Here we will reflect on modern life and Hinduism’s responses to it. If there is a dominant theme that characterizes Hinduism during this period is the matter of its relationship with the non-Hindu world. The modern era has brought great challenges to Hinduism through the advent of Islam and western culture. Both incursions into India have left profound and lasting effects on Hinduism. In many ways, 21st century Hindus continue to struggle with issues associated with Islam and westernization.
- Hinduism and the Challenge of Islam: We in the West generally associate Islam with the Arab world. We often fail to remember that the majority of Muslims live in South Asia and eastwards. The most populous Islamic country is Indonesia, followed by Pakistan, Bangladesh and India. Islam first came to India late in the 8th century C.E., with several military conquests by Muslim leaders from central Asia.
- British Imperialism in India: In many ways, the British imperialism in India was far more significant than the presence of Muslims, although the British directly ruled India for only 90 years. The British brought with them western folk ways and culture. Many Indians sought to imitate them by speaking English, playing cricket and having afternoon tea. Yet the effects the British brought were deeper and more complicated than just this.
- The Philosophy of Gandhi and Hinduism: I mentioned in another article that India was a western idea before it was an Indian idea. Christianity itself would lend to national Indians some of the ideas they would use to achieve independence. Gandhi was greatly impressed by Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and the writings of Leo Tolstoy. It may very well be that the British unwillingly implanted the very seeds of the independence movement within the soul of India.
- Hinduism Today and Its Incursion in the Modern World: We’ve discussed the incursion of the West in Hindu life in India. Let’s turn to discuss the reciprocal reaction: the movement of Hindus and Hinduism into the West. The history of this movement is far briefer than the other. By the late 19th century, the main vehicle for the transport of Hinduism to the West was literary. Some of the most important Hindu scriptures had been translated into European languages in the 18th century and were available to intellectuals in the West.