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Indian Religions: History of Study


As is the case with other great traditions, the study of and interest in Indian religions cannot be described in terms of academic research alone; nor is it confined to the accumulation of factual information. It also involves questions of motivation, hermeneutic conditions, religious commitment, philosophical reflection, and interaction and dialogue between India and the West. It reflects the work and attitudes of missionaries and philologists, travelers and philosophers, anthropologists and theologians. It has roots and repercussions in the general trends and developments of Western science, religion, and philosophy. Its impact upon Indian as well as Western self-understanding is undeniable and still growing. More than other religions, Indian religions and specifically Hinduism are integrated into the totality of forms of culture and life, and to that extent, Indian studies in general have a direct or indirect bearing upon the religion of Hinduism. In such broad and comprehensive application, the term religion itself has become subject to questioning and reinterpretation.

Beginnings of Indological Research

Although institutionalized Indological research and systematic and organized study of Indian religions are not older than two centuries (initiated in part by the foundation in 1784 of the Asiatic Society of Bengal and by the establishment in 1814 of the first chair for Indian studies at the University of Paris), the Western encounter with the Indian religious tradition was by no means an unexpected and unprepared event. Since the days of classical Greece, and in particular since the Indian campaign of Alexander the Great (327325 bce), there has been interest in and speculation about Indian wisdom and religion. On the one hand, such interest was nurtured by the idea that the origins of the Greek religious and philosophical tradition were to be found in the East; on the other hand, it may also have reflected a search for alternatives and correctives to the Greek tradition. In spite of this interest, however, verifiable contacts between West and East were rare; the linguistic and cultural barriers were usually insurmountable. Even Megasthenes, the Greek ambassador at the Maurya court in Pataliputra (today Patna, Bihar) from 302 to 291 bce, was unable to explore Indian religion in its original textual sources. The rise of the Sassanid empire and then of Islam virtually precluded direct contacts between India and Europe for many centuries, and there was little more than a repetition and rearrangement of the materials inherited from Greek and Roman antiquity. However, a highly original and thorough study of India, based upon textual sources as well as travel experiences and accompanied by an unprecedented hermeneutic awareness, was produced in Arabic by the great Islamic scholar al-Bīrūnī (9731051). But his work remained unknown in contemporary Europe, and even in medieval Islam it was a unique and somewhat isolated phenomenon.

The Portuguese explorers who reopened direct Western access to India (a development marked by Vasco da Gama's arrival in 1498 in the South Indian port city of Calicut) were motivated not by any interest in Indian religion or philosophy but by trade and missionary interests. Yet, the urge to teach and to proselytize turned out to be a powerful incentive to explore the contexts and conditions for spreading the Christian message. For several centuries, missionaries were the leading pioneers in the study of Indian languages and of Indian religious thought. Their greatest representative, Roberto de Nobili (15771656; active in Madurai, South India), learned Tamil and Sanskrit and acquired and unequaled knowledge of the Indian tradition. But his writings remained unpublished during his lifetime and were only recently rediscovered. The work of another missionary, Abraham Roger's Dutch-language De opendeure tot het verborgen heydendom (The open door to the hidden heathendom), published in 1651, was translated into other European languages and widely used as a sourcebook on Indian religion. The works of travelers like François Bernier and Jean-Baptiste Tavernier provided additional information.

The ideological movements of Deism and the Enlightenment opened new perspectives on India and on non-Christian religions in general. One characteristic argument (used, for example, by Voltaire) was that the basic ideas concerning God and religion are older, more original, and less deformed in the ancient cultures of Asia than in the Christian West. Similarly, a certain deistic openness toward a universal religion can be found in the works of two eighteenth-century British pioneers of the study of Hinduism, Alexander Dow and John Z. Holwell. Like them, the French scholar A.-H. Anquetil-Duperron (17311805) did not have direct access to Sanskrit; instead, his Latin version of fifty Upaniads, published in two volumes in 18011802 under the title Oupnekʾhat and of seminal importance for the appreciation of Indian religious thought in continental Europe, was based upon a Persian translation (Sirr-i Akbar, 1657). Even William Jones (17461794), founder of the Asiatic Society of Bengal and one of the most influential pioneers of modern Indology, initially studied Persian before gaining access to the Sanskrit language. Charles Wilkins (17491836), the first English translator of the Bhagavadgītā (1785), and Henry Thomas Colebrooke (17651837), whose wide-ranging studies set new standards for Indian studies, continued the work of Jones. The general British attitude toward India was, however, under the impact of more practical interests, and, accordingly, it viewed Indian religion most often in its association with social, administrative, and political issues.

