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Nalanda University scraps yoga course taught by American scholar after BJP intervention

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BJP leader Ram Madhav was upset that Patricia Sauthoff was hired to teach the course.

A yoga course taught in Nalanda University by Patricia Sauthoff, an American doctoral scholar doing her Ph.D. at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, has been scrapped following the intervention of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, which blamed a former chancellor and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen’s team for appointing a foreigner to teach “politics of yoga.”

BJP General Secretary Ram Madhav said in a tweet that he was shocked to know about Nalanda having a course on politics of yoga, that too taught by a foreigner. He concluded the tweet saying that the course has been “abolished”.

“Stunned to hear dat Amartya Sen’s Nalanda Univ regime had a course on ‘Politics of Yoga’ taught by a foreigner. Now course abolished,” tweeted Madhav.

Reacting to the tweet, Sauthoff tweeted that she was stunned that a high-level government official had chosen to spread misinformation about her course.

According to the official website of Nalanda University, Sauthoff was associated with the School of Buddhist Studies, Philosophy, and Comparative Religions as a teaching fellow.

The controversy was first reported by The Telegraph newspaper.

The university authorities confirmed to the paper that the course that Sauthoff taught was already over in May.

BJP leaders are blaming former chancellor Sen for the appointment of Sauthoff. Interestingly, Sen had demited the office of the chancellor alleging the Modi government was trying to interfere in the academic functioning of the university.

The government later appointed a new governing body, removing all members of Sen’s team and this was the time when Sauthoff was hired to teach the class.

The School of Buddhist Studies, Philosophy, and Comparative Religions was established in the early 2000s as a result of collaborative effort of India and a number of countries from East Asia, Southeast Asia and, later, the broader Pacific region.

The school gives emphasizes to the study of Buddhist ideas and values and historically contextualizes those ideas in relation to other philosophical and religious traditions.

According to the Nalanda University vice-chancellor Sunaina Singh, who was appointed by the BJP government, the idea of a foreigner teaching politics of yoga was problematic.

“The very title of the course is problematic,” Singh told The Telegraph. “Why do you inject politics into it? Why are we allowing a foreigner to teach the politics of yoga?”

However, Andrea Jain, a professor in the department of religious studies at Indiana University, told the newspaper that politics of yoga is a common subject among yoga researchers and it is all about the cultural or political appropriation of the practice with a view to defining it narrowly.

Prior to her Ph.D. work, Sauthoff received an MA in History from SOAS with a masters dissertation focused on the religious rhetoric of 1990s Kashmiri separatist movements. She also holds an MA in Eastern Classics from St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and a dual BA in English and Religious Studies from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

She has also worked for more than a decade as a journalist in the print, radio, and digital spheres.

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