METHODOLOGICAL STUDIES IN THE HISTORY OF RELIGIONS: With Special Reference to Hinduism and Buddhism

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Item Code: IDG081
Author: N.S.S. Raman
Publisher: Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla
Language: English
Edition: 1998
ISBN: 818595254X
Pages: 255
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.8" X 5.8"
Weight 480 gm
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Book Description

About the Book:

In this book, the methods adopted by traditional scholars for the study of World's religions have been examined with a view to suggesting a more rigorous methodology for it. While recognizing the pioneering efforts of Western scholars like the missionaries, academic men and civil servants, it has been found that most of their approaches suffer from parochialism, Eurocentrism and from what the author calls 'the elder brother complex'.

The author rejects the identification of comparative religion exclusively with comparative theology. The sociological and the anthropological approaches are also criticised for being too one-side. Selecting Hinduism and Buddhism as examples, the author seeks to demonstrate the many colourful facets of the religious phenomenon, none of which can be neglected by the students of comparative religion-or rather, of Religionswissenschaft.The stress here is on what Mircea Eliade has called 'total hermeneutics'. i.e. totality of perspective of Worlds's religions in all their various aspects.

About the Author:

Dr. N. S. S. Raman is retired Professor & Head of the Department of Philosophy and Religion & former Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Banaras Hindu University. Born in Bangalore, he had his education in India, United Kingdom and Germany. After a creditable career marked by the award of many prized and scholarships, he obtained his Ph.D. degree from Rajasthan in Indian philosophy (under P.T. Raju) and the Dr. phil in European philosophy (under F.J. von Rintelen) from Mainz, Germany. Dr. Raman is adept at many languages, Indian and European. He was a fellow of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla and the Indian Council of Philosophical Research. He also worked at the East-West Center in Honolulu, U.S.A. He was Visiting Professor during 1965-66 in Mainz, Germany and has also lectured at Glasgow, Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Wirzburg, Bayreuth and Bonn. He has supervised the doctoral dissertations of over 50 scholars from India and abroad. He has authored some books and over sixty papers.



In this country we are acquainted with great volume of literature on the nature of dialogue between religions, its conditions and spossibilities. The Catholics have been significantly transformed after the IInd Vatican Council of 1962 and are keen to enter into a fruitful dialogue with other religions; the Sikh religion has always been ecumenical in its approach and has never hesitated to enter into a debate with other religions in order to arrive at a fruitful understanding. The Vedanta has also provided us with a platform in which understanding between Hinduism and other religions can be achieved. In recent years, Mahatma Gandhi worked throughout his life for achieving religious harmony, and even died for its sake

So much has been written in the United Kingdom and the U.S.A. on this discipline known as 'Comparative Religion'. Radhakrishnan's two works, The Reign of Religion in Contemporary Philosophy (written during the first quarter of this century) and Eastern Religions and Western Thought may also be regarded as attempts at a comparative study of religions. But the Indian mind is mostly influenced by Oxbridge type of analysis even in matters concerning religious thought. A more rigorous methodology is therefore called for, which would not be content with a mere comparative study of the philosophies of religion, East and West. Along with rigour, a totality of outlook, which would not neglect any aspect of religious experience and practice is required. This work advocates a pluralist approach, which would not accept any comparison as adequate or be content with a doctrinal approach alone. Each religion in our view, should be regarded as relevant to the culture in which it takes its birth or grows. A study of Buddhism, for example, would not be complete if we did not take into account the different cultures in which it grew and its ramifications in theory and practice. The discipline called 'comparative religion' had better be known as 'religious studies', which most American universities have adopted and have introduced into their curricula with great zeal. We in this country could do with a little of that zeal, as we take pride in being the home of world's great religions. In fact, no country in the world has such a rich concentration of men belonging to such a large variety of faiths. If this modest work can help wake up our educationists from their euphoria, it would be most gratifying for the present writer.

The author wishes to record his gratitude to Professor K. Satchidananda Murthy, formerly of Andhra University and Ex-Vice-Chairman, University Grants Commission and Ex-Chancellor of the Tibetan Buddhist Institute, Sarnath, but for whose initiative and encouragement, the work would not have been taken up. The author is also deeply indebted to the Director and staff of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study for their constant help and encouragement; in particular the library staff has been very helpful for which thanks are due. My wife Sarada has suffered a great deal of torment and has borne all troubles and pains patiently to enable me to complete this work in time. This is perhaps one of the few opportunities for me, to record my thanks to her.



When a student of the comparative study of religions begins his enquiry, several problems arise, which may be baffling. These may be put as follows:


  1. Should he follow the method already laid down by Christian theologians of the Western world? Or should he follow the methods of the social scientists, especially the anthropologists, who take a different road to their investigations than that of the theologians, who are interested only in the doctrines?
  2. What part does the study of the history of religions play in his enquiry?
  3. Is an objective study of world's religions possible, and if so, what special methodology has to be laid down for it?
  4. Is there a meeting-point for all religions, and can it be reached by dialogue?
  5. If dialogue is possible, how can it be mooted so as to make it more harmonious and less polemical?
  6. Can the religions exist together in harmony without coming either into contact or into conflict with one another?

