Rethinking Religion in India

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Rethinking Religion in India forms a five-year international conference cluster. It is jointly organised by the Research Centre Vergelijkende Cultuurwetenschap (Ghent University, Belgium), the Centre for the Study of Local Cultures (Kuvempu University, India) and the Karnataka Academy of Social Sciences and Humanities (KASSH).


India is home to hundreds of different traditions and virtually all the religions of the contemporary world. The interaction and dialogue among them has produced highly creative cultural forms and ways of living together. Yet, increasingly, scholars have begun to feel that the current knowledge about the Indian culture and its traditions is unsatisfactory at best or erroneous at worst. In the current theoretical paradigm, Indian traditions are conceived of in terms of their respective beliefs, doctrines, holy texts, religious strife, etc. This does not appear to allow for an adequate understanding of the Indian traditions. Not only does this framework determine our understanding of the religions in India, but it also has consequences for the Indians, experiencing their own traditions.

In the domain of religious studies, in postcolonial studies and in the field of comparative science of cultures, scholars have begun to argue that the questions and conceptual framework for the study of India and its religions are firmly embedded within the Western cultural history, namely within the theological framework of Christianity. Therefore, Rethinking Religion in India aims at interrogating the newly emerging attempts to study the religions and traditions of India differently.

During the first conference year the central questions that were explored are the following: Are there religions in India? Is it possible to say that the descriptions of Indian culture and its religions are the products of the Western experience of India? These questions will be explored in different formats in the three modules: (1) In the Platform sessions the different theoretical approaches to the study of religion in India will be discussed. (2) The Roundtable sessions will take up the debate about the construction of Hinduism and investigate the impact of colonialism on our understanding of India. (3) The Parallel Paper sessions will prepare the ground for Platform and Roundtable sessions of the following years. They take up the following themes: Evolutionary explanations of religion; Indians are Aryans, so what?; The caste system and Indian religion.[1]

Conference format[edit]

The 5-year conference cluster Rethinking Religion in India forms an integrated whole, with each conference building on the previous one. Each year the issues and problems to be addressed will get delineated more sharply. In between conferences, intermediary activities are planned, which will feed into the formulation of the subsequent conference themes and questions.

To achieve the overall objective of developing a new paradigm for the study of religion in India, a conference format with distinct conference modules and recurring conference themes will be adopted. Each module will approach the ten themes and questions from different angles: (1) Platform sessions; (2) Roundtable sessions; (3) Parallel Paper sessions; (4) "How to...?" workshops.

Platform: Each year, there will be three plenary Platform sessions. These address one particular theme from Rethinking Religion in India. In the Rethinking Religion in India II, the Platform Sessions will consist of a one-on-one debate between representatives of these two positions. Both participants will have the opportunity to select a fellow advocate of their position, who can be requested to take over the task of developing a particular argument or countering an argument of the opponent, in the midst of the debate. The debate will be held according to the principles of reasonable discussion or rational dialogue. These have been conveniently summarised in the “ten commandments” of reasonable discussion by the pragma-dialectical school of argumentation theory.[2]

Roundtable: The Roundtable participants will consist of two groups: (1) an expert group of representatives from the opposing sides of a controversial debate in the religious studies will defend their respective standpoints in the form of a short presentation. (2) A group of respondents will challenge these different positions. The aim of the Roundtable is to generate fresh and novel questions. The main part of the session will be dedicated to discussions among the participants of the Roundtable, but there will be sufficient room for questions and reactions from the audience.

Parallel Papers: The Parallel Paper sessions provide young and promising Indian and international scholars a place to actively participate in the conference, and to present and discuss innovative research results. The number of parallel paper sessions has been kept limited so as to ensure the possibility of focused and qualitative discussions. They also intend to foster the academic study of religion in Indian contexts.

The Parallel Paper sessions form an integrated whole with the Platform and Roundtable sessions and a cross-fertilisation between the different modules will take place: On the one hand, these sessions prepare the grounds for the Platform and Roundtable sessions of the subsequent year. On the other hand, they also provide a space to continue the discussions of the previous year and of the intermediary activities.

The colonial construction of Hinduism[edit]

This edited volume crystallises the ideas generated during the inaugural conference of the five-year conference cluster Rethinking Religion in India (New Delhi, 2008): Esther Bloch, Marianne Keppens and Rajaram Hegde (eds.), 978-0-415-54890-8 Rethinking Religion in India: the colonial construction of Hinduism (London: Routledge, 2010). ISBN 978-0-415-54890-8

The book critically engages with recent debates about the construction of Hinduism. Contributors are S.N. Balagangadhara, Sarah Claerhout, Jakob De Roover, Timothy Fitzgerald, Richard King, David N. Lorenzen, Geoffrey A. Oddie, Laurie L. Patton, Sharada Sugirtharajah, and John Zavos.[3]


  1. ^
  2. ^ F. van Eemeren et al. Fundamentals of Argumentation Theory: A Handbook of Historical Backgrounds and Contemporary Developments (New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1996), 283-284.
  3. ^ Esther Bloch, Marianne Keppens and Rajaram Hegde (eds.), Rethinking Religion in India: the colonial construction of Hinduism (London: Routledge, 2010).

See also[edit]