An Annotated Working Bibliography for Research on Sathya Sai Baba, in Three Parts.
Items of a scholarly or academic nature or provenance
Brian Steel June 2005
Copyright © 2005 Brian Steel
Although based on substantial previous research, this Bibliography is still a work-in-progress and will be amended, corrected and updated from time to time. Corrections and suggestions are most welcome. [11/6/05][13/6] [15/6] [18/6] [26/6] [30/06]
Some writers have referred to the famous guru Sathya Sai Baba as "an enigma", or as "enigmatic" and indeed some aspects about him, as reported hitherto, are very enigmatic. However, the essence of his spiritual teachings is very simple: Look within. (God is inside.) Be good. Do good. Many people will probably find the second part of his teachings equally acceptable and even comforting in these fraught times: All sacred names and all religions are equal and refer to one God. The third part of SSB's teachings, which he proclaimed so emphatically in the early part of his Mission, is (succinctly): I am the Avatar of the Age with full Divine Powers. I am also the second Incarnation of a pre-ordained tripartite avataric Presence on Earth whose mission is to save mankind.
Those latter claims, and their successful propagation for sixty years by himself, his Organisation and his devotees, are attracting increasing attention from some researchers and writers. Other researchers from different backgrounds and academic disciplines are more interested in his charisma, his psychic powers, his Mission, his devotees and his international Organisation. I hope that this 'ecumenical' tripartite Bibliography - especially any Part which might otherwise have been neglected - will be of use in their research. (My own agenda is declared below.)
The last ten years have seen a major change in the nature of research and writing about the Indian guru Sathya Sai Baba. For half a century his image had been almost unanimously projected by eulogistic accounts, while counter-evidence to his claims to Divinity and Divine Powers had been sporadic and isolated - and ignored by devotees. In 1990 the name SSB was solidly established in India and in many other countries as that of a healer and man of miracles as well as a spiritual teacher. In 1995 and 2000, he still enjoyed that reputation but since then it has been necessary to take into account the conflicting evidence, news and allegations which had been seeping out since the early 1990s, mainly in the media and on the Internet (as well as the largely ignored sporadic or localised counter-evidence and allegations from earlier times). Since 2000, following more critical examination of the facts and to newly available information, this flow of counter-evidence and comment has become a steady stream and it needs to be taken into consideration in research and other serious writing about SSB. In particular, more attention should be focussed on the translated and edited Discourses of SSB himself, since within these lie so many neglected pieces of evidence. (They are freely available on the official SSB Internet websites as well as in published form.)
Because of this new information, with hindsight, SOME aspects of previous descriptions of SSB need to be re-examined and even modified. That would include most of the writing on SSB prior to 2001 (as well as some since that date). Since my own earlier writing falls into this category, I would go further and claim that IF the new information is correct and the allegations substantiated, then some of what was written about SSB prior to 2001 is incomplete or incorrect. The enigma remains, but it is smaller.
As a preliminary step, I am offering a (Draft) annotated Bibliography on SSB taken from different viewpoints, genres and fields. I hope it may be of special general use to those interested in the non-teaching aspects of SSB's life, in particular to the increasing numbers of students and academics who are making New Religious Movements (NRMs) their field of study (in departments as diverse as those of philosophy, comparative religion, parapsychology, anthropology, ethnography, sociology and politics).
In connection with the study of NRMs, one influential contemporary school of academic thought (particularly identified with the late Dr Bryan Wilson, Professor J. Gordon Melton, Emeritus Professor Eileen Barker of the LSE (see I.N.F.O.R.M. in the listing below) and some prolific and outspoken colleagues on both sides of the Atlantic) has insisted that for the description of an NRM, evidence from ex-followers should NOT be accepted without careful cross-examination of independent evidence. Bearing in mind that ex-members and devotees alike may present evidence that is verifiable, all Parts of this Bibliography offer the independent researcher an opportunity to follow this recommended procedure in the pursuit of a full and fair assessment of the claims and assertions of SSB, the SSB Movement, and his devotees.
In the case of the Indian guru Sathya Sai Baba, research is complicated by two special factors which have injected a major subjective element into much of the literature about him and his Mission (which I have tried to reflect in the divisions of this working bibliography):
1. the preponderance until recently of the hundreds of (often self-published) books and booklets of unquestioningly hagiographical studies describing devotees' experiences and beliefs concerning an extraordinary 60 year teaching Mission of a man who claims and is believed to be God on Earth with full divine powers;
2. the series of controversies and discrepancies which have become associated with his Mission.
This mixed and partly annotated Bibliography, divided into three parts, is intended to show most of the material currently available for those interested in research on SSB at a time of conflicting claims and controversies. The ordering of the three sections of the Bibliography is from less well known to very well known.
Important Note: Parts of the FULL story of Sathya Sai Baba and his Mission are to be found in EACH of these three distinct bibliographical areas.
Part 1: Items of a (more or less) scholarly or academic nature or provenance. (This document)
The main points of interest have been: belief in SSB and forms of worship; SSB's charismatic effect on devotees (devotees' beliefs and attitudes to SSB); the relationship of SSB and the SSB Movement to traditional Hinduism; the functioning of the Sathya Sai Organisation (SSO) and its dynamic international growth; the functioning and growth of the SSO in specific countries outside India.
Note: The work of academics and scholars whose main or total contribution to information on SSB and the SSO is EITHER of a proselytising or hagiographical nature (e.g. N. Kasturi), OR written from a partisan critical stance (e.g. Hummel, Priddy and Steel) is listed in Part 3 and Part 2, respectively.
Part 2: Work critical of SSB and his Mission by non-devotees (including ex-devotees).
These items deal principally with alleged or perceived discrepancies and anomalies in the SSB image and Mission as propagated by SSB, his Organisation, spokespersons, writers and devotees.
Part 3: A Basic Bibliography of Works about SSB by the SSO and his Devotees (Forthcoming)
This is a selection of hagiographical writing on SSB: The SSB story as told over 50 years by SSB himself, his Organisation, associates, spokespersons (official and unofficial), writers and devotees.
This section would be the obvious home for reasoned responses and rebuttals by SSB, SSO office-holders and devotees to criticism and allegations. To date, there is very little to list since the main official attitude to criticism has been one of automatic denial and blanket dismissal (often with gratuitous denigration and innuendo about the unnamed critics). If and when other detailed responses emerge, they deserve to be mentioned in this Part, or perhaps in a separate Part.
Appendix: A reference link for researchers to my earlier bibliographical listing of books and articles on SSB.
In spite of my best efforts, readers will soon discover that this bibliography contains a degree of personal bias and agenda. (Since 2001 I have made several detailed personal statements on this topic on my SSB web page, <http://bdsteel.tripod.com/More>.) A brief résumé is in order here.
For many years I not only considered myself a devotee of Sathya Sai Baba and an unquestioning believer in his Divinity but, as an eager chronicler and hagiographer, I researched a few hundred books and articles which enthusiastically described his Divinity and Divine powers, his teachings and the development of his Mission. The result was two very eulogistic books. These books (written in 1995 and 1998) are listed in Part 3 of this study (and were listed in other recent Bibliographies of mine). The research for both books entailed reading most of the voluminous SSB literature in English, mostly written by devotees and not available in major bookshops. For a proposed third book, I then (in late 1998) decided to switch my focus from the devotee literature to the 27 volumes of SSB's own Discourses (translated, edited and published by his Organisation in many languages and widely read by devotees). (There are currently 35 such volumes in a series titled Sathya Sai Speaks.)
My aim was simply to show the development of the 50 year Mission from the Divine guru's point of view. Unexpectedly, however, intensive study of this mass of approximately two million words revealed unexpected discrepancies and left so many unanswered questions that, with the Data Base assembled, it became impossible for me to continue with the projected book (on the development of the Mission as seen from SSB's own words). I shelved the book project in 1999 but continued to follow up leads and to look for necessary answers in a state of growing doubt about the Divine claims by SSB, his SSO and devotee writers - including myself!). The (sensational) publication of The Findings by David and Faye Bailey (in early 2000) and a critical re-examination of available material and my own files of discrepancies were instrumental in radically altering my opinion of SSB's claims of Divinity.
I not only became an ex-devotee but, as an experienced researcher, I began to use my folders of unanswered questions and discrepancies as the basis of a critical re-examination of the vast SSB literature - much of which I had previously accepted without question. As a result of the Baileys' Findings there was a sudden wave of critical attention, revelations and allegations, and, coincidentally, NEW information began to appear from devotee sources as well. (See '2000 Evidence') The clues which began to emerge from my files of discrepancies were followed up and, reinforced by the recently available new information, they have grown into substantial chunks of evidence which, I believe, modify some facets of the hagiographically crafted image of SSB.
My first critical writings were launched on the Internet in November 2001 and since then my many other postings on SSB have continued to probe discrepancies between the facts and some of the claims of SSB, his Organisation and his devotee chroniclers.
In spite of this changed personal stance, I hope and believe that my judgements and opinions expressed on my website and in this article are basically fair.
