This course offers an introduction to Asian religions, exploring the basic tenets and practices of the non-Abrahamic traditions, in an attempt to gain an understanding of how Asian religions work, what part they play in people’s lives, and why the very word ‘religion’ is called into question by their sometimes joyous expression, in practice and in theory. With an emphasis on Hinduism and Buddhism, we will examine the notion of caste, ‘aims’ in life, the Indian background and key concepts such as karma and rebirth. During the course there will be a trip to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, to see the Indian and Asian collections of religious pictures, artefacts and ritual objects. This is an essential component to the course, and the class will examine what it is to practice a religion, what makes a space or an object ‘sacred’, and how, in an Asian context, where what you do is as important as what you believe, ritual activity, as perhaps everywhere in the world, is often key to understanding underlying assumptions. For these traditions, a ‘text’ may be visual or aural, a ‘meditation’ a recitation, a dance or a sitting practice, and a ‘theory’ is seen as a skill in means, designed to encourage and awaken particular aspects of the mind and develop them on a spiritual path. No previous knowledge of the subject is expected.

Term(s) offered: 
Credit: 3.0
General Education: II B 2 or III B 3