Defining Hinduism

Laurie Patton

in Hinduism

ISBN: 9780195399318
Published online January 2011 | | DOI:
Defining Hinduism


The terms “Hinduism” and “Hindu” are notoriously difficult to define, and partly because of this ambiguity these terms have been the subject of much controversy in contemporary debates. In the past two decades alone, Hinduism has been variously called a religion, a way of life, and a construction of colonialism. In addition to a discussion of general overviews, this bibliography focuses on four different approaches to defining Hinduism—historical, constructivist (including both those who advocate getting rid of the term and those who advocate keeping it), ethnographic, and indigenous. Because it has not always been a term of self-designation, the word “Hindu” has been at the center of academic debates, involving Indian, diaspora, and Western perspectives. As will be clear in this bibliography, the voices on all sides of the debate do not line up neatly into particular camps. Rather, there are a range of views as to whether the terms “Hindu” and “Hinduism” should be used at all, or whether other terms, seen as more appropriate reflections of historical and contemporary practices, should replace them. Moreover, several scholars argue that the staggering range of practices and philosophies embraced by the term “Hinduism” undercuts the very idea of a single phenomenon. These thinkers would prefer to focus on particular religious or spiritual movements within India and abroad without imposing a false unity. Other scholars argue that it is the best term we have, and is currently part of a lexicon, however problematic, of world religions. Thus one should be sophisticated in qualifying the term but continue to use it.

Article.  6272 words. 

Subjects: Hinduism

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