Note on the name 'Sai Baba':
Items of a scholarly or academic nature or provenance
1. For greater clarity in a very mixed bag of offerings on this celebrity guru, items by scholars, academics and ex-academics which may be classed either as essentially hagiographical or as outrightly critical of the official SSB story are presented in Parts 3 and 2, respectively.
2. Part 3 of this Bibliographical Resource will offer an annotated selection of titles from the several hundred items written about SSB by his devotees. For those wishing to cross-check with official Sathya Sai Organisation websites - for example to access any of SSB's Discourses referred to - before reaching Part 3, the following three official sites offer constantly updated information on SSB, as well as links to an ever-expanding labyrinth of other unofficial websites:
The International Sathya Sai Organisation: <www.sathyasai.org>;
The Sathya Sai Baba Charitable Trust: <www.srisathyasai.org.in>;
The Sri Sathya Sai Books and Publications Trust: <www.sssbpt.org>.
(For information on Shirdi Sai Baba's Organisation, see: <www.saibaba.org>)
There are three separate main waves of academic interest, each increasing in size. After Professor White's 1972 article, there are waves of interest in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000-.
The lengthy investigations by Babb (1986) and Klass (1991) offer the best in-depth descriptions of SSB and his devotees, their beliefs, daily activities and interaction. For comments on the special nature of the very detailed book-length study by Professor Haraldsson, see below.
Arora, Kamla, A Philosophical Study of Sri Sathya Sai Baba in the Context of Religico-Philosophical Milieu, Ph.D Thesis, University of Delhi, 1990. [Listed by S. P. Ruhela]
Babb, Lawrence A.:
1983: 'Sathya Sai Baba's Magic', Anthropological Quarterly, 56, 116-123.
Professor Babb's research was conducted in Delhi in 1978-1979. He was initially surprised and intrigued by the way sophisticated Indian devotees were so influenced by alleged miracles. His article develops a very interesting 'outside' perspective of the SSB phenomenon - as the journal Abstract will make clearer than I could. What I would add is that although, 20 years later, there is so much more information available on both SSB and the alleged miracles, Prof. Babb's main conclusion is still a valid departure point for further research: that SSB's real 'magic' is in inspiring in each devotee a special personal feeling of relationship which somehow enables them to feel more than they thought they were and facilitates and makes natural the belief in SSB's miracles and Divinity. The material in this article was incorporated into two chapters of Babb's 1986 book.
Abstract from Anthropological Quarterly:
This paper is an excursion in the anthropology of credibility. Regarded as a living deity by his many followers, Sathya Sai Baba is one of India's more important religious figures. The paper explores the role of the miraculous in his cult. Miracles attributed to the deity-saint are shown to be vehicles for establishing and maintaining relationships between him and his followers utilizing a transactional framework of general importance in the Hindu world. The indeterminacy of the miracles, far from being viewed as a disconfirmation of their author's claims, is understood to exemplify an unaccountability that is a necessary feature of divinity. Their ultimate plausibility and persuasive energy derive from a link, established within the symbolic world of the cult, between a devotee's belief in their divine authorship and his or her commitment to a transformed sense of identity. To the degree that the new sense of self is valued, the miracles must be accepted as genuine.
Note: the phrase "Regarded as a living deity by his many followers" was an incomplete and misleading statement even 20 years ago; it is still repeated today. SSB was and is so regarded by his devotees, and others, because he made frequent, unique and unequivocal claims in the early years of his mission and these claims have been propagated by his Organisation and his devotees.]
1986a: Redemptive Encounters. Three Modern Styles in the Hindu Tradition, Berkeley, University of California.
(See especially pp.157-201, 'Sathya Sai Baba and the Lesson of Trust', and the Conclusion, pp. 203-255.)
[This book presents a comparative study and discussion of three aspects of contemporary Hinduism: the Radhasoami faith and the Brahma Kumaris and SSB and his devotees.
For SSB researchers: The SSB section incorporates and expands on his 1983 article. Babb has much of interest to report from his field studies in SSB Centres and interviews with Hindu devotees in North India. He is still intrigued by the guru's success and by his powers of persuasion as well as his paranormal aspects. He sees the miracles as being of paramount importance and interest to devotees (and also observes that some apologists promoting SSB in the 'West' would prefer to downplay this aspect). He still asks the same searching questions, offers much the same answers and conclusions but at the end still evinces mild puzzlement at this spiritual and anthropological phenomenon.
(On the subject of 'Magic', I found the 1983 article more succinct.)
"From what, exactly, do these miracles derive their convincingness, a convincingness so great that it seems to pull people into convictions ostensibly at odds with what their own subculture deems to be commonsense and considered judgement?
"What is the source of the energy of SSB's 'magic', an energy that is apparently strong enough to have life-transforming effects on his devotees? Does it arise from cunning theatrics? Or is its true source something else?'' (p. 175)
Prof. Babb admires SSB and sees him as a good force for India.
His devotees seem enviably content:
"... it is clear that many of his devotees are more serene persons as a result of their relationships with Baba." (p. 194)
"The world for Sai Baba's devotees is like an enchanted garden where anything can happen. Small incidents can seem meaningful when it is believed He creates them." (p. 199)
"They inhabit a world in which signs and evidence of his love and grace are pervasive. Any trouble vanquished or illness cured is by his grace." (p. 199)
Whereas Babb still finds no evidence of fake miracles, he is at least a little worried by devotees' "intellectual surrender" after the first impact, and (on p. 171) he does make a brief but very important mention of SSB's frequent habit of offering ad hoc and often false etymologies in his Discourses - an apparent eccentricity which, when carefully studied in SSB's Discourses, yields quite significant new information about the guru.]
1986b: 'The Puzzle of Religious Modernity', in India: 2000. The Next Fifteen Years, ed. James R. Roach, Riverdale, Maryland, [n.p.], and New Delhi, Allied Publishers, pp. 55-79.
[He notes SSB's worldwide success ("Hinduism's most significant jet-age holy man"), offers a synopsis of his teachings and a list of the types of SSB miracles (p. 72). Babb's presentation is sympathetic, but notes that it "has generated a vast hagiographic literature" and that devotees have to learn to cope with SSB's unpredictability and leelas.
1987: 'Sathya Sai Baba's Saintly Play', in Hawley, John S. (ed.) Saints and Virtues, Berkeley, Univ. of California Press, 1987, 168-186.
1994: 'Sathya Sai Baba's Miracles', in Religion In India, (ed.) T.N. Madan, New Delhi, Oxford University Press, pp. 277-292.
Babb, Lawrence A. and Wadley, Susan S. (eds), Media and the Transformation of Religion in South Asia, Philadelphia, University if Pennsylvania Press, 1995.
[On the growing importance of contemporary technology (posters, photos, videos and audiotapes) as new elements in Hinduism and its diffusion. There are only two fleeting references to SSB - who has certainly benefitted from the existence and sale of such mementos, now including radio, the Internet, to which the SSO has taken in a big way, and DVDs.]
Bashiruddin, Zeba, Sai Baba and the Muslim Mind, Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning, 1998. (Also at <www.vinnica.ua/~sss/sb_mm.htm> and listed on <http://groups.yahoo.com/group/saibabaleelas/links>)
[Profesor Bashiruddin is a devotee of SSB and teaches at one of his Colleges. See also Part 3.]
Bassuk, Daniel E., Incarnation in Hinduism and Christianity. The Myth of the God-Man, Basingstoke, Macmillan Press, 1987.
[This interesting work includes an extended comparative analysis of the Avatar phenomenon in both of these major world religions. In Chapter 2, 'Modern Avatars of India', Dr. Bassuk includes Sathya Sai Baba as one of six selected modern Avatars of India. (The others chosen are Chaitanya, Ramakrishna, Aurobindo, The Mother of Pondicherry and Meher Baba.)
In the revealingly titled sixth essay, Satya Sai Baba (1926-2022) - The Miracle-Working Sai-Co-Therapeutic Avatar (pp. 86-94), Bassuk spends several pages presenting the standard official picture of SSB prevailing in the 1980s: a multi-miracle-making, healing, Christ-like spiritual leader (including a sprinkling of descriptive flaws and factual errors common at that time).
At first glance the author appears to be giving undue weight (like many Indian commentators) to the official SSB story and in particular to the prolonged scientific scrutiny of "skeptical Western scientists". He quotes at length the carefully-worded findings of Haraldsson and Osis in their paper on 'The Appearance and Disappearance of Objects ...' . He also seems to accept unquestioningly some of the least plausible of the miracles (like the 'resurrection; of Walter Cowan in 1971, which Haraldsson himself has disproved), and unsupported devotee rumours like the one about SSB turning into Christ for the benefit of devotees. But any puzzlement the reader may be feeling will begin to dissipate with the retelling of the devotee rumour that a telegram was received from the Vatican asking SSB to grant an interview to the Pope. Finally, in the last paragraph of this long chapter, when summing up SSB's unique claim to be (unlike the other five chosen Avatars) not just like Christ but the actual reincarnation and a sort of clone, Bassuk raises both eyebrows, concluding: "Is this really a comparable miraculous phenomenon?"]
