An important, distinctive effort: Vir Sanghvi on the work of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Research

An important, distinctive effort: Vir Sanghvi on the work of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Research


At a time when Hinduism is more and more influencing political agendas, it’s generally exhausting to recollect that there’s one other type of Hinduism: one which lends itself to tutorial research.

That’s the type of Hinduism being studied at Oxford College, one of many few nice international universities to let college students learn Hinduism in any respect levels of the educational expertise, from undergraduate levels to doctorates. For the final twenty years, its Centre for Hindu Research has gained a repute for excellence in a area that’s not studied sufficient.

In recent times, the centre and the college have grappled more and more with the apparent notion drawback. Is a Centre for Hindu Research a part of the Hindutva undertaking? Is it a means of incomes international respectability for political Hinduism?

“We now have had this notion drawback primarily with Indian lecturers,” says Shaunaka Rishi Das, the charismatic Irishman (extra about his non-Irish identify later) who has headed the Centre because it was established in 1997. “We’re very clear that we’re not a Hindu Centre. We’re a Centre for Hindu Research. The centre shouldn’t be meant just for Hindus, however for students of all religions and nationalities to check Hinduism and Hindu thought.”

Whereas Buddhism is a well-liked topic of examine at American universities, Hinduism has not often been afforded the identical degree of educational consideration. Das says this can be as a result of Buddhism is comparatively easy for these with a Western / Christian perspective: “It says there isn’t any God and it lays down its precepts fairly clearly. Hinduism, alternatively, is much extra complicated.”

He provides the instance of 1 query Hindus are sometimes requested by these with a Western perspective: “We now have the Bible. Which is your holy guide?”

Many Hindus, he says, identify the Bhagwad Gita. “It might be a guide however it’s certainly not The guide,” Das says. “For a begin, it isn’t even a guide. It’s a part of an oral custom, is nearly like a efficiency with its poetry. And in any case, was compiled lengthy after Hinduism got here into being.”

The proper reply, argues Das, is that Hinduism has nobody guide. However Christians don’t at all times get that. Additionally, “in contrast to Buddhists, who’re clear that they don’t have a God, Hinduism has thousands and thousands. And but it solely has one. It’s a complicated reply and one which generally baffles Westerners”.

The Centre started on the occasion of Keith Ward, who was then the Regius Professor of Theology at Oxford. Ward had lengthy questioned why there was so little tutorial examine of Hinduism on the College, after which he met Das.

Das has led a vibrant life. Raised in Eire as Timothy Kiernan, a Catholic, he was on track to develop into a priest when he found Hinduism by ISKCON, the Worldwide Society for Krishna Consciousness, popularly known as the Hare Krishna motion. Das joined, and that’s when he took his Hindu identify. He spent a number of years with the motion, a part of them as a celibate monk, earlier than marrying a fellow ISKCON follower of Welsh descent and turning into concerned in each the interfaith motion and the intense, tutorial examine of Hindu philosophy.

He launched the Centre for Hindu Research for the college, and roped in a few of the world’s main tutorial specialists on Hinduism. The college quickly started to see the advantage in his view that Hindu Research was not solely about faith, however included philosophy, artwork, tradition and even arithmetic.

Over time, the Centre has overseen a rating of doctoral theses, and has had 150 books revealed by Fellows and analysis college students. Its Journal of Hindu Research is among the many most revered publications within the area.

The ethos of the Centre is that one of many defining facets of Hinduism is its plurality and its complexity. There isn’t a single Hindu custom; there are a number of.

That is at odds with the simplistic model of the faith favoured by some advocates of political Hindutva and Rishi Das is cautious whereas speaking about it. He says he treats Hindutva as a topic to be examined.

“Is it Hinduism?” he asks. “Can it converse for Hinduism? Which parts of Hindu custom does it exemplify? Is it Hindu by heritage or a brand new type of political spiritual tradition? Is it nationalism — a current Western idea?”

Oxford College has been proud and supportive of the Centre’s work. Which raises the query: when Oxford is ready to discover the variety and complexity of Hindu perception why is there so little debate about Hindu philosophy and faith in our personal public sphere? Have we received to the stage the place it’s only a alternative between “Godless secularism” and one model of Hinduism?

It’s an vital query that’s, sadly, not often debated right here in India. We may all do with some model of Hindu Research!



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