The History of the Academic Study of Religion in Universities, Centers, and Institutes in India1

India is home to more than 800 million Hindus and has a massive higher education system that is overseen by the University Grants Commission (ugc). Despite this, there are hardly any departments of religion or Hinduism in India, but the ugc, even though it has a secular mission, funds universities w...

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Bibliographic Details
Published in:Numen
Main Author: Narayanan, Vasudha
Format: Electronic Article
Language:English
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Published: 2015
In:Numen
Year: 2015, Volume: 62, Issue: 1, Pages: 7-39
Further subjects:B education in India religious studies South Asia Hinduism
Online Access: Volltext (Verlag)
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Summary:India is home to more than 800 million Hindus and has a massive higher education system that is overseen by the University Grants Commission (ugc). Despite this, there are hardly any departments of religion or Hinduism in India, but the ugc, even though it has a secular mission, funds universities with explicit religious affiliations. This article traces the reasons for these paradoxes and discusses the apparent lacuna of religious studies departments by looking at the genealogy of the study of religion in India. It initially looks at the contested terrain of nineteenth-century educational institutions. The work of British missionaries, Orientalists, and government officials form the imperial context to understand Charles Wood’s momentous Despatch (1854), which, on the one hand, argues for secular institutions but, on the other, tries to accommodate the work of the Orientalists and the missionaries. Wood recommends a system in which government subsidies, secular education, and universities with overt religious profiles become interlocked, but the formal study of religion is bypassed. Finally, I reconsider what the “dearth” of religious studies and the “absence” of Hinduism departments reveal about the construction of religion in India itself. The lack of conceptual correspondence between “religion” and “Hinduism” as taught in Western academic contexts does not preclude the formal study of religion in India. Instead, the study of religion is conducted within particularized frameworks germane to the Indic context, using a network of unique institutes. Reflection on these distinctively Indian epistemological frameworks push new ways of thinking about religious education and the construction of religion as an object of study in South Asia.
ISSN:1568-5276
Contains:In: Numen
Persistent identifiers:DOI: 10.1163/15685276-12341354