1992/1993: Sai Baba's Miracles. An Overview, (originally published under this Canadian academic's name in Podanur, India (1992) and later on the Internet at <http://psg.com/~ted/bcskeptics/sbmir/>.
?2003: Republished anonymously on the website of the British Columbia Skeptics (Canada) at **http://seercom.com/bcs/. Currently to be found on the following page of the same organisation's website with the modest title 'Sai Baba Essay' (of almost 100 pages):
[This detailed and very important critical study by a Canadian academic of major paranormal characteristics attributed to SSB offers the first substantial body of evidence to refute some of the claims made for SSB's psychic powers, and, unlike most other scholarly studies, is based on close examination of a sizeable body of written evidence. Like most academics, Professor Beyerstein is not professionally interested in the dogma of SSB's religious teaching, but his research into the paranormal claims and subsequent findings constitute the basis of a serious rebuttal of SSB's major claims of Divine powers. In the chapters of this book, the sceptical professor presents multiple factual examples to disprove SSB's Omniscience and Omnipotence, as claimed by him and his Organisation and as believed in by his devotees. A major part of the proof offered is quoted from what SSB is recorded as having said in public (according to the edited translations published by the SSO).
Although not very widely read or heeded at the time of publication in the early 1990s (preceding by just a few years the mass popularisation of the Internet), Prof. Beyerstein's seminal Internet study has since attracted a wide readership, especially since the recent controversies about SSB began in 2000. Researchers interested in the psychic aspect of SSB and his claims of Divinity and full avataric powers need to begin their research with a study of Beyerstein's detailed findings, including his consultation of other experts, including magicians.
The areas of study are as follows:
Ch 2: Omniscience and Omnipotence
Ch 3: Did Sai Baba Rescue Someone from the Dead?
(B. deals with the Radhakrishna and Cowan cases, quoting documentary evidence from Haraldsson, Premanand and John Hislop.)
Ch 4: Does Sai Baba Have Complete Psychic Knowledge?
Ch 5: Materializations
Ch 6: Sundry Miracles
Ch 7: Healing and Rescues
Ch 8: Does Sai Baba's Life Fulfil Ancient Promises?
1996: 'Sai Baba', in The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal, ed. G.Stein, New York, Prometheus, pp. 653-657. (Not seen)]
1996: The Hindus and Sikhs in Australia, Canberra, Australian Government Publishing Service, pp. 34-35.
[Listed as "perhaps" the most popular guru among Hindus in Australia, "not without his own controversies in India", but with "supposed power to perform miracles", SSB is seen as having appealing teachings and as stimulating educational and service activities.]
2001: 'The Making of the Hindu in Australia; A Diasporic Narrative, in T. S. Rukmani (ed.), Hindu Diaspora. Global Perspectives, Delhi, Munshiram Manoharlal, 2001, pp. 3-33 (22-23 on SSB)
[A condensed repetition of the 1996 remarks.]
Bowen, David, The Sathya Sai Baba Community in Bradford: Its Origins and Development, Religious Beliefs and Practices, Department of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Leeds, 1988. [Not seen. From a PhD Thesis]
Brent, Peter, Godmen of India, London, Allen Lane [Penguin hardback], 1972
[At the time of the strong surge of 'Western' interest in Indian gurus in the 1960s, Brent visited many ashrams in different regions of India and produced a very helpful and original practical and theoretical study of this complex subject. This is a basic reference book on gurus for non-Indians and it covers the period of the beginning of SSB's rise to fame. Although SSB's flourishing ashram was not on his 1960s visiting list, Brent did visit Mrs Mani Sahukar to learn more about Shirdi Sai Baba and his disciple, Upasani Baba, as well as the latter's female disciple, Godavari Mata (pp. 140-149). Neither Sahukar nor Brent mentioned the name of Sathya Sai Baba. However, elsewhere on his odyssey, Brent met an eloquent devotee (H.T.Davé) who made these lucid statements which are worth considering in connection with SSB's repeated claims of Divinity: "The Guru is the disciple of God". "He is not God himself but his disciple." "The Guru is the symbolic form of God. God reveals himself though the true Guru." "He is the one who carries within him the divine form of God ... But Guru is not God - he is the symbolic representative form of God." (pp. 226-227). (See Mangalwadi in Part 2 for a complementary Indian (Christian) view of gurus.)]
Chari, C. T. K.:
1969: 'Some disputable phenomena allied to thoughtography', Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 63, 273-286. (Not seen.)
1973: 'Regurgitation, Mediumship and Yoga', Journal of the Society for Psychical Research,41, No. 757, September, 156-172. [on SSB: pp. 165-167]
[The author, a parapsychologist, after visits to the ashram, despairs of obtaining a controlled recording of SSB's alleged annual lingam materialisations in public on Mahasivaratri Day. He also volunteers the opinion that after two personal interviews with SSB and study of the available literature he formed the opinion that possession by the deceased Shirdi Sai Baba was "no less plausible, and no more credible" than being a reincarnation of Shirdi as SSB had claimed.]
(1978) 'On the phenomena of Sai Baba', Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 72, 66-70. [sometimes misquoted as 69]
[Chari 's letter regrets SSB's lack of cooperation with Haraldsson. He finds the miracles often incredible, but he doesn't dispute SSB's integrity or saintliness. Followed by a friendly non-polemical reply from Haraldsson and Osis.]
1999: Exploring New Religions, London, Cassell, 1999, pp. 179-192.
[This wide encyclopedic survey of a large number of New Religious Movements (NRMs) by an established British academic was clearly intended to be an Introductory textbook for the rapidly increasing numbers of university students of Religion and Spirituality in Departments of Religion, Comparative Religion, Sociology of Religion, Anthropology and Philosophy. The section dealing with SSB shows signs of hasty composition: basic factual errors and uncritical quotes or paraphrases of the sort of official handout material issued by SSB Centres and the standard hagiographies of SSB.
Chryssides' sparse Bibliography quotes a few hagiographies, including one by a local devotee, but does not offer readers the stimulation of previous academic studies on SSB like those of White, Swallow or Babb nor, more seriously, does it acknowledge the existence of his transatlantic colleague Beyerstein's 1993 scholarly critique of the paranormal claims of SSB.
Here are a few examples of misleading or incorrect statements in this article: Statements like "Sai Baba is reckoned to be an incarnation of a previous holy man" (p. 180), although common in work on SSB, show a basic lack of familiarity with SSB's Discourses, since it was SSB himself who claimed this (and much more) at the beginning of his Mission, insistently and frequently; his devotees believed him.
Similarly, "Devotees sometimes regard Sai Baba's life as falling into three stages ..." fails to acknowledge the fact that the origin of this belief comes from a well-publicised Discourse by SSB himself. Also, although Dr. Chryssides briefly acknowledges that SSB has been criticised by the Indian Rationalists as a "spurious miracle worker", the following wording seems to endorse one type of alleged miracle: "Sathya Sai Baba can materialize the sacred lingam from his mouth." (p. 184) The conclusion that SSB "has lived true to his teachings" also seems out of place in an impartial presentation aimed at university students and others.
All these blemishes, and the extraordinary 'howler' that "He no longer gives discourses" appear to be the result of insufficiently wide reading about SSB. But it is also interesting to read in the Acknowledgement (p. vii): "Thanks are due to students and staff at the University of Wolverhampton" and for updated information from several students "while studying the module on New Religious Movements" which "helped to stimulate ideas."
2001: Historical Dictionary of New Religious Movements, Lanham, Maryland, The Scarecrow Press.
[In this impressively comprehensive work of reference, the articles on Sathya Sai Baba (pp. 285-286) and Shirdi Sai Baba (p. 296) are disappointing. They reveal the same weaknesses as the longer 1999 essays, once more offering (like several other less detailed reference books) the half-truth that devotees believe that SSB is 'God incarnate' and 'divine', as if he himself had not vociferously and repeatedly proclaimed this decades ago and as if his SSO had not promoted this Divine image in their publications and publicity. Dr. Chryssides also repeats the error that SSB advocates four basic principles (instead of five).
In the short item on Shirdi Sai Baba, the author again uses the (usually commendable) "is believed to be" construction rather than stating, as he does in his fascinating initial Chronology from 1744 to the present (on p. xxvi), that in 1940 SSB " proclaims himself as the returned Sai Baba of Shirdi".
Also, the (two item) Bibliography offered for Shirdi Sai Baba is inadequate in a work of this calibre and potential readership. It fails to take into account three scholarly works (by Shepherd, Rigopoulos, and Warren) and a number of important Indian publications. Another well known book on Shirdi Sai (that of Arthur Osborne) is wrongly included in the Sathya Sai Baba section. (Of the two minor items offered by Chryssides, the name of one of the authors is misspelled (Kamth for Kamath).
All in all, it would seem that both Shirdi Sai and Sathya were given a low priority in the preparation of both of Chryssides' reference works. It is to be hoped that he will rectify this blemish in a future publication, especially in the light of new evidence available since 2000.]
