SCIENTIFIC STUDY OF RELIGIONS: IMPLICATIONS FOR THE INDIAN CONTEXT



SCIENTIFIC STUDY OF RELIGIONS: IMPLICATIONS FOR THE INDIAN CONTEXT
In spite of the many outstanding issues scientific study of religion faces, it offers many valuable insights which are relevant to the Indian context.  A review of such insights can widen the horizon of religious understanding among people, particularly in India. 

4.1       Common Religious Nature
The scientific study of religion has proved that religion is common to all human beings.  No human being ever lived without some form of religion.[1]  India being a pluralistic country in terms of religion, culture, language etc., it should take this common religious nature of humanity seriously.  This can avoid unwanted tension and complexes among religious communities and this could facilitate people of diverse faiths to live harmoniously respecting each other.

4.2       Free Sharing Among Religions
According to S. Radhakrishnan, the scientific study of religion helps furthering a ‘free sharing among religions which no longer stand in uncontaminated isolation’. This is true.  Today, particularly in India, practicing religion in isolation without relating it with others is nonviable. 

4.3       Equality of Religions
S. Radhakrishnan in his lecture on comparative religion states that “comparative Religion postulates that all our faiths have some value.”[2]  For him the purpose of the scientific study of religion is not to demonstrate that a particular religion is superior to all other religions.  He also remarks that the scientific study of religion has made ‘untenable the distinction between religion of true and false’.[3]  He writes, “any religion which claims finality and absoluteness desires to impose its own opinions on the rest of the world, and to civilize other people after its own standards.”[4]  Equality of religions is clearly stated by Max Muller as:
I wish we could explore together in this spirit the ancient religions of mankind, for one feel convinced that the more we know of them, the more we shall see that there is not one which entirely false; nay, that in one sense every religion was a true religion, being the only religion which was possible at the time, which was compatible with the language, the thought, and the sentiments of each generation, which was appropriate to the age of the world.[5] 
According to him “the reason why people will not see the identity of a truth as enunciated in different religion, is generally the strangeness of the garb in which it is clothed.”[6]  A country like India which shelters various religions should not fail to gladly accept and follow this principle of equality of religions. 

4.4       Religious Study in India
Considering the Indian religiously-plural context Eric J. Lott has raised a question that “there is no good reason why we should expect the study of religion in India to proceed in exactly the same way as it is found in the West.”[7]  The question also assumes significance in the context of frequently exploding communal conflicts.  Studies to this effect have started already.[8]  Dr. Radhakrishnan makes a clear distinction between the Eastern and Western contexts.  He says “in the history of human culture Asia and Europe represent two complementary sides; Asia the spiritual and Europe the intellectual.”[9]  The western way of learning is critical and the eastern method of theology ran in an opposite direction.[10]  Further, in India religion is defined as a way of life.[11]  That is why it is said “religion should not be confused with fixed intellectual conceptions, which are all mind-made.”[12]  This is profound in stressing on self-realization or religious experience in India.  Even the many religions were considered as different roads leading to the same goal or different branches of a same tree.  This is the specific Indian background that needs serious consideration while developing a right perspective to study religions in India. 

4.5       Common Concerns
The ever-growing advancement in the realm of knowledge reveals that “the growth of world population, the spread of nuclear weapons, increasing pollution, the problem of world poverty, and the diminishing of non-renewable energy resources affect the whole planet.”[13]  Although Indian context is specific and demands a dynamic approach to study religion, the new method should be able to relate itself to the wider global context.
Calling attention to the need for a profound change in life, S. Radhakrishnan says “regard for spiritual values, love of truth and beauty, righteousness, justice and mercy, sympathy with the oppressed and belief in the brotherhood of man, are the qualities which will save modern civilization.”[14]  Modern scholars of religion affirm that only by addressing these common concerns, religions can develop mutual co-operation.  Hence, any approach to the study of religion in India cannot overlook these emerging universal and common concerns.

