By Dr. Mohd Ashraf and Abdul Majeed
In the contemporary world, interaction with other cultures is inevitable, with trade, in the news, when travelling or just watching television; meeting a different cultural tradition is inevitable for most people. To understand a religion, it is essential to have an awareness of the different sets of values and ideals, customs and ethical values. Even if the people one meets from the ‘other’ culture are not religious, nevertheless their principles, values and ideals will commonly have been formed by the religion of their culture. According to Pratt, “Religion consists in the serious and social attitude of individuals of communities towards the power or powers which they conceive as having ultimate control over their interests and destinies”. Professor Whitehead speaks of religion as, “What the individual does with his own solitariness” and in another place defines it as a “Force of belief cleansing the inward parts”. Ali Shari’ati defines religion as “The path leading towards God.” Jamaluddin Afghani talks of religion as the “Way of life taught by God through His Prophets.” Ibn Khaldun considers religion as the “Natural urge of man to seek for his Creator.” In a sense, religion is the indispensable part of human life or as Nasr calls it “life itself”.
Comparative Religion as a Discourse
The Comparative Religion as a discourse offers a great opportunity to understand religious others and diverse range of religious phenomena and thus cultures informed by them from academic or scientific perspective. It offers a study of various approaches to religion and such topical phenomena as religion and identity, religion and social harmony and the like. It illuminates central problem of dialogue between cultures. It helps approach diverse cultural phenomena that have an association with the notion of the religious/the mystical/the sacred. Additionally, Comparative Religion also deals with the function of religion as propounded by the sociologists especially in the social context i.e., the function of religion in the society. Religious Studies deals with the understanding to religions or traditions and phenomenon such as symbolism, rituals, and myths. Unless we know the other better by knowing his/her religion, we can’t foster better relations. World scriptures, myths, folklore, darsanas are all associated with the idea of religion and as such better comprehended by the discipline of Comparative Religion. Max Muller had rightly remarked, “One who knows one religion, knows none”. Globalization forces us to know religions of our fellows.
Prospects of Comparative Religion
The study of Comparative Religion focuses on understanding the inter-relationship between different religious traditions. It is more importantly concerned with the influences and impact of religious traditions on civilisations. Comparative Religion offers a multidisciplinary approach to religious traditions. In the present crises of human values study of different religious traditions may help in bridging the gap between the material and the spiritual. The study of religions is essential for the guidance of humanity to balance between the sacred and the profane. One of the significant features of the Comparative Religion is understanding the mutual existence of different religious traditions in the multi-cultural and plural societies. In such societies co-existence and cooperation for overall development of the society becomes vital. This discourse helps to develop the relationship between the different religions living in the same society. Therefore, study of religion provides us strong basis to strengthen the universal brotherhood and promotion of dialogue among the adherents of different faiths. In the contemporary times one of the significant requirements to establish peace in the societies where diversity of traditions exists is to promote dialogue among them. Religious Studies offer the concept of interfaith dialogue or interreligious dialogue which not only helps them to understand the differences of each other, but also the necessities that would require to bridge the gap. The said concept guides the adherents of different faiths to come to the commonalties so that peace-building majors would be taken.
The Department of Religious Studies (DRS), Central University of Kashmir, offers the course of MA, M.Phil. and Ph.D in Comparative Religion,. In the light of the above discussions this course provides a rare opportunity for the students and research scholars to explore the different dimensions of religious studies from academic perspectives. It offers a comparative study of major religions of the world both Indian and Semitic religious traditions including Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Zoroastrianism. Subsequently, nature and scope of religion is also part of the syllabus which offers an in-depth understanding of the origin of religion and modern religious theories. The courses like Religion and Environmental Ethics, Religion and Social Justice, Religion and Gender are specially devised to evaluate the role of religion in the contemporary corpus of sensitive and trend-setting discourses. It is pertinent to mention that the said curriculum has been framed according to the NEP-2020 and is committed to explore the rich religious traditions having positive bearings on our educational systems. The competent faculty at the Department ensures that the students develop an academic acumen of inter-religious understanding, mutual cooperation and the art of co-existence. The Department is keen to highlight the contribution of Muslim scholarship especially al-Shahristani, Ibn Hazm, Ibn Taymiyyah, al Nawbakhti, al-Masudi, al-Baghdadi, Abu al-Ma’ali al Biruni, Ali Shar’ati, Abdul Majid Daryaabadi, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Isma’il Raji al Faruqi, Seyyed Hossein Nasr whose contribution to the field of religious studies is academically pioneering.
There is a greater need to introduce Comparative Religion at higher secondary and college levels so that the students learn and understand the religious traditions and world-views of their fellow religionists to contribute to the peace, public-policy and prosperity of the nation in unison.
Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer
- Dr. Mohd Ashraf is the Assistant Professor, Department of Religious Studies, Central University of Kashmir and Abdul Majeed is a Doctoral Candidate, Comparative Religion, Department of Religious Studies
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