The situation was significantly different in continental Europe, and specifically in Germany, where the Romantic movement produced an unparalleled enthusiasm for ancient India, celebrated as the homeland of the European languages and of true religion and philosophy. German scholars contrasted the original spiritual purity and greatness of India with a progressive degeneration and obscuration in more recent times. In several cases, this enthusiasm led to a serious study of the original sources and to a more sober assessment; a certain disenchantment, for example, is documented in Friedrich Schlegel's classic Über die Sprache und Weisheit der Indier (On the language and wisdom of the Indians, 1808). August Wilhelm Schlegel, who shared his brother's early enthusiasm, became the first professor of Indology in Germany (at the University of Bonn in 1818) and a pioneer in the philological treatment of Indian texts. The Romantic influence persisted to the time of F. Max Müller (18231900), a German-born leader of nineteenth-century Indology and at Oxford University an influential advocate of comparative religion and mythology. In general, the discovery of the Indian materials had a special, often decisive impact upon the development of comparative studies in the humanities.

Classical Indology

Textual and historical scholarship of the nineteenth century has laid the foundations for the current access to ancient and classical Indian sources. Dictionaries prepared during this period as well as catalogs of manuscripts and editions and translations of religious texts are still considered indispensable. Throughout the nineteenth century there was a particular fascination with the Vedas, the oldest religious literature of Hinduism, and especially with the gveda. The first complete editions of the gveda were prepared by F. Max Müller (18491874) and Theodor Aufrecht (18611863). Müller saw in it the origins and early developments of religion as such; his contemporary Rudolf Roth took a more philological approach. Interest in the vast ritualistic literature of the Brāhmaas remained more limited, and pioneering work was done by Albrecht Weber (18251901) and Willem Caland (18591932). For earlier scholars the Vedas had been primarily a record of Indo-European antiquity, and at the core of its religious impulse they had seen a mythology of natural forces. Subsequently, other dimensions of the Vedas were emphasized, and they were interpreted more specifically in their Indian context and with reference to later developments. Moreover, Western interest in the Vedic and Upaniadic texts further enhanced their reputation in India. Between 1816 and 1819 the Bengali reformer Ram Mohan Roy published Bengali and English translations of some of the Upaniads, which in Anquetil-Duperron's Latin version had already impressed European thinkers, most conspicuously Arthur Schopenhauer; Roy is an early example of an Indian author who contributed to the modern exploration and dissemination of ancient Indian religious documents. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, Schopenhauer's admirer Paul Deussen (18451919) made further significant contributions to the study of the Upaniads and to the Vedānta system, which is built upon the interpretation of the Upaniads.

The great epics the Mahābhārata and the Rāmāyaa were studied as both religious and literary documents. In particular, the most famous episode of the Mahābhārata, the Bhagavadgītā, which was first translated into English by Charles Wilkins (1785) and has since appeared in numerous new translations and editions, has become in the present time the most popular piece of Indian religious poetry in the West. The Purāas, by contrast, attracted much less interest in spite of the outstanding efforts of H. H. Wilson (whose English translation of the Viu Purāa was published in 1840) and Eugène Burnouf (whose edition and French translation of the Bhāgavata Purāa was published 18401847; a French version based upon a Tamil version had been published in 1788). A full exploration of this vast literature has begun only in the twentieth century. Serious scholarly work on the Tantras has lagged behind still further and is still in its infancy. The collection and description of Tantric manuscripts begun by Rajendralal Mitra and others, and the editions and studies done in this area by John George Woodroffe (pseudonym, Arthur Avalon), the chief justice of Bengal, broke new ground. R. G. Bhandarkar's Vaiavism, Śaivism and Minor Religious Systems (1913) gave an authoritative summary of the information on sectarian Hinduism available at the time it was written.

