Responding to the Wendy Doniger Controversy

The Problems and Possibilities in the Academic Study of Religion


  • Steven Ramey University of Alabama



Hindu, Doniger, social construction, conflict


The controversy over Penguin India withdrawing Wendy Doniger's book, announced in February 2014, provides an occasion to consider the problems and possibilities within the academic study of religion. As the controversy centered on representations of what both Doniger and her opponents termed Hinduism, the problems with adjudicating contested definitions of religions or the category religions becomes apparent. Rather than assuming that we can present a normative definition of any of these terms, I argue that scholars should avoid applying these contested labels themselves and recognize instead whose application of contested labels that they use. This approach facilitates a more robust analysis of the ways these terms enter the negotiation of various conflicts and the interests and assumptions behind them, making religious studies more relevant to contemporary society.

Author Biography

  • Steven Ramey, University of Alabama

    Associate Professor in the Department of Religious Studies and Director of Asian Studies, University of Alabama


Doniger, Wendy. 2009. The Hindus: An Alternative History. New York: Penguin.





The Essay

How to Cite

Ramey, S. (2014). Responding to the Wendy Doniger Controversy: The Problems and Possibilities in the Academic Study of Religion. Bulletin for the Study of Religion, 43(2), 37-39.