The Religion & Culture Web Forum
Many Gods, Many Paths: Hinduism and Religious Diversity
by Wendy Doniger (University of Chicago)
This month, the Web Forum features an essay by Wendy Doniger, which discusses the popular conception of Hinduism as a religion of tolerance in the context of recent expressions of religious and social exclusivity:
The sort of pluralism that has prevailed in Hinduism is thus more of a multiplicity, often a belligerent multiplicity, than the mellow universalism that it has often claimed to be. But we can learn from India's long and complex history of pluralism not just some of the pitfalls to avoid—some of the mistakes that we need not repeat—but successes that we can emulate. We can follow in the paths of individuals like the Upanishadic kings or Yudhishthira or Akbar or Kabir or Gandhi, or indeed most rank-and-file Hindus, who embodied a truly tolerant individual pluralism. We can also take heart from movements within Hinduism that rejected both hierarchy and violence, of which the most obviously significant is the bhakti movement that included women and Dalits within its ranks, rejected violent sacrifice, and advocated a theology of love. Yet here, too, we must curb our optimism by noting that it was in the name of bhakti (devotion) to the god Ram that the militant Hindus tore down the Babri mosque.