4.6       Unity of Religion
The scientific study of religion underlined another great insight called “Unity of Religion”.  Unity of religion does not mean the amalgamation of many religions.  It essentially means religion is one and the same for all.  In other words “the unity of religion in the variety of its forms is what is presupposed by the science of religion.”[15]  In the words of Gustan Mensching “we must, therefore recognize that a religious unity need not be produced in one way or the other, but that there exists already a unity of which men must only become conscious.”[16]  S. Radhakrishnan acknowledges this specific contribution of science of religion and writes, “for any religious internationalism, a study of comparative religion is the indispensable basis.”[17] The scientific study of religion has to bring home the idea that religion is one and its manifold forms are its existence in diverse cultural contexts. 

4.7       Human Concern in Religion
The scholars of religion declare that religion is for all and any attempt to study religion is in fact the attempt to study humanity itself.  L. W. Grensted says “no conception of religion satisfies the religious man unless it is significant for the whole of life in all its details.”[18]  Max Muller goes still far back and traces even human influence in the formation of religion according to their convenience, apart from the one original religion.[19]  According to Professor J. G. Arapura, finding out the integral relation between humanity and religion is the main goal of science of religion.  For him, without humanity there is no religion and apart from the essence of humanity there is no essence of religion.[20] 
Therefore, focus upon “Life” should become the key to the understanding of religious phenomena in India.  Dr. S. Radhakrishnan has indirectly indicated this as “when properly studied, Comparative Religion increases our confidence in the University of God and our respect for the human race.”[21]  The real struggle for life in India is painfully acknowledge by Swami Vivekananda.[22]  The point is clear that, if any attempt is made to conceptualize a new method for the study of religions in India it should focus on life. 

4.8       Elements in Indian Perspective
The traditional interest of the scholars in the origin of religion will not be of much help in the Indian context as one is faced with living religions.  The chief concern of Indian perspective should be to bring together all religions for a mutual co-existence, without attempting to attack, conquer or to swallow up other religions. Wilfred Cantwell Smith simplifies this new development as “perhaps what is happening can be summed up most pithily by saying that the transition has been from the teaching of religion to the study of religion.”[23]  This is a remarkable change. 

4.9       Philosophy of Religion
There is no distinction between religion and philosophy in India.   Dr. S. Radhakrishnan approached religion from the viewpoint of philosophy in contrast to the classical western approaches which had been more inclined to stress anthropology, history, sociology, psychology, or phenomenology.[24]  Philosophy of religion is a branch of philosophy.  Its task is to verify religious data systematically and logically.[25]  According to A. R. Mohapatra, “it is an intellectual and logical interpretation of religious experience.”[26] Eric J. Lott has pointed out the negative aspect of philosophical approach to religion. According to him “the danger with any philosophical approach to religion is that only the cerebral aspect of religion-doctrine, belief-system, perhaps ethical perspectives-will be given weight.”[27]  However the scientific study of religion from the Indian perspective will have to face the issue of philosophical verification of its data. 

4.10     Religion and Theology
Unlike the early beginnings, at present there is a growing demand for the interaction between religion and theology.  S. Israel says “of course, there are many perspectives from which religion has been interpreted; but new direction are important for an integral approach, especially creative integration between theology and the study of religion.”[28]  Eric J. Lott says, “the prospects for further creative interaction between the theological ‘Science’ and the ‘science of religion’ look promising.”[29] It is thus clear that, although the goals of studying religion and theology are different, the interaction between them is inevitable.
Particularly a country like India requires the close working of religion and theology.  Any theologizing in India should account for the plurality of faiths in India.  This is possible only by developing close cooperation between scientific study of religions and theology.  The scientific study of religions can supply material for the feminist theology in India.  The sociologists of religion have investigated adequate data for the development of matriarchy in the process of socio-religious developments. 
Another current issue Indian theologians are facing is related to Dalit theology.  About the possibilities of utilizing the scientific tools of religion for the development of Dalit religion and dignity, Abraham Ayrookuzhiel says, “if we are serious about the 2000 – million strong dalit community in India regaining their religious status, we should undertake the study of dalit religious heritage both in its folk form and in its historical form.  Only an academic community can take up such a task.”[30]  It can be said that, in India, there is a wide scope for the co-operation or mutual interaction between the two disciplines and this will make theologizing in India more harmonious and more life focused.



