American Idol Worship Essay

questions like these, how they expand the mind and our creative processes. It fuels our desire to keep exploring the world or universe we live in. 13. MARGARET VISSER’S THE RITUAL OF FAST FOOD While I agreed with the message that was being delivered, I wasn’t too big of a fan of this particular essay. I didn’t really appreciate the, in my opinion, unnecessarily complex sentence structure and word use. Again, I think the message is a great one. I’d never really thought so much about the fast food industry and this essay really helps bring to light the true nature of the beast. It portrays the industry as almost a factory that just churns out food item after food item that is perfectly engineered and slightly unnaturally “perfect” for general consumption. When Visser says, “a Big Mac is a cultural construct” I think she is saying that the Big Mac exists because our culture is the way it is, craving big portions with that “Bigger is better” mentality. 14. THOMAS DE ZENGOTITA’S AMERICAN IDOL WORSHIP Zengotita’s thesis statement in this essay is American Idol is much more popular than a professional performance because it not only creates the sense of belonging that a professional performance does but it also shows that the mere “fan” can become the idol. The music and reality show fusion also helps further it’s popularity by bringing together different groups of people based on their tastes in music. Zengotita explicitly states this thesis in the fifth paragraph. The point Zengotita is trying to get across is that American Idol gives you multiple ways to feel good about yourself, not only through the performances but also the auditions where contestants voluntarily subject themselves to this public humiliation. This phase of the show allows viewers the chance to pass judgment on “one of the most embarrassing pools of losers ever assembled”, according to Zengotita. 15. SCOTT RUSSELL SANDERS’ THE MEN WE CARRY IN OUR MINDS I absolutely love this essay. It’s starts off with a conversation between Sanders and his female friend, Anekke. He starts the conversation be stating he believes life at the time is harder for women, who have so many different avenues and callings. Anekke disagrees this, saying that women are the “victim”; they are guiltless when compared to men, “crusaders with a just cause”. Men, however, have much more blood on their hands. This sets the main idea for the rest of the essay, which is comparing the different hardships of men and women. Sanders’ opinion on the subject is quite bias,

Wearing a yellow turban, the broad chested Hindu monk from India stood on stage at the World’s Parliament of Religion in Chicago and addressed his “brothers and sisters of America.” The crowd erupted in applause. Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) responded to the warm welcome. “It fills my heart with joy unspeakable to rise in response to the warm and cordial welcome which you have given us. I thank you in the name of the most ancient order of monks in the world; I thank you in the name of the mother of religions, and I thank you in the name of the millions and millions of Hindu people of all classes and sects.” In these first words to the crowd in Chicago, Vivekananda outlined his two concerns at the World Parliament of Religion. First, Vivekananda came to America and Chicago in search of financial assistance for social welfare projects to benefit the “millions and millions of Hindu people” back home. Second, through his lectures at the Parliament and his tours afterward, Vivekananda hoped to make his particular brand of Hinduism the kind the West recognized, a normative Hinduism, a monotheistic world religion with universal claims as the “mother of all religions.” While he failed to generate the funds for Indian reform he had hoped to find, Vivekananda successfully defined Hinduism in America for the next half-century.

Born Narendranath Datta in 1863, Vivekananda grew up in a middle-class professional family in Bengal. The son of a lawyer who later went to college at the Presidency College and the Scottish Church College, Narendranath had a deep understanding of Western philosophy and literature. He also became a Freemason—an important badge of society among ambitious young men in Calcutta—and joined the Brahmo Samaj, a Hindu reform movement that sought to rid Hindu religion of “idol worship” and promoted social welfare programs. Young Narendranath exemplified what many called “Young India,” a middle-class, Western educated, upwardly mobile, and reform minded generation of Hindus growing up at the seat of British colonial power in Calcutta.

When he was eighteen, however, Narendranath met Ramakrishna at the Kali temple in Dakshineswar and everything changed. Ramakrishna was deeply devoted to Kali, a goddess traditionally represented wearing a necklace of human skulls and standing upon the corpse of Shiva, her male consort. Ramakrishna mixed devotional practice with Vedanta philosophy that emphasized the oneness of the self with ultimate reality and Tantric practices that sought to rouse spiritual energy within the body. He often dropped into fits of religious ecstasy or higher consciousness. Famously pictured cross-legged in a simple cloth, Ramakrishna was not Young India. Nonetheless, he fascinated Narendranath and the young man decided to pursue a religious life under the direction of Ramakrishna. After Ramakrishna’s death in 1886, Narendranath took the vows of a monk, became Swami Vivekananda, and took a leading role among the disciples Ramakrishna left behind. By the time he reached Chicago in 1893, Vivekananda had launched the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, an order of monks and an organization for social reform and humanitarian work.

