In Hinduism in America, a Graham School Open-to-All Courses in the Liberal Arts class being offered for the first time this Spring Quarter, Jagdish and Paul Dave will provide an in-depth analysis along with insight from their own experience into the varieties of Hindu experience being practiced in the United States today.
As a father-son team, each with their own experience and practice of the religion, their multigenerational picture will be rooted in the religion’s conceptual foundations as it encompasses both an immigrant’s adaptation of his religious practice to a new country and his son’s experience growing up in the United States and building an identity drawn from both Hinduism and American culture.
"The goals for the class include thoroughly investigating Hinduism’s key tenets while providing a broad survey of its philosophy and way of life." —Paul Dave
“The class will be great for practicing and non-practicing Hindus interested to learn and discuss aspects of Hinduism in ways the religion isn’t typically discussed in the classroom,” says Paul, whose lifelong study of the religion, both in the classroom and out, has taken place while earning degrees in electrical and computer engineering from the University of Illinois as well as an MBA from Northwestern. Currently a director of bioinformatics platforms and services at the University of Chicago, he has spent his career working with Fortune 500 companies, technology start-ups, management consultancies, and at a national laboratory.
Paul adds that, “The class will also serve to introduce non-Hindus to the philosophy and religious traditions of Hinduism, along with the different ways its various strains have adapted to the new environment of the United States. The goals for the class include thoroughly investigating Hinduism’s key tenets while providing a broad survey of its philosophy and way of life, and hopefully we’ll dispel some of the misconceptions along the way.”
Covering the earlier Vedic tradition as well as classical and contemporary Hinduism by means of lectures, readings, short films, and guest speakers, the class will not only focus on the religion’s intellectual foundations but emphasis will also be placed experiential components of Hinduism such as in-class meditation and yoga sessions, two significant ways in which Hinduism influences American culture today.
Jagdish will draw on his lifelong practice of Hinduism for the latter as well as his experience as a life consultant presently conducting workshops on stress management, holistic wellness, and mindfulness parenting. Having arrived in the United States in 1959 on a Fulbright Scholarship to earn a PhD in education from the University of Chicago followed by a PsyD in clinical psychology, he spent his career teaching psychology at Governors State University and practicing psychotherapy.
“Paul has had a very different experience of Hinduism from the one I have had,” says Jagdish, who also has a degree in Sanskrit that will be useful for deepening students’ appreciation of the ancient Hindu texts read in class. “In India, of course, it is the air we breathe—it’s interwoven into all aspects of culture—and that was the experience I brought to the United States with me and to a great extent still have. But Hinduism even in India is open to a variety of views and forms of practice.”
"There are many other ways to practice Hinduism and one aspect that I hope will come to light in our class is how no two Hindus practice Hinduism in the same way.” —Jagdish Dave
Attesting to this latter, Jagdish recalls his childhood in Gujarat, India, where he grew up close to the Gandhi Ashram. He recalls attending Gandhi’s prayer sessions when he was four years old and watching Gandhi practice his version of Hinduism founded on selfless service and nonviolence. Present for these prayer sessions, Jagdish notes, were Christians, Muslims, Parsis, Zoroastrians, and Buddhists, along with Hindus.
“I am very indebted to Gandhiji for the impact he has had on my life,” he says. “His practice of Hinduism as a devotee demonstrates how open to other views and ways of life the religion can be. In fact, there are many other ways to practice Hinduism and one aspect that I hope will come to light in our class is how no two Hindus practice Hinduism in the same way.”
Having grown up in the United States, Paul has forged an identity for himself as a Hindu by drawing on elements of the religion as well aspects of American culture. Using a sociological perspective, he intends to convey how younger Hindus in the United States today enact a hybridized version of Hinduism resulting from an often complex negotiation carried out between their families and the American culture all around them.
“It’s not solely a melting pot idea that you have with Hinduism in the United States,” Paul notes. “For young Hindus today, it’s really a matter of forging your own multicultural identity by drawing on elements of American culture as well as aspects of your parents’ lives and the experiences they brought to the newly adopted homeland. I am looking forward to discussing these and many related topics in class.”