[1] F. Max Muller, Theosophy or Psychological Religion, Collected Works of F. Max Muller (New
Delhi: Asian Educational Service, Reprinted 1978) , p.23.
[2] S. Radhakrishnan, East and West in Religion (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1933),p.18.
[3] Ibid., p.37.
[4] S. Radhakrishnan, Religion and Society (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1947), p.52.
[5] F. Max Muller, Introduction to the Science of Religions, New Edition (London: London,
1882), p.190.
[6] F. Max Muller, Theosophy or Psychological Religion, op. cit., p.11.
[7] Eric J. Lott, “The Science of Religion in an Indian Theological Context”, Bangalore
Theological Forum, Vol.XIII, No.4 (Oct-Dec., 1985), p.1.
[8] Frank Whaling, “The Study of Religions in a Global Context”, Contemporary Approaches to
the Study of Religion in 2 Volumes, edited by Frank Whaling, Volume I: The Humanities (Berlin:  Mouton  Publishers, 1984), p.392.
[9] S. Radhakrishnan, East and West in Religion, op. cit., p.43.
[10] Ibid., p.68.
[11] S. Radhakrishnan, The Hindu view of Life, Third Indian Reprint (Bombay: Blackie & Son
Publishers Pvt. Ltd., Blackie House, 1979), p.55.
[12] S. Radhakrishnan, Religion and Society, op. cit., p.52.
[13] Frank Whaling, Vol.I, op. cit., p.52.
[14] S. Radhakrishnan, Religion & Society, op. cit., p.18.
[15] L. W. Grensted, The Psychology of Religion (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1952),
p.109.
[16] Gustan Mensching, Structures and Patterns of Religion, Translated by F. Klimkeit and V.
Srinivasa Sarma (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1976), pp.319,320.
[17] S. Radhakrishnan, East and West in Religion, op. cit., p.40.
[18] L. W. Grensted, op. cit., p.15.
[19] F. Max Muller, Natural Religion, First Asian Reprint (New Delhi: Asian Educational
 Services, 1979), p.9.
[20] J. G. Arapura, Religions as Anxiety and Tranquility, An Essay in Comparative
Phenomenology of the Spirit (Netherlands:  Mouton & Co., 1972), p.39.
[21] S. Radhakrishnan, East and West in Religion, op. cit., p.32.
[22] K. P. Aleaz, Harmony of Religions: The Relevance of Swami Vivekananda (Calcutta:
Punthi pustak, Calcutta, 1993), p.52.
[23] Wilfred Cantwell Smith, “The Study of Religion and the Study of the Bible”, Journal of the
American Academy of Religion, Vol.XXXIX, No.2 (June, 1971), p.131.
[24] Frank Whaling, Vol.I., op. cit., p.403.
[25] John Hick, Philosophy of Religion, Second edition (Inc.:  Prentice-Hall, 1973), p.2.
[26] A. R. Mohapatra, Philosophy of Religion, An Approach to World Religions, Second revised
and enlarged edition (New Delhi:  Sterling Publishers Pvt, Ltd., 1990), p.9.
[27] Eric J. Lott, “Approaching Religious Tradition,” Religious Traditions of India (Indian
Theological Library, 1988), p.29.
[28] S. Israel, “An integral approach to the Study of Religion: Insights from an Indian Christian
Perspective”, Bangalore Theological Forum, Vol.XIX, No.2 (April-June, 1987), p.104.
[29] Eric J. Lott, “The Science of Religion in an Indian Theological Context”, Bangalore
Theological Forum, Vol. XVII, No.4 (October-December, 1985), p.3.
[30] Abraham Ayrookuzhiel, “A Proposal for the Study of the Religious Heritage of the Dalits:
Some Methodological Considerations”, Religion and Society, Vol.42, No.1 (March 1995), p.28.

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