TED Conversations

Prashanth Gopalan

Founder & Curator, TEDxUW


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Can the science vs. religion debate even apply to Hinduism?

As one of the oldest continuous belief systems in the world, Hinduism comprises the beliefs of more than 1.3 billion people worldwide.

Although the outward religious cladding of many Hindu institutions has led many to view it as a religion, the fact is that Hinduism is more of a geographical/ethnic marker than it is a single religion. If this distinction is adopted, then it is technically possible to identify Hindu Atheism, Hindu Agnosticism, Hindu Theism and Hindu Materialism as equally valid, but mutually contradictory and separate belief systems.

More than two thousand years ago, the Persians identified a distinct civilization that lived on the far side of the River Sindu (now in Pakistan), as Hindus (after significant linguistic corruption). Subsequent Arab, Turkish, Mongol (Mughal) and British conquests of the Indian subcontinent strengthened this appellation, who attempted to identify the subjugated people and give them a name.

Thus, the name Hinduism, although commonly used to describe the predominant religion of India, was actually a term used to describe the way of life of the people who lived in the geographical region of the Indian subcontinent, and was used to showcase the difference between them and their conquerors - e.g. Islam, British Protestantism.

Without regard to the diversity of these peoples' beliefs (be it theistic, atheistic etc), by giving these people a singular name (Hindus) simply by virtue of their geographical location and close proximity to one another, these conquerors succeeded in "creating" a "religion" which has now come to be "imbued" with the qualities of tolerance and heterodoxy - unlike many other religions.

These are my questions:

Does the religion vs. science debate that has gripped the West by storm today, even apply to Hinduism? Can it apply?

If Hinduism is considered more of a religion than a geographical/ethnic marker, does this make the religion/science debate even more tough on it?

I'd love to get your thoughts.


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  • Mar 7 2011: Hey this is a very interesting topic. Well if we were to trace back a "religion it would have started off with a messenger or a prophet who spread the word of God to a community.
    In the case of Hinduism i have not actually heard of one specific prophet or messenger who had preached the word of God.
    Yes we Hindus did come from that civilization off the river Sindu, but after we moved out and formed other communities we were exposed to the teachings of various sages, rishis and messengers of sorts.
    That would technically mean we Hindus are actually a mixture of various (supposed to be ) religions.

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