Home > ICJ Home > Issues On-line > ICJ Vol 7, No 2 December 1999 > Book Review: The Concept of Universal Religion in Modern Hindu Thought
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Book Review: The Concept of Universal
Religion in Modern Hindu Thought
Author: Arvind Sharma,
Birks Professor of Comparative Religion,
McGill University, Montreal
Publisher: St Martins Press
ISBN: 0-312-21647-5

The concept of universal religion 'has been used so often and in such diverse contexts that one begins to wonder whether it means the same thing all the time, or different things at different times'. After singling out this problem at the very outset, the author proceeds to determine, in a well-organised presentation, the various usages of the term 'universal religion' and the intellectual roots of these usages.

He distinguishes several meanings of the term by approaching it from different points of view. These approaches are classified as (1) the philosophical approach; (2) the history-of-religions approach; (3) the definitional approach; (4) the denominational approach; (5) the missiological approach; and (6) the dialogical approach. On the basis of this survey he identifies a number of elements in the concept of universal religion suggested by those different approaches.

Further Arvind Sharma examines the role the concept of universal religion has played in modern Hindu thought. As a basis for his analyses he takes the life and thought of leading figures of modern Hinduism such as Rammohun Roy, Debendranath Tagore, Keshub Chunder Sen, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Swami Vivekananda, Swami Dayananda Sarasvati, Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi, Sri Aurobindo and S. Radhakrishnan.

This study leads the author to the conclusion that 'the concept of universal religion has played itself out in modern Hinduism in two major senses: either as the acceptance by all of one religion, or, as the acceptance of all the religions by one', the latter sense being more prominent.

That, of course, is the case with the Hindu religious leaders and their followers. As for modern Hindus at large, Arvind Sharma, referring to a survey in post-independent India, concludes that they identify the core value of religion as love, 'not only the most universal of emotions but also the most universalisable and universalising emotion as well'.

Written for the specialised philosophical or theological reader, the book will be of interest to the intellectually oriented ISKCON member and will acquaint him with various models of coping with the fact of religious pluralism.

Gaura Vigraha Dasi

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