Dadlani, Sanjay, 'Sai Baba: Shiva or Sadhaka?'
[Interesting speculation on the 'missing months' of the 1944-1945 period in SSB's life.]
Ellison, Jerome, 'Seven Days with an Avatar. Sri Sathya Sai Baba', Journal of Religion and Psychical Research, 1981, p. 51.
[An indiscreet paean of praise for SSB, later strongly criticised by M. Thalbourne.]
1995: 'Self-accounting for Conversion by Western Devotees of Modern Hindu Religious Movements', in the Internet Journal of Religion, Diskus, 3, 2, 74-82.
[See text at <http://www.uni-marburg.de/religionswissenschaft/journal/diskus/exon.html>.]
1997: 'Autonomous Agents and Divine Stage Managers: Models of (self-) determination amongst western devotees of two modern Hindu religious movements', in
The Scottish Journal of Religious Studies (SJRS), Vol 18, No. 2, Autumn 1997.
The two movements studied are those of SSB and the Hare Krishna Movement.
Abstract: "This paper examines in particular the ways in which they reconcile claims of identity and agency as 'autonomous' Western individuals with their location within certain Hindu worldviews. One metaphor employed is that of God as the 'stage-manager' of their lives, establishing the context (the 'stage' or setting) within which they engage particular circumstances as relatively free agents ('actors') in order to make spiritual progress. The life-stories of these 'Western Hindus' may offer a useful perspective into the changing parameters of Western religious self-identity, as well as broader changes (paradigm shifts) in contemporary religious consciousness."
Eysenck, H. J., Review of Erlendur Haraldsson's Miracles are My Visiting Cards, in Personality and Individual Differences, 9 (3), 1988, p. 696.
[Realising that Haraldsson's planned scientific experiment of alleged paranormal events was not permitted by SSB, and trusting his colleague's account of the many observations he made over several years - as an onlooker - Professor Eysenck is forced to agree with Haraldsson's own inconclusive verdict that the question of SSB's paranormal powers remains an unsolved puzzle.
In following Haraldsson's numerous field reports of materialisations reported by devotees over many years, Eysenck appears to overstate the case for the genuineness of the materialisations by being swayed by the hearsay evidence and making unjustified assumptions like "there was no one to teach him [magic]". How can Professor Eysenck be sure of this? He is also visibly impressed that SSB produces many amulets per day, every day. Unless Eysenck is also including vibhuti (which has recently been shown to be 'palmable' in the critical literature, and was already known to be so by magicians including the Indian Rationalist, B. Premanand, whom Haraldsson did not interview), where is the proof that SSB production of amulets is so high?
Eysenck is also favourably impressed that SSB cannot hide objects about his person because of his flimsy clothing, but he fails to consider other possible 'props', like sofas, armchairs or cushions (as is suggested in The Findings). Lastly, Eysenck is impressed because "many" of the materialisations are "very treacly, sugary sweets". Again, how does Eysenck know that such objects are produced frequently? A study of the (vast) literature will probably reveal that most of these 'sticky object' stories (and other food production) belong to the remote past (like other types of alleged miracles), when there were few devotees. How often are they reported as materialisations nowadays (or during the past twenty years)?
What I am trying to suggest is not that all the materialisations are fake but that if a distinguished academic like Professor Eysenck (in a short 600-word review for colleagues) gives such a positive (and, I would add, excessive) gloss on this 'puzzle', without actually pronouncing the miracles genuine, many of his academic readers (and others who thrive on such news) will tend to see this as further circumstantial evidence that, as is alleged by devotees, SSB spends quite a lot of his time publicly performing psychokinetic feats, day after day. Myths thrive in such conditions.]
(See Part 3)
[Having come across SSB in the early 1970s while pursuing other research in India with his senior colleague, Prof. Karlis Osis, this Icelandic Professor of Psychology with a special interest in the paranormal made many research trips over several years trying to find out the truth about SSB but, from the very first visit, was denied permission to conduct scientific tests of the alleged materialisations. Although he and a few colleagues managed to extract a handful of academic papers from the guru visits in India, he finally published a book on SSB in 1987 (which really belongs in Parts 2 and 3 of this Bibliography). For his basically independent viewpoint and his diligent attempts to gather facts through interviews with devotees (some from the 1940s and 1950s), his is one of the most widely read books on SSB.
Largely because Haraldsson did not detect any evidence of fraud in the materialisations he observed, his name is often used by devotees as a 'pro-SSB' academic and, quite unjustifiably, as the scientific investigator who pronounced SSB's materialisations as genuine beyond any doubt. On the other hand, Haraldsson's work has been criticised by a few of SSB's critics as being too favourable to the guru. These disparate reactions to his work stem, on the one hand, from his attempts to be non-judgemental in his reporting of the SSB story and in the personal interviews (later repeated as a double check) with devotees eager to offer positive accounts of their experiences with SSB. On the other hand, Haraldsson's probing analyses also dredged up and discreetly reported occasional evidence of discrepancies in the official SSB story (for example, about TWO of the alleged resurrections), indicating to today's researcher that, with hindsight, official re-examination and revision of some of the accepted claims, legends and anecdotes about SSB were long overdue.
Prof. Haraldsson, whose main research with SSB and his devotees was carried out in the 1970s and early 1980s, has pursued a long and successful academic career in other fields of paranormal study, hastened to India in 1993 to conduct a scientific study of a controversy involving materialisation. (See the Haraldsson and Wiseman item below.) Otherwise, and in spite of a 1997 re-issue of his 'Miracles' book, he has not commented publicly on significant research and controversy about SSB which has been leaking out since 1993. His specifically academic papers, usually co-authored, are listed below, following the bibliographical details for his popular and useful book, which has gone through several editions and many translations. Its listing in both Parts 2 and 3 seems justified for the reasons given in this introduction.]
1987: 'Miracles Are My Visiting Cards'. An Investigative Report on the Psychic Phenomena Associated with Sathya Sai Baba, London, Century Paperbacks. (Also marketed for sale in India only by Prasanthi Publications of New Delhi.)
1996: Modern Miracles, Norwalk, CT, Hastings House. [The slightly enlarged edition]
[The latter has the same content as the new Indian edition listed as the following item here: personal communication.]
(?1997) 'Miracles are my Visiting Cards.' An Investigative Report on the Psychic Phenomena Associated with Sathya Sai Baba , New Delhi, Prashanti.
[Although wrongly dated 1987, this has an extra 2 chapters, one of quotations on SSB's Teachings (in answer to complaints from readers and SSB himself) and the other on the subject of the 1992 controversy (over a Doordashan TV videotape), also dealt with in the paper listed below: Haraldsson and Wiseman: 'Reactions to and an Assessment of a Videotape on Sathya Sai Baba', Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, April 1995, 60, pp. 203 - 213.]
1990: 'The Miraculous and the Sai Baba Movement', Religion Today. A Journal of Contemporary Religions, 6(1), 6-9. (not seen)
2003: 'Of Indian God-men and Miraclemakers: The Case of Sathya Sai Baba' A paper given at the BPS Transpersonal Psychology Section Conference, September 2004.
[According to the Abstract, this appears to be a repeat, for academic colleagues, of his somewhat dated summary of many years of intermittent research and writing on Sathya Sai Baba, whom he presents as an enigma about whom many paranormal things are claimed but who refuses to present himself for scientific study. Half-truths like "He is venerated by most devotees as an avatar" and he "has been the subject of a nationwide controversy" seem to indicate an ongoing desire to avoid controversy, which was already visible in his book on SSB. (This paper may be a repeat of a previous paper or lecture at an unknown institution in 2003.)]
Haraldsson, Erlendur, and Osis, Karlis, 'The Appearance and Disappearance of Objects in the Presence of Sri Sathya Sai Baba', Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 71 (1977), 33-43.
[A guarded report on three field trips to study "claims suggestive of psi phenomena" in SSB's presence. The report is informal and draws no conclusions from their close observations because of the absence of scientific controls.]
Haraldsson, Erlendur and Wiseman, Richard, 'Reactions to and an Assessment of a Videotape on Sathya Sai Baba', Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, April 1995, 60, pp. 203 - 213.
[After trying to enhance the quality of the taped material and after a meticulous frame by frame examination of a brief controversial 1992 Doordarshan TV videotape of a presentation ceremony involving SSB, the two investigators concluded that vociferous Indian media accusations of fraud were not substantiated by the evidence, but concede that the videotape was of poor quality. Another unsatisfactory case of 'Not proven'. Since then other enhanced copies have become available on the Internet. See also V. K. Kodimela's article, listed in Part 2.]
Haraldsson, Erlendur and Houtkooper, Joop M., 'Report on an Indian Swami claiming to materialize objects: The Value and Limitations of field observations, Journal of Scientific Exploration, 8, pp. 381-397, 1994.
[One of the Haraldsson team's successful scientific debunkings of materialisation claims, in this case, by Swami Premananda)]
Harper, Marvin Henry, Gurus, Swamis, and Avataras. Spiritual Masters and Their American Disciples, Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1972. [Not seen]
(See Part 2.)
