in all three places I taught in English. The spoken English of the students is at a very high level in both Amsterdam and Cairo, though the written English may not be quite as grammatically perfect as with native speakers (and in many cases it is, just not all cases). [...]
Philosophy is an ultra-cool major in the Netherlands, with around 140 freshman philosophy students at the University of Amsterdam when I was there. They throw a gigantic all-night party every year, mixing live music with philosophy lectures in an old squat. In Egypt, educational pressures in families are more toward business and engineering, so the small number of Philosophy majors tend to be either highly independent types or else students from unusually Westernized families. [...]
Egyptian students will take things seriously that aren’t always taken seriously in classrooms in the West. For instance, I always sense a certain critical distance among American students when considering something like Socrates’s arguments for the immortality of the soul in the Phaedo. American students have a sort of automatic historico-critical approach: “that’s what the Greeks believed in that time,” etc. Here, it is refreshing to see Egyptian students actually grappling with the various proofs and either accepting or dismissing them rather than historicizing them.
Re: In Defence of the “Extracts from The Lives of Sri Aurobindo by Peter Heehs” —Raman Reddy by auroman on Sat 03 Jan 2009 11:50 PM IST Permanent Link IMHO, we need to understand the Western mindset to understand why most of them see this issue differently.
1) Those brought up in the West, or who have acquired a Western world-view seem to think that this book issue is some battle between freedom and repression, which it is not. If you tell them not to do something, they immediately cry out "censorship". The fight against communism and other forms of repression has colored their view of everything else.
2) The tradition in the West since the sixties sexual revolution is that "we must have an open discussion about everything". This extends to sexual matters as well "whats wrong with talking openly about sex?" or "lets give condoms to children instead of telling them not to do it". They don't see anything wrong with discussing Sri Aurobindo's sex life, even though it may seem offensive to Indian sensibilities.
3) There is no natural atmosphere of Bhakti in schools or homes. Prayer in schools is discouraged. Children are focussed on debates, sports and community leadership. That is why they might assume that all the people who oppose the book are being emotional or unreasonable. It is this background of lack of humility or Bhakti that we must consider. 7:52 PM
Re. the present flurry of attacks against the book and its author, at the risk of over-simplification, I may add what seems obvious - that differences in cultural psychology between modern western and Indian habitus lies at the foundation of the matter. But with this as basis, certain collective formations have grown up.
On the Indians' side, this has taken the form of an unconscious religiosity whose bane is the self-righteous orthodoxy of worship and the aggressive policing of largely self-created and interpreted myths and whose detrimental effect is that the growth of consciousness is obscured and the non-religious see only a stereotypical structure of hyperbole which they reject even before having a chance to see the solutions which have been offered.
On the westerners' side it is an insistence on "fact" and an analysis of objective facts on the basis of reason and an infants' psychology. This is what has been happening on a large scale in western scholarship of late and it is largely to this audience that Peter's book has been addressed. In doing so, he has naturally offended the Indian sentiments and in anticipating and answering the western analytical framework, has sometimes acknowledged these approaches, which has raised eyebrows. 9:32 AM