Vivekananda did not come to the United States as a Hindu missionary. Instead, he came as a fundraiser. In the years prior to the World’s Parliament of Religion, Vivekananda traveled India in search of someone to finance his social reform plans with no luck. In December 1893, following the close of the Parliament, Vivekananda wrote home to India to say he would stay in the United States not for fame but for funds he could send back to India’s poor. Vivekananda’s social and fundraising agenda came with its own anti-missional edge. He wanted America to stop sending missionaries and start sending material relief to India. He boldly critiqued the American Protestant mission to India at one point during the Parliament. “You Christians who are so fond of sending out missionaries to save the souls of the heathen,” he declared, “why do you not try to save their bodies from starvation?” India did not need religion, Vivekananda argued. Instead, it needed food, medicine, and education. It was the rich West that needed the religion, according to Vivekananda. Vivekananda believed he would give Americans spirituality and they would give him money. He hoped the exchange would renew his country.

Vivekananda also offered a scathing critique of the colonial project in India and its ties with Christianity while at the Parliament. In extemporaneous remarks printed in the Chicago Daily Tribune but not in any of the official records of the Parliament Vivekananda said:

"We who come from the East have sat here on the platform day after day and have been told in a patronizing way that we ought to accept Christianity because Christian nations are the most prosperous. We look about us and we see England, the most prosperous Christian nation in the world with her foot on the neck of 250,000,000 of Asiatics. We look back into history and see that the prosperity of Christian Europe began with Spain. Spain’s prosperity began with the invasion of Mexico. Christianity wins its prosperity by cutting the throats of its fellow men. At such a price the Hindoo will not have prosperity.

"I have sat here today and I have heard the height of intolerance. I have heard the creed of the Moslem applauded, when today the Moslem sword is carrying destruction into India. Blood and the sword are not for the Hindoo, whose religion is based on the law of love."

The very prosperity that Vivekananda had hoped to bring back to India had its roots in “cutting the throats” of men and standing on the neck of 250 million Asians. Vivekananda demanded that Europe and America stop the flood of missionaries and reverse the flow of colonial resources. It was a sentiment shared by others at the Parliament like Shaku Soyen, who noted that interfaith dialogue was impossible while one nation was invading another. But these brief moments of anti-colonial and anti-Christian rhetoric failed to gain any ground in its own time or afterward, buried in the pages of the Proceedings or one Chicago newspaper.

Vivekananda also came to America as a representative of Hinduism, one of the ten “world religions” imagined by the Parliament’s organizers. To that end, Vivekananda’s lectures in Chicago codified and authorized a form of Hinduism that would dominate American understandings of Hindu religions for the next half-century. Vivekananda’s paper titled “Hinduism” presented a tolerant and universal religion that coexisted nicely with American liberal Protestantism. For Vivekananda, Hinduism was monotheistic, scientific, and socially progressive. It was based in the ancient Sanskrit Vedic texts which he interpreted as teaching a monistic creator. The “Hinduism” lecture was a primer on Vedanta theology and philosophy translated into western terms for his audience. He referred to “God,” “the Father of all spirits,” and “providence.” Along with these Christian terms, Vivekananda emphasized that Hinduism suited the scientific revolution of the age. Just as scientists discovered physical laws, the Vedas provided spiritual laws that were equally rational. This monotheistic, rational, Vedic, Hinduism was the “mother of all religion” and absorbed the differences of sect or tradition, according to the swami. Indian culture contains a plethora of practices, myths, rituals, epics, poems, gods, goddesses, and philosophies. Out of this diversity, Vivekananda fashioned a monotheistic and rational Hinduism that he presented as a unified world religion to the audience in Chicago.

American played a particularly important role in Vivekananda’s vision of Hinduism. It was America, he claimed in his address, that would “march at the vanguard of civilization with the flag of harmony.” For Swami Vivekananda, Hinduism provided a universal religion for the dawning of the twentieth century and America provided a land of religious freedom for it to prosper. After the Parliament, Vivekananda spent three years touring the United States teaching about yoga and Vedanta philosophy before returning to India in 1896. In 1895, he broke off public lecturing and settled in Thousand Island Park, along the St. Lawrence River in New York with group of select devotees. He came back to America in 1899 and established the Vedanta Society of San Francisco, which exists to this day. Coincidently reflecting his connection to the United States, Swami Vivekananda died in India on July 4, 1902.

Further Reading

  • Philip Goldberg, American Veda (New York: Harmony Books, 2010).
  • Thomas A. Forsthoefel and Cynthia Ann Humes, eds., Gurus in America (Albany: SUNY Press, 2005).
  • Carl T. Jackson, Vedanta For the West: The Ramakrishna Movement in the United States (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1994).
  • Narayan, Kirin, “Refractions from the Field at Home: American Representations of Hindu Holy Men in the 19th and 20th Centuries,” Cultural Anthropology 8 (1993): 476-509.

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