(The) Indian Skeptic, Vols 1-2, 1988-1989, <www.indian-skeptic.org/html>
(See also under Premanand, B. in Part 2.)
[Detailed correspondence about Haraldsson's book on SSB between B. Premanand, the then President of the Indian Rationalists and a decades-long critic and opponent of SSB, and the Icelandic academic, Professor Erlendur Haraldsson, whose persistent but unsuccessful attempts to carry out professional parapsychological studies of SSB resulted in his well-known popular book and other academic papers, listed above. These early volumes of The Indian Skeptic also contain some relevant correspondence from Professor Beyerstein to Haraldsson about the book on SSB.]
I.N.F.O.R.M. (London), 'About Sai Baba'. (See <www.inform.ac>.)
[This registered charity which gathers and disseminates general information about "new and/or alternative religious or spiritual movements" was founded in 1988 with funding from the British Government. It is based at the London School of Economics under the direction of Professor Eileen Barker and is supported by the LSE and major churches. It does not post its Database on the Internet but individuals are invited to write in for unbiased information on NRMs.
The 2-page INFORM brochure gives a good general picture of SSB but is in need of some revision and updating. For example, by stating "Believed by followers to be a divine incarnation", the compilers are ignoring the historical evidence and unwittingly following the habit of SSOs (outside of India) of downplaying SSB's unique and strong role in making and establishing the divine claims (fully documented in many of his early Discourses).]
(See Part 3)
[2000a: Ambiguity and the Modern Order: the Sathya Sai Baba Movement in Malaysia, PhD Thesis, University of Gothenburg, Sweden, 2000. [See also 2004b below.]
[Abstract from <http://www.samfak.gu.se/Disputationer/disp0001/Kent.html>:
"This study examines the Malaysian following of the contemporary Indian godman Sathya Sai Baba, a neo-Hindu guru famed for his miracle-working. This religious innovation has broad appeal among non-Malays, but attempts to formalise and control it have evolved within a middle-class subsection of the Indian community. My concern here is to examine its special and ambiguous formula for addressing the totalitarianism and intolerance of Malaysian modernity as it is wielded by the Malay-dominated government.
The dissertation presents a background firstly of the Indian community in Malaysia, secondly of the guru, Sathya Sai Baba and his ambiguous symbolism and rhetoric and thirdly, of the Sai Baba organisation in Malaysia. The final chapters (four to seven) present ethnography through which the peculiar ambivalence of the élite Indian following is explored. The first of these contrasts the rationalistic visage of the Sai Baba organisation's public service events with the non-rational formulations used in its private celebrations. The second and third ethnographic chapters discuss how the male, middle-class Indian leadership of the organisation attempts to control both spiritual power, in the form of healing, and mundane power within the community. The final chapter deals with the participation of Sai Baba followers in the working-class Tamil festival of Thaipusam. Together, the ethnographic chapters illuminate how the organisation, on the one hand, rhetorically aligns itself to state-sponsored, bourgeois ideology and professes tolerance and ecumenism. On the other hand, the ethnography reveals its concerns with ethnic, class and gender ordering within the Sai Baba community and with the establishment of Hindu supremacy. The culturally besieged élite minority that controls the Sai Baba organisation appears to be torn between subversion and subservience towards the government and its assurance of the ascendancy of Malay culture.
The final chapter closes with a concluding section in which it is proposed that religious innovations based in miracles and ambiguity may address some of the profoundly felt disjunctions between lived experience, in all its complexity, and the standardising powers of an imposed modern order."]
2000b: 'Creating Divine Unity. Chinese Recruitment in the Sathya Sai Baba Movement in Malaysia', in Journal of Contemporary Religion, 15, 1, 2000, pp. 5-27.
"This paper examines Chinese participation in a neo-Hindu movement in Malaysia. The data, gathered in Kuala Lumpur 1995-1997, are examined with regard to their ethnic and political implications and in relation to the historical as well as the contemporary social features of Malaysia. The paper explores the way in which the Indian-dominated leadership of the Malaysian Sai Baba organisation attempts to include Chinese worshippers: while aiming to overcome ethnic boundaries, there is a tendency to reproduce them. Chinese inclusion plays a significant role in the organisation's attempt to establish a multi-ethnic and non-sectarian profile for the movement. Such a profile is relevant for the leadership's pursuit of moral legitimacy in a country where ethnicity and religion are inextricably linked to politics."
2004a, March: 'Divinity, Miracles and Charity in the Sathya Sai Baba Movement of Malaysia', in Ethnos, 69, 1, 43-62. Published by Routledge for the National Museum of Ethnography of Sweden.
2004b: Divinity and Diversity: A Hindu Revitalization Movement in Malaysia, NIAS Press, Copenhagen, 2005. [Nordic Institute for Asian Studies] [From her PhD]
"This book looks closely at the Malaysian following of the contemporary Indian godman Sathya Sai Baba, a neo-Hindu guru famed for his miracle working, This religious innovation has broad appeal among the non-Malays, but attempts to formalize and control it have evolved within a middle-class subsection of the Malaysian Indian community. This community makes subtle and ambiguous appeals for both spiritual unity and religious pluralism in response to the totalitarianism and intolerance of Malaysian modernity as it is wielded by the Malay-dominated government."]
Klass, Morton, Singing with Sai Baba. The Politics of Revitalization in Trinidad, Boulder, Colorado, Westview Press, 1991
[Publisher's Statement: "The book addresses such problems as changing ethnicity in an immigrant population; conflict in one of the now independent nations formed from what was once a "plural society" colony; and the attractions of Hindu-derived religious movements for people in the West." It is based on observations of the SSO Centres in Trinidad and Tobago.
Klass's book is a major contribution to a newish sub-section of academic SSB literature dealing with the development and socio-political impact of the SSB Movement within or around Indian immigrant populations overseas, especially in ethnically diverse countries.
Klass emphasises that his cultural anthropological viewpoint relates, in great detail, to a small geographic area with a long history of immigration and a special ethnic population mixture on which the development of the "Sai Baba" movement has had a strong but unique effect: that of becoming a strong local alternative to the deeply entrenched traditional form of Hinduism (and thereby creating tensions) and a means of attracting ('revitalizing') disinterested or 'lapsed' Hindus back to an adapted form of their ancestral religion. By acting in this way, the Trinidad SSB Movement, unlike other national SSOs outside India, although solidly devoted to SSB, has largely ignored the basic SSB teaching of 'one religion', which encourages access to membership by people of other religious traditions (in this case, mainly the Afro-Trinidadians). (Klass's 1959 PhD also dealt with a small part of the Indian community of Trinidad.)
For general readers, the study is stimulating for its detailed descriptions of (ethnic Indian) devotees' strong feelings about SSB, their total belief in his claims of Divinity (whose unique nature - even within Hindu tradition - Klass, unlike many academics, clearly outlines). As a seasoned anthropologist the author accompanies his observations with a description of the minutiae and technicalities of the SSO structure and rules and also delineates the regular interaction of devotees, the forms of worship (especially bhajan singing) and service to others in the SSB Centres in Trinidad.
Among Prof. Klass's many other novel or stimulating points:
The difficulty for some traditional Hindus to accept SSB's claims of being an avatar of the stature of a Krishna or Rama , as well as an incarnation of Shiva and Vishnu and the "representation on Earth of Divinity" (p. 81).
The ease with which most Indians can accept those claims is contrasted by Klass with the total need to be sure about these claims by overseas non-Hindus - and its central position in their writings from Murphet and Sandweiss on.
A detailed but useful excursion into explaining related work on 'The Hindu Renaissance', formulated by the well known Austrian(?) Hindu ascetic and scholar Agehananda Bharati (1970) and touched on in different ways by White, Swallow and Babb. Klass finds that Swallow's preoccupation with the sexual connotations of Shiva (honey, ash and semen) is not shared by Trinidadian Hindu devotees of SSB (p. 138).]
Lane, David Christopher: <http://vclass.mtsac.edu:940/dlane.2000contact.htm>
[This entry might seem to be more suitable for Part 2 but Prof. Lane's academic career serves as an example of how the two-way use of the Internet (for publishing and researching) became an essential part of academic activities during the 1990s.
David Lane, a Professor of Philosophy and Sociology, who had gained a popular reputation in New Age and student circles for exposing dubious activities and facts about NRMs, focussed some of his critical attention on SSB in the second half of the 1990s as host or moderator on his website for detailed criticisms of SSB and defensive debate by one or two unofficial spokespersons of SSB. Following Dale Beyerstein's Internet intervention in the early 1990s, Lane's critical web page was an important contribution to basic materials for research on SSB, even though the main emphasis was on unproven opinion and allegations. However, at first the discussions and revelations reached a relatively restricted section of the public since the Internet was still largely the preserve of the academic and student community. The audience grew rapidly as people flocked to the Web in the late 1990s. At that time, and until 2000, the few devotees who were Internet users tended to ignore or dismiss the whole debate.