Apart from his extensive Vedic studies and his contributions to other fields such as Brahmanic literature, Albrecht Weber laid the foundations for modern Jain studies, an area in which he was followed by scholars like Georg Bühler and Hermann Jacobi, who established the distinctive and extra-Vedic character of the Jain tradition. Another representative Indologist of the nineteenth century, Monier Monier-Williams (18191899), tried to combine textual learning with an understanding of living Hinduism and of practical missionary and administrative problems; this effort was visible, for example, in his work Modern India and the Indians (1878). By and large, popular Hinduism and the practical, institutional, or social dimensions of Indian religions were not among the topics of classical Indological research. Up to the beginning of the twentieth century, these phenomena were recorded principally by missionaries in accounts such as the controversial yet very influential report of Jean-Antoine Dubois entitled Hindu Manners, Customs and Ceremonies (1816, a translation of a French manuscript completed in 18051806). Further valuable information on social and religious life was provided by various gazetteers of India. Missionaries or scholars with missionary background also contributed richly to the study of religious literature in vernaculars, especially in South India, where they compiled most of the early dictionaries of Dravidian languages; and they produced as well the first accounts of the tribal religions of India, which are more or less outside the great scriptural traditions. The missionary J. N. Farquhar covered the whole range of Hindu religious literature in his still useful Outline of the Religious Literature of India (1920); his Modern Religious Movements in India (1915) is one of the first surveys of neo-Hinduism and related phenomena.

Philosophical Approaches to Indian Religions

The results of Indological research have affected the thought of various Western theologians and philosophers. In turn, Western systems of thought have provided motivations and interpretive frameworks for the study of Indian religions or have even influenced Indological research directly. These influences are exemplified by three important nineteenth-century philosophers, namely, G. W. F. Hegel (17701831), Arthur Schopenhauer (17881860), and Auguste Comte (17981857).

Hegel rejects the Romantic glorification of India. Nonetheless, he is a careful witness of the beginnings of Indological research and deals with Indian religious thought and life in considerable detail. In Hegel's view, the way of the Weltgeist ("world spirit") leads from East to West. Eastern and in particular Indian thought represents an introductory and subordinate stage of development that has been transcended (aufgehoben, i.e., canceled, conserved, and exalted all at once) by the Christian European stage. The inherent and distinctive principle of Indian religion and philosophy (systems that Hegel sees as inseparable) is the orientation toward the unity of one underlying "substance." God is conceived of as pure substance or abstract being (brahman ), in which finite beings are contained as irrelevant modifications. The individual human person has to subdue and extinguish individuality and return into the one primeval substance. In this light, Hegel tries to give a comprehensive and coherent interpretation of all phenomena of Indian life and culture and to establish the basically static, ahistorical character of the Indian tradition. Whatever the deficiencies of this interpretation may be, it has had a significant impact upon the treatment of India in the general histories of religion, and it has largely contributed to the long-lasting neglect of Indian culture in the historiography of philosophy.

Schopenhauer's association with Indian thought is much more familiar to Western readers than that of Hegel, and his attitude is conspicuously different. He does not accept any directedness or progression in history, and he can recognize insights and experiences of foreign and ancient traditions without having to subordinate them to the European standpoint. In the religious metaphysics of Vedānta and Buddhism he rediscovers his own views concerning the "world as will and representation" and the undesirability of existence, and he claims these traditions as allies against what he considers to be the errors and evils of the Judeo-Christian tradition, such as the belief in historical progress and in the uniqueness of the human person. He sees the Old Testament as a worldly book without the genuine sense of transcendence and of final liberation that he discovers in the Indian religious documents. In the New Testament he finds more to appreciate; his speculations that its teachings were influenced by Indian sources are not uncommon in the nineteenth century. He hopes that the Indological discoveries will initiate a "New Renaissance." While in fact this may not have happened, Schopenhauer's ideas nevertheless have stimulated much interest in Indian and comparative studies, though largely outside the academic world. Among the followers of Schopenhauer who contributed to the textual exploration of Indian religion and philosophy Paul Deussen remains the most outstanding example.