It is only during the last one hundred years that we have taken this discipline known as 'comparative religion' rather seriously. Even till the end of eighteenth century, peaceful co-existence of religions was unthinkable. Not only did the people belonging to different religions go to war against one another, wars were common between Protestants and Catholics, between Shias and Sunnis on purely religious grounds. As for Jews, they had not only lost their homeland, but were a hunted race till the latter half of twentieth century. During the Second World War, Nazis had almost exterminated them in Europe. And during the decades after this war, totalitarian regimes in Asia mercilessly butchered Buddhist monks in Tibet and Cambodia; even in China, millions of believers perished during the years of what was rather curiously called 'cultural revolution'. While the killing of those who do not believe in the faith of the ruling powers continues, some serious thinking about the need for a peaceful and friendly dialogue between the various religions of the world is also taking place. Thanks to the IInd Vatican Council convened by Pope John XXIII, the whole question of the Catholic attitude to other religions of the world was reconsidered and the mood set for the opening of a dialogue between the Catholics and other religion This would have been unthinkable about 150 years ago, eve though liberalism and secularism had come into vogue at lea among the intellectuals of Europe after the French Revolution and the so-called 'Aufklaerung or enlightenment. Moreover great scientific discoveries had already been made, which called into question many of the dogmatic doctrines of the Christian religion. The discovery and colonization of territories beyond Europe, particularly in Asia, revealed to the keen European mine the existence not only of what were then called 'primitive religions, but also of religions having doctrines of equal depth (3 that of Christianity. Buddhism first attracted the European min as having highly metaphysical and moral doctrines, that could have come only from a highly spiritual mind. Human belligerence towards other religions has continued till this day, but at the same time, a new spirit of dialogue is also emerging, and with that the new foundations for the comparative study of the religions of the world is being laid. The menace of totalitarian ideologies ma have hastened this step towards reconciliation of all faiths and creeds that have a spiritual history and foundation. And the failure and fall of these ideologies only a few years ago have created a new and friendly atmosphere.

The main problem in such a study is of course the method or the methods to be adopted for such a study. All studies do pose methodological difficulties, but in the case of the study of the religions, we have to see whether the comparative method can be fruitful. One cannot of course engage in any comparative stud unless one has at the same time obtained a sound knowledge c the two religions that one wants to compare. It is also true that one can learn to live peacefully with neighbours belonging t, religions other than one's own. However, it cannot be denied that a serious study of this discipline does contribute towards peace. and harmonious living in a spirit of mutual understanding and trust. Comparative Religion as a discipline does not aim at forcing comparisons where the grounds for comparing do not exist There are therefore good reasons for preferring the term 'Religious Studies' or 'History of Religions' to 'Comparativ Religion'. (as some American scholars have done), to indicate the nature of such studies. Every religion has certain unique feature in it, which makes it what it is and which may be common to a. religions, but there is nothing that would warrant an exact comparison. This is so because, every religion is based on revelation of authentic messages claimed to have been received by certain persons from 'beyond', which they seek to communicate to their followers. These messages from the transcendental are not always of the same order. We cannot for example, notice any similarity between the revelations to the Buddha during his meditations under the Bodhi tree with the revelations to Prophet Mohammed. We have to accept all these revelations within the scope of our enquiry, without attempting to evaluate them as valid or invalid, and by according to all of them an equality of status. As Paul Tillich has observed, theology is rooted in an experiential basis, without which it is not possible. Tillich has also declared, quite admirably that

The universality of a religious statement does not lie in an all-embarrassing abstraction which would destroy religion as such but in the depths of every concrete religion. Above all, it lies in the openness to spiritual freedom both from one's own foundation and for one's own foundation.

It follows therefore that each religion has to be understood in its own context without locking for 'universal keys' (to borrow this most appropriate phrase from another pioneer in the development of a new methodology of religious studies, Joachim Wach) in the religions of the world, which in fact are not there; we should concentrate on understanding them in all their ramifications, in their depth.

Hence we must desist from postulating a 'typology' of religions. However, certain religions may have a common root; for example, the religions of West Asia which are classified as 'semitic religions' (judaism, Christianity and Islam), have a common spiritual history, a common mythology. In the case of traditional Hindu, Buddhist and Jaina societies in India, the moral or the legal code (the dharmasastra) is common. But in their depth, each religion is based on a special type of revelation, based on inner experience, which cannot be substituted by any other experience. Plurality of revelations cannot be reduced to one message, and this may be the reason behind the failure of Mahatma Gandhi's and Emperor Akbar's mission to unify all religions under one head. Each religion has symbolic structures which are unique to it; if one wishes to understand religion at its depth then it is essential that we should probe into these symbolic structures. This is not the work of every man, but that of a specialist who needs training and also self-discipline, in order that he may not be carried away by hasty conclusions.




Preface ix
  Introduction 1
I Religious Studies in India and the West:
Challenges and Responses
II Basic Issues in the Methodology of the
Study of Indian Religions
III Understanding Hinduism: A Methodological
IV A Critique of the Methodologies of the Study of
Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism
Select Bibliography 219
Index 245


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