Hinduism Through Its Scriptures-7 – Mutual Respect

Author: Ananth Sethuraman.

Read the earlier parts in this Series by Shri Ananth here


edX is a provider of massive open online courses [Ref 1]. It was founded by Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

One of the courses that edX offers is titled Hinduism Through Its Scriptures [Ref 2]. The course covers some topics from the angle of Western Indology, rather than the angle of adhyātma.

In this article, we will take up one of these topics, the conflicts between adhyātma and some religions (or worldviews). We will see that the edX course is unsure how to proceed on a delicate topic.

Conflicts with non-Hindu Communities


The course contains this excerpt:

“some Hindu groups in India in more recent history have engaged in conflicts with non-Hindu communities.”


The course does not offer details on the nature of the conflicts. Perhaps the course instructors did not know how to cover the topic of conflicts in an academic setting.

How the US Civil War is Covered

We suggest that the way the US Civil War is taught in textbooks of US history is a good way of teaching conflicts in an academic setting. Textbooks of US history devote space to two political compromises known as the Three-Fifths Compromise and the Missouri Compromise. The two political compromises were unsatisfactory, and showed that the question of slavery could not be resolved by dialog. A situation that could not be resolved by dialog led to the US Civil War.

This way of teaching the US Civil War makes it clear that the civil war was not brought about by the poor personalities of some leaders. Further, the civil war is not put under the heading of human rights abuse.

Dialog Between Adhyātma and Some Religions (or Worldviews)

This way of teaching deserves to be adopted for the conflicts between adhyātma and some religions (or worldviews). That is to say, the teaching style must devoted space to the dialog that has been taking place between adhyātma and some religions (or worldviews). Several examples of such dialog exist. We present a few below.

[Ref 3] describes a dialog between followers of adhyātma and senior Christian theologians. The phrase “mutual respect” caused difficulty in the dialog. Followers of adhyātma wanted one referent of “mutual respect” to be respect for adhyātmas practices such as mūrti pūjā or idol-worship.  The Christian side expressed misgivings about this referent at first. Then they agreed to sign a document that did contain this referent. Finally, they issued a policy that contained these words: “followers of other religions … are in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who, in the Church, have the fullness of the means of salvation.”

[Ref 3] describes a dialog between Rajiv Malhotra, and a Muslim spokesperson. The phrase “mutual respect” caused difficulty in this dialog as well. The Muslim spokesperson was unable to continue the dialog when she came to know that one referent of “mutual respect” should be respect for adhyātma’s practices such as mūrti pūjā.

Another Kind of Dialog

The dialogs described in [Ref 3] involved theologians and not politicians. What happens when politicians participate in dialog? This is what has been described in [Ref 6].

Politicians cannot work on theological issues. What they can work on are those grievances that the state has the ability to solve. For example, let there be a grievance that Muslims are unable to participate in elections; politicians are able to assign the branch of the state that conducts elections the action item to increase Muslim participation in elections. Or let there be a grievance that Muslims lack educational opportunities; politicians are able to assign the education department the action item to increase educational opportunities for Muslims. [Ref 6] points out that Indian politicians have been doing this from the second half of the 19th century.

[Ref 6] considers the role of the intelligentsia as well. Generally speaking the intelligentsia has employed broad-brush phrases such as “communal problem” or “Hindu-Muslim question” in order to cover the dialog between politicians from the two sides. These broad-brush phrases lack termination criterion. That is to say, it is unclear how much dialog has to take place in order to say that the “communal problem” (or the “Hindu-Muslim question”) has been solved. The use of broad-brush phrases have left the public with an impression that dialog is not making progress.

Action Item for Swadeshi Indology

Swadeshi Indology can, and should, cover the topic of antagonism that some religions have towards adhyātma. This coverage should direct the students’ attention to those doctrines of Islam and Christianity, that make it hard for Islam and Christianity to respect adhyātma’s practices such as mūrti pūjā.

Some branches of the social sciences also express antagonism towards adhyātma. These branches are closely related to missionary theology at a theoretical level [Ref 4, p325][Ref 5, Sec II], so they express this antagonism.  Swadeshi Indology should cover this antagonism also.

Swadeshi Indology should eschew broad-brush phrases such as “communal problem” and “Hindu-Muslim question” which lack termination criteria.


Ref 1: https://www.edx.org

Ref 2: https://www.edx.org/course/hinduism-through-its-scriptures-2

Ref 3: https://rajivmalhotra.com/library/articles/tolerance-isnt-good-enough-need-mutual-respect-interfaith-relations

Ref 4: R Malhotra, Being Different, HarperCollins Publishers India, 2011. ISBN 978-93-5116-050-2

Ref 5: http://www.hipkapi.com/2011/02/28/negative-portrayals-of-non-western-cultures-like-indian-secularization-of-christianity-s-n-balagangadhara/

Ref 6: S Pathan, A Historical and Theoretical Investigation into ‘Communalism’, Centre for the Study of Culture and Society.

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