Comte does not show any noticeable interest in Indian thought, but his conception of "positive philosophy" and his programmatic ideas about transforming philosophy into sociology and anthropology (i.e., the systematic study of the human phenomenon) have set the stage for important developments in European, specifically French intellectual and scholarly life, such as the work of Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, Émile Durkheim, and Marcel Mauss in ethnology, sociology, and religious studies. In general, these writings have provided a broad ideological background for the anthropological and sociological study of religion. Paul Masson-Oursel's La philosophie comparée (1923; translated as Comparative Philosophy, 1926) reflects this tradition in its own way. By juxtaposing and comparing the "facts" of philosophical and religious thought in India, China, and Europe, Masson-Oursel tries to explore the full range of human potential and to discover the basic regularities of its development. Indeed, he presents himself as a disinterested cartographer of the human mind, an observer no longer attached to one particular cultural tradition or metaphysical viewpoint.

The three approaches just outlined remain exemplary and influential. There are, of course, numerous variants, as well as other, genuinely different approaches. Among the latter is a wide spectrum of attempts to find a common core or horizon of religiosity or a "transcendent unity of religions" (as proposed by Frithjof Schuon) or to approach the Indian tradition in the name of "religious experience" or "comparative mysticism" (as proposed by Rudolf Otto); another approach, with a psychological and agnostic emphasis, was taken by William James. Again, instead of Hegel's European self-confidence or the rigid Christian absolutism of such theologians as Karl Barth, there is now found a variety of more or less far-reaching ideas about encounter and dialogue, adaptation, and even synthesis. Among Catholic theologians, Karl Rahner has set new standards of openness toward other religions. Psychological or psychoanalytic methods and viewpoints have repeatedly been applied to the study of Indian religions, most conspicuously and influentially in the works of C. G. Jung and some of his followers. Other methodologies or ideologies, too, have had an explicit or implicit bearing upon the study of Indian religions; in particular, structuralist orientations have gained momentum. A Marxist interpretation of the Indian tradition exists as well, represented by Walter Ruben and others.

Scientific Contributions

The study of Indian religions by anthropologists and other social scientists is largely a phenomenon of the period after 1945. These studies rely principally on field investigations of living communities to generate their descriptions and models of Indian religions, and only indirectly on historical works or classical textual sources.

From their predecessors in the study of Indian religions, social scientists have inherited the following major questions about Indian religions. What is the nature and structure of the dominant religious traditions of India? What is the relationship between the legacy of norms, concepts, and beliefs contained in the great textual traditions of India and the day-to-day religious lives of its people? In what way does religion in India affect social structure (and, in particular, the caste system)? To what degree do the religions of India inhibit its economic development and vigor? Social scientists have inherited also a tendency to focus on Hinduism, the majority religion of the subcontinent, so that minority religions, including Islam, have till recently not been the focus of sustained research except insofar as they support or refute ideas about Hindu social forms.

In the period since 1945, social scientists trained principally in India, England, France, and the United States have translated these overarching questions into a series of more manageable ones about the functioning of religion at the village level of Indian society, addressing the following subjects: the ritual aspects of hierarchy in village life; the structure of the village pantheon; the links between social mobility and changed religious practices; the Hindu grammar of purity and pollution; indigenous ideas about power and authority; Indian explanations of fate, misfortune, and determinacy; and Hindu conceptions of space and time, death and liberation. Although much of this investigation has been conducted and communicated within the village framework, there has been throughout this period a concomitant countertradition of synthetic works that aim to capitalize on and generalize from these many local studies. The four decades after 1945 can, for expository convenience, be divided into three phases, which are sequentially discussed below. The following discussion focuses on major or representative works, approaches, and authors, rather than on more specialized, peripheral, or transient trends.

