Wendy Doniger: Complaints about her profile posted at Wikipedia.org

Historians in the News

[Peter Gottschalk is Associate Professor, Wesleyan University.]

Wikipedia.org has been usurped to impugn specific scholars and Hindu studies in the US in general, omitting the far larger context of the work by both individuals and the scholarly community. In particular, Wikipedia's entry on Wendy Doniger defines and rejects her work almost entirely within a frame of hurt Hindu sensibilities, an entry on Jeff Kripal defines him only in regard to allegations and controversy surrounding Kali's Child, and the entry for"Hinduism in the United States" simply dismisses all scholarship for its supposed shoddiness.

Considering the unfortunately high reliance on this source of so many of our students and, perhaps, many members of the public, it would behoove those of us who would care to offer counter-perspectives. Certainly hurt sensibilities and controversial scholarship merit attention, however, they do not merit all the attention in entries supposedly about individuals. For those who don't know, Wikipedia is a very popular information database developed collaboratively by its users.

The article on Wendy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wendy_Doniger) begins with some basic background on her, listing academic affiliations and works, but without any broad perspective on her work or its general significance. The text then moves to longer criticisms that reference" critiques" and"objections" deriving only from Rajiv Malhotra and Sankrant Sanu. The external links portion shows a bit more balance, but most of the sources are negative, three being written by Malhotra and Sanu. The entry itself offers only the shortest of responses of Wendy to her critics. Many mistakes lace the list of her works.

The article on Jeff (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeffery_Kripal), except for a reference to his position at Rice, defines him entirely by his work Kali's Child, omitting everything else of his scholarship. At least Jeff's response to one of his critics, Swami Tyagananda, is included, although this is countered by a criticism from Malhotra.

Meanwhile, within its entry"Hinduism in the United States" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hinduism_in_the_United_States), Wikipedia offers this under the subtitle"Scholarship":"Hinduism studies in American Universities has been under the spotlight recently for it's shoddy scholarship. With the increasing Hindu population in the country, gross errors & misrepresentations that may have passed through easily before are being caught and highlighted. An influential figure in the academy, Wendy Doniger, Professor of History of Religions, University of Chicago, has come under severe criticism for her work and that of her students.""Shoddy scholarship" has a link to a Sanu piece and"students" to Malhotra's"Wendy's Child Syndrome."

Answers.com, another online database, posts the Wikipedia all these entries in their entirety.

If you'd like to participate in the editing of the entry and are unfamiliar with how this works (as was I until today), you can find answers at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Introduction

Personally, I plan on complaining to the organizers of Wikipedia that they can allow such one-sided entries about scholars (or any individuals) without any apparent effort at balance.

Wikipedia recognizes the problems with its project, which has led to erroneous and damaging claims about individuals being posted in its entries. It addresses these at http://en.wikipedia.org

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More Comments:

David Davisson - 3/22/2006

all of the time spent complaining about Wikipedia could have been more productively used re-writing the wikipedia entry.

if you don't like the way wikipedia has been usurped, become the usurper!

Rennie Bermann - 3/15/2006

How can an associate professor at Wesleyan write an ungrammatical sentence like the one below?

"Certainly hurt sensibilities and controversial scholarship merit attention, however, they do not merit all the attention in entries supposedly about individuals."

As any high school sophomore knows, or should know, a semi-colon is needed after "attention." The comma renders the sentence nonsensical.