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One of the most frequently-made statements about Christianity concerns its "historical" character--its grounding in a set of episodes in the life of the Israelite people that culminated in the climactic Christ-event, an event that brought into sharper focus than before a redemptive process that has been going on since the beginning of times and will last till the end of times. The assertion of this central aspect of Christian self-understanding has often gone hand in hand with a statement of what the Hindu philosophical-religious traditions are alleged to have lacked, namely, a historical sense. It is charged that Hindu thinkers believed that individuals are chained to never-ending cycles that do not lead anywhere, with all sense of meaning or purpose thus drained from temporal existence. (1) A clear statement of such a demarcation comes from Alan Richardson, who states, specifically in the European context, that "'Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him' (Rom 6:9) ... is the text which changed the outlook of European man upon history .... The European mind was freed by the proclamation of God's saving act in history from the fatalistic theory of cyclical recurrence which had condemned Greek historiography to sterility." (2) The Christian faith is believed to have liberated humanity from the tortuous cosmological circles of eternal recurrence, once in the world of late antiquity when it was still a fledgling in the milieu of Hellenistic mystery cults and much later in colonial British India when it came into contact with the patterns of classical Hindu thought. It is almost as if as an appendix to Saint Augustine's famous remark, "God did not create the world in time, but with time," (3) Christian theologians in his wake had added, "Therefore, Christianity did not come into the world in history, but with history."
In recent decades, much scholarly effort, from anthropological, archaeological, and philosophical perspectives, has been directed towards challenging this quite widespread notion that individuals in ancient Indic civilization were in thrall to immensely vast and endlessly repeated cosmological cycles and were therefore devoid of a linear consciousness of time. (4) However, a relatively unexamined matter in these contexts is a comparative analysis of the specific set of characteristics that are believed to have hindered the growth of a historical sensibility in Indic cultures with those special features of Christian worldviews that are claimed to have historicized the European mind. A significant lacuna in these discussions, therefore, concerns a comparative study of the equivalences that are assumed to have been fixed between, on the one hand, Indic/Hindu "cyclical" time and stagnation/degeneration and, on the other, European/Christian "linear" time and advancement/progress. Given that these correlations have often been regarded as incontrovertibly established, an appreciation of the range of the intra-Hindu and the intra-Christian views on the nature of history can enable us to elaborate more fine-grained understandings of how these traditions have conceptualized the temporal flow. More specifically, the ongoing debates that emerged around the middle of the last century over the precise degree of fit that obtains between Christian foundational presuppositions and historical awareness can be correlated with discussions about the presence or absence of temporal consciousness in Hindu religious life. For instance, examination of the contentious issues of the presence of "mythological thinking" in the expression of central Christian beliefs or of whether certain events associated with Jesus, such as the Resurrection, can be construed as "historical" can cast in a different light the often-made contrast that, in opposition to the "historical" character of the Christian documents, the Hindu religious texts are a tissue of "myth" and devoid of a "historical" core.
In pursuit of such an investigation, we shall, in the subsequent sections of this paper, highlight some current lines of research that indicate that the "straightline" versus "tortuous cycle" antithesis distorts the classical Indian understanding of temporality when the latter is viewed through its lens, point out certain other fallacious ways of setting up contrasts between "the" Indic and "the" Christian views on time and history (when monolithically construed), and turn a critical gaze on some aspects of the Christian tradition to inquire into the connection that is supposed to hold between Christian faith and historical consciousness.
* "History" in Hinduism and Christianity
A long series of commentators on the Indic religious traditions, from the redoubtable Hegel5 to the highly influential John Mill6 to numerous contemporary writers, have discussed the question of the presence in them of a historical consciousness and often replied in the negative. As Arvind Sharma points out, the perception of India as an essentially spiritual land immersed in the contemplation of eternal verities remains one of the most contested issues, both inside and outside the academy, in discussions on the socio-religious culture of the country. He notes that "[t]he view that Hinduism as a religion, or the Hindus as a whole, lack a sense of history has been expressed so often as to have become a cliche. Even when scholars have tried to take a more sophisticated as opposed to a cliched view, the effect has often been to reinforce it." (7) Taking our cue from Sharma's reference to cliched and sophisticated reasons for this supposed absence of history, we shall examine, in this section, those which are framed in terms of the geometrical representations of time as a straight line or a circle, and, in the next, those of a somewhat different kind which suggest that this lack is a consequence of certain factors relating to language and culture. More specifically, we shall first examine the "straight line versus eternal cycle" dichotomy that has often formed the backbone of such explanations concerning modes of temporal consciousness and then proceed to grapple with arguments that are based on linguistic considerations and civilizational contrasts.