Since those days his articles and postings on SSB have been much more widely read and have influenced the spread of criticism of the official story of SSB. After the release of the Bailey 'Findings' in 2000 Prof. Lane set up a very vigorous popular Yahoo Discussion Group about alleged sexual interference by SSB, which, by acting as an escape valve for the very strong conflicting emotions of the time, attracted violent and sometimes scurrilous exchanges from both pro- and 'anti'-groups. Like most of the 1990s contributors to the debate on SSB, Prof. Lane now seems to have abandoned the subject, judging by the outdated Bibliography and broken links offered on his current SSB pages.
The following webpage, or its successor, lists Lane's SSB material for historians:
On offer here are mainly annotated and lengthy correspondences from accusers and defenders of SSB between 1996 and 1998. Basically, Lane acts here as a facilitator of debate. Two major features are the discussion of the killings in 1993 and the testimony of sexual interference made by ex-devotees Said Khorramshahgol and Jed Geyerhahn, accompanied by vigorous counter-argument by the prominent devotee Bon Giovanni. Lane also posts defence statements by Bon Giovanni, and others.
This site also hosted 'The SAI WARS' in May 1997 and the 'Sai Baba Debates', in September 1997, as well as a series on 'The Sai Baba Murder Mystery'.]
Lee, Raymond L.M., 'Sai Baba, Salvation and Syncretism. Religious Change in a Hindu Movement in Urban Malaysia', Contributions to Indian Sociology, 16, No. 1 (Jan-June 1982), pp. 125-140.
[Lee's important article is virtually unknown to SSB devotees and critics (except as a bibliographical reference aimlessly passed on) because of its obscure academic resting place.
Lee's comments refer only to the SSO situation in Malaysia but there are some extrapolations to the general SSB story which can be made. His outside references are to the academic, Charles S. J. White, the standard hagiographers, Kasturi and Murphet and (for reasons which will immediately become obvious) the then fresh critical remarks and allegations by Tal Brooke (1979).
Lee traces the beginning of the rise in SSB worship in multi-ethnic Malaysia to some of its middle-class urban Indian and Sri Lankan immigrants (1969-). Smaller but growing numbers of Chinese Malays (attracted especially by the healing stories) and native Malays have also joined the Organisation.
Lee mentions serious conflicts within the ranks of the SSB Movement in Malaysia:
1. Over the leadership of the Organisation.
2. Over allegations spread by a number of young Malaysian Indian males that they were seduced by SSB and that some of his miracles are due to sleight-of-hand techniques. (p. 131). These specific allegations, although made individually by Tal Brooke in 1979, would not become more widely known in SSB circles until the mid-1990s for a handful of Internet enthusiasts and 2000, for a larger number of devotees (but still far short of a majority).
Lee adds: "My informants also told me about the interviews with Baba's elder brother and his neighbours in Puttaparthi, who do not regard him as an avatar." (p. 131, fn. 13). Again, decidedly NOT a current topic of conversation among devotees outside Malaysia at that time.
These allegations produced some defections and rationalisations on the part of loyal devotees in Malaysia (132).
Lee reveals compelling local reasons for such rationalising in favour of SSB [which may apply to NRIs (Non-Resident Indians) in other countries of the wide Indian diaspora]:
Citing Weber and Chaudhuri as having briefly noted this point, he adds his contribution:
Those westernised immigrant Indians who reject rigid classical Hindu worship tend to veer towards "cultic Hinduism" - within which he places SSB as a practitioner because he "claims to provide instantaneous satisfaction for his salvationary needs through miracle performances and popular discourses." (133)
The controversy over SSB (then, in 1982) therefore threatened such Indian devotees in Malaysia with a "state of religious alienation" and partial loss of their ethnic identity. This induced them to rationalise the disquieting rumours and cling to their faith in SSB's bhakti movement.
[We must assume that this potentially damaging 1980 backlash subsided because the SSO in Malaysia has prospered - perhaps because Chinese devotees were unaffected by the specifics of the Indian controversy, which Lee goes on to explain.]
Chinese Malays are attracted by the ecumenical part of SSB's teachings and especially by the stories of his healing powers, which fit in with some of their own religious folk beliefs. [This special appeal is nowhere more evident than in Singapore, where the SSB Movement has flourished, not only among Singaporean Indians but significantly among the majority ethnic Chinese population.]
Because of this there has been a spiritual cross-fertilization between the two ethnic groups of devotees, who are able to accept one another. However, this sets them further apart from the dominant ethnic Malay population, which is Muslim.
Lee's conclusion to the topic is that over 50 years, the ethnic immigrant Indian population of Malaysia has tended to relinquish rigid traditional Hindu beliefs and practices in favour of the more populist and syncretistic form of worship offered by SSB, which has shown itself to be more attractive to a dynamic multi-ethnic contemporary society.
With hindsight, Lee's fears of lasting adverse effects of the 1980 controversy and backlash within the Malaysian SSO do not seem to have been realised. Given the special characteristics of the predominantly Hindu-Chinese mix of devotees there, it is even possible that the much stronger current (2000-) worldwide controversies about SSB will have no major impact in Malaysia either - for the reasons explained by Lee.
Since this early article, Lee has written several books in partnership with Susan E. Ackerman on broader but related topics, especially that of 'Re-enchantment'. For example, in 1997: Modernity and Religious Transformation in Malaysia, University of South Carolina: "Lee and Ackerman suggest that Malaysia's rapidly modernizing society offers an ideal setting in which to study the dynamics of religious and social change. They examine the development and practice of Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity and from their analyses provide insight about how established and charismatic religions fit into the framework of modernization and secularization throughout the world." See also <http://www.arsdisputandi.org/publish/articles/000101/index.html> for a very critical review of: Lee, Raymond L.M. and Ackerman, Susan E., The Challenge of Religion After Modernity: Beyond Disenchantment, Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002.]
Madan, T. N., Modern Myths, Locked Minds. Secularism as Pluralism, Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1998, p. 198.
[In a passage on the idea of a unified Hinduism, Madan observes briefly but suggestively that the "birth of new goddess (e.g. Santosh Ma) or godman (e.g. Satya Sai Baba) cults, and more significantly new religious communities such as the Radhasoami Satsang" as well as the rapid growth of 'new' religions in India like Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, have "contributed to a spirit of religious liberality" but still within the hierarchical framework of Hindu traditions.]
Mangalwadi, Vishal, The World of Gurus, 2nd ed., New Delhi, [n.p.], 1987. 
(See Part 2.)
Michaels, Axel, Hinduism. Past and Present, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2004.
[In a section on modern Hinduism, dealing with the recent decisive influence of the mass media and the Internet, Michaels comments "Moreover, recently, a Western oriented and especially active proselytizing Hinduism has emerged, which I call "Gurism". The best-known representatives of that include Krishnamurti, Maharishi (Transcendental Meditation), [Sathya] Sai Baba, Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Balyogeshwar (Divine Light Mission) and Rajneesh (Sannyasis)" (p. 46).
(See also pages 252-259 for background on Bhakti Movements.)]
Nagel, Alexandra H.M.
2001 (August): A Guru Accused. Sai Baba, from Avatar to Homo-paedophile, at <www.exbaba.com> and <www.saiguru.net>.
--- For and Against Sathya Sai Baba on the Internet, at <www.exbaba.com>
[Two useful early accounts of the new burst of critical activity in the late 1990s and, in particular, 2000. The bibliographical references are valuable.]
2001 Sai Baba as Shiva-Shakti: a Created Myth? Or?, at <www.exbaba.com>
[An interesting prolongation and updating of Swallow's study, especially relevant to the growing SSB controversy.]
2004: 'Wolf Messing, an enigmatic 'psychic entertainer' whom Sathya Sai Baba claims to have encountered', from an unpublished MA Thesis, University of Amsterdam, 2004.
See <www.exbaba.com> for 10 November 2004.
[Only peripheral to this list, but a fascinating bit of academic detective work, which could lead to further discoveries about Wolf Messing, if elusive Russian sources can be traced and translated.]
1976a: 'Sathya Sai Baba - God or Fraud?' The Illustrated Weekly of India, 3 October.
1976b: Letters to SSB published in Sunday, 2 June and September 1976. [as Chairman of a University Committee to investigate SSB which met with no success.]
Osis, Karlis and Haraldsson, Erlendur:
1976: 'OBE's in Indian Swamis: Sathya Sai Baba and Dadaji', in J.D.Morris et al (eds.), Research in Parapsychology 1975, Metuchen, NJ, Scarecrow Press, 1976.
1979: 'Parapsychological Phenomena Associated with Sathya Sai Baba', The Christian Parapsychologist, 3 (1979), 159-163.
(See under (The) Indian Skeptic and in Part 2.)
Priddy, Robert <http:// home.no.net/anir/Sai/enigma>
(See Parts 2 and 3)
Rigopoulos, S. A., The Life and Teachings of Sai Baba of Shirdi, New York, State University of New York Press, 1993.
