Author: Joseph S Alter
Publisher: New Age Books
ISBN/UPC (if available): 97881782232247
FROM THE BOOK PREFACE:
This is a book about modern Yoga written from the vantage point of an anthropologist. Its purpose is to understand social change and change in some of the structures of meaning that have taken place in India as a result of colonialism and postcolonial transna-tionalism.
Insofar as it is concerned with embodied structures of meaning, Yoga in Modern India engages with many of the details that have come to constitute Yoga 'philosophy and metaphysics, and draws heavily on translations of and commentaries on a range of Sanskrit sources. It is, therefore, both similar to and very different from Gregory P. Fields's Religious Therapeutics: Body and Health in Yoga, Ayurveda, and Tantra (2001). Topically Yoga in Modern India is similar, to the extent that it is concerned with the body and various aspects of classical "Hindu" thought. But in focus and theoretical orientation it is very different.
The rather sharp disjunction between topical similarity and difference in theoretical orientation re-quires brief comment. Apart from this, however, attention is drawn to Religious Therapeutics as it is a book that will have much greater appeal to practitioners of modern alternative traditional medicine than will Yoga in Modern India. Religious Therapeutics is also, in many ways, unique as an academic work. It ambiguously reflects many of the patterns of Yoga's textual—and "spiritual"—popularization and medicalization as both have developed over the past seventy-five years. Those who dislike the fundamental skepticism in Yoga in Modern India will find the ho-listic model of religious therapeutics much more appealing. However, it is the persuasive power of this model in the public sphere—and most dramatically in popular culture—that is also its academic Achilles' heel. Fields is not particularly concerned with the history of classical thought's modernization. His book tends to uncritically blur the line between New Age perspectives on holistic health on the one hand and what classical texts have to say about biology and the nature of the body on the other.
As a consequence, the meaning of "health" is usefully expanded—at least for those of us living in the holistic New Age—but also expanded to such an extent into the domain of religion and spirituality that one tends to lose sight of the profoundly materialist and empirically grounded structure of the body, as this structure is theorized in traditions—for lack of a better term—that stretch across space from Greece and North Africa Through to Japan, and through time from the sixth century B.C.E. up to the Present. When health is expanded to encompass something as ephemeral as spirituality, it is much too easy to exoticize and mystify—in the mode of a latter-day Orientalist—the practical, pragmatic, and very down-to-earth features of Tantra, Ayurveda, and Yoga. Most problematic, in this respect, is what Fields posits as a "model of religious therapeutics" de-rived from Ayurveda, Yoga, and Tantra. It is wrong to use religion as a frame of reference to understand the way in which Yoga defines the body and nature, particularly since so much that is important about Yoga is not only not religious, but dead set against many features of orthodox—and even unorthodox—religiosity. The same is true, for different but equally important reasons, with respect to Ayurveda and Tantra. Regardless, attention is drawn to Religious Therapeutics in order to make—by way of contrast—a clear and unambiguous point that is at the heart of this project.
The concept of culture is intimately linked to nationalism, and not just, or even primarily, the militant and fanatical kind. To analyze modern cultural constructs by contextualizing them with reference to regional intellectual history, standardized canonical archives, and the bounded authenticity of tradition—even while acknowledging their mutability—is to reproduce and reinforce nationalism, and to impose the logic of nationalism on history in general and on intellectual and social history in particular. This is all the more problematic when the scope of study is putatively global, cross-cultural, and comparative—as well as philosophically synthetic—since New Age export often adds the insult of modular packaging to the injury of reification. Nationalism and modernity art factually reflect and refract each other, just as history and tradition do. Analysis must reflect this, although it means seriously taking into consideration the extent to which Yoga is—with apologies to A. L. Basham—not a unique product of Indian civilization or a New Age antidote to the evil that civilization as such has wrought. It is fundamentally a social product of the "wonder that is the world," as this is immortalized in a place called India, but also as it has developed in places within and between other places that have come to have different names: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tibet, Nepal, and China, for example, to say nothing of England, Germany, and the United States.
Yoga has come to be an Icon of Indian culture and civilization, and it is widely regarded as being timeless and unchanging. Based on extensive ethnographic research and an analysis of both ancient and modern texts, Yoga in modern India challenges this popular view by examining the history of yoga, focusing on its emergence in modern India and its dramatically changing form and significance in the twentieth century. Joseph Alter argues that yoga’s transformation into a popular activity idolized for its health value is based on modern ideas about science and medicine.
“This is the first time Indian Modern Yoga has received such sustained, in depth treatment by a reputable and well informed scholar. Much of the book is quite accessible to the general reader and many of Alter’s more theoretical and analytical interpretations of modern understandings of yoga, health, medicine, the body, and truth claims are novel and stimulating. Highly recommended.”
== Elizabeth De Michelis, Director, Dharam Hinduja Institute of Indic Research, Gambridge University.
"Yoga in Modern India" is a mine of thought-provoking propositions in regard to the historiography of classical and modern writing on yoga. Well written, it provides detailed and frequently provocative analyses of particular yogic ideas and practices that contribute to a more sophisticated discussion about the status of modern yoga in its various guises over the last one-and-a-half centuries."
== Waltraud Ernst, University of Southampton, author of Plural Medicine, Tradition, and Modernity, 1800-2000"
List of Illustrations
PART 1 INTRODUCTION AND ORIENTATION
Historicizing Yoga: The Life and Times of Liberated Souls
Yoga and the Supramental Being: Materialism, Metaphysics, and Social Reality
PART 2 YOGA'S MODERN HISTORY AND PRACTICE
Swami Kuvalayananda: Science, Yoga, and Global Modernity
Birth of the Anti-Clinic: Naturopathic Yoga in a Post-Gandhian, Postcolonial State
Dr. Karandikar, Dr. Pal, and the RSS: Purification, Subtle Gymnastics, and Man Making
PART 3 CONCLUSION
Auto-Urine Therapy--The Elixir of Life: Yoga, Ayurveda, and Self-Perfection
Mimetic Skepticism and Yoga: Moving beyond the Problem of Culture and Relativism