A contrast is set up in some strands of Christian theology between the Hindu and the Christian experiences of temporality with the latter understood as imbued with goal-oriented purpose and the former as devoid of any such directionality. A clear statement of these putative equivalences comes from the Old Testament scholar Bernhard W. Anderson: "In Hinduism ... the world of sense experience is regarded as maya, illusion.... [On the other hand], in the Bible, history is neither maya nor a circular process of nature; it is the arena of God's purposive activity." (8) The American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr too believed that the acosmic spirituality of Brahmanic mysticism, in which temporal events are shackled to recurring cycles, obscures the dialectic between past influences and present responsibility that makes human beings both the creatures and the creators of history. (9) That the postulation of such a disjunction between the Christian and the Hindu modes of perceiving time is not a mere historical curiosity but continues to be made is suggested by more recent remarks of Christian thinkers such as Lesslie Newbigin who spent a substantial part of his life in India and had a deeper acquaintance with its religious traditions than Anderson or Niebuhr. For instance, Newbigin states that "[t]he Eastern religions [such as Hinduism] do not understand the world in terms of purpose.... The Bible, on the other hand, is dominated by the idea of divine purpose." (10) Such views are not uncommon outside the circle of Christian theologians: in a popular study of Indian culture, Richard Lannoy argues that it cannot accommodate the idea that the individual is the subject of "history" for the ultimate aim is "the merging of the collective ... in the ecstasy of Oneness, or absorption of all in the All." (11) Even Joseph Needham, who has done much to dispel the notion that Chinese culture was a part of the "timeless Orient," argues that the dimension of the "historically unique" was absent in Indian civilization. (12) Now, roughly two patterns of response have been offered to such charges: a) the insistence that the notion of cyclical time in classical Indian civilization should not be equated with the reduplication of the same events, and b) the assertion that the categories of "cyclic" and "linear" time should not be conceived "monolithically" and thus placed in conflict, given that the former can include some crucial aspects of the latter.
a) It has been pointed out that the symbolism of time as a circle refers not to the "fatalistic" repetition of precisely the same temporal events but to general similarities in structures or patterns in the manner of the production and the absorption of the empirical world across the cycles. While the idea of cyclic time in classical India is often regarded as similar to that which was prevalent in ancient Greece, it is important to note that even in the latter it was not always associated with the recurrence of exactly the same events. Among the philosophers, Anaxagoras and Epicurus are on record as having rejected the cyclical notion of time, and Aristotle seems not to have attached any fundamental importance to the Stoic theory of the (cosmic) Great Years, whereas historians such as Herodotus and Thucydides, in Arnaldo Momigliano's view, did not teach the eternal recurrence of identical events. (13) More generally, the idea of historical recurrence, which has included notions such as renovation, re-enactment, and restoration, seems only rarely to be associated with the exact repetition of events. In the course of a study of the writings of Polybius, Luke in the New Testament, and Machiavelli, G. W. Trompf writes that "the minimal expectation from a cyclical view is simply the recurrence of the same stages of development, together with the idea of a return to an original set of general conditions. The exact or detailed repetition of events or characteristics is not a necessary prerequisite." (14) Trompf's observation finds further support from James Barr, who cautions us, regarding the vexed matter of "cyclical" time which is often straightforwardly attributed to Greek thinkers, poets, or writers, that we should not confuse the philosophical (Aristotelian) view concerning the perfection and the uniformity of circular motion with the claim that "the Greeks" believed in the identical repetition of events. Pointing out the intense disagreement among (Biblical) scholars over the precise extent to which cyclical views were prevalent among "the Greeks," Barr believes that the very phrase "cyclical view of time" should be abandoned. Instead, one should provide careful descriptions in terms such as the periodic processes of earthly regeneration and degeneration, the circular motions of heavenly bodies, the single occurrence of a cosmic cycle which returns to the same point of origin, temporal cycles which are repeated infinitely, and the recurrence of events exactly as in the previous cycle--and also clearly specify which of these is …