What is Hinduism? Modern Adventures into a Profound Global Faith

What is Hinduism? Modern Adventures into a Profound Global Faith

by the editors of Hinduism Today
Kapaa, Hawaii: Himalayan Academy, 2007. 392 pages, paper, $39.95.

Many introductory books about Hinduism are available in English. Most of those for sale in the United States are written from a Western point of view and at least pretend to be objective. This volume is very different. Compiled from articles published in the newsmagazine Hinduism Today, the work offers a view of Hinduism as it is known to Hindus themselves. It is positive, enthusiastic, and even mildly “evangelical.” At the same time, the authors can be quite critical of customs, such as untouchability, that have doomed many people to a life beyond the fringe of Indian society. Overall, however, the text is warmly pro-Hindu and provides an interesting and informative view about how one-sixth of the world’s population thinks and lives.

Each chapter originally appeared separately and therefore can be read independently. At the same time, these various chapters are organized topically, which provides the book with a modicum of order. The basic topics are: “The Nature of Hinduism,” “Hindu Metaphysics,” “How Hindus Worship,” “Spiritual Practice,” “Family Life and Culture,” and “Hindu Ethics.” the book may be read from cover to cover, or one can read a later chapter without having read everything that preceded it.

One very positive feature of this book is its many photographs and illustrations. Scarcely a page goes by without some reproduction of a piece of artwork, a temple photograph, or some other illustrative material. There are many pictures of Hindus practicing their faith. The reader is surrounded throughout by visions of Indians and India. In fact one is tempted just to leaf through the book just to look at the pictures.

Sometimes the Western reader may want to take exception to what is said. Is it really a fact, for instance, that Hinduism is twice as old as Judaism? Even that seeming mistake, however, reveals a great deal about the Hindu vision of reality. What one learns in these pages is not purely objective (Is there really such a thing anyway?) but shows how Hindus themselves understand and interpret life.

My own response to this book, then, is very positive. It is informative, readable, and beautifully put together. It would certainly make good reading for an undergraduate course in religion or simply for anyone interested in that age-old spiritual tradition we have come to call Hinduism.

Jay G. Williams

The reviewer has served as chairman of the department of religion at Hamilton College. He is the author of Judaism and Yeshua Buddha, both published by Quest Books.