The first phase, which began in 1945, was dominated by the publication of Religion and Society among the Coorgs of South India by M. N. Srinivas (1952). In this study, Srinivas used the term Sanskritization to characterize a general mobility strategy that enabled Coorgs, and many other groups, either to enter the social fold of Hinduism or to rise within its hierarchy. This concept, which has been much invoked, debated, and refined since then, rested on the assumption of a critical historical, linguistic, and conceptual gap between local religious beliefs and customs and those of what Srinivas called "Sanskritic Hinduism," that is, the Hinduism of esoteric texts, literate priests, and cosmopolitan centers. This approach dovetailed very fortuitously with the ideas of the American anthropologist Robert Redfield regarding the difference between "great" and "little" traditions in peasant civilizations. Subsequently, an influential group of anthropologists centered at the University of Chicago set themselves to refining, synthesizing, and operationalizing the ideas of Redfield and of Milton Singer as they applied to Indian religions and society. A collection of essays edited by McKim Marriott and titled Village India (1955) signals the beginning of this trend, and Singer's When a Great Tradition Modernizes (1972) marks its zenith. This latter work also contains the most thorough anthropological critique available of Max Weber's influential thesis about the antagonism between caste ideology (with its Hindu assumptions) and modern capitalistic enterprise. This first phase, rooted in the empirical study of village religion, was dominated by the problem of reconciling village-level diversities with what were perceived as pan-Indian uniformities in religious belief and practice.

In the second phase, inaugurated by the publication of Homo Hierarchicus: The Caste System and Its Implications by Louis Dumont (1966; first English translation, 1970), this problem was largely replaced by a concern to analyze the conceptual core of Hinduism. Dumont, whose intellectual starting point was the opposition of pure and impure in Hindu thought (an opposition first remarked by Celestin Bougle, 1908), denied the conceptual gap between "great" and "little" traditions on the grounds of a shared conceptual scheme that animated Indian religious systems at all levels. He argued that the Hindu religious understanding of hierarchy was the philosophical basis of the caste system, and suggested that there was a radical incompatibility between approaches appropriate to the analysis of Western societies, which assume the axiomatic importance of equality and the individual, and those appropriate to the study of Indian society, with its cultural axiom of hierarchybased on religiously defined purityand its assumption of the priority of the social group. Dumont's work, in spite of its controversial qualities, has generated two decades of anthropological and sociological writing on India characterized by a concern with hierarchy, an almost exclusive focus on Hinduism, and a tilt toward the conceptual rather than the behavioral aspects of religious life in India.

Starting approximately in 1975, there has been a turning away from some of these larger debates and a return to more focused ethnographic and thematic investigations. Recent approaches have included anthropological analysis of both specific Hindu texts and textual traditions in an effort to learn of their cosmological assumptions; more systematic effort to investigate the local incarnations and involutions of dominant civilizational concepts; and a rediscovery of oral traditions, which, together with local performance genres, reveal important variations on civilizational themes and motifs. This most recent phase continues to explore traditional problems in the study of Indian religions, but makes more explicit and self-conscious use of methods and theories developed recently in folklore, linguistics, and philosophy. But perhaps the most promising recent trend has been the turn toward historical analyses of religious institutions, processes, and symbolic forms, a shift that has involved renewed dialogue between historians and anthropologists. This trend has produced a number of studies reminding researchers that Indian religions are not unchanging ways of expressing timeless truths.

