Atheism in Hinduism: help needed

n.rao at n.rao at
Wed Nov 22 21:41:43 UTC 1995

Leslaw Borowski wrote:
>For many, at least some kinds of Buddhism are in fact atheistic.
>Confucianism  (at least in some of its phases) seems to be an atheistic
>religion too. Of course, you may have your own concept of religion but one
>should realise it may not be generally accepted. The notion of God doesn't
>seem to be necessary in the definition of religion. Also, some currents of
>Indian "orthodox" thought (such astika systems as saam_khya and miimaam_saa)
>are often interpreted as atheistic.  

Of course different people may define 'religion' differently and then can 
bring even such things as 'Marxism', 'Maoism' etc. under the concept of  
'religion'. But what is at issue is whether practices in China, India and in 
other parts of Asia were considered as 'religions' by those who were 
partcipants of those practices (as  for example, in case of Islam and 
Christianity,). In case of 'Confucianism',  'Buddhism' as well as 'Hinduism' 
the people who are supposed to be espousing them as 'religions' didn't know 
untill European researchers told them that they were practising 'religions'. 
It is interesting to ask, why researchers feel the necessity to call 
practices in China and India as religions. At least in the beginning of 
European contact with India, the travellers did report back that people in 
Malabar coast didnot have religion. This stance changed only later when 
Christian missionaries thought that such a stance would be a theological 
error - note,  not an empirical one, but a theological one. I mentioned in 
my previous note that 'Hinduism' as a religion is more the result of 
European research tradition rather than the understanding derived by a 
participant perspective. Today, of course, there are people in India who 
consider themselves practising 'hinduism' as a religion, but that required a 
mediation of Europen research tradition. 

>> If you are looking for how 'Hinduism' (used as a wholesale word to subsume=
>> =20
>> the whole of non- islamic textual tradition of South Asia) 
>	I don't think many researchers would say Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism,
>Parsee religion not to mention natural religions are simply Hinduism. Of 
course, you have
>also Christianity and Judaism exist in (South) India. "South Asia" is even
>larger than this country.
>			Leslaw Borowski
I didn't use in my previous note the word  'India' because I wanted to avoid 
the reference to political entity called today 'India'. If you think my use 
of  'South Asia' problematic I can withdraw that word without affecting my 
point. I was trying to make the following point: all the terms you have used 
('Buddism', 'Jainism', 'Hinduism', 'Skhism' 'natural  religions' etc.) above 
except that of Christianity and Judaism (perhaps), are more in the nature of 
concepts used by researchers  to identify certain phenomena they were 
interested in, rather than the concepts used by the participants to describe 
their practices. Of course, the present intelligentsia in India, and more 
generally in Asia, have adopted these terms. Yet, even now there are a 
number of people who are considered as beloging to such denominations , but 
who do not  know that they are supposed to be practising such things as 
'Hinduism', 'Confucianism', 'Sikhism' etc. It is  therefore worthwhile to 
remember the role of European research tradition in the creation of 
religions in Asia.  
Dr. B. Narahari Rao
F.R. 5.1. Philosophie
Unversitaet des Saarlandes,
Postfach 15 11 50,
D-66041 Saarbrücken


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