Saturday, March 04, 2006

Multi-religious education

London Hindus Advocate Better Presentation of Hinduism
LONDON, ENGLAND, March 6, 2006: Jay Lakhani of Vivekananda Centre reports: "This afternoon the Department of Education and Skills in London held a conference on Hinduism and Religious Education. The conference was well attended by Hindu bodies and teachers. The suggestions made by myself and Hindu Council UK were well received. Compared to the severe struggle faced by Hindus in California, our work seems far easier. The mainstream academics in the UK support the concerns we have outlined in our paper. Today one English teacher said as soon as she is expected to teach Hereditary Caste system as Hinduism, she just ignores the topic. Another said she only teaches it a social institution and not a religious injunction. You can see how mature and supportive are the English academics compared to the Americans. Please feel free to distribute this material to the main Hindu bodies struggling to get the right version of Hinduism in American school textbooks. I have done a series of talks for teachers in training at Universities. We have covered 10 universities in the last two months. These teachers armed with the correct version of Hinduism enter the education system and will change the way Hinduism gets portrayed in the UK.
Full text of the " Recommendations from the Hindu Council (UK) at the Conference on National framework of Religious Education & Hinduism in Schools."
FOREWORD: The United Kingdom is perhaps the only country in the world where the government is actively promoting 'multi-religious' education in its publicly funded education system. The process no doubt throws up serious challenges such as how to reconcile the varying worldviews of a vast number of religions and also how to incorporate non-religious worldviews under the same umbrella. For the process to succeed, the education and faith bodies need to invoke innovative and radical ideas. In this document we have taken the liberty of presenting some ideas from the Hindu tradition that may facilitate this process. What may be seen as a problem of reconciliation within the field of religious education also reflect the greater challenges faced by world religions. How can different religious communities coexist peacefully without having to compromise and, perhaps more importantly, can world religions offer a coherent response to counter the strong secular challenge?
Methodology: The format employed in the past of dividing the methodology into: "learning about religion" and "learning from religion" is a useful ploy that has worked well. What interests us particularly is the emphasis placed on developing a "breadth of study" in RE. This offers very real opportunities. The process should not be limited to studies up to Key stage 3 but should be extended to cover higher age groups. The need to explore (and if necessary develop) connections between different religions as well as other fields of human endeav our such as the arts and sciences, allows religious education to become better integrated with other fields of study. Themes like Science and Religion should be developed in depth for higher key stages. Hinduism has a great deal to offer in this field and would welcome greater involvement in pursuing such an agenda.
Studying many religions: It is difficult to see how "many religions" can be taught in schools on a rational format without addressing the issue of how to reconcile the varying truth claims by these religions. This challenge should be seen as an opportunity offered to all religions to dig deeper into their own traditions to come up with broader insights. The material offered by some of our colleagues from other faiths has been extremely encouraging. Our own experience in this field has been very positive. After making a presentation of Hinduism to non-Hindu students at many venues, students have commented that the Hindu presentation has enhanced and refreshed their understanding of their own faith! Our experience suggests that even though the theologians of major religions may struggle with or even discourage looking for "connections" between religions, the youngsters are far more receptive and open to exploring such ideas. This Hindu approach allows respect for other religions to come about naturally.
RE linked to other subjects taught in schools: This process requires developing "connections" between religions and other subjects like the arts and sciences. The broader pluralistic teachings of Hinduism have always maintained that if "spirituality" (the subject matter of religions) is the universal pinning to everything then it cannot be restricted to mere religious _expression. Every disciplined human endeavour in every field (arts or sciences) should reveal what can best be classed as "spirit" at its foundation.
Linking Sciences with Religions: Findings at the cutting edge of modern science already point to a "spiritual" underpinning to this world. The idea that hard sciences may be supportive of a "spiritual" worldview may have sounded far-fetched a century ago, but the dramatic conceptual advances that have occurred in the last century suggest a paradigm shift in the making. This shift was already foreseen by the two Nobel Prize-winners in Physics (both dubbed the fathers of modern physics). Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976) said: "One cannot always distinguish between statements made by Eastern metaphysics based on mystical insight, and the pronouncements of modern physics based on observations, experiments and mathematical calculations." Erwin Schroedinger (1887-1961) wished to see "some blood transfusion from the East to the West" to save Western science from spiritual anaemia." Our experience in presenting some of the k ey concepts of Quantum Mechanics, Consciousness, The Theory of Evolution and the Origin of the universe at sixth form conferences make us feel confident that the youth of today are able to develop a spiritual outlook from these cutting edge discoveries of mainstream sciences. Hinduism is confident that the findings of modern science offer the best tools for revitalizing a love for spirituality in the youth of today.
