July 6, 2018

‘Wendy Doniger’s books over the years have been either vast and encyclopaedic (The Hindus: An Alternative History, 2009, On Hinduism, 2013, and The Ring of Truth, 2017) or minutely detailed (The Woman who Pretended to Be Who She Was, 2004, and Reading the Kamasutra, 2016). They remind us of two things about her remarkable intelligence and her therefore remarkable scholarship. One, that she knows a lot of things about a lot of things and can bring them together in unusual and intriguing ways, and two, that she has the patience and sensitivity to read a text minutely and carefully, opening it up in ways that were hitherto unconsidered. To our great advantage, she manifests both these talents in Beyond Dharma, where she argues (in the main) that Kautilya’s Artha Shastra and Vatsyayana’s Kamasutra both provide contemporaneous challenges to the strictures of an idealised and prescriptive dharma as articulated in the Dharma Shastras.’ Book review of Beyond Dharma: Dissent in the Ancient Indian Sciences of Sex and Politics by Wendy Doniger.

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