Controversial religious scholar to visit Lawrence

Wendy Doniger knows something about religious controversy.

The University of Chicago religion professor has been in the middle of a national debate over whether books on Hinduism, especially those taught in schools, should be written by scholars who are not Hindu.

She sees some parallels with the debate in Kansas about how much teaching on creationism should be allowed in the classroom.

“This same fight is going on in my field,” Doniger says. “Not literally, of course, about Darwin and the Hebrew Bible and Genesis, but whether the scholarly attitude of the events in the history of Hinduism or the faith attitude to the history of the events in the history of Hinduism is the one that should be taught in school. There’s a very close parallel.”

Doniger, a nationally recognized scholar and author on Hinduism and religious mythology, will be in Lawrence for a series of public events beginning Saturday. She is the 2006 Theologian in Residence, a program organized by Ecumenical Christian Ministries and area churches and universities.

A look at the titles of Doniger’s talks shows the variety of her scholarship – for instance, Buddhist parables, self-imitation and Indian creation stories.

University of Chicago religion professor Wendy Doniger, who has been at the center of a national debate about whether books on Hinduism should be written by non-Hindu scholars, will be in Lawrence beginning Saturday as the Theologian in Residence.

“Isn’t that amazing?” says Thad Holcombe, director of ECM, 1204 Oread Ave. “I think she represents someone who can have conversations across the boundaries.”

Doniger has taught at the University of Chicago’s Divinity School since 1978 and has written, co-authored, edited or translated more than two dozen books.

Much of her writing deals with religious “mythology.” That’s a word that sparked controversy in Lawrence last fall, when Paul Mirecki, a religious study professor at Kansas University, proposed teaching a course titled, “Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies.”

Doniger says most people know “myth” means a story that’s not true. She says more people aren’t familiar with the definition as it relates to religion: any sacred narrative.

“There are Hindus who object to the fact that I’ve written a book called ‘Hindu Myths,'” she says. “They said, ‘We don’t have myths. You just call it myths because it’s not Christianity. If it was Christianity, you wouldn’t call it myths.’ And I say, ‘Well, I do.'”

Doniger says she thinks there is a role for religion in public schools – as a social science subject, just as it is treated in the academy.

“I, as a historian of religion, feel it’s very important to teach about religion in school, and that there’s not nearly enough religious education in school,” she says. “There should be much more, but it should be education about all religions of the world and not simply about the one that has historically dominated America.”

Events schedule

What: “You Can’t Get Here from There:
The Logical Paradox of Ancient Indian Creation Myths,” a lecture by Wendy Doniger, Theologian in Residence, sponsored by several universities and area churches
When: 7:30 p.m. Monday
Where: Woodruff Auditorium, Kansas Union, 1301 Jayhawk Blvd.
Admission: Free

Here’s a look at the other programs on Doniger’s schedule:
¢ Workshop, “The Mythology of the Bed Trick: Tales of Sex and Masquerade,” 3 p.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, Plymouth Congregational Church, 925 Vt.
¢ Sermon, “The Parable of the Sower and the Buddhist Parable of the Lotus Pond,” 8:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. Sunday services, First Presbyterian Church, 2415 Clinton Parkway.
¢ Workshop, “The Mythology of Self Imitation,” 3 p.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, Plymouth Congregational Church.
¢ Brownbag conversation, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Monday, Ecumenical Christian Ministries, 1204 Oread Ave.
¢ Lecture, “The Mythology of the Magic Rings of Memory and Forgetfulness,” 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Washburn Union, Washburn University in Topeka.
Cost for the events is free except the workshops. Those cost $60 unless affiliated with a Theologian in Residence sponsor.