A reader of SoF emailed me with a link to a new blog post by Stephen Prothero entitled "My Take: Who owns Jesus? Who owns yoga?" The blog may be of interest to some of you since it touches on issues that we have explored in other SoF posts (including my own: Who ‘owns’ religious practice?).
One sentence in Prothero's blog strikes me as particularly problematic:
"Something is lost, of course, when yoga is Americanized and Jesus is Hinduized, but no religion ever made it anywhere without mixing things up."
The last part of that sentence seems right, and Michael Altman has explored this further in The Simulacra of Yoga as has Paul Greene in Shared Spiritual Inheritance and Mutual Transformation and others have offered insights here, too. Prothero's books also explore this issue in considerable detail.
However, what troubles me is the first part of Prothero’s statement which states that “something is lost, of course [!!], when yoga is Americanized and Jesus is Hinduized…” Prothero is a great scholar of religion, but could, perhaps, use a refresher course on math. It seems to me that religious inculturation enriches religious diversity. It is unfortunate that Americans who perform yoga in church basements do not know much about its theological or even etymological roots (yoga, from √युज् – to join or unite spirit/body and jīva/deva). To suggest that this inculturation somehow impoverishes yoga, however, misses both the point that the Hindu-American Foundation seeks to make and also that religious diversity is not a zero-sum game. Nothing is lost – something is added.
Perhaps Prothero’s point is that what has been added/adopted falls short and risks missing the deeper signification of these symbols and practices from the vantage of religious “insiders.” However, I think that if we were to pursue this logic a bit deeper into the particularities of these practices and symbols, we would find that this line is at least porous if not entirely arbitrary. We can always plumb deeper and more “authentically” (a term Michael Altman has rightly problematized through an appeal to Jean ... – I use the term here in a more Heideggerian sense, though influenced by Altman’s post). My point here is that even though something is necessarily "lost in translation" – nothing is actually "lost"… rather diversity is enriched and new horizons of exploration are opened.