by American media about Indic traditions. A team of advisors will be drawn from two sources; academic scholars of Indic traditions and representatives from the Indian-American community. These advisors will guide the work of the Council and also form a special consultative board. The executive director in charge of the Council will utilize the advisors as resources on a project-by-project basis. The director will have secretarial assistance. Initial funding will be made available as a grant from The Infinity Foundation, but the Council will also diversify its sources of funds.
For more information and job descriptions, please see our Who are we? section.
Activities of the Council:
The Council will work with textbook publishers and authors to provide scholarly, accurate, and fair representations of the Indic traditions. Consultation and advice should help in (a) the removal of false portrayals and (b) the addition of positive aspects that are often ignored or downplayed.
The Council will, in conjunction with scholars, seek to prepare, publish, and make widely available educational resources, including books, sourcebooks, magazine and journal special issues and articles, CD-ROMs, and web-based digital resources.
The Council will work with the media and public officials by providing resources, information, and consultation. A web site will be constructed to offer critical analyses of contested and prejudiced portrayals with suggested resolutions, to enable discussion of important contributions to humanity from these traditions that are now widely recognized, to recommend textbooks for K-12 and college, to publish position papers and essays, to offer a bulletin board for discussions, and to schedule major events.
The Council will sponsor public research on attitudes of Americans towards Indic traditions so as to gain information on how various segments of the U.S. population perceive these traditions. These surveys would be conducted periodically to track trends and to identify areas where intervention would be justified to remedy misrepresentations. The Council will also work with educators to not only provide fair and accurate material on Indic traditions, but also to develop effective teacher training methods.
The Council will make itself available to state and federal governments and other public and private organizations to help in the encouragement and promulgation of religious pluralism and fair representation.
The Council will also be involved in medical, social, spiritual, and other educational and research projects. It will also work with businesses to help them understand these traditions as they relate to employee training and ethical business practices.
The Council will organize regular academic/educational conferences. It will do so either independently or in active collaboration with other sympathetic organizations. It will provide a forum for genuine dialogue between the major religions, both within and outside the Indic family, with the goal of promoting mutual respect and sympathetic understanding.
The Council will work with the interested public to encourage active involvement of the community with regard to issues of central importance to the Indic traditions. The Council may become involved in campaigns which promote multi-culturalism and which are in accordance with the Council’s mission. Examples might include letter-writing campaigns, the publication of opinion ads in newspapers, the mass dissemination of information related to important issues, the critique of prejudiced works, hiring practices, stereotyping in educational materials, or any other issues which accord with the mission.
The Council will provide resources to reduce ethnic and religious conflict through negotiation and arbitration.
The following is a list of goals to be accomplished by the end of June 2002. They are listed seriatim, with the most pressing tasks listed first. This list will be updated from time to time by the Trustees, with goals defined anew for subsequent periods.
- Pursue tax-exempt status.
- Assemble an Advisory Committee.
- Work with scholars to provide scholarly, accurate, and fair representations of the Indic traditions. This includes both (a) scholarly monographs on controversial topics of central importance to correct false portrayals and (b) sourcebooks to bring to light little-known contributions and positive features of Indic civilization and Indic traditions. Instances of (b) involve a wide range of Western disciplines including medicine, psychology, religion, mathematics, philosophy, consciousness research, and popular culture.
- Begin preparation for convening a series of conferences on a wide variety of subjects related to the Indic traditions. These might be research conferences attended by academics only, educational conferences geared toward teachers, or conferences on more popular subjects geared toward community groups.
- Begin the process of surveying primary, secondary, and college-level educational materials by:
1) Determining what texts are commonly used
2) Surveying texts and identifying incorrect information and/or misrepresentations
3) Identifying omissions concerning Indic contributions to world civilizations
4) Developing working relationships with publishers
5) Beginning the process of undertaking public opinion research by hiring a nationally-recognized polling organization to investigate how various segments of the American population view Indic traditions and to explore how they developed such views. Segments to be polled include: teachers, college students, adults from different demographic segments, media professionals/journalists, employers, and business leaders.
- Develop a website which will include resources such as: critical analyses of contested and prejudiced portrayals with suggested resolutions; discussions of important contributions to humanity from these traditions; recommended textbooks for K-12 and college; position papers and essays; a bulletin board for discussion; and schedule of major events.
- Work with educators to develop educational curricula concerning India for all academic levels of excellent quality, providing balanced and accurate material on Indic traditions and India’s importance in a multi-cultural world.
- Explore the possibility of organizing teacher training seminars to introduce these materials to teachers. Guidance, follow-up, and incentives for using the materials should be provided.
- Assemble a Committee of Community Leaders.
- Develop Position Papers concerning Indic education and topics covering the contributions of Indic traditions to world civilization, especially those commonly unacknowledged as well as on stereotypes and misrepresentations.
- Media Outreach. Develop a media press kit downloadable from the website, with updates for relevant current events.
- Work with community groups to educate them concerning these issues and to help them to address effectively the problems and issues of concern to them.
- Get involved with governmental and other institutions whose work could incorporate such ideas and benefit from the work of the Council.
- Get involved in medical, social, spiritual, and other educational and research projects in order to provide input and make contributions.
- Promote genuine dialogue between the major religions, both within the Indic family and outside the Indic family, with the goal of propagating mutual respect and sympathetic understanding.