Wednesday, Sept. 20, the Bowers Writers House held a seminar led by professor of religion and Asian studies Dr. Jeffery Long titled “Believe it or Not: Why Facts and Truth Charm, Fascinate and Intrigue Us.” Long discussed the topic of Hinduism and his opinion of its representation in America and the education system.
Long is a Hindu and teaches courses on Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. This semester he is also teaching a First-Year Seminar (FYS) about Star Wars. Long received his Bachelor of Arts from the University of Notre Dame. He then went on to receive both his master’s degree and doctorate from the University of Chicago. He has also authored three books and is a consulting editor for the “Sutra Journal.” Born in Missouri and raised Catholic, Long discovered Hinduism after a family tragedy.
During the seminar, Long explained the view of Hinduism in the United States. The tradition is often misrepresented and American media frequently portrays a negative connotation to people. Many people assume that Hindu culture is the same as Indian culture.
For example, the Indian caste system is well-known and often considered a Hindu practice. Long explained that the caste is a part of life in India, but it is not as negative and restrictive as many Americans think.
A man in the audience offered commentary on this as he is from India. The man told a story of how the caste system helped him attend college. He received support from a community of people in his caste. It is also no longer a law that people may only pursue jobs in their caste.
Long explained that many religions and social communities practice some form of a caste system, and the caste system is not considered specifically a Hindu practice.
Another topic was how Hinduism is depicted in public school textbooks. Long told a story that took place in California. A young Hindu boy was learning about Hinduism in a public school classroom. Afterwards, he came home to his mother crying that he no longer wanted to practice his tradition. The reason was the bullying and judgement he faced after class. His fellow classmates began to ridicule him with stereotypes about Hinduism they learned from their textbook.
This story presented a national problem because many textbooks used throughout the country are written and published there. Normally experts of a religion or tradition edit and confirm what is used in a textbook, but this is often not the case for Hinduism. Seeing this as a real problem, Long and other professors wrote a letter to the California Board of Education, demanding revisions of the educational materials that are being used.
The education system is not the only place Long has advocated for change. Recently, CNN produced a show titled “Believer.” Long compared the show to Anthony Bourdain’s show “Parts Unknown.”
In each episode of “Believer,” the host travels around the world to learn more about religions and the people who practice them. The first episode centered around Hinduism. Long explained that he was excited to see the tradition given more representation.
When the episode premiered, it offered inaccurate information. Long showed a clip of the worst example of this. In the clip, the host sat down with members of the Aghori. They practice a different branch of Hinduism that often has more extreme practices than traditional Hinduism.
The members were displayed as scary cannibals that threatened the host and left him in fear. Some people have argued that the members shown were not actually Aghori. Long and other activists wrote another letter to CNN about the episode. The show was ultimately canceled. The producers of the show said it was for personal issues with the host.
First-years Alyssa Tarquinio and Carly Sherba were shocked by the amount of misrepresentation of Hinduism. Tarquinio and Sherba felt that it was an eye-opening experience.
First-year Cailin Robinson is taking Long’s class on Dharma Traditions. Robinson came to the event because she was interested in learning more about Hinduism and enjoyed the presentation.