Identity and community

Even in those traditions which actively seek to spread their teachings (such as Buddhism, Christianity and Islam), the majority of adherents identify as such because they were born into a particular family and community. The traditional view in Hinduism is that one has to be born a Hindu, although it is possible to join some Hindu or Hindu-related movements such as ISKCON which actively seeks Western (and other) converts, and other people may incorporate Hindu ideas, practices and values into their own personal worldview without necessarily using the label. The issue of Hindu identity is discussed in detail in the section ‘Who is a Hindu?’, including viewing it predominantly as a ‘religious’ identity, separable from other ‘religious’ identities, influenced by the Western notion of ‘religion’.

Much of the sheer diversity of Hindu tradition is replicated in diaspora settings such as the UK. Though Hindus may primarily identify with a particular strand of Hinduism, perhaps following the teaching of a particular guru, or following the customs of the part of India where their family originates, the situation of being a minority group in a different cultural environment has led to formation of a number of organisations which seek to represent all Hindus to the wider community, for example in dealings with government, or the organisation of religious education in schools. Examples of such organisations are the Hindu Council UK, the Hindu Forum of Britain and the National Council of Hindu Temples UK. On a more practical level, many Hindu temples in diaspora have to cater for Hindus from different backgrounds and groups, thus contributing to a sense of belonging to one ‘Hindu community’. The practical requirement for people to become spokespersons for a Hindu community perceived as unitary can lead to some glossing over the diversity of actual belief and practice, and particular portrayals may be emphasised, such as a monotheistic Hinduism that promotes equality and is not implicated in the notion of caste.

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Hindu Worldview Traditions


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