Recent Trends and Developments

There is no single spectacular work separating modern from traditional Indology; instead, there is continuation and expansion, combined with gradual changes in orientation. The tradition of classical Vedic scholarship has been continued by Heinrich Lüders, Louis Renou, Jan Gonda, and others; these scholars have also reexamined the problems of continuity and change between Vedic and Hindu India. The quantity of available source materials has increased rapidly, and more scholars of different geographical, cultural, and religious origins and disciplinary backgrounds participate now in the process of research, which is no longer a primarily European affair. In the United States, the tradition of classical Indology (first represented by scholars such as William Dwight Whitney and Maurice Bloomfield) continues to some extent; but the study of Indian religion is pursued more vigorously in the context of other disciplines and of so-called area studies in the university curriculum. In Japan, which adopted Western academic institutions and methods of research in the late nineteenth century, research interests have focused on Buddhism, but much significant work has been done also on the other religious traditions of India, primarily in the field of textual studies (by Ui Hakuju, Nakamura Hajime, and others). From the beginning of modern Indology, the participation of Indians as collaborators in the process of research and as interpreters of their own tradition has been indispensable. In the twentieth century, particularly since India's independence (1947), their role has become more active, and their growing presence at Western universities, specifically in North America, has had a significant impact upon the exploration and teaching of Indian religions. Indian scholars have not traditionally been attracted by historical and philological methods; yet certain massive projects necessitating such methods could be executed properly only in India. Such a project was the critical edition of the Mahābhārata, which was inspired by Western philologists but actually produced in India (by V. S. Sukthankar and others). More recently, Indians have begun a systematic textual exploration of the Purāas, gamas, and Tantras, and of the vast devotional and philosophical literature of the sectarian movements. Still, there is on their part some reluctance to devote serious scholarly attention to religious literature considered to have lesser theoretical status (such as the māhātmya literature) or written in a vernacular language. The wide field of connections between religious texts on the one side and art, architecture, and iconography on the other also remains an important area for further studies; scholars like Ananda K. Coomaraswamy and Stella Kramrisch have made stimulating, though to some extent controversial, contributions in this area.

Much work remains to be done in the study of Indian religions. A new area of research (and speculation) was opened during the 1920s by the archaeological discovery of the pre-Vedic Harappan civilization; the religious practices of this civilization and its connection with Vedic India are still open to question. The Vedas themselves are being approached in new and unorthodox ways, for example, in the soma studies of R. Gordon Wasson. The vastness of classical and later Sanskrit materials available for study is made evident by the New Catalogus Catalogorum (edited since 1949 by V. Raghavan, continued by K. Kunjunni Raja), a comprehensive listing of extant Sanskrit texts. In addition, the materials in Prakrit (specifically in Jainism) and numerous South and North Indian vernaculars still await comprehensive cataloging and exploration. These are particularly relevant for the study of sectarian and theistic movements, such as the South Indian Śaiva Siddhānta or Śrī Vaiava traditions; moreover, the increasing awareness of the details and inner differentiations of the Hindu tradition leads to new questions concerning its identity and coherence and its manifold and ambiguous relations to Buddhism and Jainism, but also to Islam, which has been present in India for more than a thousand years, and finally to Christianity. This emergent complexity has been an occasion for discussions concerning the meaning and applicability of the idea of tolerance in the Indian context. Furthermore, because of the pervasive role of religion in India, its study has to be based upon a wide variety of sources, including, for example, the Dharmaśāstras (law books); the work of such Dharmaśāstra scholars as P. V. Kane is immediately relevant for the study of Indian religion. More specifically, philosophical literature supplements religious literature because it is, with few exceptions, built upon religious foundations or motivated by religious goals; it also provides religious practices and ideas with a theoretical framework that at times challenges conventional Western understanding of such theological concepts as revelation, grace, or creation. Such interdependence gives the work of historians of Indian philosophyfor example, Surendranath Dasguptaobvious importance for the study of Indian religion.

In the past few decades, the relationship of textual norms and theories to actual religious life has become an increasingly significant issue. A variety of nontextual approaches have been suggested to correct or supplement the understanding that can be gained from the texts alone. Combinations of textual and nontextual methods have been applied to such topics as the caste system, world renunciation, religious devotion (bhakti ), and the doctrine of karman and rebirth in order to clarify not only their theoretical meaning but also their practical functions in the life of the Indian people. By means of such combined methods, local cults are correlated and contrasted with the standards of the great traditions; precept and practice, text and social context are investigated in their mutual relations. The pioneering works of Max Weber (18641920) continue to have an impact upon the sociological study of Indian religion. Anthropologists and other specialists have tried to construe theoretical frameworks to be applied to the textual-contextual continuum and to provide heuristic models for further research in this direction.

