Illinois State Library

Illinois Center for the Book


Individual Author Record

General Information

Name:  Wendy Doniger  

Pen Name: Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty

Genre: History Non-Fiction

Born: 1940 in New York, New York

Sites:


Illinois Connection

Wendy lives and works in Chicago.

Biographical and Professional Information

Wendy Doniger holds two doctorates in Sanskrit and Indian studies from Harvard and Oxford. She is the author of several translations of Sanskrit texts and many books about Hinduism and has taught at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London and at the University of California at Berkeley. She is currently the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions at the University of Chicago Divinity School, the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, and the Committee on Social Thought. She has taught at the University of Chicago since 1978. Much of her work is focused on translating, interpreting and comparing elements of Hindu mythology.


Published Works Expand for more information


Titles At Your Library

The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology (Hermeneutics: Studies in the History of Religions)
ISBN: 0520040988

University of California Press. 1980

"While focusing on the central problem of evil, O'Fiaherty illuminates every aspect of Hindu thought."

--Choice

"This is Dr. O'Flaherty's third book on Indian mythology, and the best yet. The range and number of myths handled is dazzling .... Moreover, her fluent and lucid style make reading a pleasure .... a major contribution to the study of religion in general and Hinduism in particular."
--Times Literary Supplement

"This scholarly work is a welcome and valuable addition to Hindu studies because it corrects the widespread belief that Hindu thought does not recognize the problem of evil. The author shows conclusively that the mythology of tribal societies and the Puranas deal with this question extensively. She traces certain conceptual attitudes towards evil from the Vedic period to the present day."
--Library Journal

"O'Flaherty has accomplished an important double task. She has reoriented our thinking on the Indian experience of evil as it has been given literary expression in the mythological texts of the Sanskrit tradition and to a lesser extent in the Tamil and tribal traditions as well. She has also provided, in this rich and exquisitely crafted book, a new set of vantage points from which to re-read familiar Indian myths and encounter new ones. . . Origins is both a superb piece of scholarship and a lively, witty and engagingly written book."
--South Asia in Review

"The author performs a brilliant feat in her textually exegetical and hermeneutical handling of the numerous and many-faceted myths. The study is highly pertinent and valuable . . . The authorial translations from the Hindu and Pali texts are refreshing ... and her comments are illuminating. Thus the Hindu view of evil comes out as something not simplistic and arbitrary but as an approach which is careful, complex, and richly eclectic. . . . This is a highly readable volume written with verve, sparkle and occasional light touches of decent humor."
--Asian Student

"For serious students of mythology, theology and Hinduism, this book is must reading."
--Religious Studies Review

Siva: The Erotic Ascetic (Galaxy Books)
ISBN: 0195202503

Oxford University Press. 1981

Originally published under the title Asceticism and Eroticism in the Mythology of Siva, this book traces the development of an Indian approach to an enduring human dilemma: the conflict between spiritual aspirations and human desires. The work examines hundreds of related myths and a wide range of Indian texts--Vedic, Puranic, classical, modern, and tribal--centering on the stories of the great ascetic, Siva, and his erotic alter ego, Kama.

Women, Androgynes, and Other Mythical Beasts
ISBN: 0226618501

University of Chicago Press. 1982

"An important, provocative and original work, of great interest to Indian scholars, historians of religions, psychologists and historians of ideas, but accessible also to the cultivated reader. Even if one does not always agree with the author's interpretation, one cannot but admire her vast and precise learning, her splendid translations and exegesis of so many, and so different, Sanskrit texts, and her uninhibited, brilliant, and witty prose."—Mircea Eliade, University of Chicago

"This is . . . a book which is as rich in detail as the carvings of the great Hindu temples. It shares with them a delight in the interplay of myth and mundane experience, and above all an empathy with the Hindu preoccupation with the meaning of human existence in all its complexity."—G. M. Carstairs, Times Literary Supplement

Dreams, Illusion, and Other Realities
ISBN: 0226618552

University of Chicago Press. 1986

"Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty . . . weaves a brilliant analysis of the complex role of dreams and dreaming in Indian religion, philosophy, literature, and art. . . . In her creative hands, enchanting Indian myths and stories illuminate and are illuminated by authors as different as Aeschylus, Plato, Freud, Jung, Kurl Gödel, Thomas Kuhn, Borges, Picasso, Sir Ernst Gombrich, and many others. This richly suggestive book challenges many of our fundamental assumptions about ourselves and our world."—Mark C. Taylor, New York Times Book Review

"Dazzling analysis. . . . The book is firm and convincing once you appreciate its central point, which is that in traditional Hindu thought the dream isn't an accident or byway of experience, but rather the locus of epistemology. In its willful confusion of categories, its teasing readiness to blur the line between the imagined and the real, the dream actually embodies the whole problem of knowledge. . . . [O'Flaherty] wants to make your mental flesh creep, and she succeeds."—Mark Caldwell, Village Voice

Textual Sources for the Study of Hinduism (Textual Sources for the Study of Religion)
ISBN: 0226618471

University of Chicago Press. 1990

"A wider range than usual of Sanskrit texts: not only interesting Vedic, epic, and mythological texts but also a good sampling of ritual and ethical texts. . . . There are also extracts from texts usually neglected, such as medical treatises, works on practical politics, and guides to love and marriage. . . . Readings from the vernacular Hindi, Bengali, and Tamil traditions [serve to] enrich the collection and demonstrate how Hinduism flourished not just in Sanskrit but also in its many mother tongues."—Francis X. Clooney, Journal of Asian Studies

Other Peoples' Myths: The Cave of Echoes
ISBN: 0226618579

University of Chicago Press. 1995

Other People's Myths celebrates the universal art of storytelling, and the rich diversity of stories that people live by. Drawing on Biblical parables, Greek myths, Hindu epics, and the modern mythologies of Woody Allen and soap operas, Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty encourages us to feel anew the force of myth and tradition in our lives, and in the lives of other cultures. She shows how the stories of mythology—whether of Greek gods, Chinese sages, or Polish rabbis—enable all cultures to define themselves. She raises critical questions about the way we interpret mythical stories, especially the way different cultures make use of central texts and traditions. And she offers a sophisticated way of looking at the roles myths play in all cultures.

