1998 Student-Faculty Fellows: Illinois Wesleyan University
Do the People of Ramakrishna Mission in Calcutta Agree or Disagree with the View of Ramakrishna Proposed by Jeff Kripal in ‘Kali’s Child” (1995)?
Mentor: Brian Allison Hatcher, Religion
Student: Andrew Michael Busch, History, ’98
It would be inaccurate to call my initial project, as of late September, a complete success. I had anticipated getting the reaction of people close to the Ramakrishna Mission in Calcutta to Jeff Kripal’s book ‘Kali’s Child’, which argued that the great saint was driven by homoerotic desires. The planned project was not able to work for the simple fact that I underestimated the amount of hostility that the Bengali people, especially people affiliated with the Mission, had towards Kripal and his book. Simply put, no one at the Mission would discuss the book with me, much less support or consider Dr. Kripal’s argument. I found that the only people who were willing to speak with me about the book were scholars, and they were generally not open to Kripal’s thesis, save for two who have been living in the West for an extended period of time. I was forced to take my research in another direction.
I have recently completed a rough draft of a paper that questions a scholar’s rights and motives in using his or her own cultural constructs to analyze something that has no similar constructs. This is the case with Kripal and ‘Kali’s Child’. At the same time, it is a scholar’s job to understand situations as best they can, and to propose the most appropriate answers they can. When scholars and the communities they study are at odds, problems tend to arise. Overall, my experience in India made me question what it means to have academic freedom, and how truth has different meanings for different people. Although the paper is not yet complete, I feel that it can be a meaningful piece of work. I certainly could not have hoped for a more meaningful or educational trip.
Andy and I had a very successful and enjoyable trip to India, one that tested our wills as well as our knowledge. One of my goals for Andy during this trip, quite apart from his scholarly project, was to give him the confidence to feel he could tackle life in India on his own. I will always remember the evening I left Calcutta. Andy and I ate an early supper together. Then he got up, picked up his backpack and water bottle, and headed off to catch an overnight train to Puri. I saw him off and then struck out for Dum Dum Airport. As I imagined him negotiating Howrah Station and finding his berth on the train, I felt genuinely proud of Andy for what he had obviously learned, excited for what he was about to experience, and absolutely assured that he had gotten out of this ASIANetwork grant more than he could have ever imagined. I know he sees himself, his home, and the rest of the world with a very different set of eyes than he did six months ago.
I can say that this experience has affected me unlike any previous experience. This experience has both depressed me and given me hope. It has also opened my eyes about the ways in which people live in other parts of the world. Seeing the enormity of problems for myself was very disconcerting, as was coming back to the United States and realizing the materialism and outright gluttony that our culture tends to produce. At the same time, seeing people living happily throughout all the hardships still amazes me. I was brought to tears at more than one point by the amazing generosity that I was shown, and at my own culture’s lack of similarly generous acts. Overall, I feel that I have come back a bit more pessimistic about the direction in which human society is going, and a bit more realistic about the problems that we face in trying to make the future better.
I am still very much undecided as to my own future in the professional world. I have not however, ruled out religious studies or Indology as possible career options.