In a general and inevitably simplifying sense, it may be said that three basic attitudes dominate the current study of Indian religion:

  1. the historical and philological approach, which derives its data and its direction from the Indian texts themselves and is primarily interested in historical reconstruction;
  2. the sociological and anthropological approach, which tries to understand religious life in a functional manner, with reference toor even directly in terms ofsocial, economic, ethnographic, political, and behavioral phenomena; and
  3. the more existentially or ideologically involved approaches, which find in the Indian religious tradition a genuine religious, philosophical, or theological challenge and which respond to it in the name of specific worldviews or religious convictions.

These three approaches are not mutually exclusive; they can be and have been combined with one another. Still, they represent clearly distinguishable types of scholarly interest and orientation.

Finally, the development of Indological studies in the West has had a remarkable influence on India's interpretation of its own traditions. Not only do Indians now participate in the Western study of their religious past, but they also respond to it and to the challenge of Western thought in general, thus opening a religious dialogue with potentially far-reaching implications. Traditional Indian thought had not previously sought such dialogue or shown interest in non-Indian traditions, and yet it has produced a rich heritage of debate and refutation, as well as of coordination and harmonization of different standpoints. But foreign religions, including Islam and Christianity, did not become part of this process until the beginning of the nineteenth century, when Hinduism opened itself to the impact of Western ideas and entered into a fundamentally new relationship with the non-Indian world. At that time, Ram Mohan Roy (17721833) and others initiated a movement of reform and modernization of Hinduism that combines apologetics and self-affirmation with reinterpretation, adaptation, and universalization.

Thus, Western ideas and terms have been used not only to interpret the Indian religious tradition to foreigners but also to articulate a new Indian self-understanding. Modern reinterpretations of such key concepts as dharma exemplify the ambiguity of India's reaction to the Western challenge and specifically to the Christian notion of religion. In response to missionary activities, Christianity and other religions have been readily incorporated into traditional Hindu schemes of concordance, where they appear as different approaches to the same goal or as preliminary stages on a path often seen as culminating in the philosophical religion of Advaita Vedānta. In this context, "comparative religion" has found many advocates in India; similarly, against the Hegelian subordination of Asian thought to that of the West, Brajendranath Seal (18641938) formulated his program of "comparative philosophy." In general, there has been a tendency to respond to science and technology and to Western political domination by invoking religion and spirituality, which have been presented as genuinely Indian phenomena by such successful advocates of neo-Hinduism as Vivekananda (18631902; represented Hinduism at the World Parliament of Religions, Chicago, 1893). The concept of religious experience plays a crucial role in the modern self-presentation of Hinduism in the West. In increasing numbers, Indian scholars, teachers, gurus, and founders of syncretistic movements have come to the West and contributed to a growing awareness of the Indian religious tradition. At the same time, these developments are themselves continuations and transformations of the tradition, and they are a legitimate topic of study and research. Among those who have contributed to the scholarly and critical evaluation of Neo-Hinduism, Paul Hacker (19131979) ought to be mentioned especially.

The hermeneutic and religious position of neo-Hinduism is still problematic and tentative and has had difficulties in finding an adequate language for presenting the Indian religious tradition to the modern world. Accordingly, the situation of the religious dialogue between India and the West is still precarious. Nonetheless, the fact that the Indian religious tradition is no longer just an object of Western study but now speaks back to the West, questioning some of the very basic presuppositions of Western historical research, is in itself a highly significant event. It affects not only the modern Western perception of India but also the religious and philosophical situation of the modern world.


Dandekar, R. N., and V. Raghavan, eds. Oriental Studies in India. New Delhi, 1964. A survey of Asian, primarily Indian, studies with sections on Vedic, Dravidian, and Islamic studies, philosophy and religion, archaeology, and so on, including a list of centers of teaching and research in India.

Dell, David, et al. Guide to Hindu Religion. Boston, 1981. A generously annotated bibliography of studies of Hinduism, covering such areas as history of Hinduism, religious thought, sacred texts, rituals, sacred locations, soteriology; emphasis on more recent contributions; not always fully reliable.

