Elacqua, Joseph, et. al. "Hinduism Overview." Faithology.com. Faithology, 12 March 2013. Web. 19 June 2013.
Elacqua, J., et. al. (2013, Mar 12). Hinduism Overview. Faithology.
Elacqua, Joseph, et. al. "Hinduism Overview" Faithology, LLC. Last modified March 12, 2013.
Faithology, LLC, 2012. (Accessed Jun 19, 2013).. Hinduism Overview.
- Flood, Gavin, ed. “The Blackwell Guide to Hinduism.” Oxford: Blackwell, 2003.
- Jones, Lindsay, ed., Encyclopedia of Religion. 2nd ed. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005. 15 vols.
- Klostermaier, Klaus K. “Hinduism: A Beginner’s Guide.” Oxford: One World, 2007.
- Last Updated: March 12, 2013
- Originally Published: January 23, 2012
is the main religion practiced on the Indian subcontinent. The earliest roots of Hinduism date as far back as the second millennium BCE or potentially earlier. From this period forward, the people of India practiced a series of diverse religious and otherwise spiritual customs. Presently, about 900 million people identify themselves as Hindus.
Adherents of Hinduism generally believe in an uncountable number of deities. Sects of Hinduism often exalt one deity as supreme over all others. However, the deity raised to this position differs from sect to sect. Generally, the goal of Hinduism is to eventually unite one’s spirit with this particular deity. This is often accomplished through meditation, ritual means, and sometimes by mystical practice.
- Sacred Texts: All Hindus recognize the sacred legitimacy of the Vedic scriptures.
- Deities: Hindus are polytheistic, believing in an expansive number of deities, though these deities are not all worshiped by all sects. Generally, Hindu sects center on the of a specific deity, exalted above all others.
- Brahman or the deity they worship primarily, such as Vishnu, Shiva, or . : Hindus believe that they are constantly reincarnated after their deaths. The goal of the Hindu religion is a release from this cycle. Generally, Hindus believe that this release can be achieved by seeking unity with either
- System: All Hindus adhere to a strict social caste system with extremely limited mobility. The four main social classes (in descending order) are broadly defined as priests, warriors, merchants, and farmers.
The roots of Hinduism stretch back at least four thousand years:
- The earliest origin of Hinduism can be traced to folk religious practices performed on the Indian subcontinent. These practices consisted primarily of burnt offerings to a number of deities. However, only the priests could make offerings and commune with the deities.
- By the 3rd century CE, Hinduism had expanded to so that people other than priests could actively practice the religion, and became accessible to everyone.
- Since then, several reformers such as Sankara (c. 700-750), Ramanuja (c. 1017-1137), and Madhva (c. 1199-1278)—among others—found their own sects within Hinduism.
- Around 1875, there is a resurgence of Indian interest in Hinduism due to historical figures such as the mystic Ramakrishna (1836-1886), Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948) and others.
The Evolution of "Hinduism"
Hinduism as it is known today is a result of the evolution of a very diverse set of beliefs and practices. Because of this, it is often helpful to distinguish several general periods during Hinduism's evolutionary history. These periods may be chiefly categorized by distinct religious traditions:
- Vedic religion is the name given to the various sacred customs and rituals practiced by the Hindu people from about 2,000 BCE until about 500 BCE. These practices are centered on a genre of divinely inspired sacred texts known as the Vedas. It is from these texts that the term “Vedic religion” takes its name. This set of customs and rituals is the earliest precursor of Hinduism, but its practice was confined to the priestly social class. Although reverence towards the ancient Vedic texts and other elements survive within Hinduism, the Vedic religion is no longer in practice today.
- The first major change within the religious history of India occurred with the Upanishads, written probably around 500 BCE through about 100 BCE. These texts are the first to describe a supreme divine entity known as Brahman and to establish an ultimate goal of union with Brahman. The teachings contained in the Upanishads helped to popularize the religious customs of India. These texts expanded the religion to include additional social classes. Thus, it could be practiced by a number of other people. Strictly speaking, Brahmanism is no longer in practice today, but elements of Brahmanism survive within Hinduism. of texts called
- It was after the fifth century BCE that other religions first conflicted with Brahmanism. These religions—Buddhism and Jainism—were founded in India, but largely as reactions to Brahmanism and its perceived shortcomings. By the (320-550 CE), Buddhism and Jainism had become enough that Brahmanism was forced to evolve. Texts called Puranas further expanded and changed Brahmanic practices so that anyone could worship or communicate with the deities, regardless of their social class. For this reason, this form of the Hindu religion is sometimes referred to as "popular" Hinduism. It is this category, the main type of Hindu religion still practiced today, that is described in the most detail at Faithology.
- Hinduism evolved once again with the advent of teachings. This change is difficult to date, but most scholars believed that it occurred around the 6th century CE. The result of this change was Tantric Hinduism—the search for spiritual power and ultimate release from this existence by the application of secret chants, drawings, and rituals. Very little is known for certain concerning the antiquity of this . Thus, it is difficult to tell whether this tradition ultimately influenced or was influenced by Tantric Buddhism.