IN MY OPINION
Supporting and teaching Hindu Dharma through the application of higher education
BY RITA D. SHERMA
SINCE INDEPENDENCE INDIA has followed the route to excellence in science and technology. This is commendable, but the price paid has been the diminution of the humanities, which are essential for reflections upon and resolutions to many of humanity’s critical problems through the application of new ways of thinking, feeling and acting. This approach, of transforming society and the human consciousness from the inside out—and not only from the outside in—was once a hallmark of India’s wisdom traditions. Disjunctions, such as secular versus sacred and science versus arts, were avoided. There was no brittle compartmentalization of knowledge systems. Spiritual knowledge and ethics informed psychology, medicine, the science of consciousness, knowledge of subtle energy and much more.
Today, higher education is the most powerful transmitter of knowledge to tomorrow’s leaders. Currently the American university remains the modern standard-bearer for innovative, leading-edge education and its applications.
Religious studies in American higher education is a massive project of which even non-resident Indians are mostly unaware. Harvard, Yale and many other important universities in the United States started with divinity schools. Scholars of religious studies are called upon for information by the White House, US Congressional committees and private Senate hearings. Today most major religious traditions sponsor Institutes, endowed Chairs (named professorships) and religious centers across cultural and national lines and are strongly represented at the great American universities. However, this is not so for Hindus, due to a general lack of involvement and investment by the Hindu community.
The Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California (GTU), is the only Interreligious Graduate Consortium in America. With a reputation for academic excellence, this eminent institution has established the in-depth study of interfaith dialogue, collaborative research and service projects between the world’s faiths, where each attempts to, as Swami Vivekananda said, “assimilate the spirit of the others and yet preserve his individuality and grow according to his own law of growth.”
The GTU welcomes the viewpoint of scholar-practitioners (including monastic scholars) as those who have the deepest knowledge of a wisdom tradition and can, therefore, most effectively transform and deploy it towards the challenges we face as societies. The vision of Hindu Studies at GTU is to develop systematic recollection, preservation and application of foundational principles and insights of Hindu Dharma for world engagement. The aim of the Certificate, MA, and forthcoming PhD concentrations is to foster Hindu philosophy of religion, systematic and lived theology, Hindu yoga studies, and ethics with emphases on foundational sacred texts, epic literature, major philosophers, sacred music, spiritual practices, art and symbolism.
Hindu Dharma is not just a philosophy; it is a multidimensional source of art, architecture, music, dance, drama, poetry, psychology, medicine, astronomy, grammar, mathematics and the science of consciousness. Hindu Dharma has survived for millennia, but is in a weakened state. The disappearance of important texts, commentaries and definitive traditions; the absence of new scholarly interest in complex traditions such as advaita vedanta and pratyabhijna; and a lack of community knowledge about foundational paths such as jnana yoga, are a few of many sources of concern.