Gonda, Jan, et al. Die Religionen Indiens. 3 vols. Stuttgart, 19601963. One of the most comprehensive surveys of research on the religions of India, primarily from the standpoint of textual and historical studies. This survey is further extended in Gonda's Viuism and Śivaism: A Comparison (London, 1970).

Hacker, Paul. Kleine Schriften. Wiesbaden, 1978. A comprehensive collection of articles in German and English by a scholar whose studies of Indian religion combine a thoroughly philological orientation with theological and philosophical commitment; important methodological discussions and references to neo-Hinduism.

Halbfass, Wilhelm. Indien und Europa: Perspektiven ihrer geistigen Begegnung. Basel, 1981. A study of the intellectual and spiritual encounters between India and Europe, of the patterns of mutual understanding in the areas of religion and philosophy, and of the beginnings of Indological research.

Holland, Barron. Popular Hinduism and Hindu Mythology: An Annotated Bibliography. Westport, Conn., 1979. A useful bibliographical guide (including sections on "sacred literature," etc.), although the annotations are extremely short and often not very helpful.

Mandelbaum, David G. Society in India. 2 vols. Berkeley, Calif., 1970. This general introduction to the anthropological study of Indian civilization also contains (in chapters 2831 of volume 2) the best introduction, for the nonspecialist, to the social and historical dynamics of Indian religions.

O'Flaherty, Wendy Doniger, ed. Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions. Berkeley, 1980. A collection of essays, by authors with varied backgrounds, on one of the most fundamental ideas in Indian religious thought.

Otto, Rudolf. Mysticism East and West: A Comparative Analysis of the Nature of Mysticism (1932). New York, 1960. Although somewhat obsolete, still an exemplary approach to the Indian religious tradition by a liberal Christian theologian.

Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli. The Hindu View of Life (1927). London, 1968. Not a contribution to the academic study of Hinduism, but one of the most eloquent and successful statements of neo-Hinduism, exemplifying its basic patterns of reinterpretation and modernization.

Renou, Louis. Bibliographie védique. Paris, 1931. An exemplary bibliography of scholarly literature on the Vedas. A sequel to this work is R. N. Dandekar's Vedic Bibliography, 3 vols. (Bombay and Poona, 19461973).

Schwab, Raymond. La renaissance orientale. Paris, 1950. Translated by Gene Patterson-Black and Victor Reinking as The Oriental Renaissance (New York, 1984). A comprehensive and richly documented account of the seminal period between 1770 and 1850, when the foundations were laid for modern Indology and for a new appreciation of Indian religion and philosophy; equally detailed on academic and nonacademic developments; analyzes thoroughly the intellectual background of Indian and Oriental studies. The translation is not always reliable.

Smith, Bardwell L., ed. Hinduism: New Essays in the History of Religions. Leiden, 1976. A collection of eight contributions, exemplifying recent approaches to the study of Hinduism, including structuralism.

Windisch, Ernst. Geschichte der Sanskrit-Philologie und indischen Altertumskunde. 2 vols. Strasbourg, 19171920. Though incomplete, somewhat obsolete, and not extending beyond 1900, this remains the most thorough and comprehensive survey of the history of Indology and of the textual exploration of Indian religion.

Zimmer, Heinrich. Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization (1946). Edited by Joseph Campbell. Princeton, 1972. A somewhat idiosyncratic, yet stimulating and influential study of Hindu religion and mythology, with particular reference to its visual illustrations.

New Sources

Baird, Robert D. Essays in the History of Religions. New York, 1991.

Bhargava, Rajeev. Secularism and Its Critics. New York, 1998.

Bosch, Lourens van den. Friedrich Max Müller: A Life Devoted to Humanities. Boston, 2002.

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Young, Katherine K. Hermeneutical Paths to the Sacred Worlds of India: Essays in Honor of Robert W. Stevenson. Atlanta, 1994.

Wilhelm Halbfass (1987)

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