May 27, 2015

Hawley, John Silver_nugget

I was super excited about this class. I had purchased all the books and started the reading (based on an old syllabus) over the winter break. Professor Hawley has written and edited some wonderful books on Hinduism. He is a very enthusiastic teacher with a broad knowledge of the subject and an impressively deep knowledge of those areas he specializes in. My guess is he is a wonderful teacher for graduate students and smaller seminar courses where students can ask questions that help keep him on track, however I would NOT RECOMMEND his Hinduism 2000-level lecture where he plays the stereotypical absent minded professor. This can seem endearing and amusing until you realize that every lecture will be a struggle to understand what it is he is trying to get across. Each class starts somewhat on topic however quickly descends into a labyrinth of anecdotes, side stories and tangents that make it difficult to understand what parts are important – even with the aid of the outline he provides for every class it is a challenge. If you take this class use the TAs – the ones we had were knowledgeable and very eager to help students understand. I would have been in trouble without them.

I recommend using a laptop for notes and transcribing each lecture – this will be indispensable come exam time for searching for terms. Prior to mid-term and final exams you will be provided with a list of about 50 terms that were mentioned throughout the course. Many of these will be obvious. Some will baffle you. Some of these baffling terms will have been mentioned – in passing – in lecture but nowhere in the readings or handouts so they may not have stood out. In the study group of four people I worked with throughout the semester, all of us good students, we came across terms like this (“raga” for example) that not one of us had included in our notes – they simply had not seemed significant in lecture – we lost hours of valuable study time at final exams searching for these before we gave up and contacted the TAs. Other terms will not have been mentioned in lecture or merely be a symbol or term in a handout text or poem that received short or no mention at all. You would have read it once with no inkling of the hours you would spend later trying to find it and explain why it (for example “the black bee”) is so vital to Hinduism. Unfortunately the Professor is unwilling to provide these lists at the onset of the term so you cannot make note of the seemingly insignificant term when you encounter it. It makes exam preparation less of a review and more of a scavenger hunt through reams of readings, books, handouts and notes.

Do not mistake this for an introductory course. While I’m sure it hardly scratches the surface of a vast religion/culture/way of life, the syllabus does not focus on key concepts that introduce and enliven your interest. Rather, in his passion for the subject, Professor Hawley feels that you must go into each item and its myriad aspects in detail – and you will be tested on that detail. He goes in for the hard sell of why you too should share his passion – promotion over attraction. The result is that what interest I had was utterly overwhelmed by the sheer amount I was being force-fed. I say this as I contrast it to 3000 and 4000-level courses (dealing with equally complex topics) that presented a far less convoluted structure and more digestible portions.

You will be far better prepared to take this course if you are Hindu or have significant prior exposure to Hinduism. I’d estimate that Hindu students made up about 40% of the class and others should keep in mind that they are graded in comparison to their peers who come to this course with a more advanced knowledge base. In addition Professor Hawley ranks east and west – finding the west in large part inferior. One example was in discussing funeral rituals and death, where he clearly felt that westerners did not have a good relationship with death.

Lastly, while the course covers a wide range of issues touching on Hindu culture and India he refuses to directly address the question of caste, which obviously has a significant impact on the socio-economic past and present of India. It is unfortunate that he should completely ignore such an incredible teaching opportunity given the current climate in America where the discussion of what privilege is has become so vital. We are Columbia students; we cannot become good leaders by skirting around touchy issues. Adding insult to this, he did consider the western writer and thinker Henry David Thoreau worthy of lecture and reading time.

Things you will need to survive/do well in this course:
• transcribe the lectures
• a solid study group
• use the teaching assistants
• preferably have a prior knowledge of Hinduism

Full transparency: I received an A in this course


100-200 pages of reading a week.
Two five page essays. (interesting topics)
Midterm and final exams.

The midterm was fair. (Although some TA’s prepped their groups while others did not.)
The final was tougher than any 2000, 3000 or 4000 level final I had taken: 4 short IDs, 2 full essays and two short essays (based on more IDs). One of the full essays could be prepared the other was totally unprepared and a doozie. Professor Hawley uses image IDs as well in the exams. These can range from a random freeze frame from a documentary seen in class to images on handouts, the museum visit or slides from class.