Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Discourse analysis in Focus. An example: Bhagavad Gita — a closed or open book? Part 1

Many religious communities may be regarded as secret or protected in some way from outsiders. In order to begin to understand Discourse Analysis as a Social Research Method I have chosen a particular problem of confidentiality that hopefully can be studied to some extent by textual analysis. I want to know: does this kind of analysis add any value to my understanding?

In one way the Bhagavad Gita is closed and open at the same time. I have selected two quotes from the same edition of the Bhagavad Gita, one from a theology professor introducing the reader to the Bhagavad Gita and one quote from the text itself, to highlight  an apparent difference of opinion.

Christopher Key Chapple (Doshi Professor of Indic and Comparative Theology Loyola Marymount University) speaks about the openness of the Bhagavad Gita to different paths, different needs:
"The Bhagavad Gita sets forth a multiplicity of possible paths. A panoply of perspectives is offered to the reader in a nonjudgmental way; the many positions proposed by Krishna do not necessarily compete with one another but rather complete one another. If one needs to act, one uses Karma Yoga; if one needs to meditate, one uses Dhyana Yoga. This “henocretic” text is written with a gentle tolerance, allowing various practices and positions to be pursued."
(Preface page XXV of the Bhagavad Gita)

Krishna (the original speaker of the Bhagavad Gita) on the other hand speaks, in the end of his 600+ slokas (verses) long discourse on different paths and religious practices, about the closedness of the Bhagavad Gita, its wisdom should not be disclosed to just anyone:
"This shall not be spoken of by you to one who is without austerity, Nor to one who is without devotion, Nor to one who does not render service, Nor to one who does not desire to listen, Nor to one who speaks evil of Me."
(page 728, sloka 18.67, from the Bhagavad Gita)

My own solution to this difference of opinion between a commentator and the original speaker is the following:
The many different paths are open to anyone with the right qualification and qualification can only be judged by someone who are aware of and to some degree already lives within a religious practice. When the Gita was spoken most people lived within a religious community but here Krishna foresees the possibility that in the future someone reading the Gita may not do that.
Furthermore one (or more) of the different paths may be open to a qualified person, but Krishna's presentation  or summary study of them (in the Gita) requires a special qualification, which Krishna here defines in sloka 18.67. There are other places in the Gita where Krishna brings up this problem in different contexts, but here in the end of the Gita it is very clearly the main topic.

So now after my own short analysis I am planning to review my two selected quotes, to see how the 
authors may have used, as it were, a special strategy to build their text which is called "Gee's seven 
building tasks of language" (Gee, 2011). It is kind of a rhetorical analysis to be able to understand what the author is trying to do

The question I am actually trying to answer is: Is there any 'added value' for me to perform discourse analysis in understanding and explaining the problem of confidentiality I have presented here in this post. This is part of a course in Social Research Methods (SRMs) at the Edinburgh University at the master level, still I have not selected the particular kind of discourse analysis I am going to use. The "Gee's seven building tasks of language" is given in the course assignement.

Gee introducing us to Discourse analysis explains how language "allows us to do things and be things..." and that "...saying things in language never goes without also doing things and being things" (Gee, 2011, p.1).  Discourse analysis also places importance on context: "to understand anything fully you need to know who is saying it and what the person saying it is trying to do" (ibid, p.2).

In this first part of this series on "Discourse Analysis in Focus" I have presented a real social problem: Should a concerned religious community protect the Bhagavad Gita from unqualified people or should the Gita be regarded as an open book that should be available for the needs of any person. I have given my own preliminary analysis to try to answer this question. And finally I have mentioned about the particular kind of Discourse Analysis that I want to employ to see if such an analysis gives any added value for understanding.
In the second part of this series I will present the method of Gee and apply it to the text from the Bahagavad Gita. The question I will try to answer is: What is Krishna trying to do by speaking this sloka 18.67? And more importantly, the answer I will produce from the analysis, does it add any value to my understanding of this problem of confidentiality?

Bhagavad Gita: The Bhagavad Gita / translated by Winthrop Sargeant ; edited and with a preface by Christopher Key Chapple ; foreword by Huston Smith.—25th anniversary ed.; Published by State University of New York Press, Albany, 2009. Originally publ. 1984
Gee, 2011Gee, JP. (2011). An introduction to discourse analysis: theory and method. Abingdon: Routledge.

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