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Religious Studies: Hinduism

Religion 101


“Perform all thy actions with mind concentrated on the Divine, renouncing attachment and looking upon success and failure with an equal eye. Spirituality implies equanimity." (The Bhagavad Gita)


"Religion" (also known as dharma) originating in India and incorporating a large and varied series of practices across class, region, and education. Please note that the word "Hinduism" is a Western colonial creation, and there is no unifying force defining this religion - instead, think of it as an umbrella term for a variety of polytheistic, monotheistic, and henotheistic practices with inconsistent focus on rebirth, deva worship, holy texts, etc. Hindu religion is also often referred to as dharma, or cosmic law.

400 million practitioners worldwide.

Hinduism. (2003). In The MacMillan encyclopedia (2nd ed.). Market House Books Ltd. Credo Reference:

Religion "born during the so-called Axial Age (c. 800–200 BCE ). Hinduism is a complex religious system, with tremendous regional variation. So much so, that past critics have argued that there is no real Hindu religion. Despite these assertions there are shared elements that comprise a core we can call Hinduism."

Abrutyn, S. (2012). Hinduism. In G. Ritzer (Author), Blackwell Encyclopedias in Social Sciences: The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Globalization. Wiley.

Avatar: "[T]he “descent” of a deity upon earth" or an alternative incarnation of a deity. Examples of an avatar of a deity include Krishna and Rama, who are incarnations of the god Vishnu.

Bhakti:  a tradition of worship that emphasizes devotion to a personal god as the sole necessary means for achieving salvation.

Caste:  India’s complex class structure of varnas that govern "religious, social, and economic interactions.". Four main subcategories: the Brahmins (priests), Kshatriyas (kings, warriors), vaishyas (merchants), and shudras (craftsmen and servants).

Darshan: the act of seeing and revering a deity and "receiving the gaze of the deity."

Karma: "deed” or “action,” and the accumulated results of action."

Puja: "the ritual of honouring or worshipping one or more Hindu deities."

Reincarnation: belief that after death the human soul or the spirit of a plant or animal may live again in another human or animal.

Samsara: "the cycle of birth, decay, death, and rebirth to which all living beings are subject until they achieve release through enlightenment."

  • Bhakti. (2018). In Helicon (Ed.), The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide. Helicon.
  • Foulston, L. (2009). PŪJĀ. In D. Cush, C. Robinson, & M. York (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Routledge.
  • Irons, E. A. (2016). Karma. In E. Irons (Author), Encyclopedia of World Religions: Encyclopedia of Buddhism. Facts On File.
  • Irons, E. A. (2016). Samsara. In E. Irons (Author), Encyclopedia of World Religions: Encyclopedia of Buddhism. Facts On File. 

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Definition: "the group of traditions that worship Shiva as the supreme divinity."


  1. Gorakhnatha: aka 'Siddha Siddhanta', an ascetic school following hatha, kundalini, and samadhi yoga.
  2. Pashupata: most ancient branch, dating back to Indus Valley Civilization. Shiva, Himself, is considered to be the founder of this sect
  3. Kashmiri: aka 'Pratyabhijna Darshana'. Associated with monistic explanations of the Bhairava Tantras composed by the 'Kapalikas'.
  4. Shaiva Siddhanta: mostly popular in Kashmir and South India. Ritualistic rites, cosmology and theories of Tantric Shaivism.
  5. Veerashaivism:. During creation Shiva remains immutable while Shakti manifests the world. 'Devi or Shakti is an inseparable aspect of the Lord.

Jones, C. A., & Ryan, J. D. (2016). Shaivism. In C. Jones & J. Ryan (Authors), Encyclopedia of World Religions: Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Facts On File.

Definition: " the worship of the goddess Shakti, the primordial creative, sustaining and destructive power of all existence."

Jones, C. A., & Ryan, J. D. (2016). Shakti. In C. Jones & J. Ryan (Authors), Encyclopedia of World Religions: Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Facts On File.

Definition: "orthodox Hindu sect composed of members of the initiated upper classes characterized by their allegiance to all the gods of the Hindu pantheon and by their adherence to rules of ritual and of conduct laid down in the ancient sutra texts."

"The Smartas may give preference to one deity above the others, and Shiva is highly favoured among them today. But they pay allegiance in their worship to the five major gods—Shiva, Vishnu, Shakti, Surya, and Ganesha—in the pancayatana puja (“five-shrines worship”)."

Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia (2007, March 1). Smarta sect. Encyclopedia Britannica.

Definition: "group of traditions that adhere to the worship of Vishnu."


  1. Shrivaishnavas: founded in Shrirangam in Tamil Nadu, best known for their great 12th-century teacher Ramanuja;
  2. Gaudiya Vaishnavites of Bengal, founded by the great 15th-century devotional mystic Chaitanya;
  3. Vallabhas founded at Brindavan in the north by the great teacher Vallabha around the 15th century
  4. Madhva sect founded in the state of Karnataka at Udipi in the 13th century
  5. Nimbarka: based in Govardhana and founded by the 15th-century Vedantin philosopher Nimbarka
  6. Sri sect founded by Ramananda, who was strongly influenced by the Ramanuja lineage, at Ayodhya.

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