On Academic Freedom and the Work of Professor Wendy Doniger

A Statement by the AAR Board of Directors

Approved by the AAR Board of Directors on March 3, 2014

On February 4, 2014, after four years of legal action, Penguin Books / India settled a lawsuit that alleged that one of its publications, The Hindus: An Alternative History, written by Professor Wendy Doniger, was “defaming Hindus and Hinduism.” In the settlement, Penguin agreed to suspend publication of the book in India and to destroy the inventory of remaining copies in India. The book remains available outside India.

Professor Doniger, the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions at the University of Chicago and a former President of the American Academy of Religion, is a highly respected member of our community. The AAR strongly supports academic freedom, both in its mission statement (“Within a context of free inquiry and critical examination, the Academy welcomes all disciplined reflection on religion—both from within and outside of communities of belief and practice …”) and in a Board Resolution on Academic Freedom.

The AAR and its almost ten thousand members are dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in the study of religion. But to pursue excellence scholars must be free to ask any question, to offer any interpretation, and to raise any issue. If governments block the free exchange of ideas or restrict what can be said about religion, all of us are impoverished. It is only free inquiry that allows a robust understanding of the critical role that religions play in our common life. For these reasons the AAR Board of Directors fully supports Professor Doniger’s right to pursue her scholarship freely and without political interference.

Updated March 7, 2014

After the AAR Board adopted this statement, two related developments have taken place. A second publisher in India has acceded to pressure and has withdrawn another of Professor Doniger’s books from circulation. Publishers Weekly covered that story. In yesterday’s New York Times, Professor Doniger published her perspective on this controversy in an Op-Ed.