[From the author's PhD on Shirdi Sai. During the course of his research Rigopoulos also visited SSB's ashram(in the Autumn of 1991). Like so many others, he accepts much of what he saw there with little or no questions, including Kasturi's standard biography of SSB. Although it closely affects the main object of his research (Shirdi Sai), Rigopoulos pays scant attention to SSB's extraordinary claim to be the reincarnation of Shirdi Sai or to his landmark assertion in a constantly publicised 1963 Discourse that his alleged triple incarnation was the result of a boon from Shiva and Shakti to his claimed ancestor, the sage Bharadwaj. See also the work on Shirdi by Marianne Warren, listed below.]
Ruhela, S. P.:
[An Indian academic and a longtime devotee of both Shirdi and Sathya. A prolific writer of more than twenty books on both of these gurus. Although not the most rigorous of scholars, editors or proofreaders, Ruhela's thirty years of diligent searching combined with his knowledge of ashram life (and politics - which kept him unhappily on the outer for much of the time) makes his books worth combing through for nuggets of information, particularly on SSB bibliography (both pro and con) and on the power and personal foibles of the ashram apparatchiks. For academic study, a short cut to Ruhela's main contributions are: his 1985 compilation with Robinson, and his books on the Press and Research.
(I am grateful to Professor Ruhela for many useful bibliographical leads.)
1985: Ruhela, Sathya Pal and Duane Robinson (eds.), Sai Baba and His Message. A Challenge to Behavioural Science, 7th ed., New Delhi, Arnold Heinemann, 1985. [1st Ed., Vikas, 1976]
[Selected articles by Ruhela, Robinson, C.S.J. White, D. Dhairyam, S. Sandweiss, Mayah Balse, B.S. Goel, and others.]
1996: In Search of Sai Divine. A Comprehensive Research Review of Writings and Researches on Sri Sathya Sai Baba Avatar, New Delhi, MD Publications, 1996.
[An attempt by an academic devotee of SSB to review all the SSB literature which might be considered as research, or of special interest to researchers. Ruhela examines the writings of groups of professional writers, like sociologists, philosophers, psychologists, educationists, etc. His selection corroborates his initial statement that academic interest in SSB has been rather sparse. However, his partisan approach is demonstrated in his assertion that the weight of serious writing and evidence available is sufficient to establish SSB's divinity to any intellectual with an open mind.]
1997: Sri Sathya Sai Baba and the Press (1972-1996), New Delhi, MD Publications.
[Nearly three quarters of this annotated compilation deals with media attention during the 1990s, thus reflecting the enormous increase in Indian media interest in Sathya Sai Baba in that decade. Most of the pieces selected are pro-SSB but a few other references and the forty pages devoted to the extensive Press coverage of the ashram killings in June 1993, as well as some other short pieces serve to remind non-Indians in particular that in his own country, SSB, although immensely popular, is NOT held in universal esteem. The final long eulogistic defence of the professor's guru shows his basic apologist stance.]
2000: The Sai Trinity, 2nd rev. ed., New Delhi, Vikas.
(See Part 3)
Sharma, Arvind, 'New Hindu Movements in India', in James A. Beckford (ed.), New Religious Movements and Rapid Social Change, [N.P], UNESCO, 1991, 220-239. [The pages referring to Sai Baba are 228-231]
[An endorsement of the sociological content of Swallow's 1982 article.]
Shepherd, Kevin R.D., Gurus Rediscovered: Biographies of Sai Baba of Shirdi and Upasni Maharaj of Sakori, Cambridge, Anthropographia Publications, 1986.
[An important scholarly study of Shirdi Sai and a disciple. He refers very briefly and disparagingly to the SSB claim to be a reincarnation of Shirdi Sai. Of more than anecdotal interest is his (and other scholars') etymology of the title 'Sāī' (two syllables) as Persian for 'saint', not 'Mother' as SSB has claimed.]
Spurr, Michael J.,
'Visiting-Cards Revisited: An Account of Some Recent First-Hand Observations of the 'Miracles' of SSB; The Role of the Miraculous', Journal of Religion and Psychical Studies, 26, 2003, 198- .
[Not yet seen - the reference can only be to Professor Erlendur Haraldsson's book on SSB, so this is almost certainly an important and perhaps controversial item. As soon as I can obtain a copy, I will report on the article here. If any reader can send me an electronic copy, I would be most grateful.]
Srinivas, M. N., Social Change in Modern India, Bombay, 1966.
[A reference by D.A. Swallow. Not seen but of possible use for SSB research.]
1999: 'The Brahmin and the fakir: Suburban religiosity in the cult of Shirdi Sai Baba', Journal of Contemporary Religion, Vol 14, No. 2, May, pp 245-261. (Not seen.)
2000: 'Saint, Guru and Avatar: Iconic Representations and the Politics of Modernity in the Sai Baba Movement, at the Annual Conference on South Asia, University of Wisconsin-Madison. (Not seen.)
[At present Prof. Srinivas has research grants for two books on SSB, more particularly on the SSO and devotees.
1. An academic study of the charismatic SSB phenomenon and his efficient worldwide organisation.
2. A more localised study of the SSO in Sri Lanka.
See Zou, Stephanie, 'Prof nets fellowship to finish book on religious guru', The California Aggie, 4 April 2005, < www.californiaaggie.com/article/?id=8329>]
Steel, Brian <http://bdsteel.tripod.com/More>
(See Parts 2 and 3)
Swallow, D[eborah] A., 'Ashes and Powers: Myth, Rite, and Miracle in an Indian Godman's Cult', Modern Asian Studies, 16 (1982), pp.123-158.
[The originality of Swallow's article which has appealed to some other academic researchers is her detailed analysis of suggested symbolic connotations and ceremonial aspects of SSB's identification with the Shiva image. (See also Thomas, below.)
Other points of interest:
The investigation and plausible speculation into the benefits to SSB of the claimed Shiva connection: with SSB's magical powers already locally recognised, the story enhanced his Hindu credentials and gave him "respectability and authority" (p. 135), particularly since the story indirectly asserts "his Brahman status despite his non-Brahman origins." (p. 136).
The suggestion that the SSB 'Movement' was in tune with the needs of urban middle class Indians, who were experiencing anxiety in coping with the modernisation of their country. Swallow argues (and Babb agrees) that SSB was especially attractive to this wide section of the Indian population partly because of his comforting emphasis on a strong Hindu tradition.]
[Comment: Recent evidence on SSB's storytelling habit needs to be taken into account before accepting the Shiva connection at face value. Also, contemporary researchers may find evidence to add that the vastly increased acceleration of India's economic progress in the past 15 years and the emergence of a much younger, more numerous, prosperous and Western-leaning middle class have modified this attraction and made other spiritual teachings more attractive.]
Taylor, Donald, 'Charismatic Authority in the Sathya Sai Baba Movement', in Richard Burghart (ed.), Hinduism in Great Britain. The Perpetuation of Religion in an Alien Cultural Milieu, London, Tavistock, 1987, pp. 119-133.
[Good on theory, unreliable on detail. Taylor, quoting Weber's 1968 tripartite classification of authority, describes two classes of authority within the SSB Movement: SSB's charismatic authority, which is paramount, and the "legal-rational authority " of the SSO itself. Devotees submit to both types, thus ensuring a feeling of personal relationship with SSB and participation in the local or wider SSB group through charitable and other positive activities. So far SSB's charismatic authority has overcome challenges but Taylor's narrative then becomes tenuous. He claims without the slightest evidence that devotees produce ash and effect cures, thus challenging SSB's authority. Also, more plausibly, and quoting Rajghatta (1985, p. 48 - see Part 2), Taylor states that prominent former associates Drs Bhagavantam and Gokak (and others) have left the ashram. Rumours to that effect have been heard from time to time (and I am inclined to accept them) but I have not come across any firm evidence of Bhagavantam's or Gokak's alleged 'defection' in the SSB literature and certainly nothing to suggest, as Taylor does, presumably on the basis of Rajghatta (1985), that Gokak "has tried to demolish the myths that surround Sai Baba." (p. 130). His further quotation of Rajghatta that "many more devotees including most foreigners have already deserted the flock" are simply ludicrous! If real evidence were forthcoming to prove Taylor's (and Rajghatta's) allegations, it would be quite damaging to the official SSB story, which seems to be so jealously guarded by his associates.]
'The Supposed Paranormal Abilities of Sri Sathya Sai Baba', Journal of Religious and Psychical Studies, 5 (1982), 62-4.
[A well-earned, firm but polite rebuke to Ellison (q.v.) for his uncritical acceptance of many of the superlatives applied to SSB by associates and devotees (based on a one week stay in the ashram) and, particularly, his breathtakingly unjustified claim (often trumpeted by SSB's associates and devotees) that
"Sai Baba has been under direct, continuous, highly qualified scientific observation for more than a quarter of a century. His acts have by now been seen and verified by so large and distinguished a coterie of awed and now reverent world scientific dignitaries that the authenticity of his miracles is no longer open to doubt."
