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Analysing Theoretical Constructs

Amiya P. Sen

Edited by T.N. Madan
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 411, Rs. 595.00

By Axel Michaels .  Translated by Barbara Harshav
Orient Longman, New Delhi, 2005, pp.374, Rs. 325.00

By P.V. Joshi
Ocean Books, New Delhi, 2005, pp. 291, Rs. 350.00

VOLUME XXIX NUMBER 9 September 2005

On the subject of ‘Hinduism’ it might be said that fresh additions even to the already formidable list of monographs fail to cause much surprise. To a considerable extent, interest in this subject is kept alive by critical changes of methodology and approach occurring within academic disciplines. However, having crossed over the threshold of pure academics, Hinduism has also become deeply embroiled in the battle of ideologies. For quite some time now, any attempt at defining Hinduism has produced as much tendentious discourse as professional history. In British India, to cite a commonplace example, Hinduism was seen to be both evolving and frozen in time. At one level, modern Hindus have been hermeneutically active, often pressing the claim that religion and culture were categories that had to be continuously redefined and reformulated through idioms suitable for the times. At the same time, however, they have idealized a particular set of beliefs and practices, deliberately detached these from their historical moorings and held them to be valid for all Hindus across space and time. In neo-Hinduism, paradoxically enough, religious life has been seen to get progressively better with time but also to sharply degenerate from an ideal past.   Evidently, Madan’s book is a sequel to Religions in India, a popular volume brought out by him back in 1991. However, as aptly pointed out by the editor, the present work employs a broader conceptual framework and engages not so much with theoretical perspectives as the rich and complex tapestry of lived religious experiences. Structurally, the contents of this work are arranged under six major sections viz. ‘Sacred Places and Performances’; ‘Piety and Passion’; ‘Charisma and Spiritual Power’; ‘Oral Narratives and Canonical Texts’; ‘Religious Creativity and Social Change’ and ‘Religion, Society and Politics’. Each of these major sections includes excerpts from three selected texts adding up to a total of eighteen selections. The texts so excerpted are quite representative of the thematic category under which they are placed and concern diverse themes such as rites and sacrament, life within religious institutions, the charismatic appeal of religious leaders or organized religious movements and complex socio-religious categories like Dharma. Between them they also cover the major religious traditions1 of the subcontinent, albeit with a palpable tilt towards urban, upper class/upper-caste India. Perhaps the omission of rural religious practitioners or quotidian cults has more to do with constraints of space and practical organizational problems than ...

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