Course D. An Introduction to the Hindu Traditions
Thursdays, 1:00-2:30 p.m.
Instructor: Mark McClish, Associate Professor, Religious Studies
This course meets on Thursdays afternoons beginning on September 23.
One of the largest and most ancient of all religions, ‘Hinduism’ is better understood as a family of related traditions. Over the last 5000 years, the Hindu traditions of South Asia have developed an astonishing diversity of rituals, beliefs, and spiritual practices and a pantheon of hundreds and thousands of gods and goddesses, from the elephant headed Ga?esa to the fierce goddess Kali and many local deities. This course will examine the breadth of the Hindu traditions as they have developed over time, highlighting the major elements that characterize them collectively, such as ritual sacrifice (yajña), world renunciation (sa?nyasa), law (dharma), spiritual discipline (yoga), devotion (bhakti), and worship (puja). We will pay particular attention to how these traditions have contributed to the development of modern Hinduism. During the course we will explore the great works of Hindu literature, such as the Ramaya?a and the Bhagavad Gita, as well as other important sources such as art, architecture, anthropology, and film.
Sep. 23 Hinduism and History
We begin the course by exploring the colonial origins of the idea of ‘Hinduism’ and what it means to study Hinduism as a ‘world religion.’ We will use this discussion as a launching point to explore the differences between academic and traditional histories of the Hindu traditions, and how each tells a very different story.
Sep. 30 The Vedas
One of the most commonly shared features among Hindu traditions is acceptance of the authority of scriptures known as the Vedas. The Vedas are the oldest extant texts of the Hindu traditions, and from them (as well as from archaeology, linguistics, and genetics) we learn much about the confluence of cultures that gave birth to the earliest form of Hinduism, often called ‘Vedic Hinduism’ (ca. 1500 – 600 BCE). We will also look this week at the sacred language, Sanskrit, in which the Vedas and later Hindu scriptures were composed.
Oct. 7 Dharma: Duty, Law, and Order
From the period of Vedic Hinduism forward, we can trace two religious impulses that will shape the development of Hinduism over the next several centuries: world maintenance and world renunciation. This week, we will explore the concept of dharma, which means ‘sacred law,’ ‘duty,’ ‘order,’ and even ‘religion.’ The rules of dharma organize a religious life that attends to upholding tradition, custom, and social order. An exploration of dharma provides the opportunity to explore caste, gender, ritual, sacraments, and ethics within Hinduism.
Oct. 14 Mok?a: The Quest for Liberation
In tension with the inclination to support or uphold the world, Hinduism has also been strongly shaped by the desire to leave the world behind and emancipate oneself from suffering. Those who follow this path are renouncers, or sa?nyasins, who seek to overcome death itself. They cultivated contemplative and yogic practices that were accompanied by sophisticated philosophical systems, such as Sa ?khya and Vedanta. This week, we explore renunciation as a social practice and also peek into the erudite world of Indian philosophy.
Oct. 21 Bhakti: The Love of God
Hinduism, as we know it today, begins to come into full view in the second half of the first millennium with the development of theistic systems devoted to the great deities Vi??u, Siva, and Devi (the goddess). The myths and stories of these deities, along with rituals for their worship, have been passed down in vast compendia called Pura ?as. Theologians of this period began to articulate new philosophies based on the saving power of devotion (bhakti) to god. Love for gods like Vi??u and Siva came to be interwoven with conceptions of dharma and renunciation, forming the basis of modern Hinduism.
Oct. 28 The Mahabharata and Ramaya?a: The Sanskrit Epics
We step back this week from the nuances of Hindu thought and practice to enjoy the timeless stories of The Mahabharata and Ramaya?a. These beloved epics tell of great wars: a cosmic civil war within one of India’s founding dynasties and the war between Rama and the demon king Rava?a, who abducted Rama’s beloved wife Sita, respectively. Both texts are read as sacred scriptures, but they also happen to be enormously entertaining tales. This week we will look at these sacred tales as windows onto Classical Hinduism.
Nov. 4 Medieval Hinduism
Major innovations occurred within the Hindu traditions in the first half of the second millennium CE, and this week we will look at three: the spread of what are known as the bhakti movements; the construction of the great Hindu temples; and the emergence of new practices of tantra and yoga. These developments will help to complete our picture of the development of the Hindu traditions in the pre-modern period.
Nov. 11 Two Visions of Hinduism in Modern India
In week eight, we move forward to explore colonialism and its legacy in South Asia. In particular, we will focus on two visions of modern India and the place of Hinduism in each. We begin with a look at Nehruvian modernism, which relied on a version of Hinduism friendly to the secular state and tolerant of its pluralistic society. We turn then to look at Hindu nationalism, and the effort to forge an intrinsic connection between Hinduism and the Indian state. We will look at recent events, including the rise of the BJP, in this context.
Nov. 18 The Life of Hinduism
In this, our final week, we take all that we have learned to this point and focus on the lives, beliefs, and practices of Hindus today, in India and around the world. In this context, we will look at Hindu ethics, sacraments, ritual practice, temple worship, and identity, with particular attention to diasporic Hinduism in North America.
Information is subject to change. Full course and policy descriptions are available at www.nualumnae.org
• Each 9-week online course is $155.00. Registration pays for access to a live webinar and limited-time access to a recording of each week’s 90-minute session.
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