REL255: The Religions of India
Term Paper
Due Thursday, November 15

You may choose one of the following three topics for your final 10-page term paper, though you are encouraged to explore a topic of your own choosing. In either case, a brief statement that identifies your topic and explains how you intend to pursue it will be due at the beginning of week 7 (Tuesday, October 23); I will also be happy to meet with you individually to provide further guidance at any stage of the process.

1. The varnasrama-dharma system has had a tremendous impact on the development of Indian civilization.  Describe the essential features of the system and then explain its significance as the conceptual foundation of “traditional” Indian society.  Do you think that varnasrama-dharma has played a positive, negative, or mixed role in defining the social and religious framework of pre-modern India?  Can this system maintain a meaningful role in present-day India, or is it in fundamental conflict with the values of “modernity”?

2. Do a comparative analysis of one Indian and one Judeo-Christian religious tradition.  Your examination should include some discussion of the similarities and differences both within and between the “Eastern” and “Western” traditions and should work towards developing a statement that explains how the “comparative” approach has contributed to your overall understanding of religion.

3. Although the term “Hinduism” is commonly used to refer to the primary religious tradition of the Indian people, it should be noted that this use of the term arose during the modern era in response to a perceived need to distinguish this “dominant” tradition from others, such as Islam, Sikhism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Christianity.  Given the broad range of “Hindu” responses to fundamental issues—such as whether the Vedas are “revealed” texts, whether ritual is necessary for salvation, and whether ultimate reality should be understood in theistic or non-dualistic terms—one could argue that the term “Hinduism” is in fact meaningless.  On the other hand, one might also argue that despite the diversity of the Hindu traditions, there is some underlying “essence” that ties them all together.  Do you agree with either position, or would you propose a third?

Since this is intended to be a research paper, you must provide at least five “print” sources in addition to the texts that are required for the course; you may also use web-sources if you so choose, though you are discouraged from relying on them too heavily, as many web-sites provide superficial, biased and/or incorrect information.  Please note that you are required to provide appropriate citations for both direct and indirect quotations using “Chicago” style footnotes and bibliography (for a summary of Chicago style, go to the “Bibliography” link on the course home page).  Plagiarism is a very serious offense, so if you have any doubts regarding what does or does not constitute plagiarism, please refer to the Plagiarism” link on my home page.  I strongly recommend that you become familiar with the boundaries of academic honesty…and don’t attempt to transgress them.  Essays that contain significant instances of plagiarism will receive a 0 and be reported to the Office of Academic Affairs in accordance with college policy.