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Robin Rinehart, associate professor of religion at Lafayette, will speak on “What To Do with a Goddess: Categories and Boundaries in Sikhism and Religious Studies” 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 18, in the auditorium of Kirby Hall of Civil Rights.

The first of two Jones Faculty Lectures for the 2001-02 academic year, the talk is free and open to the public. It is sponsored by the Thomas Roy and Lura Forrest Jones Faculty Lecture and Awards Fund, established in 1966 to recognize superior teaching and scholarship. The second lecture will be delivered by Bruce A. Young, associate professor of biology.

Rinehart is the author of numerous publications, including a book, One Lifetime, Many Lives: Swami Rama Tirtha and The Experience of Modern Hindu Hagiography, Scholar Press, 1999. She co-wrote “The Anonymous Agama Prakasa: Preface to a Nineteenth-Century Gujarati Polemic” with Tony K. Stewart¸ included in Tantra in Practice, edited by David G. White, Princeton University Press, 2000. Her article on hagiography is in the Encyclopedia of Women and World Religion, Macmillan.

Rinehart also is editor of Hinduism in Modern Times, an undergraduate textbook being published as part of a religion series by ABC Clio. She has spoken at five conferences since August 2000, including the American Academy of Religion Conference and the Columbia University South Asia Seminar.

“It is common to think of the different religions of the world as constituting separate categories characterized by specific beliefs and practices,” says Rinehart. “As a result, forms of religious expression which don’t fit within these traditional categories create interpretive challenges for scholars and religious practitioners alike. Using the example of a controversial Sikh text which includes colorful retellings of myths about Hindu goddesses, I will argue that understanding such a text requires reexamining some of the fundamental presuppositions of the discipline of religious studies.”

This spring she conducted research in India on the highly controversial Dasam Granth, a compilation of writings attributed to Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708), the tenth guru of Sikhism, a religion developed in the Punjab in the 16th century. She met with Indian academics who study Sikh history at universities in the region in northwest India on land divided between India and Pakistan. Islam, Hinduism, and Sikhism are all practiced there and have a long history of interaction, says Rinehart. She is writing a book about the issues surrounding the Dasam Granth, which until now has received little critical scholarly attention.

“While contemporary Sikh leaders insist on Sikhism’s strict monotheism and devotion to a nameless, formless god, the Dasam Granth contains numerous prayers to Hindu goddesses,” explains Rinehart. “While normative Sikh tradition draws a sharp boundary between Sikhism and Hinduism, the Dasam Granth includes detailed, impassioned recounting of episodes from Hindu mythology. Yet another area of controversy is the substantial portion of the Dasam Granth that considers what scholars somewhat euphemistically refer to as ‘the wiles of women.'”

In 1999, Rinehart was awarded an Advanced Study Grant to participate in the Columbia-UC Santa Barbara Summer Program in Punjab Studies, based in Chandigarh, India.

“Studying religion gives people the opportunity to think about what they value and why, and to learn something about what other people value,” says Rinehart, who has worked with over 15 Lafayette students in independent study and thesis projects. “I also think students are interested in looking at how people negotiate their own relationship with their religion. How do you decide if you believe everything your religion teaches?”

Rinehart uses several languages in her research, including French, German, Hindi, medieval Hindi, Urdu, Panjabi, medieval Panjabi, Sanskrit, and Bengali. She gave Hindi-speaking lessons last spring to Aditi Mahendroo, a sophomore from Ridgewood, N.J.

The National Endowment for the Humanities awarded Rinehart a summer seminar fellowship in 1995. She has received five research grants from Lafayette since 1992, in addition to numerous fellowships.

Joining the Lafayette faculty as an instructor of religion in 1991, Rinehart was promoted to assistant professor in 1992 and to associate professor in 1999. She received her bachelor’s degree in comparative religions and master’s in South Asian studies from the University of Washington in 1983 and 1986, respectively, and her Ph.D. in religious studies from the University of Pennsylvania in 1992, writing her dissertation on the life and teachings of Swami Rama Tirtha.

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