My brother-in-law, Michael Towbes, is one of my heroes. Michael’s businesses, including Montecito Bank, give generously each year to arts and education in Santa Barbara.
As a past chair of the UC Santa Barbara foundation board, M.T. understood the need to attract top grad students. He says, “People who support universities tend to support professors. But graduate students are an important part of the team.” To help the school’s recruiting, he funded an annual scholarship, named for his father, Louis.
Thanks to M.T., I introduce you this week to Tracy Pintchman, Towbes’ first fellow. A New Yorker, Tracy received her Ph.D. in 1992 with a dissertation on the historical evolution of a Great Goddess figure in Hindu texts. How’s that for esoteric?
9 months later, Tracy had a book contract. The Rise of the Goddess in the Hindu Tradition
was published in 1994 by SUNY press. “As one of the peer reviewers noted,” Tracy says, “in the early 1990s, goddess studies were ‘a growth industry.'”
Tracy is one accomplished lady. She’s written, edited or co-edited 7 books and won teaching awards. She’s a Professor of Religious Studies at Loyola University Chicago and Director of the International Studies Program. In 1987, she was accepted by Religious Studies programs at Harvard and USCB. The Towbes Fellowship at UCSB was, she says, “the deciding factor. I was able to complete my doctoral program without having to take out any student loans or work at McDonald’s.”
Married to a Loyola professor and mother of 2, Tracy has also taught at Harvard and Northwestern. She’s researching a book on a Hindu goddess temple in—who knew???—Pontiac, Michigan. You, curious reader, know how I aim to be aware of my surroundings. I confess: in all my (numerous) years in Michigan I never heard of the Parashakthi Temple. (No doubt my publisher, Read The Spirit, has covered it already. Busted.)
Turns out the temple was begun in 1999. Its mission: “To share Divine Mother’s grace with all humanity…”
Tracy says the founders of the temple, also called the Eternal Mother Temple, claim it’s located in Pontiac because the Goddess chose the site and communicated it through dreams and visions. The reported early presence of Native American healers in Pontiac lends a sacred history. The Temple’s “charismatic leader” is Dr. Krishna Kumar, a gastroenterologist at Beaumont Hospital in daily life.
“He refuses to call himself a guru,” Tracy says. “He calls himself a mailman, meaning he receives messages of truth from the Goddess and delivers them.”
Aside from her involvement with Hindu goddesses, Tracy is Jewish and belongs to a synagogue. “There’s an assumption in the U.S. that religious identity is singular and exclusive. That’s not how all of the world works. In India Hindus, Christians, Muslims and Jews sometimes all worship together.” (Note to world: in these religiously divided times, how helpful does this concept seem?)
How did Tracy come across the Parashakti Temple? “People at the Temple would say the Goddess called me,” she says. She discovered it online in 2007. That same year, her good friend, the late Albion College Prof. Selva Raj, invited her to a conference. While in Michigan, she visited the Temple and has been researching it since.
“I’ve been moved by the goodness of the Temple leadership and worshipers. They donate generously to the Temple and social causes. They have put me up, fed me, taken care of me and spent hours talking to me. The hospitality has been humbling.”
Tracy says Hinduism is “a rich, complex tradition. It makes you appreciate how much ‘the Other’ can teach you about the world.”
Amen to that. Thanks, Tracy. Dhanyavaad.