Institutional diversity

As noted throughout this essay (see especially Diversity, Change and Continuity), Hinduism is massively diverse, containing many different sects, movements and local variations, though these do not constitute ‘denominations’ in quite the sense found in Christianity. Nevertheless, there are numerous organisations, such as those that follow a particular guru or seek to promote a particular interpretation of the Hindu tradition, both in India and in diaspora. Among those that have been important in the modern and contemporary periods, and that teachers may encounter in either their reading or first-hand encounters in the UK, are a number of movements such as the Swaminarayan Sampradaya, Brahmo Samaj, Arya Samaj, the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, the Brahmakumaris, Transcendental Meditation, ISKCON, Sathya Sai, and Sahaja Yoga. All of these groups have their own specific teachings, practices and perspectives. There are also organisations that claim to unite and represent all Hindus, such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Council of Hindus) formed in India in the 1960s, which employs the nationalist concept of Hindutva (see Hinduism and politics) and includes adherents of other religions of Indian origin as Hindus. Another organisation that seeks to give a ‘single combined voice’ to Hindus globally is the Himalayan Academy, based in Hawaii, particularly through its publication Hinduism Today started in 1979. Although produced by a particular Shaivite sampradaya, whose recent leaders have been Western ‘converts’, Hinduism Today is widely respected worldwide by Hindus and non-Hindus alike, as providing a comprehensive and inclusive ‘Hindu perspective’ on a wide range of religious and cultural topics in a way which attempts to reflect diversity and avoid bias.

Life in diaspora, where Hindus face the challenge of being members of a minority in a different cultural environment with different social norms and political structures requires mobilisation to defend the community’s interests, for example, the Hindu Council UK (‘For a United Hindu Voice’) that aims to liaise with the government about policy on behalf of British Hindus. Other groups that seek to represent all Hindus (and sometimes all Indians) in the UK are the National Council of Hindu Temples, the Hindu Forum of Britain, and the UK branches of both the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (the diasporic counterpart of the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in India). A recent addition is Insight UK (‘Social movement of British Hindus and Indians’). However, such groups also have particular perspectives and this can lead to a specific version of Hinduism being promoted both within the community and in representing the community within its new setting.

Insight UK has initiated a campaign (supported by the other five organisations already mentioned) to improve the availability, content and quality of the teaching of Hinduism in UK RE. However, although it is easy to agree that Hinduism ought to be included, and that teaching and textbooks should be informed and reliable, given the diversity of the tradition and academic debates, it will be hard to satisfy everyone, whether adherent or educationalist or both. Education has previously been a flashpoint, especially the portrayal of Hinduism in school textbooks, in the USA as well as the UK, where some Hindus have confronted academics and educationalists about what they regard as negative and inaccurate coverage. Academics and educationalists have also criticised resources from some Hindu groups as reflecting that group’s religious convictions and advancing their political agendas rather than giving a more rounded account of Hindu belief and practice which reflects diverse voices within the community. This has led to mutual allegations of bias.

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Hindu Worldview Traditions


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