Linking Arts with Religion: The arts have always favoured the idea of a "transcendent (or as some would say a spiritual) world view." Many religions have encouraged spiritual _expression through the arts, literature, poetry, music and dance. Hindus claim that aesthetics, the transcendent aspect at the heart of these disciplines is the manifestation of the spirit. Redefining "Aesthetics" as "Spirituality" is debatable but one cannot ask for a better way of arousing the idea of the spirit than through arts, music, poetry, literature and dance. Exploring connections between these diverse disciplines and religions is perhaps the most practical way of exploring "connections" in different fields of human endeavour. Hinduism is well suited to cover this need.
A Response to the Challenge of Secularism: Secularist ideologies that seek to create a conflict between science and religion project an imaginary world that is quite different from the natural world that exists. Even if such a world were possible, nobody could live happily in it. All previous experiments of societies towards that end have failed dismally. India's ancient wisdom continues to oppose such bleak secularist ideologies in favor of a spiritual ideology. At some stage, world religions have to make a stand and offer a robust and coherent rebuttal to the secular lobby. Religious education provides an ideal vehicle for examining and evaluating such issues. Secularism is responsible for encouraging the "me and mine" culture that is diametrically opposed to the altruistic teachings favoured by world religions. These strong secular attitudes are transmitted on the world scene through the medium of big businesses and flawed politics that continue to tolerate dramatic inequalities, where one quarter of the world population dies of over-indulgence while another quarter dies of malnutrition.
Wealth and Poverty: It is a mistake to leave the resolution of issues like world poverty in the hands of professional economists with their fine-tuning skills. The best resolution of this heart-wrenching problem lies in the teachings of the prophets of world religions who were the personifications of compassion. Religious Education is a wonderful tool that should be used to address the issue of world poverty drawing from the teachings of world religions. Hinduism teaches that the highest worship of God as Service to mankind. God has become clearly manifested as men and women hence the best way to worship HIM is by serving humanity.
The Present Status of Hindu Teaching in Schools: Pluralism is not polytheism: This conference on the National framework of religious education and Hinduism in Schools offers us a welcome opportunity to interact constructively with the educational establishment to remove some serious misconceptions that are presently masquerading as Hinduism in schools. Just to illustrate this point let us offer a concrete example. Recently we were contacted by a Radio 4 producer for a program called "Beyond Belief." The producer asked, "How does polytheism help Hindus understand God?" We responded by asking, "Who told you that Hinduism is polytheist?" Of cours e we knew the answer. The educational system in the UK is responsible for promoting such a poor understanding of Hinduism. We have interacted with hundreds of RE teachers at schools in the UK. Almost all of them thought Hinduism to be a polytheist religion. None of them knew that it is, in fact, a "pluralistic religion." There is a vast difference between these two ideas. Polytheism suggests a naive paganistic religion happy to accept many all-mighty Gods. Pluralism shows Hinduism as a very mature religion promoting the idea that the ultimate reality (God) can be thought of and approached in a variety of different ways. As we are all different (as individuals or as religious groups) our perception and approach to the ultimate will necessarily reflect these differences. It is this subtle insight offered by Pluralistic Hinduism that holds the resolution to how people of different religions can coexist with full dignity; unfortunately most RE teachers are oblivious to this Hind u insight.
The Divinity of Man versus Hereditary Caste: Another area of concern has been the teaching of hereditary caste system as Hinduism. What can best be described as an atrocity committed in the name of Hinduism is being taught as Hinduism in most English schools! The caste idea in the scriptures of authority of Hinduism mentions a division of labour based on age and aptitude; there is no sanction offered to a divisive, hereditary, hierarchical caste system. As the word caste has now become synonymous with the hereditary caste, all attempts to tidy up this explanation fall short of the target. We have seen comments by some academics suggesting that the issue of caste should be taught under the title: "Changing attitudes to caste," but then the implication of this statement is still unacceptable. Such a comment suggests that hereditary caste system was Hinduism, but now Hindus know better! The scriptures of authority of Hinduism offer the highest dignity to m ankind; they address men and women as the clearest manifestations of spirit on earth. Such powerful ideas promoting spiritual humanism get completely undermined by the teaching of hereditary caste system. Hinduism has a serious role to play in reviving and refreshing the message of spirituality in the modern world and this can only happen after we remove some serious misconceptions that are allowed to parade as Hinduism in the education system. The caste system taught as Hinduism is disrespectful to the Hindus in this country.
An urgent need to vet resources on Hinduism: Many books written on Hinduism attempt to fit Hinduism into an Abrahamic straight-jacket, thus presenting a very grotesque version of Hinduism. To address this need we have started publishing textbooks on Hinduism. The first one in the series suitable for teaching Hinduism at GCSE level as well as suitable for the educators of Hinduism is called: "Hinduism for Schools" is available. We will short ly be launching Primary Hinduism specifically designed for use in Primary schools and Advanced Hinduism for studying Hinduism at higher levels. This paper has been produced on behalf of the Hindu Council (UK) by: Jay Lakhani of the Vivekananda Centre London (

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