Riding a tiger? South Asia and the problem of 'religion'

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Our objective as editors of this special issue on 'Teaching Across South Asian Religious Traditions' is to interrogate the category of 'religion' and its use in higher education (university) teaching on South Asia. In particular, we take issue with the presentation of South Asian religious traditions in terms solely of a 'World Religions' model, and seek to challenge this by exploring ways of teaching across these traditions. Religion is examined first as a conceptual development associated with European expansion. We then go on to look at this development specifically in the context of modern South Asia, and at academic work that has been critical of the category because of its apparent distortion of social reality in the region. While acknowledging the value of this work, we argue that there is a critical need to recognise the role of the category in the construction of South Asian modernity. As such, religion remains a valid analytical tool in the study of the region. However, its usage needs to be framed by an awareness of its historical development and by other possible ways of conceptualising or relating practices and ideas in South Asia that might otherwise simply be termed religious in a World Religions model. We examine various approaches to this framing, and suggest a number of strategies that may be employed to challenge students' assumptions and enable them to analyse data in new and creative ways. The essays in this volume provide us with valuable signposts to how this can be achieved. © 2005 Taylor & Francis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-20
Number of pages17
JournalContemporary South Asia
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2005


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