Splitting the Difference: Gender and Myth in Ancient Greece and India (Jordan Lectures in Comparative Religion, 1996-1997 : School of Oriental and African Studies University of London)
ISBN: 0226156419

University of Chicago Press. 1999

Hindu and Greek mythologies teem with stories of women and men who are doubled, who double themselves, who are seduced by gods doubling as mortals, whose bodies are split or divided. In Splitting the Difference, the renowned scholar of mythology Wendy Doniger recounts and compares a vast range of these tales from ancient Greece and India, with occasional recourse to more recent "double features" from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to Face/Off.

Myth, Doniger argues, responds to the complexities of the human condition by multiplying or splitting its characters into unequal parts, and these sloughed and cloven selves animate mythology's prodigious plots of sexuality and mortality. Doniger's comparisons show that ultimately differences in gender are more significant than differences in culture

Greek and Indian stories of doubled women resemble each other more than they do tales of doubled men in the same culture. In casting Hindu and Greek mythologies as shadows of each other, Doniger shows that culture is sometimes but the shadow of gender.

The Woman Who Pretended to Be Who She Was: Myths of Self-Imitation
ISBN: 0195313119

Oxford University Press. 2006

Many cultures have myths about self-imitation, stories about people who pretend to be someone else pretending to be them, in effect masquerading as themselves. This great theme, in literature and in life, tells us that people put on masks to discover who they really are under the masks they usually wear, so that the mask reveals rather than conceals the self beneath the self.
In this book, noted scholar of Hinduism and mythology Wendy Doniger offers a cross-cultural exploration of the theme of self-impersonation, whose widespread occurrence argues for both its literary power and its human value. The stories she considers range from ancient Indian literature through medieval European courtly literature and Shakespeare to Hollywood and Bollywood. They illuminate a basic human way of negotiating reality, illusion, identity, and authenticity, not to mention memory, amnesia, and the process of aging. Many of them involve marriage and adultery, for tales of sexual betrayal cut to the heart of the crisis of identity.
These stories are extreme examples of what we common folk do, unconsciously, every day. Few of us actually put on masks that replicate our faces, but it is not uncommon for us to become travesties of ourselves, particularly as we age and change. We often slip carelessly across the permeable boundary between the un-self-conscious self-indulgence of our most idiosyncratic mannerisms and the conscious attempt to give the people who know us, personally or publicly, the version of ourselves that they expect. Myths of self-imitation open up for us the possibility of multiple selves and the infinite regress of self-discovery.
Drawing on a dizzying array of tales-some fact, some fiction-The Woman Who Pretended to Be Who She Was is a fascinating and learned trip through centuries of culture, guided by a scholar of incomparable wit and erudition.

The Hindus: An Alternative History
ISBN: 014311669X

Penguin Books. 2010

"Don't miss this equivalent of a brilliant graduate course froma feisty and exhilarating teacher."
-The Washington Post


An engrossing and definitive narrative account of history and myth, The Hindus offers a new way of understanding one of the world's oldest major religions. Hinduism does not lend itself easily to a strictly chronological account. Many of its central texts cannot be reliably dated within a century

its central tenets arise at particular moments in Indian history and often differ according to gender or caste

and the differences between groups of Hindus far outnumber the commonalities. Yet the greatness of Hinduism lies precisely in many of these idiosyncratic qualities that continues to inspire debate today. This groundbreaking work elucidates the relationship between recorded history and imaginary worlds, the inner life and the social history of Hindus.

On Hinduism
ISBN: 0199360073

Oxford University Press. 2014

In this magisterial volume of essays, Wendy Doniger enhances our understanding of the ancient and complex religion to which she has devoted herself for half a century. This series of interconnected essays and lectures surveys the most critically important and hotly contested issues in Hinduism over 3,500 years, from the ancient time of the Vedas to the present day.

The essays contemplate the nature of Hinduism

Hindu concepts of divinity

attitudes concerning gender, control, and desire

the question of reality and illusion

and the impermanent and the eternal in the two great Sanskrit epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Among the questions Doniger considers are: Are Hindus monotheists or polytheists? How can atheists be Hindu, and how can unrepentant Hindu sinners find salvation? Why have Hindus devoted so much attention to the psychology of addiction? What does the significance of dogs and cows tell us about Hinduism? How have Hindu concepts of death, rebirth, and karma changed over the course of history? How and why does a pluralistic faith, remarkable for its intellectual tolerance, foster religious intolerance?

Doniger concludes with four concise autobiographical essays in which she reflects on her lifetime of scholarship, Hindu criticism of her work, and the influence of Hinduism on her own philosophy of life. On Hinduism is the culmination of over forty years of scholarship from a renowned expert on one of the world's great faiths.