Brahminism refers to the religious views and ideology historically promoted by the priestly class of Brahmins in India. It may be used in the context of their domination of Indian society and their Hindu-ideology.
Historically, and still by some modern authors, the word was used in English to refer to the Hindu religion, or that part of it following brahmin priests and their writings, as opposed to the wide range of popular cultic activity with little connection with them. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Brahminism was the most common term used in English for Hinduism, and "Hindu" meant "Indian" when applied to people. Indeed the Indian left wing often blames the British, especially those responsible for the Census of India prior to independence, for inventing not only the word but the concept of "Hinduism" as a religion.
The different term Brahmanism may refer to one branch that descended from the historical Vedic religion, and formed one of the constituents of the complex of Indian religions called Hinduism. It is derived basically from the quest for Brahma, or Brahman or the Supreme Being, as per ancient Indian thought. The spirit of this line of thought can be seen from the 2003 book titled Man's eternal quest for God by Paramahansa Yogananda. The Srauta tradition still preserves elements of Brahmanism. Thus, there are two distinct contexts by which the term 'Brahminism' or 'Brahmanism' is used. One is in the context of ancient Indian thought and the quest for God. The other is in the context of an ongoing work for bringing in a social order based on liberty, equality and fraternity. In neither of these contexts does the word mean anything particularly significant about the Brahmin caste.
In modern India, those who work or aspire for a social order based on equality may use the words 'Brahmanism' and 'Brahminism' interchangeably. B. R. Ambedkar, who later chaired the drafting Committee of Indian Constitution, in a speech in February, 1938 explained the word to mean "negation of the spirit of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity". He also clarified that the word does not mean the power, privileges and interests of Brahmins as a community.
- 'Hindutva Is Nothing But Brahminism', Outlook, 5 April 2002.
- Man's eternal quest for God by Paramahansa Yogananda, Publisher: Yogoda Satsanga Society of India; Third edition (19 August 2003)