Prof. Thalbourne agrees that a number of highly qualified scientists have indeed met SSB and have come away convinced of his paranormal powers and that it would be a good idea to investigate these phenomena if possible but he also points out that before a reliable expert verdict can be pronounced on such phenomena, careful testing of such claims under controlled conditions is essential. [As Professors Haraldsson and Osis have made quite clear, requests for this sort of testing were continually ignored by SSB.]
Thomas, Caroline M., 'God Men, Myths, Materializations and the Kalās of Immortality', in Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 55, No. 816, 377-403, July 1989.
[The starting and finishing point of this long article is an inconclusive search for a possible paranormal origin of samples of sacred ash (vibhuti). The samples are from 2 Indian gurus who claim to be Avatars and to have full Divine powers, Swami Premananda and SSB. The samples originate from an interview with Premananda in London and more indirectly from SSB (via Prof. Haraldsson, and on a portrait in the SSB Centre in London). Although the researcher mentions in her Abstract that "Vibhuti (holy ash) flows from their hands and stone lingams (phalli) are regurgitated from their mouths" and later deals at some length with lingams as an aspect of Hindu tradition and symbology, her experiment does not include a much needed investigation of this other alleged paranormal phenomenon associated with the two gurus in question, which could have at least been captured on film. (In recent years such films have been made, most recently in the BBC documentary 'Secret Swami'.)
The lengthy technical details of the analyses of the vibhuti samples and of the interview with Swami Premananda are accompanied by a discursive essay on the Shiva-Shakti myth: "Inner Essences and Their Outer Manifestation" and "The Kalas of Immortality" [essences or colours]. However original and valuable per se, this perceptive presentation of complex Hindu symbology in this context has the effect of overshadowing the inconclusive result of this parapsychological experiment (which deals with only one - the least sexy, in both senses - of these 'essences': vibhuti), thereby probably bolstering the popular belief that the so-called materializations are of paranormal origin - as indeed they may be. One or two other academics have also been attracted to the slippery Shiva-Shakti slope, possibly conveying undeserved (or unproven) kudos to the gurus under examination.
Five years later, Professors Haraldsson and Houtkooper were able to report on a more conclusive parapsychological study of some of Swami Premananda=s materializations, in which the guru was not able to replicate them under strictly controlled conditions. (See Journal of Scientific Exploration, 8, 1994, 381-397.)]
Warren, Marianne, Unravelling the Enigma. Shirdi Sai Baba in the Light of Sufism, New Delhi, Sterling, 1999. Revised edition, 2004.
[This very important book on Shirdi Sai Baba, first published in 1999, makes a very strong and convincing case that Shirdi Sai's essential Sufi and Muslim characteristics have been replaced since his death by a strong Hindu overlay. Dr Warren offers much original and valuable evidence to reconstitute a balanced picture of this Indian holy man. The inclusion of a translation of Abdul's Notes will also be welcomed by other researchers. Although the 2004 edition appears to be only slightly revised, this is still the most thorough academic study of Shirdi Sai Baba that I have seen. The relative weaknesses of the main competitor, Rigopoulos, are briefly indicated on pp. 18-19. It is therefore puzzling that Warren's book has been largely ignored in India, while Rigopoulos's book is listed in all the relevant bibliographies.
(A small but significant detail stands out in the recent revised edition: The only change in the Author's Preface is an outspoken hardening of her attitude towards Sathya Sai Baba: from a basically pro-Sathya Sai Baba stance, with mild reservations, in the 1999 edition to strong criticism of Sathya's claim to be the incarnation of Shirdi (pp. xvii-xviii in the new edition). Although this criticism fits in with new evidence and opinion which has appeared in the print and electronic media since 1999, the existence of the recent research is not mentioned. In the brief chapter on SSB towards the end of the book, Warren's original more tentative criticism of his claim to be the reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba remains unrevised and therefore contrasts with the new robust attitude described above.)]
White, Charles S.J.:
1972: 'The Sai Baba Movement: Approaches to the Study of Indian Saints', Journal of Asian Studies, XXXI, No. 4 (August 1972), 863-878.
[Reprinted in Ruhela and Robinson (eds.), Sai Baba and His Message, 1976, pp. 40-66.]
[The oldest scholarly article on SSB that I have found and the first (I think) to mention the "Sai Baba Movement". It is also basically an early introduction to fellow academics of basic aspects of Indian religion. After preliminary definitions of terms like Guru, Avatar and Saint and introductions to historical predecessors like Dattatreya and Kabir, there is a brief introduction to Shirdi Sai and his close disciples (Upasani Baba, Mata Godavari), a study of SSB, and a final discussion (Critique) of the Sai Baba Movement.
White's article, based partly on field research in 1969 (to Upasani Baba's - a disciple of Shirdi Sai - and SSB's ashrams), deals with both of the Sai Babas, and points out the huge national following of the Maharashtran saint (Shirdi) who combined Hindu and Muslim practices and the charisma and growing international popularity of SSB, whom he sees as a young, glamorous and successful guru, who is being accepted as the incarnation of Shirdi Sai. [In that latter opinion, apparently based on evidence from one Madras temple, he was mistaken.] He emphasises the important role of miracles in the lives of both saints and the fact that although SSB has his critics, no one had so far disproved the miracles.
The Critique is rather rambling, but a rather stodgy three page disagreement with Agehananda Bharati's previous paper (1970) on 'The Hindu Renaissance and Its Apologetic Patterns' is brightened up by a reference to Bharati's coinage 'Pizza Effect' to describe, in Prof White's words: "the reimportation into Hinduism of Hindu products which have been enhanced either by a certain acceptance or transformation in a journey abroad." (For example, Vivekananda.)
If the reader thinks I have gone off the subject, that was precisely what I feel Prof. White did, though he does finish the article with a plea for a middle critical path between the "adoring devotee" and the "hostile sceptic", which we should all try to follow.]
1981: 'Satya Sai Baba', in Crim, Keith et al (eds.), Abingdon Dictionary of Living Religions, Nashville, Abingdon, p. 659.
[A short account of the salient characteristics of that period: emphasis on miracles rather than teachings; no proof of fraud; charitable work, especially in the field of education; a growing overseas following because of SSB's charisma and the perceived similarities with Jesus Christ. See Part 2, under Reference Books.]
Wiseman, Richard and Haraldsson, Erlendur, (1995) 'Investigating macro PK in India: Swami Premananda', Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 60, No. 839, 193-202.
[Unlike SSB, Swami Premananda agreed to submit to the parapsychologists' videotaped tests of his claimed materialisations of vibuthi and small objects. Under these controlled conditions, the guru was unable on several occasions to perform what he had promised. When the control was removed, the 'materialisations' resumed. However, no evidence of fraud was found.]
In relation to SSB, it seems to me that academic writers and devotees, who are otherwise poles apart (in Parts 1 and 3 of this Bibliography, for instance), have at least this much in common: they interview other devotees or read their books to glean their subjective experiences of and reactions to a charismatic and psychic guru. Academics then extrapolate opinions or conclusions according to their field of interest or simply leave readers to make up their own minds about the 'facts' presented. However, perhaps because of their understandable desire not to judge on matters of belief, they often fail to read, consider or make available to readers what SSB himself has said in his Discourses (i.e. in the translated and heavily edited versions which the SSO publishes for devotees all over the world) and the effect of all this self-promotion.
Time after time, writers fail to mention that from the beginning of his Mission, SSB created an atmosphere of great expectancy by flamboyantly accompanying his alleged healings and miracles with crystal-clear, charismatic and unique claims to be:
- the reincarnation of the revered saint Shirdi Sai Baba (in 1943);
- (a few years later) not simply an Avatar (as many Indian gurus do) but the Avatar of the Age, with full powers of omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence - with a third incarnation in reserve to assure world peace and happiness: Prema Sai Baba (expected after 2022). (According to some devotee commentators, SSB is also the predicted eschatological Hindu Kalki Avatar.)
Therefore, to state or imply, as many academics (and SSO spokespersons) do, that "his devotees believe him to be an Avatar" (or God) is a disingenuous, naive, or misleading half-truth. The other half of that truth is that the combination of SSB's charismatic effect on people, his undefined psychic powers, PLUS these special claims and the surrounding hype of devotee hagiography has brought about this widespread belief.
The urgent need for more independent background study of the SSB phenomenon is nowhere more evident than in the present confused official SSO ambivalence in its public claims about the guru:
That SSB is the Avatar of the Age - see the official websites.
That, for the purposes of international publicity campaigns, SSB is a world spiritual leader who fosters charitable causes - see the current high-powered (and costly) advertising program of recent and ongoing overseas SSO public presentations of SSB who (it should be reiterated) has vigorously stated that he needs no advertising - and NO Internet exposure - because his divine plans must come to fruition.
In spite of the acres of pages of existing information on SSB, there is a very real need for researchers who can sift through all the evidence, including the hitherto untapped Telugu sources of information, including village documents and fresh interviews with people who have known or worked with SSB or his associates. Translations of the original Telugu Discourses, etc. could also illuminate murky areas of this long, involved but incomplete story.
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