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Archive for January 16th, 2008

Sai Baba Researchers’ Huge Debt To Scholar Brian D. Steel

Posted by Barry Pittard on January 16, 2008

The Australian academic linguist Brian Steel has posted his Research on Sathya Sai Baba and the Sathya Sai Organisation. New Factors for Researchers to Consider, December 2007

Brian D. Steel’s Huge Project

Of the ‘New Factors’ section, he notes: “This extensive survey is also an integral section of the third Part of my annotated Bibliography on Sathya Sai Baba”. Far more that offering long lists of sources, the bibliographies include succinct comments in the case of works that Steel deems of special note. His scope is breathtaking.

“These three Bibliographies have listed and briefly described three large and diverse corpora of information currently available in December 2007 about the guru Sathya Sai Baba, his 60-year spiritual Mission and his organisation (the Sathya Sai Organisation). By winnowing this enormous mass of varied documentation, researchers should be in a better position to separate fact from fantasy and research from propaganda in order to arrive at a fair evaluation of the complex Sathya Sai Baba story”.

Steel’s overview:

‘An Annotated Bibliography for Research on Sathya Sai Baba in Three Parts. Part 1: Sources of public information, including items of a scholarly or academic nature or provenance, with an Appendix on entries in works of reference, surveys and textbooks  An Annotated Bibliography for Research on Sathya Sai Baba
Part 2: Alternative Sources of Information and Opinion about Sathya Sai Baba and his Mission
 An Annotated Bibliography for Research on Sathya Sai Baba  Part 3: A Bibliography of Apologetic Writing about Sathya Sai Baba. Presenting Sathya Sai Baba to the World Sections 1-5.   Sathya Sai Baba’s Teachings, etc.

Section 6. New Factors for Researchers to Consider’

Continuum of Sai Scholarship Which Now Includes Dissent

Many readers look to Brian Steel’s work which, with its habits of a lifetime of scholarship, shows cool appraisal and lays great emphasis on care over detail, close textual comparison, verification of sources, and so forth. Much of his work invites wider than scholarly readership. All who are in search of both copious detailed bibliographical sources and/or analysis will find the entire Steel opus (from 2001 on) indispensable. It is vast, and has been groundbreaking from the very first. Indeed, his writing on Sai Baba issues and bibliography was already established when he was still a devotee. After twelve years of following him, he left and continued extensive analysis of texts, many of which he had long known. Some of the contradictions – especially in Sai Baba’s so-called ‘Divine Discourses’ – had already troubled him while he was a devotee. This witnesses a common experience of dissenters in general, since there is often no overnight revelation but rather a prolonged and anguishing period of reassessment. I think that there will be no independent scholars or other investigators of merit who will be able to find serious fault with his project. He will nevertheless be targetted, I think, by fervent  pro Sai Baba polemicists, who increasingly undo themselves wherever there are attentive, sober critical readers, as witness his Endnote (to which I refer below). Even an endnote from Steel is strong medicine. In his endnote to ‘New Factors, he examines the efforts of an individual of extreme zeal who, assisted by some of Sai Baba’s servitors in various countries, has spearheaded Internet attempts to discredit  those who have publicly presented evidence which openly conflicts with Sathya Sai Baba’s Divine Claims.

William ‘Bill’ Aitken – A Non-hagiographic Hagiographer?

I shall shortly review a section of Part 3 (See, link above) of this December 2007 series, which analyses the book William McKay Aitken’s book ‘Sri Sathya Sai Baba. A Life’ (New Delhi, Penguin Books India, 2004. Paperback edition, 2006). The Aitkin material is in Part 3, Section 6, New Factors for Researchers to Consider. 1. Recent Publications and New Promotional Media. Specifically 3. Which Sai Baba Movement? A Writer’s Dilemma

Aitken Accepted By Top Sai Baba Official

‘Bill’ Aitken is extolled as an authoritative intellectual by Dr G. Venkataraman, Sai Baba’s deputy world chairman and head of Sai Global Radio (via WorldSpace International Satellite Radio Service). Aitken speaks of his book as a counterweight to “excesses of hagiography”. But is it anything of the sort?

Serious Omissions and Commissions?

Rather, Steel’s textual analysis reveals that the book has strong hagiographical content, and also ignores some critics of Sathya Sai Baba by isolating “headline grabbing” and superficial views contra Sai Baba, while, to an extraordinary extent, ignoring the large body of serious criticism.

(More on Brian Steel’s work shortly)


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