Education About Asia: Online Archives

Religions of India in Practice

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By Donald S. Lopez Jr.
PRINCETON READINGS IN RELIGIONS
PRINCETON: PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS, 1995
XVI + 648 PAGES + INDEX

Reviewed by Anne Hardgrove

The publication of Donald S. Lopez Jr.’s Religions of India in Practice indicates a significant development in the way that Indian religious traditions have been taught in the western academy. Since its inception as an academic field of study in nineteenth century theological schools in Europe, religious studies has, until quite recently, been primarily concerned with the hermeneutical exegesis of sacred texts. The strong influence of the colonial encounter on the canonization of academic disciplines, commonly known in today’s parlance as Orientalism, further emphasized the primacy of ancient written texts as a way of establishing what was seen as the authentic religious traditions. These written texts were primarily written in the ancient languages of India, such as Sanskrit and Pali. It was not until the second half of the twentieth century that serious work was attempted on religious texts belonging to the living vernaculars of contemporary India. The scholarly emphasis on the practice of religious traditions is an even more recent development, partially owing its existence to a number of intellectual developments in anthropology, history, and sociology which emphasized the study of the everyday as opposed to focusing on the social elite.

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